In this post we will begin to examine the text of Hubbard’s breakthrough presentation of “Dianetics” in “Astounding Science Fiction. You can download the entire May 1950 issue (where the article appeared) from the link above. Hubbard’s contribution begins on page 43.
This article finally enabled Hubbard to reach a sympathetic readership. He had previously published his ideas in the “Explorer’s Journal“and contacted academic journals concerned with psychology, hoping that they would also publish. These initial forays failed. The article in the “Explorer’s Journal” fell on deaf ears, and the academics could not make head nor tail of Hubbard’s text. It was rejected, and probably earned a note in the ‘crank letters’ file.
In “Astounding” he found readers who had recently seen scientific miracles – such as the atomic bombs which has ended a bitter war. They believed that, now that Science had brought peace, it could new transform society for the better. Unfortunately, many were unable to tell the difference between real scientific discourse and Hubbard’s verbose hand-waving. Also, they were promised that, by buying the book and applying its advice they could become ‘therapists’ with greater power (and, by implication, prestige) than conventional doctors.
The Dianetics fad which followed did not last – but is was enough to launch Hubbard’s career as 20th century guru.
After the break, we examine the full text of the first appearance of “Dianetics” which begins on page 43 of the scan (illustrations taken from the original article).
The article opens with a forward by a real Doctor Joseph A Winter. Winter had written for “Astounding” before, and explicitly states that his purpose is to lend credibility to Hubbard’s claims, which might otherwise be dismissed as fantastic, or as a spoof ( see this post for a discussion of Winter’s introduction).
Hubbard’s text begins with a long discussion of the design of an imaginary”[…] optimum computing machine” – calculated, perhaps to appeal to “Astounding” readers who (at a time when computers filled large rooms, but were less powerful that a modern pocket calculator) were fascinated by the prospect of ‘mechanical brains’.
[…] the machine should be able to compute with perfect accuracy on any problem in the universe and produce answers which were always and invariably right. (pg 45)
Hubbard continues in this vein to produce no less than 11 ‘specifications’. It soon becomes clear that he is talking not about a computer, but about a ‘mechanical brain’ – what SF authors would now speak of as an artificial intelligence with god-like powers.
This entire elaborate pseudo-technical discussion seems to have been designed to introduce and lend credibility to the next few paragraphs, which state the fundamental idea underlying Dianetics.
It might be somewhat astonishing, at first, to conceive of such a computer. But the fact is, the machine is in existence. […] In fact, you’ve got one. For we are dealing with the human mind” (pg46)
Hubbard asserts that the human brain is a perfect computing machine which “[…] should be always right, it’s answers never wrong” (pg 46). Of course, this is at odds with our (often disappointing) everyday experience. His explanation for this inconvenient fact is that he can, “restore optimum operation” (pg 47) through the practice of Dianetics.
Folk tales throughout history have told the stories of virtuous individuals who are magically revealed to be lost royalty. Once restored to their dignity, they live happily every after. Hubbard’s innovation was to update this scenario and resent it as fact. In Hubbard’s fantasy, we are all universal geniuses – we only need to buy his book, which will reveal our hidden potential.
In the article, Hubbard presents himself as a universal genius with the common touch – an outsider who, like Einstein has revolutionised our understanding of the world.
My right to enter this field was an inquiring brain which had been trained in mathematics and engineering and which had a memory bank full of questions. (Pg 47)
The truth was more banal. Hubbards only knowledge of mathematics or engineering was gleaned during the first year of a course at George Washington University (which he failed).
Unable to rely on qualifications for credibility he avoids presenting evidence at all. Instead, he:
- Asserts that Dianetics is ‘a science’ (it isn’t)
- Discusses real scientific conclusions and implies that, if they are true then Dianetics must be.
As it stands today, the science of Dianetics and its results – which are as demonstrable as the proposition that water, at fifteen pounds per square inch, and 212 degrees F boils – is an engineering science.
Scientific status is not acquired by merely saying a thing is so. It is earned by submitting a theory (along with experimental evidence and relevant arguments) to an academic journal. In this way, you submit your ideas to the closest examination by people who are experts in the subject – people who can test your reasoning and repeat your experiments.
Hubbard fell at the first hurdle when (as noted above) journals concerned with psychology declined his submission. This article contains no supporting evidence whatsoever, and the only mainstream experimental examinations of Dianetics (here and here) have shown its central claims to be false.
A Tall Tale About L Ron Hubbard
He begins by describing how he supposedly constructed Dianetics by ransacking everything from “[…] the cults of Los Angeles” to the writings of Freud. He does not provide the slightest clue as to how such diverse material could possibly be synthesised, let alone aspire to the status of ‘science’.
As you read this text, you see a recurring pattern. There are long passages were Hubbard describes the ‘reasoning’ behind his conclusions (which is rarely, if ever valid). These are peppered with false self-aggrandizing claims – for example, claims to:
- Be a scientist and engineer
- Have travelled extensively, and have intimate knowledge of the customs and beliefs of tribal peoples
- Be a researcher (he constantly refers to his ‘research’). If this exists, it has never been published nor reviewed. Hubbard seems to have used the word to refer to his own unsupported ideas – the process by which he came to a conclusion was, to him, ‘research’.
- Be some kind of clinician – he claims to have restored memories and effected miraculous cures. Unfortunately, like his research, these ‘case studies’ are undocumented and unpublished.
These passages appear to be designed to
- Lend credibility to the conclusions he occasionally introduces. He has no verifiable evidence, so he tells a tall tale about is qualifications and experiences instead, and defies the reader to question its veracity.
- To bulk out the article (a skill which he developed during his career as a pulp writer, paid by the word). If you were to edit out the passages where Hubbard describes his supposed struggle to ‘discover’ Dianetics, and simply presented the rationale behind it, this article would be very short indeed.
- To hold the reader’s interest.
I will try to skip over Hubbard’s highly questionable account of the process through which he created Dianetics, and concentrate on the actual claims he makes.
Survival and Hypnotism
On page 50, Hubbard comes to a rare conclusion regarding the “[…] common denominator of all existence […]” which is “SURVIVE! The only test of an organism is survival.”Perhaps Hubbard had come across a little Darwin, as well as Freud. In any case, he seems to think that this is a great insight, and it forms the basis for his argument.
On page 51 Hubbard turns to Hypnotism. He claims,
I had studied hypnotism in Asia, I knew hypnotism was, more or less, a fundamental. Whenever shamans, medicine men, exorcists or even modern psychologists they incline towards practices that are hypnotic.
Hark back to the Kayan shaman of Borneo, amongst others . Their theory is crude; they exorcise demons […] we suppose that something such as the Borneo shamans Toh has entered into him which directs him to do evil things.
Man has believed longer that demons inhabit men than Man has believed that they did not. We assume demons. We look for some demons one way or another. And we found some!
This was a discovery almost as mad as some of the patients on hand. But the thing to do was to try to measure and classify demons.
By page 55 Hubbard begins to describe his thesis. In short, Hubbard claims that the human brain is a perfect instrument, honed by evolution to ensure its own survival. This ability has been corrupted by ‘aberrative circuits’ which can be mistaken for ‘demons’.
Of course, Hubbard also has the cure. “[…] it was found to be possible to contact optimum brain operation in a number of people […] and that is a “clear.”
There are problems with this thesis – principally the fact that the existence of cognitive biases demonstrate that our minds are not perfect data processors. There are many examples of the human tendency to draw unjustified and illogical conclusions from good evidence – a tendency that is evidently shared by ‘clears’ (in fact, the thinking of Scientologists seems to be clouded by these natural errors of reasoning more often that the general population).
Hubbard does not return to the point until page 57-58. where he presents a very strange line of reasoning. We should recall experiences which cause physical pain. However, we cannot recall pain… so experiences that cause a great deal of physical pain must be suppressed. Hubbard ‘supports’ this line by claiming to have ‘recovered,’
[…] Memory of a nitrous oxide dental operation, laid wide open and in recall, complete with pain.
This, of course, goes against all modern understanding of the operation of anaesthetics and Hubbard offers no supporting evidence. However, let’s accept these claim for the sake of argument, so that we can get to the point.
Supposedly, we experience everything that happens to us – there is no such thing as unconsciousness. We do not remember many painful experiences because they have been suppressed – and it is these experience that disturb the functioning of our potentially perfect brain.
This discussion is sidelined for some time for another rambling passage describing Hubbard’s ‘research’. It resumes in a much later discussion of computers. At the time, remember, these were less powerful than a modern pocket calculator, and based on vacuum tubes.
Here, Hubbard examines the problem of insuring error-free operation. His statement that “[…] men have already figured out mechanically simple ways of making an error-proof computer” (pg 62) should amuse programmers and users of modern computers alike. It is used to justify his conclusion (pg 63) that the “analytical mind” is an a error-free computer – one whose operations constitute our consciousness.
Page 65 brings us to Hubbard’s discussion of the ‘held down 7′ (if a key on a mechanical calculator became stuck, the machine would output nonsense figures). H decides that the aberrations’ which prevent the perfect functioning of our analytical minds (which he initially referred to as “demons”) must be something similar.
Hubbard now elaborately denies that human error could arise from faulty memory. If this was so, he would not be able to offer a simple solution to restoring the ‘analytical mind’ to perfect order. Consequently, he asserts that “every perception observed in a lifetime is to be found [in memory]” (pg 66). Just in case there is any doubt, that’s,
All the perceptions. In good order. Memories are filed by time. They have an age and emotional label, a state-of-physical being label and a precise and exhaustive record of everything perceived by organic sensation, smell, taste tactile, audio and visio perceptics plus the train of thought of the analyzer at that moment.
The remainder of Hubbard’s argument crucially depends on this unsupported assertion, so it is worth pointing out that it is directly contradicted by both psychology and everyday experience. Human beings are not recording devices. Our memories are selective and fallible – they can even be significantly modified after repeated recall. However, once again, we will have to let this pass in our pursuit of Hubbard’s point.
Up to this point, Hubbard has only referred to his ‘research’ in order to support a statement. He has not described his procedure in any way. By page 67, he claims to be recovering memories from his ‘patients’ and describes the process in the following way.
How was I withdrawing data? I was using automatic writing for some, by-pass circuit for others, direct regression and revivification on the old line Hindu principle for others.
These methods can hardly fill the modern reader with confidence about Hubbard’s conclusions. Automatic writing is associated with ‘psychic’ mediums, and the other ‘methods’ appear to be hand-waving – statements that sound impressive to disguise the fact that they mean nothing (Hubbard certainly does not describe how to go about “[…] regression and revivification on the old line Hindu principle”).
However, from the ‘evidence’ of memories recovered in these mysterious ways Hubbard concludes that pain is the cause of the “held down seven”. Hubbard claims that:
The fundamental aim of the organism is to survive. In order to survive it avoids pain. When a person sufferers a traumatically painful experience, the ‘prefect’ analytical mind is usurped by the primitive ‘reactive mind’. The analytical mind is unaware of what took place when the reactive mind was in charge, because those perfect memories of painful incidents are held by the reactive mind, and are effectively ‘unconscious’. However, really powerful suppressed memories re-surface when similar events occur (are ‘restimulated’ in Hubbard’s terminology) and confuse the ‘perfect’ analytical mind, causing irrational behaviour. (pg 68 – 70)
A Norn – Norse: a hidden witch which guides man’s fate all unknown to him – is simply a period of physical pain when the analyser is out of circuit and the organism experiences something it conceives to be, or is contrary to its survival. A norn is received only in the absence of the analytical power (pg 70).
Hubbard’s inner circle (Campbell, Winters at al) possibly already worried about the frequent references to ‘demons’ – persuaded him to use the term ‘engram’ instead in the book, instead of norn as this had more scientific associations (it was used to refer to the ‘memory trace’). ‘Engram’ was first used in this sense in “Dianetics” and is still used in Scientology.
Hubbard could never resist coining a new word. On page 79 he comes up with ‘anaten’, or ‘analytical attenuation’. This is supposed to describe what happens when the analytical mind is bypassed during a traumatic incident, and a norn/engram is created in the reactive mind.
A norn can consist of a father beating mother during a child’s anaten. When this norn is highly restimulated, the child, now an adult, may possibly dramatise it either as the father of the mother, and will carry out the full drama word for word and blow for blow.
[…] Norns are contagious. Papa has a norn. He beats mother into anaten. Now she has a norn direct from him. (pg 79)
Hubbard has now laid out his ‘theory’ and is evidently pleased with himself. He proudly states, “These were the computations achieved by research and investigation.”
The rest of the article discusses the supposed practical applications in the form of ‘Dianetic Therapy’. Since this post is long enough already, I will discuss the second half at a later date.
Like the article in the Explorer’s Journal, this is an early presentation of Dianetics. However, the only significant differences between both texts and the final book are matters of presentation. This article is probably the best expression of Hubbard’s ideas because they are presented as a story (about a scientific pioneer who makes a great discovery) to readers who loved stories.
In fact, Dianetics and Scientology are stories, based on pulp science fiction themes which people are, somehow, persuaded to take seriously as a description of reality. This is amply demonstrated by this article, which presents no evidence of any kind for the “research and investigation” which Hubbard claimed to have undertaken.
Journals of psychology declined to publish Hubbard’s ‘theory’ for these reasons. Hubbard’s ‘theory’ plainly cannot be taken seriously on it’s own terms, and has failed experimental tests (available here and here) which have shown its central claims to be false.
The only reasons anyone needs to study this material, 60 years later, are:
- To gain an insight into the reasons why people (briefly) took it seriously
- To understand the strange intellectual world inhabited by people who believe in Dianetics and its successor, Scientology
My conclusion is that this article represents a triumph of presentation over content.