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Jon Atack: Scientology and hypnotism — even some ex-members can’t admit its central role

Jon_AtackJon 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 for more than a year on Saturdays he helped 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. He was kind enough to send us a new post.

Thanks again for another guest post, Jon. What are you looking into this time?

JON: I’ve been talking to a recently defected former Scientologist who blogs as ‘Mockingbird.’ He left earlier this year, after 25 years in the cult. He has steamed ahead and investigated hypnosis in a series of articles.

In one of his pieces, he makes this very pertinent statement: “Scientology has a wealth of false info on hypnosis and in particular makes followers ignorant and determined to not learn anything outside Scientology about hypnosis: This is intentional on LRH’s part.”

Mockingbird has expressed his surprise to me that so few former members are even willing to think about the hypnotic nature of the “Technology.” I told him about my own departure from the “Tech” back in the mists of history (the 1980s, when Kurt Vonnegut Jr. still walked the earth). I was very lucky to have my close friend Mitch, who was every bit as curious as I was, but I don’t remember anyone else, among the hundreds of former members with whom I dealt, who had the slightest interest in understanding the nature of Scientology. They were very happy to argue strenuously against any criticism, but that was it.

Many people were interested in Hubbard’s fabrications about his life — though even this led to some pretty vicious snarling — and putting aside the more bizarre aspects of “Policy” seemed easy enough, but the suggestion that the “Tech” might not be all it claimed was almost universally rejected. Robert Cialdini in his wonderful book, Influence, talks about attending a Transcendental Meditation sales lecture, where his friend, a professor of logic, showed the attendees just how flawed the “logic” of the presenters was. Yet, many signed up for the course. When asked why, they said that if they’d thought about the professor’s reasoning they would be cutting themselves off from the hope of improvement. This is the human condition, sadly.


I’ve spent far too much time studying not only the texts of exploitative persuasion but also a wide variety of therapeutic approaches. There is no doubt to me that Hubbard was right when he said that hypnosis is real and relevant.

I have arrived at some simple conclusions. The first is that Hubbard openly admitted that he had studied hypnosis for years before he came up with Dianetics: “I had studied hypnotism in Asia. I knew hypnotism was more or less a fundamental.” (Dianetics: the Evolution of a Science, p.40 in pre-DM editions). He was in Asia as a teenager, so that dates his interest more than two decades before DMSMH. There are interviews with people who saw him use stage hypnosis, in the late 40s (see The Secret Life of L Ron Hubbard, the UK TV documentary for one such). I interviewed Don Rogers, who was with Hubbard when he was commissioned to write Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health — which contains appendices written by Rogers, in the full edition. Rogers told me that Hubbard had used deep trance hypnosis on all of his “cases” up until then (the 281 he boasts about in the book), but decided that this method was unpopular, so reverted to “reverie.” Now, this is a term used by hypnotists at the time to describe “light trance.” This is a state where the subject appears to be fully awake, but nonetheless accepts suggestions.

There might be some contention about this if Hubbard hadn’t written about the trance inductions caused by the original Dianetic auditing when he cancelled that method in 1951. He specifically says “a pre-clear after he closes his eyes will begin to flutter his eyelids. This a symptom of the very lightest level of hypnotic trance.” (Science of Survival, Book II, p.227). So, why is it so very hard for Scientologists to accept this, when the Founder himself was so adamant?

Here we come to one of the most significant notions in psychology (if you can get past the hypnotic suggestion Hubbard implanted about “psychs,” that is): cognitive dissonance. We do our very best to keep our attitudes, beliefs and behaviours aligned. Given evidence that our beliefs are wrong, we fight very hard to retain those beliefs and to dismiss the evidence. Even when Hubbard himself says that “auditing” can be hypnotic, members are conditioned to believe otherwise. Clever stuff: Implant the suggestion that suggestions are not being implanted, and see what happens.

I’m moving away from Scientology-related work, and among the projects I have in hand is an update of the excellent documentary Captive Minds: Hypnosis and Beyond. It does contain the significant error that hypnosis cannot be used to bring about violations of a personal moral code: You can’t make anyone do anything they wouldn’t do when in their normal state. This is simply wrong, as Derren Brown showed in the Manchurian Candidate section of The Experiments (and, indeed, in The Heist and Messiah). But apart from this flaw — and the funny clothes and haircuts — it is a great introduction to the use of hypnosis in cult groups and, best of all, if you’re showing it to a convicted Scientologist, it doesn’t mention the cult.

If you haven’t seen this documentary, search it out on You Tube. Once you’ve understood just how easy it is to manipulate people, Hubbard’s intentions become transparent. And, if you haven’t already, please read my Never Believe a Hypnotist, which gives chapter and verse on Hubbard’s frequently contradictory statements about hypnosis (contradiction itself is a way of inducing confusion trance, and Hubbard excelled at it). While I was researching this paper, I finally answered my own questions about Hubbard’s motivation — ten years after leaving the cult. He deliberately used hypnosis. There is no doubt — even though, as ever, he tried to conceal his tracks. As Marty Rathbun has realized, the purpose of Scientology is to deify Hubbard. There are no superbeings. No Clears. Just hypnotically euphoric people chasing rainbows and shooting at anyone who says different. Thankfully, once you stop chasing rainbows, and stop believing yourself to be a demigod, inferior only to the Source, you can actually live a socially useful and fulfilling life.


Posted by Tony Ortega on October 25, 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, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48

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, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

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