I have never been involved in Scientology. This blog is an attempt to understand why clever, capable people accept its doctrines (which are, in the face of it, bizarre and incoherent) and follow its practices.
One approach that I have taken is to examine Scientology training and assess whether or not this has an influence. It seems to me that Scientology’s nine ‘training routines’ do, beginning with TR0 (AKA Training Routine Zero).
In TR0 two people are requited to sit close together and stare fixedly at each other for prolonged periods of time. Research shows that unchanging sensory input can lead to a form of sensory deprivation, which has strange effects – including a dissociated state (you feel detached from you body) and ‘strange face’ hallucinations.
Scientologists constantly practice their Training Routines, so they are soon able to slip into altered states of consciousness almost at will (the likely reason for the strange, unsettling ‘thousand yard stare’ they apply to protesters).
It has seemed to me that such compelling experiences, interpreted according to Scientology doctrine – for example as evidence of a ‘previous life’ – which could be a powerful incentive towards conversion.
First, I have to reconcile the fact that, during online discussions I am occasionally told by some ex-Scientologists that they had no hallucinatory experiences during the TRs, and by others that had compelling, life-changing experiences.
I think I can do that now, thanks to something I have recently learned about myself. Continue reading
Dissociation and hallucinations in dyads engaged through
interpersonal gazing | Giovanni B. Caputo| Psychiatry Research 228 (2015) 659-663 Download Full Text as .pdf
In plain language, this scientific paper describes a series of experiments which investigate the psychological consequences of two people (a dyad) staring at each other for a period of time (in this case, no longer than 10 minutes).
The author concludes that this can bring about visual hallucinations and a dissociated state, including a feeling of being disconnected from your body.
This is highly relevant to the ‘Training Routines’ (TR’s) taught to beginners in Scientology and Narconon – especially “TR0 Confronting“which is described on the linked page. During this exercise participants (who stare at each other for two hours or more) commonly recruit strange hallucinations and a feeling of leaving their body.
Note: page numbers given are from the .pdf reader software, not the article itself. Continue reading
A few people who have commented on what I have posted here over the past year have asked what my personal philosophy is and whether I have ever been involved in Scientology.
These both strike me as fair questions, since they influence my writing on the subject so, after the break, I will start the New Year with a presentation of my eccentric perspective on the subjects of Scientology and belief in general.
In passing, I would like to point out that this blog had its first birthday on Christmas Eve. I would have celebrated, but my Internet connection had failed the day before, and it has taken me this long to catch up. Please be assured that normal service has now resumed.
Also, I extend my (belated) best wishes for 2015 to all the people who have visited this site – including present members of the Church of Scientology, Independent Scientologists, ex-members and interested outsiders.
Peace on Earth, among men [and women] of good will!
The first thing that new Scientologists do is a series of ‘Training Routines’ (TRs), and in an earlier post, we saw video demonstrations of ‘TRs’ by two ex-Scientologists.
In one Training Routine (TR-0) two people sit and stare at each other until they can do this without moving for more than two hours. ‘Learning’ how to do this can take much longer.
Unsurprising, this practice has strange psychological consequences – for example, participants commonly experience vivid hallucinations, and there is good evidence to suspect that they also enter a state of elevated suggestibility.
Early critics of Scientology viewed this practices as a form of hypnotic induction, and L Ron Hubbard claimed, in his ‘lectures’ and elsewhere, to be an expert hypnotist. Over the years, this explanation has been used (not always coherently) to explain the altered states of consciousness experienced during TRs (and many other aspects of Scientology practice).
This idea has its points – but I would like to propose an concept which I think is a much better fit (at least for the TRs) – the Ganzfeld Effect. In this post, I will try to explain what it is, and show how it explains the experiences people have when doing their TRs.
In the previous 10 parts of this series I have explored some of the insights that post-war psychology provides into the extraordinary power which the Church of Scientology holds over its members.
These theories did not exist in the early days of the Church of Scientology. The only psychological framework that seemed to offer an explanation for the strange behaviour of converts then, was ‘brainwashing’.
Unfortunately, Cold War ideology got in the way of science, and the result was a very questionable theory.
Since then, there has been almost half a century of progress in psychology and social psychology (and intensive study of a variety of ‘cults’). This progress has both discredited the brainwashing thesis, and provided much better explanations for ‘mind control’. This new understanding is more subtle and complicated… but that’s life.
I will try to explain below why I believe that ‘brainwashing’, as an explanation for the behaviour of Scientologists, should be abandoned, why it has persisted for so long, and why this matters. Continue reading
In a previous post we discussed Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment investigating obedience to Authority, and suggested that it helped to explain why good people, when they become Scientologists, comply with orders that have bad consequences for others.
Milgram created a machine that administered convincing, but phoney electric shocks to an actor who pretended to be in pain. Nobody was at any risk.
His experimental subjects were ordinary people who were required to administer shocks in the course of an ‘experiment into learning’. The experimental procedure manipulated them into gradually increase the intensity of those shocks until they (apparently) reached a dangerous level.
When the experimental subjects began to doubt the morality of what they were doing, an ‘authority figure’ (the scientist in charge of the experiment) insisted that the procedure must continue.
Incredibly, 68% of continued to administer shocks all the way up a potentially lethal 450V.
There is an crucial feature of this experiment that is strongly enphasised by Scientology, and it explains a lot about its power to persuade members to comply to demands that go against their basic personality. Continue reading
We have all experienced the frustration of speaking to a conspiracy theorist whose belief in extraterrestrial visitors, cold fusion, or a connection between brain cancer and mobile ‘phones is utterly unshakeable.
One of the ways people maintain this kind of belief is by seeking out evidence which confirms their belief and rejecting or ignoring anything which does not.
Although conspiracy theorists take this to the extreme, a tendency to think in this way (called confirmation bias) is wired into human beings.
Because it is easier to process information that we are already familiar with, once we have formulated an belief, we tend to stick with it, looking for ways to make it work in every situation.
The problem is that sometimes our cherished idea simply wrong, and confirmation bias prevents us rejecting it so that we can start to formulate a better explanation. Confirmation bias is illustrated perfectly in the video below. See if you can solve the puzzle (without reading the answer first). Continue reading
This series has described a number of concepts, mostly drawn from social psychology, which are exploited by the Church of Scientology to control its members.
It’s worth pointing out that people in the wider world (you and I included) share these psychological quirks.
Attribution theory reveals a bias which is both used against Scientologists when they are in the Church, and works against them after they leave. Continue reading
Arguably, the concept of pluralistic ignorance was first developed not by social psychologists, but by a teller of tales called Hans Christian Anderson.
Once upon a time (he assures us) confidence tricksters visited the Emperor of China. They proposed to make him a fine new suit of clothes from a special cloth that could only be seen by people of taste and refinement.
The tricksters opened empty boxes and mimed the presentation of this (non-existent) magical material. Of course, nobody could see any fine cloth – but they all were afraid to say so, for fear that others would think they lacked the taste and refinement. The whole court praised the beauty of something that nobody could see.
In actual fact, nobody can see the cloth – but every courtier believes that all the others can. Nobody wants to look stupid, so nobody speaks up.
This idea explains a lot about the way in which Scientologists become committed to their remarkable beliefs – and raises the question of whether those beliefs are as strongly held as they appear to be. Continue reading
In the previous post in this series (Obedience to Authority) we saw how ordinary people would abdicate their responsibilities to an authority figure, and behave in a a quite frightening way.
I suggested that this experiment helps to explain why Scientologists who are good people find themselves doing questionable things when told to so by the Church.
It does not explain why Scientologists (also good people) who are placed in positions of authority give questionable orders to other members of the Church – and enforce them with the harsh punishments required by Scientology doctrine.
Professor Philip Zimbardo performed a classic experiment that helps to explain how this happens. He created a mock prison, in the basement of Stanford University, and recruited students to play the roles of both guards and inmates. in the film linked to below he revisits this location, and then uses original photographs and film to help describe what happened.
Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment View Online | Download as .mp4