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Jon Atack takes apart the Scientology E-meter

MathisonJon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and on Saturdays he’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.

Jon, you continue to take a hard look at Scientology’s most basic concepts and practices. We’re really excited that you turned your attention this week to that most familiar of Scientology accessories, the E-meter! Tell us about it.

JON: The first Electropsychometer used in Dianetics was developed by Volney Mathison. It is a device based on a Wheatstone bridge, an electrical circuit which measures resistance, in this case through sensors held in the hands, so it measures the conductivity of skin — also known as galvanic skin response. More accurately, it measures changes in the sweat glands, by passing a small electric current through the body. Such meters were not new — Hubbard’s claim to have made the only valid discoveries in the field of the mind and spirit in 50,000 years are not borne out by the development of the e-meter, which actually had nothing to do with him, and had been enthusiastically supported by Jung and others many years before.

The original meters — the Mathison meters — were plugged into the mains, and had to be earthed to a radiator, so that they didn’t electrocute the “preclear” Experiences with this meter may have encouraged Hubbard to develop his electrical hypotheses of the thetan, expounded in Scientology 8-80 and forgotten soon after (as were so many of his “breakthroughs”).

In the 1970s, Saint Hill’s two E-meter repair men were disappointed at the poor quality of the Mark V e-meter. Because they repaired them, they knew that the cheapest components were used, including germanium transistors, which had long been considered obsolete elsewhere. They set themselves a simple task: what would happen if, instead of the cheapest components, they used the best?

One night, they left their new meter alongside a standard Mark V, with the same input to both meters, and a pen read out to show how they reacted. When they returned from their pleasant evening at the pub, they were surprised to find that the Mark V had registered twice as many reads as their new high-spec machine. They forewent further boozing, and watched closely during the next test, which confirmed, beyond a shadow of doubt, that half of the reads on the Mark V were self-generated.


Their plans for a superior E-meter were shelved when the Mark VI was announced. To their surprise, the Mark VI was actually little more than a Mark V in a soap box (which someone must have thought was futuristic). At around this time, Texas Instruments quoted $38 per meter to build the Mark VI, which were already retailing for over $500. They soon passed $3,000.

The high-spec meter was eventually released to the Independents in about 1984. It was called the Ability Meter and just the jewel on which the needle pivoted cost more than the whole component cost for a Mark VI. This was the Rolls Royce of E-meters.

Along the way, however, the cheap meters used in the cult had begun to cause problems, precisely because they generated their own reads. Someone at last discovered this (having ignored reports from our two repair men, for years), and the problem was isolated. The potentiometer — pretty much a volume control, like a dimmer switch for a light (which is the “tone arm” on the meter) was shedding carbon dust into the works, because of its primitive construction. These motes of carbon were causing reads. Worst of all, they were causing “rock slams.”

In the early seventies, there was a project to discipline anyone who had shown a rock slam during auditing. The “List One rock slam” project sent a majority of the Sea Org onto the Rehabilitation Project Force. I often saw E-meters rock slamming without the “cans” being plugged in, so it was no news to me that these were false reads. The suffering caused to Sea Org members, because of this elementary mistake, is awful to contemplate.

And, how about the accuracy of the meter in detecting “hidden areas of emotional charge?” Well, there is a peculiar statement by Ronald Hubbard that must be taken into account, and here it is: speaking of Committees of Evidence, Hubbard said: “The E-Meter is not to be used to procure evidence as it does not register lies on criminal types and, however vital and reliable as an auditing aid, is not always valid in detecting crime or acts [sic]. It can react on the flustered innocent and fail to react on the cold-blooded guilty.” In other words, if you don’t agree with the use of the E-meter, it doesn’t work. The reference, should you choose to check it, is a policy letter of 7 September 1963, elegantly styled “Important, Scientology Five, Justice, Committees of Evidence, Scientology Jurisprudence, Administration of.”

In his excellent book, Blown for Good, Marc Headley explains that the Mark VIII E-meter cost $40 per machine to build. A recent price list shows it at $6,000. And you have to buy two. Think on.


The Video Vault: The Life Continuum!

Our source has come through with another “quote video” this week. We ask you this week to ponder the deepnesses of The Life Continuum…


Once again, we asked Marc Headley about this week’s video…

Lots of Int Base employees were used on this one, and at least one from LA as well. We start off with Mike Gilchrist (again) playing the part of the funeral-goer along with Paula Moniz. Natalie Fisher is the older woman. She was one of the few elderly employees still left at the base before they were mostly mass offloaded to Florida. If there was one thing that angered Dave Miscavige more than anything it was old people “dropping their bodies” while he was around. If they even looked like they could be going anytime soon, you could bet they’d be loaded onto a bus to some far-flung Sea Org base where they could be put in a home right before they drop. Also, when people go dying on you, the local LEOs tend to give into all the “labor camp” rumors and stories and ask pesky questions, which is always a pain. If you are into exercises in futility, go ahead and try to look up “compassion” in a Scientology dictionary.

Back to the video 00 we now see Al Baker (who has since left the Sea Org after 20 plus years and now sells automotive fuel treatments in Detroit) who plays the older gentleman looking through the rainy window. The shots with Al were done with a kid and if you look really close you can see that these were shot at the Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles. This was most likely done there as they needed a black guy and as there were only two at the Int Base they cant be in every single video that gets shot. To wrap this one up we have Chris Olander & Leah O’Hare getting happily audited so they don’t end up like Granny Natalie.

As a side note, someone asked me how much these videos and events cost to produce. These quote videos usually came in under $10,000. The biggest single cost usually was talent, and if we could get away with using all Int Base actors and locations we could shoot for the cost of tape alone which was peanuts. Most of the time we would just recycle already built sets and props so we could keep costs way down for these.

Event videos would usually come in around $15,000 to $30,000.

An IAS winner video could costs as much as $25,000 to $50,000.

Events are where the big money would get spent!


Posted by Tony Ortega on February 1, 2014 at 07:00

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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 39

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39


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