Dianetics: Science or Hoax?
December 5, 1950
by Albert Q. Maisel
... Half a million devout followers.
... A foundation with a chain of bustling branches stretching from Elizabeth, N.J. to far-off Honolulu.
... The best-selling nonfiction book since Dale Carnegie discovered the secret of success.
... A swarm of pop-eyed students, who stand in line for the privilege of plunking down 500 bucks for a one-month course which converts them into "professional auditors," complete with a couch and capable of outpsyching any ordinary psychiatrist.
... Even larger and faster-growing tribes who pay $200 each for the 15-lecture short course - or $25 an hour to have their "cases opened" by $500 professional auditors.
... And a small army of associate members, at a mere 15 smackers each, who gratefully keep up with the whirlwind developments of Hubbard's new "science" of dianetics through the Dianetics Auditors Bulletin.
Hubbard, you may gather from the foregoing, has discovered the key to success and demonstrated once again that Barnum underestimated the sucker birth rate.
But that, by Hubbard's own admission, is probably the least of his discoveries.
Unencumbered by the modesty that hog-ties ordinary mortals, Hubbard starts his book - THE BOOK, his followers call it - with the calm assertion that "the creation of dianetics is a milestone for Man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his invention of the wheel and the arch."
A few lines beyond, one learns that, with dianetics, "the intelligent layman can successfully and invariably treat all psychosomatic ills and inorganic aberrations."
Farther on, one discovers that these psychosomatic ills, "uniformly cured by dianetic therapy." include such varied maladies as eye trouble, bursitis, ulcers, some heart difficulties, migraine headaches and the common cold.
But you ain't heard nothing yet. For Hubbard's auditors (anyone with four dollars to buy The Book and the stamina to read through it can "audit" without further license) achieve these miracles by the simple process of releasing the "engrams" that have been bedeviling their friends and customers.
This opens up marvelous possibilities which Hubbard is not loath to point out. "A number of germ diseases." he flatly states, "are predisposed and perpetuated by engrams. Tuberculosis is one. Engrams predispose people to accidents. Engrams can predispose and perpetuate bacterial infections."
"At the present time," Hubbard concludes, "Dianetics research is scheduled to include cancer and diabetes. There are a number of reasons to suppose that these may be engramic in cause, particularly malignant cancer."
At this point, an unsuspected sense of caution overcomes the new Messiah, and he hastily points out that "this is not to be taken as any kind of avowal of a cancer cure."
But then, once more overwhelmed by the awe-inspiring nature of his own discovery, author Hubbard swings back onto his familiar track and asserts that "those diseases which were catalogued above (that is, everything from eye trouble through tuberculosis, accidents and bacterial infections) have been thoroughly tested and have uniformly yielded to dianetic therapy."
Nor has Hubbard's new science been content to deprive the doctors of seven tenths of their business. Dianetics lays claim to the ability to remove "aberrations" of an infinite variety. Neuroses, of course, can be cured, Hubbard asserts. So, too, can sex deviations and "every type of inorganic mental illness."
And that's just the beginning.
To dianetics for individuals, Hubbard and his busy associates are hastily adding political dianetics, child dianetics, judiciary dianetics, medical dianetics and industrial dianetics. "Education, medicine, politics and art and, indeed, all branches of human thought, are clarified with dianetics," Hubbard claims.
"And even so," he sighs, "that is not enough."
It may not be enough for Hubbard. But it has outraged scores of psychiatrists, physicians and just-plain-ordinary scientists, who look upon the astounding claims and the growing commercial success of this strange new phenomenon with awe, fear and a deep disgust.
The American Psychological Association, for example, has denounced Hubbard's claims as "not supported by empirical evidence," and has called upon its members "in the public interest" to avoid using Hubbard's techniques except when making "scientific investigations to test the validity of his claims."
Dr. Will Menninger, past president of the American Psychiatric Association and co-head of the famous Menninger Clinic of Topeka, Kans., goes even farther in indicting dianetics: "It can potentially do a great deal of harm. It is obvious that the mathematician-writer has oversimplified the human personality, both as to its structure and function. He has made inordinate and very exaggerated claims in his results."
Dr. Frederick J. Hacker, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, adds: "If it were not for sympathy for mental suffering of disturbed people, the so-called science of dianetics could be dismissed for what it is ... a clever scheme to dip into the pockets of the gullible with impunity. The dianetic auditor is but another name for the witch doctor exploiting a real need with phony methods."
The man who touched off all this frenzy was born on a blustery March morning in 1911 at Tilden, Nebr. Like most newborn babies, L. Ron Hubbard did not seem at the time to be paying much attention to the proceedings. But with the aid of his new science, he has recently recalled all the details of his own birth and sent them to his aunt, who, he says, agrees that they check most accurately.
In his youth Hubbard traipsed around the world with his father, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, and ultimately would up at George Washington University Engineering School. His biography in Who's Who in the East says that he got his bachelor's degree in civil engineering there in 1934. His publishers, Hermitage House, Inc., identify him as a mathematician and theoretical philosopher. Hubbard himself finds this somewhat embarrassing, because, as he is quick to tell interviewers, "I never took my degree."
He also deprecates the inaccuracy of his Who's Who biography, which lists him as "explorer since 1934." Actually, as Hubbard now recalls the details, he led the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition, conducting a group of college students from island to island. "It was a two-bit expedition and a financial bust," he says, "and I quit the ship at Puerto Rico in 1933."
Hubbard really got going a few years later, however, when he took to writing for the pulp magazines. He moved into the science-fiction field under such six-shooter pseudonyms as Winchester Remington Colt. A dynamic (though not yet dianetic) writer, he says he used to bat out as many as 120,000 words between Friday and Monday.
But after a time, despite such success, he just couldn't put his heart to science fiction any more. For he had begun to fathom the innermost regions of the mind, and life took on a new meaning and purpose.
The war interrupted the development of dianetics. As a Naval Reserve lieutenant, Hubbard served on escort vessels until he was sent to the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital near Oakland, Calif., where he stayed for the best part of a year, suffering, he now recalls, from "ulcers, conjunctivitis, deteriorating eyesight, bursitis and something wrong with my feet."
But his sufferings were not entirely in vain. For the hospital had an excellent medical library, and Hubbard, with dianetics boiling up within him, wanted to avail himself of this facility.
The library, unfortunately, was not for patients but rather for the use of staff medical officers. But the young scientist got around that easily enough. "I just had a friend in the Marines refer to me as Doctor, loudly, several times, within earshot of the librarian. After that I had free run of the joint."
By 1947, Hubbard, discharged from the Navy and granted a VA disability pension, had pretty well unraveled the mysteries of the engram and was venturing to "process" his friends, who urged him not to withhold this great boon from suffering humanity. There remained, however, the problem of choosing a suitable scientific medium in which to announce and expound dianetics.
This problem was resolved in May, 1950, when John W. Campbell, Jr., convinced Hubbard that Astounding Science Fiction, which Campbell edits, was the ideal medium. A month after that, the definitive issues of Dianetics, 452 pages for four bucks, appeared between hard covers under the imprimatur of Hermitage House. It carried an introduction by J.A. Winter, M.D., an appendix on The Philosophic Method by Will Durant (reprinted from The Story of Philosophy, 1926), and two other appendixes by Campbell and Donald H. Rogers.
Since then, history has been in the making. Although virtually unadvertised, the volume has been disappearing from bookstore shelves at an astounding rate. Virtually boycotted by book reviewers for many months, and later panned by them, it nonetheless climbed onto the best-seller lists and has remained at the top.
The Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation shortly was set up as a nonprofit New Jersey corporation, with Hubbard as president, Arthur R. Ceppos (of Hermitage House) as executive vice president, John W. Campbell, Jr. (of Astounding Science Fiction), as treasurer and Mrs. Hubbard as librarian. Hubbard went on the payroll at a picayune $500 a month, and the rapidly accumulating book royalties, student fees and associate-membership revenues have all been channeled into the Foundation, for the support of dianetic research and the greater glory of dianetics.
In The Book, Hubbard defines and discusses two main parts of the human mind. The "analytical mind" is what you think with; it perceives, remembers and reasons. Hubbard also calls it the "computational mind" and - affectionately - the "egsusheyftef." By any name, however, it's a nice old plodder, doing its best to be good. But behind it is the "reactive mind," and that is the seat of all evil - a sort of glorified tape recorder that files and retains pain and painful emotions as "engrams."
And these engrams, still according the the master, are impressions on cellular protoplasm itself, complete recordings down to the last accurate detail of every perception present in the moment of unconsciousness.
It's your engrams that will get you if you don't watch out. They cause aberrations, psychosomatic diseases, neuroses and psychoses. Unless they are "released: - by dianetic therapy, of course - you're a gone goose.
Worst of all, you just can't help gathering up engrams. You didn't even have to wait to be born for the evil work to begin. It started at the very instant of conception, when you were just a little freshly fertilized egg nestling cozily in your mother's womb.
Here is Hubbard's own jazzed-up description of what happened to you then:
"Mama sneezes, baby gets knocked 'unconscious.' Mama runs lightly and blithely into a table and baby gets its head stoved in. ... Mama gets hysterical, baby gets an engram. Papa hits Mama, baby gets an engram. Junior bounces on Mama's lap, baby gets an engram. And so it goes."
What happens to your engrams? They wait like potent little demons until they are "keyed in" by some later event. And then they bring on every sort of mental, moral and physical ailment.
But these aberrations can be cured, says Hubbard, by tracking down the engrams and releasing them. The process is simplicity itself. You lie on a couch. Your auditor will help you fall into a state of "reverie," usually by counting slowly. Then he will take you back along your "time track," a sort of mental clothesline on which hangs all your dirty wash of engrams.
One by one, as you go back through the years in reverie, you relive the painful experiences engraved, as engrams, upon your unconscious reactive mind. You may recall the shock of operations, the phrases the doctor used when he had you under anesthesia, even the things that were said when, as an innocent baby, your father and mother argued above your cradle. As you recall these things, reading them off your cellular tape, engrams release their charge and lose their power of evil.
Most important of all is the engram that Hubbard calls "basic-basic" - the one impinging upon your protoplasmic cells almost as soon as you were conceived. All too often, according to Hubbard, these prenatal engrams stem particularly from abortion attempts on the part of the mother.
Unlike many religious groups, the proponents of dianetics have nothing against birth control. But the greatest of all crimes and the root of most evils, as they see it, is the attempt - or even just the verbal wish - to cause the abortion of a child already conceived. They object here, not so much on moral grounds, as because such attempts - or such wishes and thoughts - load down the time track with the basic-basic demon engram.
But all is not lost. Dianetics can transform you into a "clear" - a person whose every engram has been resolved. Then, and only then, according to Hubbard, will you be free of your ills and experience a tremendous surge of new energy, creating dynamism and well being.
Tens of thousands of people have been swallowing this doctrine with almost religious fervor.
Some are the usual lunatic-fringe types - frustrated maiden ladies who have already worked their way through all the available cults, young men whose homosexual engrams are all too obvious. But most are serious people, deeply believing and sincerely wanting to believe.
A defender of dianetics is Frederick L. Schuman, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government at Williams College. He is but one of those men of high achievement in their chosen professions, so convinced of the importance of dianetics that they willingly write long letters protesting antagonistic comments, and and enthusiastic articles singing the praises of the new "science."
National headquarters of the Dianetic Research Foundation is an unprepossessing back-street office building in Elizabeth, N.J. There are five other centers of dianetic teaching and instruction, in Washington, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Honolulu.
Of all the dianetic centers, Los Angeles is the most exuberantly expansive and enthusiastic. There the Hubbard Foundation moved into a suite of modest offices last July. In August, it took over a two-story building housing a lecture theater and 20 "processing" rooms. A few weeks later, it had to expand again - this time into a 110-room building where swarms of student auditors raptly attend Hubbard's lectures and practice processing one another.
Still more recently, there have been instituted a series of weekend sessions at the swank Country Club Hotel in Hollywood. Here, taking over 20 or 30 rooms, a band of student auditors and pre-clears meet under the guidance of professional auditors for "intensive auditing with chemical assist."
Hubbard and his associates insist that this use of drugs has nothing to do with narcosynthesis. They claim that "chemical assistants," purchasable in California at any drugstore, aid in helping resistant pre-clears to achieve dianetic reverie and to dredge up their basic-basic engrams.
This treatment by laymen of deep-seated psychological and psychiatric problems is one of the chief causes of the violent criticism from medical men - and particularly psychologists and psychiatrists.
Under the laws of almost every state, the practice of the healing arts is restricted to medical physicians, osteopaths and similarly trained professionals who have passed stringent, state-administered licensing examinations.
But the proponents of dianetics are not worried about these restrictions, despite the face that most of the professional auditors, trained in one-month courses, could never qualify for the practice of medicine or any of the related healing arts.
"Pre-clears," Hubbard explains, "get dianetic processing ... neither therapy nor medicine." Then he adds, with a disarming grin, "It just happens that what we release is the cause of their psychosomatic illnesses."
Leading psychiatrists, however, are not so sanguine about either the effectiveness or the innocuousness of Hubbard's poor man's psychiatry. Dr. Jack A. Dunagin, of the Menninger Foundation, for example, concedes that some sufferers from mental malaise may find temporary relief under dianetic hocus-pocus, just as they sometimes do under hypnotism, Coueism or voodoo.
"But," he declares, "the greatest harm to a person would come, not because of the vicious nature of dianetic therapy, but because ... it will lead them away from treatment which they may badly need."
Other psychiatrists point out that Hubbard has borrowed from (and in the process, distorted) most of the psychiatric researches of the last fifty years. They object to the extreme claims of dianetics, to Hubbard's constant repetition of his assertion that dianetics "always," "invariably," "uniformly," and "without exception" cures the most amazing list of mental and psychosomatic ills.
They are outraged and indignant at Hubbard's insistence that he has developed a "science." They charge that his "evidence" is merely the endlessly repeated assertion that cures have been achieved in "270 cases" - unsupported by documentation that these individuals were ever really sick in the first place or ever achieved cure under dianetic processing.
Although these faults appear overwhelming to men who have spent their lives in the scientific disciplines, they carry little weight with Hubbard's growing legions. For dianetics apparently brings them something that conventional psychiatry has failed to offer them.
Condemn it as obscure, verbose, unscientific; the fact remains that some individuals find in dianetics a way to bring onto a conscious level some of the troubles and fears and idiosyncrasies most of us hold deeply buried within ourselves. Some persons, whether they are cured of anything at all or not, find satisfaction and a feeling of better adjustment to the world through this confessional process.
Also, though dianetics is certainly far from the conventional psychiatry, it has great commercial advantages over the real thing.
In place of the psychiatrist, with his many years of training and his medical degree, Hubbard offers a professional auditor, supercharged for processing by a month of high-pressure training - or even an amateur who points you toward the couch with one hand while he finishes The Book in the other.
In place of scores, and sometimes hundreds, of sessions on the psychiatric couch, Hubbard offers a few intensive hours - but still the comfort of a couch.
In place of a whole host of complex Freudian causes for neuroses - Oedipus complexes, father images and what not - Hubbard offers a neat package of engrams. When he gets down to explaining them in detail, they turn out to smack rather strangely of Freud. But dresses up in English words (instead of Greek or Latin), they seem easier to understand.
Hubbard's greatest attraction to the troubled is that his ersatz psychiatry is available to all. It's cheap. It's accessible. It's a public festival to be played at clubs and parties.
In a country with only 6,000 professional psychiatrists, whose usual consultation fees start at $15 an hour, Hubbard has introduced mass production methods. Whether such methods can actually help you if you're sick is a moot point.
But moot or not, half a million people are having a lot of morbid fun, getting a lot of excitement and going through a whirl of mental gymnastics while red-headed Ron builds his chain-store Foundation.
To Father Divine's "Peace, it's wonderful," the dianetician might add, "Become a 'clear' - it's basic-basic, wonderful-wonderful."