Welcome to our ongoing project, where we blog a 1950 first edition of Scientology’s bible, Dianetics, with the help of ex-Scientologist, Bay Area lawyer, and writer Vance Woodward. Go here for the first post in the series.
Last week, we started with the book’s opening sentence, which appears in a ten-page synopsis. That’s followed by a five-page introduction, a three-page guide titled “How to Read This Book,” and then another five-page introduction to Book One.
We now want to speed through all this frontmatter to get to the main course, so we’ll rapidly sum up what’s in it. In the synopsis, the boasting continues after the first sentence, which asserted that the discovery of dianetics was more important than the invention of the wheel…
— Dianetics (from the Greek for “thought”) is “the science of the mind,” and is simpler, as exact, and far more useful than physics and chemistry.
— Dianetics is actually a collection of pursuits in the humanities that have been brought together and made “precise.”
— Dianetics is an “exact science” on the order of engineering.
— Dianetics relies not on theories, but on axioms — in other words, revealed truths, not guesses.
— Dianetic therapy is able to cure, completely and with no chance of relapse, all “inorganic” and “psycho-somatic” illnesses (which, Hubbard says later in the book, make up 70 percent of all human ailments).
Following that synopsis, Dr. Joseph Augustus Winter provides his introduction, in which he proclaims dianetics a genuine New Idea and one that has proved useful in his practice.
By October 1950, however, Winter was out of the movement, disillusioned with Hubbard’s refusal to enforce some sort of standards that would keep rank amateurs from performing analysis on each other. In 1951, Winter published A Doctor’s Report on Dianetics, a book explaining his concerns with Hubbard. Winter’s introduction, not surprisingly, was pulled from future editions of Dianetics.
Next, there’s a short guide, “How to Read This Book,” and it contains some key concepts. Hubbard shifts from boasting about how he’s discovered a new modern science and turns his focus directly at the reader and his or her own mind.
HUBBARD: “As you progress in therapy the adventure is yours to know why you did what you did when you did it, to know what caused those Dark and Unknown Fears which came in nightmares as a child, to know where your moments of pain and pleasure lay.”
Vance, we’ve always thought this was one of Hubbard’s greatest insights — to make his processes always about the subject’s discovery of his own self, rather than to impose on him outside value judgments or historical information. We’re only a few pages into this book, but already this is a bedrock concept that forms much of the Scientology experience today — Hubbard’s followers spend decades chasing the dream of discovering secrets not about the world or the universe but about themselves.
VANCE: That’s a great observation. Hubbard regularly claimed in various ways that a person’s idea of reality is itself reality, always. It makes me think that he was actually writing to himself rather than to anyone else.
And one more important thing to take from the “How to Read This Book” chapter — Hubbard tells the reader that what he will find out about himself is probably what he suspected all along.
HUBBARD: “You will find as you read that many things ‘you always knew were so’ are articulated here. You will be gratified to know that you held not opinions but scientific facts in many of your concepts of existence.”
How seductive is that for the person who has suspected great things about himself and feels that he’s being fed a lot of lies by authority figures — doctors, politicians, science, the media?
VANCE: It’s almost hypnotic. Naturally we all want to find out that we were right. And here he is telling us that his science proves that we were right.
It’s a brilliant closed feedback loop: Hubbard gives you infallible, scientifically exact methods in order to discover that you were right about yourself all along.
We begin, even very early in this book, to see its seductive power for a certain kind of reader.
Hubbard then provides one more introduction, titled “The Scope of Dianetics,” to begin Book One, “The Goal of Man,” and the boasting is back.
— Mankind has been aching for a “science of the mind” as long as he has flourished on the face of the earth. “Rome went to dust for the want of it. China swims in blood for the need of it,” Hubbard writes.
We’ll skip past more proclamations of the superiority of dianetics…
Finally, after some 23 pages of windup, we’re ready for this adventure to begin in earnest, and we reach the first full chapter…
The goal of dianetic therapy is to produce a person Hubbard calls a clear.
Hubbard sets out to define what he means by that, but in the second paragraph of the chapter he introduces another word that he will get almost as much mileage out of, and that is “aberration.”
We need to stop and consider that word, because Hubbard will use it incessantly, and in a slightly fetishistic way. Dictionaries will tell you that “aberration” is a form of “aberrant,” which emerged in the 18th century from Latin roots meaning to wander or go astray, and that it’s just a less common way of saying “atypical.” Snow in July, for example, might be aberrant weather, depending on where you live.
That is, there’s nothing morally wrong with snow in July, it just isn’t typical.
But “aberration” does have an additional gloss that carries a value judgment. Something is an aberration if it not only isn’t the norm, but it’s also less than optimum. (Snow in July might be great if you’re a skier. But a lack of snow at a skiing competition in February would be an aberration, because, frankly, it not only is atypical, it sucks.)
As we’ll see, Hubbard imbues “aberration” with special meaning and in a sort of Platonic sense — we’re all a bit atypical, apparently, or aberrated, and we have fallen away from a kind of ideal state — the clear.
Hubbard classifies the following as aberrations: psychoses, neuroses, compulsions and repressions.
While some might say that these are typical conditions found among human beings, Hubbard turns the notion upside down by saying that they are atypical and they indicate that we have lost our true, typical state.
A person who is clear would suffer from none of them. The clear also demonstrates an intelligence “above the current norm,” and lives life with “vigor.”
Vance, we’re only two paragraphs into the meat of this book, and Hubbard has already proposed that he’s found the superman, isn’t he? And that superman is in each one of us if we could just clear away our “aberrations.”
VANCE: Yeah, I think you got it. I mean, I’m pretty sure that “aberration” or “psychic aberration” were part of the general psychoanalytic lingo at the time, so maybe we shouldn’t give Hubbard too much credit for using the term. Anyhow, it’s pretty powerful as a thought tool. Yes, it sounds silly to think that you could get rid of all your aberrations. But just saying those words forces us to conceptually distance ourselves from our, uh, issues. “It’s not me, it’s my aberrations.” And here’s Hubbard telling us he’s got the solution.
“So, I don’t have to feel bad about being a nut case?”
“Nope, not your fault.”
“And I can do something about it?”
“Yup. Here’s your manual. Just add some hope, then shake with vigor.”
“But how can I shake with vigor if I can’t get vigor until I’m Clear?”
“Uh … Get lost kid. You’re buggin’ me.”
THE BUNKER: Let’s keep moving through the chapter. Here and again Hubbard drops hints that his discoveries are based on some large amount of laboratory testing which has been performed somewhere by someone. These allusions tend to be very vague and in passive voice.
But those tests have revealed, Hubbard asserts, that “clears” possess qualities that weren’t even suspected in human beings previously. (Again with the superman thing.)
Now there’s a lengthy and very dull discussion about the five senses, and how they work in variable ways for different people. Clears, however, get “maximum response” from their senses, depending on their desires.
At this point, Hubbard introduces yet another form of the word “aberration,” this time the neologism “aberree” — a person who still has aberrations and hasn’t reached clear. (Today, Scientologists refer to that person as a “pre-clear” or PC.)
Getting back to his talk of the senses, Hubbard makes the point that it would be awfully nice to recall moments from our past in their full, technicolor brilliance, with all senses firing. That way of remembering, he says, is “standard in a clear” even if unattainable by the ancients.
“What a clear can do easily, quite a few people have, from time to time, been partially able to do in the past.”
Hubbard then gives “dianetic names” to the senses that one perceives during this vivid recall of memories: “visio (sight), sonic (sound), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), rhythmic, kinesthetic (weight and motion), somatic (pain), thermal (temperature) and organic (internal sensations and, by new definition, emotion).”
There’s no obvious reason why these “perceptics,” as he calls them, need new names. (And oiliness apparently came later.)
Is it just us, Vance, or is Hubbard using cute new names to pretend that he’s actually discovered something that isn’t really there? We can all imagine recalling events from our past in more vivid detail, and could probably convince ourselves of it from time to time. But so what? Is he actually laying the groundwork for the idea that he’s going to teach us to go back into our past, as time travelers?
VANCE: Without a doubt he’s leading up to that very idea: regressing into the past with hi-fidelity is in store. It makes me think of hypnotism and how people supposedly can be sent back into their past with extreme realism. When I first read Dianetics, I interpreted this chapter to mean that going Clear would enable me to revisit all parts of my past with super-fidelity, essentially at will.
Incidentally, Hubbard had a passing familiarity with Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics. (Later, he said in a lecture he didn’t actually know squat about the subject but was just going off what his friend had told him.) I suspect his desire to come up with precise definitions (i.e. one word = one definition instead of one word = many definitions) partly came out of that association. Either way, it all plays into the atmosphere he set. The subtext is, “I’m a precise engineer and this is an established subject. Please forgive me for being so meticulous. That’s just how we science guys roll.”
I know this will be a surprise for many readers, but of all the Clears I met (at least twenty but probably many more than that), none of them openly claimed, much less demonstrated, these kinds of abilities. As you move into the fold, you learn not to question people very eagerly about their abilities or status. You just get the sense that if you go too deep with your questioning (just curiosity, not even skepticism) you’ll deflate them, be disappointed, feel like an ass. We don’t want to deflate others without a damn good reason for it. What’s messed up is that we believers are able to write off each of these instances as being one-off cases. I mean, Jill might be Clear and a disappointment, but that’s just her, I guess. There must be plenty of Clear-acting Clears. When I go Clear, I’ll really be Clear. I mean, here are all these people in Scientology and they must have obtained the benefits that Hubbard is promising. So, the promised benefits of Clear must be obtainable.
I doubt anybody articulates this in his mind, but I figure it’s what keeps us coming back. We believe there’s at least the possibility of getting these great abilities, even if some (or most, or all) Clears that we know don’t have them. Hubbard wouldn’t just lie about it, would he? He couldn’t have bamboozled everybody. There must be some merit to what he’s saying. Right?
THE BUNKER: OK, we’re finally nearing the end of the chapter, and Hubbard has another claim about the abilities of a clear: he is a rational being that the aberree cannot hope to be.
In that sense, the clear has something in common with these new machine minds — computers — which are emerging in 1950. In fact, like a computer the “sentient portion of the mind,” Hubbard says, “which makes man Man is utterly incapable of error.”
“This was a startling discovery when it was made,” he says in the passive voice, as if it were self-evident and a settled fact.
“Any person, aberrated or clear, computes perfectly on the data stored and perceived.”
But what could it possibly mean that man “computes” something as a sort of automatic machine, and that he does it on “data stored”? We’ll get an answer soon enough, but for now Hubbard asks us to marvel at the idea that there’s some kind of infallible ENIAC machine somewhere inside our heads that we can uncover if we erase our “aberrations.” Then, we will become perfect calculating horcruxes, enjoying the ability to recall our pasts with perfect clarity and free of all neuroses or compulsions.
And that inner person, Hubbard says, is good. (It’s the aberrations that are evil.)
This is the goal of dianetic therapy, to reach that state. But as for proof that any of this is based on more than the whims of a science fiction writer?
“Later there are experiments and proofs for these things and they can be measured with the precision so dear to the heart of the physical scientist,” Hubbard sneers.
So, Vance, that’s a large number of claims to finish out this first chapter — a new state of man previously undiscovered that gives us perfect, technicolor recall, imperviousness to certain ailments, “vigor,” and great eyesight — without a hint as to how this was actually discovered, under what conditions, and without any sense that it could be independently corroborated by other scientists. We’ll see if Hubbard comes up with more “evidence” later, but did it ever bother the Scientologists you worked with that all of these amazing claims and discoveries were coming from only one man, and one man who never seemed to show his homework?
VANCE: Yes, I have to imagine that most Scientologists do question how it is that this is all the product of one guy. But, generally, they figure that Scientology works as is, so we shouldn’t change it. We can point to old religions whose scriptures and doctrines have been … aberrated … through the ages. We can point to the inefficiency of committees, of mob mentality, of organizations losing their integrity to economic and political pressures. We know these things happen. A group just couldn’t come up with so much in-your-face truth. Old groups are sclerotic and resistant to new ideas. Individuals? Not always. And this Hubbard dude seems like a straight shooter. It’s almost easier to believe that a single high-integrity person could make all these startling discoveries rather than a group.
Also, Scientology fosters something of an individualistic ideal on this particular point. You’ve already pointed it out. The idea is that you were right all along (and everybody else was wrong, well, everybody except for that straight-shooting Hubbard guy who’s on your side anyhow).
Wow. I convinced myself. I’m about to hop in my car and head to the org.
THE BUNKER: Next week, Hubbard explains the meaning of life.
Posted by Tony Ortega on January 11, 2013 at 07:00
UPDATE: It’s great to see Jefferson Hawkins in our comments. We’re going to post his contribution here, as it speaks so directly to the subject…
In a sense, Hubbard (and Scientologists) spent the next 30+ years backing away from the assertions in Dianetics. It was “scientific,” yet there were no actual research papers, research records (peer reviewed or otherwise), or anything else that demonstrated he had not, in fact, invented or borrowed the whole thing. I recall at one point I was working on writing an intriduction to Dianetics, The Original Thesis and asked the Archives department if I could see Hubbard’s original research papers and case notes. They said no such papers or notes existed. In other words Hubbard, who obsessively kept everything about his life from early childhood, had neglected to preserve these?
So after a few years, Hubbard backed away from the “scientific” claim and re-branded it as a religion. And even to this day, Scientologists will back off from the “science” claim and begin attacking “science” as inferior to Hubbard’s spiritual intuition if you bring the subject up.
Hubbard’s inability to produce anything that resembled a Clear was a continual source of embarrassment. If you listen to the Congress lectures (nothing I recommend by the way), he is continually asserting, “We’re almost there, we’re on the road to producing a real Clear, it’s going to happen,” and so on. Then about 1959, he says “we’ve bypassed Clear and we’re going straight for OT.” Huh?
Then all the excitement about OT, all the Advance magazine stories of OT Phenomena. Then after a few years, you see all the rationalizations and excuses for why OT “powers” never materialized – PTS, bypassed case, drugs, so on and so on. Now Scientology backs away from all those heady claims about OT. “He didn’t really mean cause over matter, energy, space and time…” I’ve had it explained to me that an OT is really just someone who can live a more successful life – a sort of Tony Robbins result in other words, not an advanced being with superior spiritual powers.
Dianetics was strong stuff. It made all kinds of amazing claims about the nature of man and the mind and how people could be Cleared. I got caught up in it. A lot of people did. Then when the results failed to materialize, you get the reasons, the excuses, the justifications. And Scientologists, like Hubbard, become masters at explaining away the lack of results.