The Story of the E-meter Part 7 – The Ingenuity of Volney Mathison

lie detectorL Ron Hubbard lost control of the patents which applied to his breakthrough creation”Dianetics” when he accepted external funding. When the ‘Dianetic Foundations’  collapsed, he was left out in the cold, no longer able to exploit his own ideas.

He was not going to make that mistake again. From this point, he was careful to maintain full personal control of the organisations he founded. He built Scientology up gradually from the grass roots (initially using mailing lists purloined from the Dianetics foundations). After several years of growth, there was only one fly in his ointment.  He did not own the most distinctive, popular and profitable device in Scientology – the e-meter.

His problem was that the man who did – Volney Mathison was a canny, hard working, independent and ingenious man. He had invented his own fringe therapy and written a book about it. He practised this therapy, and sold e-meters to Scientologists, psychoanalysts, and other fringe practitioners.  Crucially, he held patents on a range of devices. Their sale was making him a comfortable living – and he was not inclined to surrender them to Hubbard.

I was surprised when I learned of the extent of Mathison’s product range, and I think it would be worthwhile to describe it here. It illustrates the magnitude of the problem that Hubbard had created for himself, not only by integrating  Mathison’s e-meters into Scientology practice, but extensively praising them in writing.

NB: click on any image below to open an enlarged version.

The Entry-level Mathison E-meter

As we have seen in part one of this series Mathison worked as a maritime radio engineer from 1918 with the technology of Vacuum tubes (commonly known as ‘tubes’ in the US and ‘valves’ in the UK).

Vacuum tubes also powered Mathison’s e-meters These consumed a lot of energy, so many of his e-meters plugged into a wall socket and consumed AC Power.

However, many potential e-meter owners did not have domestic electricity. These were battery-powered, and keeping them working must have been and expensive proposition.

a -quiz-meterThe most basic of Mathison’s offerings was the battery-powered “Mathison Quiz Meter”. It was built around a single tube / valve. This device was marketed as a novelty ‘lie detector’ although the advertisement includes the claim that it was suitable “For beginners, students and for experimental self-processing”.

The basic model ($24.95) included both, “Case Opening materials” and “[…] party fun instructions”. For another $7.45 the customer could have,

[A] copy of ELECTROPSYCHOMETRY by L Ron Hubbard and Volney G Mathison

If would be fascinating to know who came up with this marketing approach – Hubbard, or Mathison? Whoever it was, the practice of drawing people into Scientology through an apparently unrelated product or service is still going strong today.

The Quiz Meter’s  ‘deluxe option’ also included a set of  “[…] instep electrodes” and connecting wires. These performed the same function as the familiar hand-held ‘cans’ used with Scientology’s e-meter, but were strapped to the bottom of the subjects feet, so there would be no false reads generated by a shifting grip.

The first ‘Professional’ E-meters

b - both math EMs 9GMathison also sold two ‘professional’ meters. The first (at the top in the image on the right) was the AC powered, “Professional Model Electropsychometer”.

These devices certainly looked the part, with two controls to alter their sensitivity. The 1953 model (the H-52- IR) advertised here is billed as a ‘development’ of the previous H-53- DS, and you can have your obsolete model ‘upgraded’ for £7.50.

This, along with the numbering system used,  gives the impression that these meters are the culmination of a long process of R & D (53 models to date). However, if you examine the “Journal of Scientology” (from which these advertisement are taken) only two models appear – and I suspect that the numbering system was inspired by the varieties of Campbell’s soup to begin with 52.

The “Minimeter” (at the bottom of the image of the right) was a cheaper battery-operated alternative to a ‘professional’ meter, for portable use.

Some Quirks of  Early Terminology

volney_tone_circle_1954_aSome of the terminology in this advertisement is interesting.

  • The minimeter is stated to use the same ‘tone scale’, as the ‘professional’ model. Tone scale, is an idea which was originated by Mathison and appears in the book “Electropsychomotery”.
  • The subject is referred to as “The Aberee” – a term that was used in Dianetics but replaced with “Pre-clear” in Scientology – perhaps in and attempt to associate Scientology with higher education by imitating the   term, “Under-graduate”.

incidentally, “The Aberee” was used as the title of a semi-official magazine that presented itself as “The Non-serious Voice of Scientology” and published for several years, before Scientology entered into a repressive phase, when self deprecation was strongly discouraged.

The Therapist Needs Monitoring Too

d - E400 2 dials with hubbard quote and address g24Today, there is only one model of e-meter that can be used in the Church of Scientology. It is expensive, and frequently replaced by ‘improved’ versions which Scientologists are required to buy.

This is because, unlike Mathison, Hubbard was never interested in the device itself – only in it’s use as a technological prop to support the less feasible parts of Scientology doctrine (e.g. ‘past lives) and, later on, as an instrument of interrogation.

Mathison, however, was constantly tinkering with his creation, and came up with some ideas which, if they had caught on, could have changed the face of Scientology practice.

The first is the Model E400 which, according to this advertisement Hubbard was initially enthusiastic about, calling it:

More essential than ever, for effective processing with the latest techniques

~L Ron Hubbard

Mathison’s original idea was that, if the therapist could use an e-meter to “objectively confirm” what the subject was telling him, he should also use it on himself, to insure that he was understanding correctly. Consequently, this model consisted of two meters, one for the therapist, and another for his subject all in one handy case.

The advertisement, however does not mention this – and the text does not make a lot of sense. Since the address given is the “Hubbard Association of Scientologists” it is tempting to assume that it was not prepared by Mathison, but by someone (possibly Hubbard) who did not understand this. If anyone would care to explain what these lines mean, I would be grateful:

Process groups without and individual cases WITH an Electropsychometer. Write for free bulletin on the use of monitored SOP8C – the finest E-metered system of processing that L Ron Hubbard has ever created.

Nothing you Learn is Every Wasted – Mathison’s Projecting E-meter

c - math proj meterThe last model of e-meter featured here may have been inspired by a patent  which Mathison held on a device that helped projectionists regulate the colour of the arc lamps used in cinema projectors, He called it “The Arcon Monitor”.

Unfortunately for Mathison, the advent of television undermined cinema attendance, and their owners no longer had the money to invest. The business he had planned to base on his invention collapsed.

Ironically, it was the depression that Mathison suffered after this business failure that led him to attend a lecture by L Ron Hubbard which gave him the idea for the e-meter.

At some point after developing  the e-meter, Mathison must have remembered what he had learned from his research into cinema projectors –  and realised that he had a source of light from the elements of the vacuum tubes. If he added a simple optical system, he could project an image of the meter scale on to a screen, or wall.

This is exactly what this e-meter does. The advertisement claimed that the  model HM4- A could “Produce up to a 10-foot meter image”, so that even the tiniest meter movements would have been easy to examine in detail.


Unfortunately for Mathison, while his e-meters were well-built and ingenious devices, they were utterly useless as therapeutic tools. His technical expertise was not up to the job of seeing the flaws in the theory that he had elaborated around them.

At bottom, the e-meter was justified by magical thinking, not science at all – a point I will try to demonstrate in the next part of this series.


2 thoughts on “The Story of the E-meter Part 7 – The Ingenuity of Volney Mathison

    • Thank you. I was afraid I was getting a little too obscure.

      I took most of these advertisements from the early publication “The Journal of Scientology“. Along with “The Aberee” . They are both a gold mine of insights into how Scientology practice developed.

      Scientology is unique in this way. It developed in obscurity but then, along came the Internet, and all the texts which would once have suppressed and forgotten are now freely available.

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