Dianometry: Dianetics and Scientology in “Astounding Science Fiction” (Pt 16)

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dianometryIn the previous part of this series, we examined the January 1951 issue of “Astounding”. This contained the last article about dianetics by L Ron Hubbard that “Astounding” would publish. It was entitled “Dianometry” It begins on page 76, and it is a curious text.

Since its introduction in the May 1950 issue of “Astounding”, dianetics had boomed. At the beginning of 1951 money was pouring in and the “Hubbard Dianetics Institutes”, which were supposed to research and develop this ‘new science’ were expanding, .

This was not to last. Hubbard treated the income from the institutes as if it were his own money and, as the fad for dianetics passed, the institutes went bankrupt.

After this bankruptcy, Hubbard was to temporarily lose the copyright to dianetics. Undeterred, he arranged to have the institutes mailing lists stolen for him, and used then to recruit for his new enterprise, which he called Scientology.

Dianometry was the last gasp of Dianetics. For various reasons (discussed in this post) the fad could not be sustained beyond a certain point. The bankruptcy of the dianetics institutes was, in the long run, a stroke of luck for Hubbard – it enabled him to start again with a relatively clean slate, and avoid the mistakes that he had made the first time around.

It seems to me that Hubbard had left himself nowhere to go after the first two dianetics articles in “Astounding”. He had nothing in reserve after presenting all of of the attractive and accessible parts of his  pitch, namely that:

  • ‘Engrams’ not only cause physical and mental disease but also compromise an individual’s personal abilities
  • They can be removed by ‘dianetic therapy’ which will cure almost all disease and restore the patient to their natural state, which includes high intelligence and a perfect memory

All  that now Hubbard could do now was to try could do to keep the ball rolling was by elaborating his pitch with articles like “Dianometry”.

This article clearly did not have the popular appeal of his earlier appearances. It was for for enthusiasts of dianetics only. As such, it was an even less appropriate for a science fiction magazine. The declining ‘pulling power’ of dianetics articles could have contributed to Campbell’s loss of interest.

It seems that Dianetics itself  had run out of steam.

Dianometry – The Article


Hubbard defines “Dianometry” as:

That branch of dianetics which measures thought capacity, computational ability and the rationality of the human mind. By its axioms and test can be established the intelligence, the persistency, the ability, the abberations and existing or potential insanity of an individual. Dianometry is “thought measurement” […].

It has the virtue, as a part of dianetics of answering such questions as the following:

1. Are you sane?
2. What is your native and inherent ability?
3. How long will it take you to restore your native ability by dianetic processes
4. What will be your status when cleared?

(pp 76 – 77)

Hubbard describes psychiatry’s knowledge of what he charmingly refers to as ‘insanity’ as purely descriptive. This implies that Psychiatry does not understand the underlying causes of mental illness.

In the 1950’s this was a fair observation. It is still true today, to a lesser extent. However, detailed observation and description of a phenomenon is the first (protracted and difficult) step towards understanding it. Psychiatrists undertook this difficult task and made progress. Hubbard did not have the ability or the patience. Instead, he told a story with a happy ending (dianetics) and presented it as fact.

Hubbard, Insanity and Engrams

engramsAccording to Hubbard both “acute and chronic” insanity “[have] the same genesis – the engrams” (pg 77). The more serious expressions of ‘insanity’ are supposedly due to the interaction of several engrams, which may unpredictably render a person reasonable and rational in one situation but not another.

This simplistic idea is followed by typical Hubbard page-filler (pg 78). this is a  long and irrelevant example regarding sailors at war, which was likely inserted to buy credibility with his wartime service as a minor Naval Officer. The details of his service record were not available to the readers of “Astounding” – which is probably just as well for Hubbard.

This is old news, and turns out to have nothing to do with the subject of the article.

Hubbard Hides Simplistic Ideas Behind a Wall of Obscure Text

As Hubbard continues,  he adopts another familiar tactic – dressing up a simple, unsupported, argument in a lengthy pseudo-scientific statement (complete with eccentric capitalisation) to try to make it look more impressive than it is

Sanity Is The degree of Rationality Of An Individual.
Rationality is defined as follows:
Rationality is the Computational Accuracy Of The Individual Modified by Abberation, Education And Viewpoint.
Complete rationality could then be defined:
Optimum Rationality For The Individual Depends Upon His Lack of Abberation And His Accurate Resolution of Problems For Which He as Sufficient Data.
By computation is meant his ability to solve problems.
(pp 78-79)

This is all (deliberately?) confusing. It all boils down to the proposition that a sane individual is one who lacks ‘aberration’ – that is, someone whose engrams have been neutralised by dianetic therapy. Once again, this is old news, and turns out to have nothing to do with the subject of the article.

The tactic of presenting an argument in a deliberately obscure way, and then ‘explaining’ it, is one that Hubbard uses time and again. It leads to a  simple statement which he presents as ‘obviously true’ (that dianetic therapy neutralises engrams and improves an individuals psychological state).  The long words and convoluted writing is intended to look ‘scientific’ but is actually almost content-free. The almost circular series of ‘definitions’ quoted above is a case in point.

Readers had faith in the veracity of the factual articles in “Astounding” which were often written by appropriately qualified people. They understood Hubbard’s ‘simple statements’ but could not follow the masses of obscure text that ‘justified’ them. They could be forgiven for making the mistake that:

  • Those statements were reliable
  • The reason they did not understand the rest was that it was too ‘deep’ for them.

In fact, Hubbard was just hand-waving, to disguise the fact that his claims were totally unsupported and often based on incoherent ideas.

kant-hegelA perfect example of this begins on pg 79 .

Hubbard tosses logic, scientific method and philosophy (name-dropping Hegel and Kant along the way) to create a word salad which is designed to justify the claims to follow.

In the process, he demonstrates that he understands none of these subjects. This does not matter as long as the reader doesn’t either, and assumes Hubbard does.

This culminates in the statement in the image to the right (pg 82) which has little to do the process of logic.pdfwith the real meaning of the word ‘logic’.  Hubbard is evidently making it up all up as he goes along.

Hubbard was a pulp writer, paid by the word. This often shows in his dianetics articles and the pages of ‘examples’ that follow have little purpose other than to bulk his contribution out.

Similarly his statement that, in the real world, people only have access to imprecise date (pg 83)  is elaborated for pages and pages and, essentially, leads nowhere. It certainly has nothing to do with the subject of the article.

Hubbard does not return to the point until page 90, and I will leave the dedicated reader to wade through the incoherent text in between. Here Hubbard asserts that,


All of the previous word salad has led up to this simplistically obvious statement. Most of the text functions to distract the reader from how banal a conclusion this is.

On page 88 it all falls apart when Hubbard states:

Good reasoning is good computation. The better the computation the better rationality; for rationality, after all is a synonym for right answers.

In this passage, Hubbard is simply putting words in an impressive-looking order without any regard for their actual meanings. We know now that computation  and reasoning are two different things – we know that computer programs have no intelligence at all, and the illusion that they do depends on the list of instructions given to them by programmers.

Robbie mecanical brainHubbard’s  whole conception of dianetics seems to depend on the popular 1950s ideas that ‘Mechanical Brains‘ were somehow more efficient than ours. He used this to create his model of the human mind which owes more to the popular image Robbie the Robot (left) than any serious thought.

From the point of view of the 21st century, where we are surrounded by amazingly powerful computers, which will reach wonderfully irrational conclusions if the programmer or operator looks away for a moment, we know that this does not make sense. Reasoning and computation are not equivalent.

So far (more than half-way through the article) Hubbard has not got to the point – how Dianometry will enable us to ‘measure’ the sanity and intellectual capacity of individuals.

Be warned – Hubbard never does describe how people are supposed to be ‘measured’ by dianetic practitioners.  Instead, he skips over how this might be done in a paragraph or two. He does this so that he can move to material with greater popular appeal.

The article closes with a  description of the strange consequences of dianometry (when it has all been worked out). This owes more than a little to the ideas about eugenics that were still floating about in the 1950s, and I will examine it in detail in the next post in this series. Until then…


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