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Blogging Dianetics, Part 7: The Hard Cell

DianeticsStandardWelcome 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, blogger, and author Vance Woodward. Go here for the first post in the series.

In the last chapter, Hubbard made his big reveal, explaining that he had done what mankind had been unable to do for thousands of years — discover the nature of the reactive mind, which records our most awful moments during unconsciousness, and which plays back those moments at inopportune times. It’s the reactive mind that holds us back from being supermen.

As we pointed out, Hubbard had been setting readers up for this revelation for many pages, and then had announced his discovery with as much operatic force as he could muster.

That was all well and good, but he must have realized that he’s now made himself vulnerable. For any carnival barker, the build-up is 90 percent of the game, and once you reveal what it is you’ve been selling, you then have to worry about a backlash when your Feejee Mermaid, for example, turns out to be held together with papier-mâché.

Hubbard knows this, so in this next chapter, he does some fancy backpedaling.

He really has no choice. At this point, Hubbard has made quite a few claims which could be checked independently. And, in fact, more than 60 years later, there’s no independent corroboration of engrams being stored in cellular protoplasm, or a perfectly-recording analytical mind, or the presence of a reactive mind and its nefarious influence.


But Hubbard’s no dummy. Right here, in his first book on dianetics, he predicts that none of this malarkey will turn out to be true — which is, he says, all the reason more why his discovery is so monumental!

It’s a bold maneuver that should leave any reasonable reader shaking his head, but Hubbard knows that at least some in his audience will already be on the hook for the astounding claims he’s made for his “dianetic therapy.”

And that’s all that matters, he now says. Even though his theories may be completely wrong, all that matters is that dianetics works.

“Again, this is still theory and even if it was the track of reasoning which led toward dianetics, it can be completely wrong. It works. It can be pulled away from dianetics and dianetics will remain a science and go on working. The concept of the electronic brain was not vital but only useful to dianetics and it could be swept away as well — dianetics would still stand.”

It’s a stunning admission. Despite assuring us (usually in passive voice) that an (unquantified) body of research has taken years to build up this theory of the mind which evaded detection for thousands of years by the brightest human brains, Hubbard admits that he might, after all, be completely wrong. But it doesn’t matter, because his therapy (which he hasn’t described yet) works perfectly every time.

Well, if he says so. And even after essentially admitting that there is no science behind his discovery, he suddenly gets very liberal use out of the phrase “scientific fact,” which shows up numerous times in this chapter. When Hubbard uses it, however, it’s almost impossible to figure out what fact he’s talking about, let alone how it could be tested scientifically. Take this passage, for example…

“The scientific fact, observed and tested, is that the organism, in the presence of physical pain, lets the analyzer get knocked out of circuit so that there is a limited quantity or no quantity at all of personal awareness as a unit organism.”

That’s a pretty classic example of truth-by-assertion, Vance. Something is a scientific fact because Hubbard says so, not because there’s a fact in there that could actually be tested.

If we can make a brief aside, we’ll describe when we first really became aware of this maneuver — that the more strongly a tall-tale-teller insists that a fact is true, the more likely it is that it’s a complete fabrication.

It was 1998, and we were covering the Seventh Annual International UFO Congress in Laughlin, Nevada for a lengthy story we were doing on the “Phoenix Lights,” a famous pattern of lights in the sky that turned out to be two separate events: a formation of military planes, and a drop of military flares. One of the highlights of that UFO convention was a tribute to a recently deceased UFO researcher named Shari Adamiak. One of her friends gave a speech, relating a time when Adamiak and a colleague had been surrounded in a desolate part of Mexico by soldiers with AK-47s and no identifying insignia. Adamiak and her friend prayed to space aliens, and lo and behold, a flying saucer went whizzing by, which convinced the soldiers to drop their weapons and pick up guitars. While they played, the UFO couple made their escape.

We’ll never forget how the person giving this speech, perhaps realizing how nonsensical her story must be sounding, paused in the middle of it, looked at her audience with a hard stare, and said, “This is a true story.”

Truth by assertion. There was plenty of it at that UFO Congress, and there’s plenty of it here in Dianetics. As even Hubbard himself admits, there may be nothing at all to his theories about the mind. But he wants you to ignore that. He only wants you to believe that his therapy works.

VANCE: That’s a great observation: truth by assertion. I know we’re supposed to be sticking with “Book One” here, but you’ve hit on a core doctrine of Scientology: that the truth is whatever you say it is. So, yes, Hubbard is basically asserting things as true without any backup … but at least he gets sort of honest about it later on in life by telling his followers that they too can and should play PT Barnum, especially when proselytizing. In a later book, Hubbard actually defines Truth as that which raises your “tone level” (i.e. makes you feel good).

When I read this book for the first time, I already felt some disdain for academic learning. Before I even encountered Dianetics and Scientology, I remember frequently distinguishing between book smarts and street smarts. (I had neither, but admired one more than the other.) Hubbard’s emphasis on workability resonated with me. And, when you get right down to it, that little nugget — that workability trumps theory — is unassailable. That’s just a different way, I think, of articulating the scientific method: if your theory doesn’t match the evidence, throw out the theory, not the evidence.

So, here we have this guy saying something to the effect of, “I discovered a one-hundred-percent effective formula for curing all psychosis, neurosis, repressions and compulsions, for raising intelligence to high above the norm, and for restoring memories. I have ideas about why this formula works. But who cares about that? The fact is, it works one hundred percent of the time.”

Wow! If somebody really had made such a discovery, I’d expect them to present it in exactly that manner. It has a ring of truth (i.e. it makes me feel good!). Umm, yes, I am gullible in the extreme, which ties into your digression into UFO country. I couldn’t help trying to figure out how that story could be true. My guess is that the story teller and Adiamak went on a camping trip with a few friends. They dropped some psychedelics. They discussed their visions as they were tripping; so they basically incorporated each others’ trip into their own experience. Other friends, playing guitars, got incorporated into the story as soldiers. Eventually the two came down to realize that their hallucinatory soldiers with AK-47s were really just friends playing guitar around a camp fire, or something like that. Voila. The whole story makes sense. The audience got the truth, just not the whole truth. It was what teller subjectively experienced.

Golly, that’s a problem I have: this reflex to erect a story around what people say so that I can believe them. Hmm, I wonder if Dianetics auditing could cure me of that that compulsion. Uh, can I borrow a few hundred thousand dollars until payday to get some auditing? No? Why not?!! Come on man, it’s for the group. How much do you have in your 401Ks? Ahhhhhh! Oh, sorry about that. Scientology flashback; it’s like a drug flashback, but not fun.

THE BUNKER: While you’re having those flashbacks, we’ll proceed with the chapter.

Having admitted that his theories for how the mind works may turn out to be completely wrong, Hubbard nevertheless charges ahead with more theory as he now tries to convince us that his “research” has revealed numerous ways that the engram works, all of which, he assures us, have been verified as scientific fact.

As we pointed out earlier, however, Hubbard does a masterful job using that phrase to describe things that could in no way be tested scientifically.

We’ll give another example to show what we mean. Hubbard says that we all know the feeling when a certain person makes us feel stupid. Now, there might be any number of reasons for that, including the fact that the other person might be better educated and more well-spoken than we are and for some reason it makes us feel self-conscious. But no, Hubbard tells us engrams are at fault for that feeling, and if we can clear them away we will reach amazing heights of IQ:

“The recovery of intelligence by a clear and the rise of that intelligence to such fantastic heights results in part from the relief of word commands in engrams that he is stupid and in a larger part from the relief of this chronic shut-down condition. This is not theory. This is scientific fact. It is strictly test-tube.”

So we’re feeling stupid because our engrams tell us to. And if we could clear them, we’d actually be smarter than that other guy we felt inferior to. That’s a nice Charles Atlas scenario, but again, we wonder what it is we’re supposed to be able to check with test-tube science. If you can find something in that jumble that is scientifically testable, please let us know.

In the rest of the chapter, Hubbard assigns more and more complexity and power to his engrams, and has us imagine that we accumulate hundreds of them, making it difficult to know which one is actually playing out right now and holding us back. And these engrams have valence, which seems to mean that they have minds of their own, and we can’t help wondering if this line of thinking is what led Hubbard some 17 years later to body thetans — disembodied alien souls infesting us that must be removed by higher-level Scientology exorcism at $1,000 an hour.

With these engrams vying with each other for control of our minds, we turn out to be like Sally Fields in Sybil: “Multiple personality? Two persons? Make it fifty to a hundred,” Hubbard writes near the end of the chapter.

So to review: Hubbard has told us that we’re super beings with perfect minds who are being held back by “demons” in us called reactive minds, which produce engrams in large numbers, which compete to control us and can somewhat camouflage each other. All of which, Hubbard asserts, is cold scientific fact without once showing us anything that can be tested scientifically. And even if it were tested and was shown to be nonsense, it doesn’t matter because his therapy still works and will turn you into a high-IQ model of vigor.

Did we miss anything, Vance?

VANCE: As usual, Hubbard inserted face-saving language into his silver-tongued doublespeak. He wrote, “[T]he rise of that intelligence to such fantastic heights results in part from the relief of word commands in engrams.”

We can test that. Let’s say that we audit out the word commands in a sample of, say, a million people. We simply continue auditing them until they themselves experience relief … or quit. And let’s say that, afterwards, we find that even just one of them enjoyed an increase in IQ sufficiently large to warrant the adjective “fantastic.” Trust me, if you’ve ever had much Dianetics auditing, you probably consider even a single IQ point increase to be fantastic.

Not joking, I think that nobody could become smarter from extended amounts of Dianetics auditing. But let’s say it happened. Or, being more generous, we could suppose that one or two people might enjoy big increases in IQ while also claiming relief from word commands. Who knows? Maybe they’re going to school while getting auditing. Or maybe they wrote their pre-auditing IQ test while stoned. Either way, we could say their stellar IQ increases resulted in part from Dianetics auditing, kind of like how death results in part from birth. Just because A results from B doesn’t mean that B causes A. I hope you didn’t think that Hubbard was claiming that auditing out word commands causes anybody to become fantastically smart. I’m sure he never intended for you to interpret his words that way.

Oh, one last thing, a valence is a personality of one of the dramatic personnel in an engram. It’s more usual to refer to a valence as something that a person has or is in, rather than as something that an engram has.

“I want doe-eyed teenage hotties to dress me in the morning, and I want adoring cultaholics to give me all their money and time. Like my cravat?”
“No way! I’m also in L. Ron Hubbard’s valence. Wanna see my shoe box full of cash? Wait! You’re not with the IRS are you? Here, hold these cans.”

Anyhow, you have the idea. Xenu’s body thetans indeed sound like engrams revisited.

THE BUNKER: Well, we’ve no doubt left everyone confused today. But we soldier on.

Next week — Blogging Dianetics, Part 8: The Demon Seed


Posted by Tony Ortega on February 15, 2013 at 07:00


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