In 1952, L. Ron Hubbard published What to Audit, a slim volume he later renamed A History of Man, to help guide the participants of Scientology through their explorations into the vast stretches of time experienced by their immortal souls. It’s a remarkable piece of work with a bold agenda and page after page of startling discoveries. Inexplicably, Hubbard’s biographer, Russell Miller, called it “possibly the most absurd book ever written.”
Earlier, we read through the entire length of Hubbard’s 1950 masterpiece, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health with former Scientologist and author Vance Woodward. But because A History of Man describes the evolution of life on earth, we thought it would be helpful to read it with one of the Internet’s best-known scientists, University of Minnesota Morris professor of biology, PZ Myers. If you aren’t reading Paul’s daily musings at his science blog and his freethought blog, well, what’s wrong with you? Also, we want to thank Kate Bornstein for the lovely illustration of PZ gnawing on the 1960s cover of Hubbard’s remarkable book. So let’s dive in!
THE BUNKER: Thanks for reading this book with us, Paul. We know it’s probably not the kind of thing you read every day. Take the first sentence in the book, for example…
PZ: You want to start with the first sentence? I want to start with the title: A History of Man: Antediluvian Technology. It’s remarkable. For a book purportedly about human evolution and history, there is almost no history presented anywhere in the book, and what little there is is without exception completely wrong. Dead wrong. Not one correct statement anywhere, in either fact or principle.
As for “antediluvian” — it’s a big fancy word chosen to sound intellectual, I suppose, but it means “before the great flood of the book of Genesis.” It describes a non-event and is only used by Biblical literalists, so he got that wrong too. The technology? Galvanometers are pretty crude and primitive.
THE BUNKER: You’re referring to the “electropsychometer” or “e-meter,” which Hubbard had recently introduced at the time this book was written in 1952. Before this, in his first book on the subject of the human mind, Dianetics, Hubbard had claimed that his discoveries would allow people to re-live their pasts, all the way back to what they had experienced in the womb. But after going bankrupt a year later, he had come back with a new movement he called “Scientology,” and adopted the e-meter, which as you say measures the galvanism of skin. Scientologists are convinced that it reads the “mass” of thoughts, and with it they can relive experiences of their “whole track” of existence, far, far back in the mists of time. Which brings us again to the first sentence of the book.
PZ: The first sentence is utter nonsense. “This is a cold-blooded and factual account of your last 76 trillion years.” Our lineage has only existed for 5-6 million years; the earth has only existed for 4.5 billion years; the universe is about 14 billion years old. If he’s referring to humanity, he’s overshot the mark by 7 orders of magnitude; if he means the entire history of the universe, he’s off by more than 3 orders of magnitude. It’s a rather wild miss to guess the universe is 5,000 times older than it actually is.
To put that in context, when creationists estimate that the world was created only 6,000 years ago, they’re also off by about 7 orders of magnitude. So Hubbard’s error is comparable to the creationist error, but in the opposite direction.
THE BUNKER: We’ve never heard it put that way, but now that you mention it, that’s an interesting way to characterize Scientology: As Wrong As Creationism, But In The Other Direction.
PZ: Much of the “technology” Hubbard discusses in the book is a mangling of biology. For instance, he claims to be able to cure “cellular injuries” by auditing — that “An auditor can follow a particular cell throughout its own generations within the body and, as part of the evolutionary line, discover many injuries to it…the migrations of a single cell throughout the body are very easy to track in this fashion and ordinarily check against standard suppositions in the field of physical biology.” As someone who has done some cell lineage tracing using injected markers and fluorescence imaging, I wish it were that easy.
And he claims to be able to manipulate cells!
“The pulp of a tooth, for instance, tracks back, cell by cell, to early engrams. When these are relieved, a ‘toothache’ in that tooth becomes almost impossible no matter how many ‘nerves’ are exposed, a matter which brings about a revolution in dentistry.”
Yeah, right. No pain even with exposed pulp and dangling nerves. This is a good thing?
THE BUNKER: Paul, you seem surprised at Hubbard’s claims of miraculous powers over matter, space, and time. You aren’t aware that he was a master mariner and strict disciplinarian?
PZ: Hubbard makes ridiculous and extravagant medical claims time and time again.
“This is useful knowledge. With it the blind again see, the lame walk, the ill recover, the insane become sane and the sane become saner.”
“Cancer has reportedly been eradicated by auditing out conception and mitosis.”
These are dangerous lies. Scientologists get sick and die, suffer from cancer, experience injuries — there is no magic treatment to make these problems go away.
THE BUNKER: Yes, this did get Hubbard into some trouble. After monitoring Scientology’s claims for several years, in 1964 the FDA raided the Washington DC church, confiscating more than a hundred e-meters and thousands of pages of documents. As a result, each e-meter from then on had to carry a disclaimer that it was “not medically or scientifically useful for the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of any disease.” Harsh!
PZ: But back to his biological science. He doesn’t think much of evolution.
“…one should not think of evolution as a standard or precise theory. It is a sprawling and contradictory mass of poorly compiled data, taken from ancient swamps and tar pits, and there are many schools of evolution. These are taught un-uniformly in biology classes. Biology is based on ‘cytology,’ or the study of cells. Existing theory in cytology is quite contradictory to various tenets of evolution. In other words, the field is poorly integrated and badly understood and not overly gifted with data.”
Hubbard claims that Scientology will reconcile the contradictions and provide the answers. Unfortunately, he never gets around to actually explaining the Scientology theory of evolution or providing any data to support it. Reading between the lines, though, it’s quite clear that his model of evolution is the discredited theory of recapitulation, Haeckel’s idea that we go through all the previous stages of our evolution in our early development.
This is obvious when he babbles about using auditing to lead people back through past lives, and even back into non-human forms. He talks about a few — jellyfish and clams. He seems to be much taken with the clam stage of our evolution.
THE BUNKER: We were looking forward to you getting to the clams.
PZ: He writes this: “The CLAM is a deadly incident, but mostly when restimulating on purpose. Although this area of the track is called the Clam, it is improbable that the actual animal was a clam such as our razorbacks. Visios on this seem to indicate that it was a scalloped-lip, white-shelled creature. The Clam was, of course, quite thoroughly fixed to the rocks and the state is very static. The Clam had many troubles. The first of these troubles is the double-hinge problem. One hinge wishes to stay open, the other tries to close. Thus conflict occurs. Here we have two control centers, both of them more or less equal in power, having no internal communication.”
This is complete nonsense on many levels. We did not go through a “clam stage” in our evolution; the bivalves he is talking about are part of a highly derived lineage of molluscs. Our last common ancestor, roughly 600 million years ago, was a worm-like bilaterian…no shell. And Hubbard is very specific about the morphology of this clam ancestor.
THE BUNKER: Just to be clear, the reason he is writing about our ancestral clam is that he expects Scientologists to run into these memories of living as bivalves as they go back along their “whole track” of existence while being quizzed by an auditor who is operating the e-meter. So Hubbard is trying to be helpful, giving his followers some tips on how to react when they remember living as a mollusc on the shoals of some long-forgotten sea, and you’re giving him a hard time about the shape of a shell. Perfectionist. Next you’ll tell us you’re skeptical about his discovery that we not only lived as bivalves, but specifically as WEEPERS, or BOOHOOS, who got full of sand with each incoming wave, and this distressing memory persists in many of us while we are “belching, gasping, sobbing, choking, shuddering, trembling.” Now that’s science.
PZ: Wait, there’s more!
“The hinge epicenters later become the hinges of the human jaw. Should you desire to confirm this, describe to some uninitiated person the death of a clam without saying what you are describing. ‘Can you imagine a clam sitting on a beach, opening and closing its shell very rapidly?’ (Make a motion with your thumb and forefinger of a rapid opening and closing.) The victim may grip his jaws with his hand and feel quite upset. He may even have to have a few teeth pulled. At the very least, he will argue as to whether or not the shell stays open at the end or closed. And he will, with no hint of the death aspect of it, talk about the ‘poor clam’ and he will feel quite sad emotionally.”
I confess. I tried the experiment. I walked up to my wife, said those words while pinching away with my right hand, and she didn’t grip her jaws. She didn’t act upset. She looked…quizzical. Like I’d briefly lost my mind. She didn’t argue with me; she did, having some knowledge of clams that Hubbard apparently lacked, ask why the clam was sitting on a beach, since clams don’t normally sit on beaches.
She’s not having any problems with her teeth, either, but I’ll keep an eye on her over the next few days.
THE BUNKER: You deserve credit for turning the merely hypothetical into the experimental. But as Scientologists will tell you, Hubbard’s tech works 100 percent of the time, so if your experiment didn’t produce the results he predicted, then you were doing it wrong.
PZ: Hubbard’s knowledge of human evolution is laughable, too. He claims that there is a “Piltdown” stage — the book was written very shortly before the hoax was exposed, but even in 1952 paleontologists were uncomfortable with the specimen. Here’s his level of understanding:
Man’s first real Manhood is found in the PILTDOWN, a creature not an ape, yet not entirely a man. It is so named not because it is accurately the real Piltdown Man, but because it has some similarity.
The Piltdown contains freakish acts of strange “logic,” of demonstrating dangerousness on one’s fellows, of eating one’s wife and other somewhat illogical activities. The Piltdown teeth were enormous and he was quite careless as to who and what he bit and often very surprised at the resulting damage.
Obsessions about biting, efforts to hide the mouth and early familial troubles can be found in the Piltdown. It is a wonderful area in which to locate GE overt acts.
That’s simply ludicrous. Piltdown man was exposed as a hoax in 1953. Hubbard’s superior Clear mind was apparently unable to perceive the fictitious nature of the specimen…but then, anybody who could write the drivel above couldn’t have been very bright.
THE BUNKER: And yet, the Piltdown reference remains in editions of A History of Man today. Remember, Hubbard could see along the whole track. Perhaps he knows something about the Piltdown incident that you don’t — after all, he was very likely there.
PZ: He has some confused nonsense about the “genetic entity” which he uses to justify his notion of past lives. This doesn’t seem to have anything to do with genes or genetics at all: he presents it as a kind of dumb, unthinking device that controls basic autonomic functions and also records all physical experiences, which are transmitted through various lives. It seems to be the physical (?) medium by which prenatal events and experiences of previous lives get communicated to the individual. He backs this up with gobbledygook:
“The genetic entity apparently enters the protoplasm line some two days or a week prior to conception. There is some evidence [which he never gives –pzm] that the GE is actually double, one entering on the sperm side, one entering on the ovum side. If the matter were still important, some time could be spent determining this, for the GE answers dually in present time.”
It makes me wonder if he had any clue what “conception” meant. What is the protoplasm line? Sperm and egg haven’t met yet before conception, so where the heck is it?
THE BUNKER: Well, you’ve struck upon a very important point there which we also experienced time and again while reading Dianetics — Hubbard often speaks of “evidence” and “research” without ever actually revealing what that evidence or research consisted of.
But let us venture a theory about the Genetic Entity. As we mentioned earlier, Hubbard had started out with Dianetics, which was especially focused on re-living your time in the womb and discovering “prenatal engrams” — traumatic memories from your experiences as sperm, egg, or fetus. After Dianetics failed and Hubbard had started over with Scientology, it was a new ballgame, and his followers were focused on their experiences as “thetans” on a “whole track” of trillions of years of existence. When your body dies, you — as a bodiless thetan — just float over to the nearest maternity ward and jump into a newly born baby for your next lifetime. But wait, what happened to those prenatal engrams? Hubbard somehow had to account for them, so he came up with the idea that each of us has multiple unseen entities: the thetan, which is pure spirit and is immortal, and the genetic entity, which is more about keeping the body going and has come down the evolutionary track. Now see, doesn’t this all make much more sense?
PZ: Reading the whole book, I’m struck by just how ignorant Hubbard was of the state of science in the early 1950s, how little he said to actually justify his notions as scientific, and how wrong he was about everything. The impression given is of a poorly informed, relatively unread and uneducated individual, who is reflecting weakly understood material gleaned from casual reading of newspapers and popular magazines — he is spectacularly ignorant. Just in human paleontology, the Taung baby had been found in 1924, the Leakeys were busily working Olduvai Gorge (although their popular fame would be a few more years in the future), Homo erectus was known, Neandertals had been discovered in the 19th century…and the only specific hominin Hubbard can mention is Piltdown? Remarkable.
He even confirms where he gets his information.
“Just as ‘medical science’ has accepted prenatal experience (according to their best heralds, the popular magazines such as Coronet and Reader’s Digest), prenatals fade into the obscurity of curiousa in Dianetics.”
Uh, medical scientists don’t publish in the Reader’s Digest. It’s telling that L. Ron Hubbard considers that rag to be a credible source of scientific information.
THE BUNKER: Paul, later in the book Hubbard describes what specific “events” a person is likely to run into when they are auditing back in the far past. For example, about a million years ago, there is an incident on our whole tracks which was designed by the Fourth Invader Force. (The Fourth Invader Force has recently had troubles with the Fifth Invader Force — they are apparently ruling different parts of our solar system at the current time, according to one of Hubbard’s lectures.) The incident these alien pranksters put into us acts upon our nerves so that we fear arrest and are terrified of the court system. Fortunately, with Hubbard’s therapy, this incident can be removed, and he finds that it often relieves the subject of asthma, sinus trouble, and chronic chills.
We bet you weren’t aware that asthma patients are actually suffering from a control mechanism laid into our whole tracks a million years ago by the Fourth Invader Force. Why can’t modern medicine take advantage of this?
PZ: Maybe it’s because modern medicine specializes in Homo sapiens, rather than the Homo erectus and Homo antecessor who were running around a million years ago?
THE BUNKER: Spoilsport.
Our special thanks to Professor Myers for his patience in this project. If this is your first trip to the Underground Bunker, may we recommend some links to some of the highlights that have appeared here in the eleven months since this website breathed life?
— We broke the news of Leah Remini’s defection from the Church of Scientology, then wrote the most detailed description of her history in the church and reasons for leaving it, and then broke the news this week that she had filed a missing-person report on the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly.
— We blogged L. Ron Hubbard’s Masterpiece, Dianetics, from front cover to back with the help of author and former church member Vance Woodward. Start your adventure here with the first post!
— On Tuesdays, we’re taking readers step by step through what it’s like to advance as a Scientologist on the “Bridge to Total Freedom.” We’re lucky to have the help of Claire Headley, who at one time oversaw the auditing of Tom Cruise!
— On Saturdays, we explore Scientology history with author Jon Atack, who’s helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.
We’re also watching numerous lawsuits making their way through the courts, and we also regularly get reports from overseas. So stick around for a while and find out what’s happening in real time as Scientology navigates the roughest seas it’s found itself in since like forever!
In case you missed the update to our story last night: Yesterday, we broke the news that Leah Remini had filed a missing-person report earlier this week with the Los Angeles Police Department regarding Scientology leader David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly Miscavige, who hasn’t been seen in public, or at any church events, in seven years.
LAPD Officer Gregory Baek told us that detectives had made contact with Shelly and now consider the case closed and classified as “unfounded.” But our sources tell us that Remini still has not been briefed by the LAPD about the results of her report. We asked Officer Baek — Would the LAPD begin telling the press and public that the case was closed without briefing the person who made the missing-person report?
“That depends on the situation and the case, and the detective will decide which will get first,” he told us. “I don’t know exactly what happened.”
So the public still has no confirmation on where Shelly Miscavige is, what condition she’s in, and why she hasn’t been seen at church events in the last seven years. And Leah Remini, as far as we know, has received no answers to her questions.
Does the LAPD understand that Remini is from Brooklyn?
We want to wish a fond farewell to one of our favorite Scientologists, actress Karen Black, who slipped the surly bonds of her latest MEST body Wednesday at the age of 74.
We may have witnessed one of her last public appearances with the readers of this blog when we watched her take part in 2012’s Writers of the Future contest gala — we watched the live stream, and were happy to see her. In 2010, she had been diagnosed with cancer, and in March we told you that her husband was raising money so they could go to Europe for an experimental treatment. He wrote more recently that she was doing so poorly, they were unable to make that trip.
But let’s remember Karen for her art. She gave us a performance in Five Easy Pieces that got her nominated for a supporting actress Oscar. In the comments, let us know which of her films was your favorite.
We want to thank the National Association of Black Journalists, who met last week in Orlando, Florida, for recognizing a story we did in December for Seattle Weekly about Jason Terry, who played for the Boston Celtics this past season. (He’s now coming to Brooklyn, and we’re pretty thrilled about it.)
Our story about Terry was named best sports story of the year for newspapers with less than 150,000 circulation by the NABJ, and we’re still grateful to Mike Seely, the Weekly‘s then editor, for asking us to head up to Boston to do that story. Terry’s from Seattle, and Seely asked us to learn about Terry’s journey from one of Washington’s best prep players, to his NCAA championship at the University of Arizona, to his NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks, and his subsequent trip to Boston.
Along the way, we got to talk to people like Lute Olson and Slick Watts and Gary Payton, whom we interviewed on the phone from Karen de la Carriere’s house while we were there with a British TV crew. Random.
Posted by Tony Ortega on August 9, 2013 at 07:00
E-mail your tips and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.