December 5, 1950
Dianetics: Science or Hoax?
Half a million laymen have swallowed this poor man's psychiatry. Now
they're set to try it on others
by Albert Q. Maisel
A year ago, L. Ron Hubbard was an obscure writer of pseudoscientific pulp
fiction. Today he has:
.. Half a million devout followers.
.. A foundation with a chain of bustling branches stretching from
Elizabeth, N.J. to far-off Honolulu.
.. The best-selling nonfiction book since Dale Carnegie discovered the
secret of success.
.. A swarm of pop-eyed students, who stand in line for the privilege of
plunking down 500 bucks for a one-month course which converts them into
"professional auditors," complete with a couch and capable of outpsyching
any ordinary psychiatrist.
.. Even larger and faster-growing tribes who pay $200 each for the
15-lecture short course - or $25 an hour to have their "cases opened" by
$500 professional auditors.
.. And a small army of associate members, at a mere 15 smackers each, who
gratefully keep up with the whirlwind developments of Hubbard's new
"science" of dianetics through the Dianetics Auditors Bulletin.
Dianetics and the Discovery of Fire
Hubbard, you may gather from the foregoing, has discovered the key to
success and demonstrated once again that Barnum underestimated the sucker
But that, by Hubbard's own admission, is probably the least of his
Unencumbered by the modesty that hog-ties ordinary mortals, Hubbard starts
his book - THE BOOK, his followers call it - with the calm assertion that
"the creation of dianetics is a milestone for Man comparable to his
discovery of fire and superior to his invention of the wheel and the
A few lines beyond, one learns that, with dianetics, "the intelligent
layman can successfully and invariably treat all psychosomatic ills and
Farther on, one discovers that these psychosomatic ills, "uniformly cured
by dianetic therapy." include such varied maladies as eye trouble,
bursitis, ulcers, some heart difficulties, migraine headaches and the
But you ain't heard nothing yet. For Hubbard's auditors (anyone with four
dollars to buy The Book and the stamina to read through it can "audit"
without further license) achieve these miracles by the simple process of
releasing the "engrams" that have been bedeviling their friends and
This opens up marvelous possibilities which Hubbard is not loath to point
out. "A number of germ diseases." he flatly states, "are predisposed and
perpetuated by engrams. Tuberculosis is one. Engrams predispose people to
accidents. Engrams can predispose and perpetuate bacterial infections."
"At the present time," Hubbard concludes, "Dianetics research is scheduled
to include cancer and diabetes. There are a number of reasons to suppose
that these may be engramic in cause, particularly malignant cancer."
At this point, an unsuspected sense of caution overcomes the new Messiah,
and he hastily points out that "this is not to be taken as any kind of
avowal of a cancer cure."
But then, once more overwhelmed by the awe-inspiring nature of his own
discovery, author Hubbard swings back onto his familiar track and asserts
that "those diseases which were catalogued above (that is, everything from
eye trouble through tuberculosis, accidents and bacterial infections) have
been thoroughly tested and have uniformly yielded to dianetic therapy."
Most Ills Succumb
Nor has Hubbard's new science been content to deprive the doctors of seven
tenths of their business. Dianetics lays claim to the ability to remove
"aberrations" of an infinite variety. Neuroses, of course, can be cured,
Hubbard asserts. So, too, can sex deviations and "every type of inorganic
And that's just the beginning.
To dianetics for individuals, Hubbard and his busy associates are hastily
adding political dianetics, child dianetics, judiciary dianetics, medical
dianetics and industrial dianetics. "Education, medicine, politics and art
and, indeed, all branches of human thought, are clarified with dianetics,"
"And even so," he sighs, "that is not enough."
It may not be enough for Hubbard. But it has outraged scores of
psychiatrists, physicians and just-plain-ordinary scientists, who look
upon the astounding claims and the growing commercial success of this
strange new phenomenon with awe, fear and a deep disgust.
The American Psychological Association, for example, has denounced
Hubbard's claims as "not supported by empirical evidence," and has called
upon its members "in the public interest" to avoid using Hubbard's
techniques except when making "scientific investigations to test the
validity of his claims."
Dr. Will Menninger, past president of the American Psychiatric Association
and co-head of the famous Menninger Clinic of Topeka, Kans., goes even
farther in indicting dianetics: "It can potentially do a great deal of
harm. It is obvious that the mathematician-writer has oversimplified the
human personality, both as to its structure and function. He has made
inordinate and very exaggerated claims in his results."
Dr. Frederick J. Hacker, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, adds: "If it were not
for sympathy for mental suffering of disturbed people, the so-called
science of dianetics could be dismissed for what it is ... a clever scheme
to dip into the pockets of the gullible with impunity. The dianetic
auditor is but another name for the witch doctor exploiting a real need
with phony methods."
Hubbard Recalls Birth
The man who touched off all this frenzy was born on a blustery March
morning in 1911 at Tilden, Nebr. Like most newborn babies, L. Ron Hubbard
did not seem at the time to be paying much attention to the proceedings.
But with the aid of his new science, he has recently recalled all the
details of his own birth and sent them to his aunt, who, he says, agrees
that they check most accurately.
In his youth Hubbard traipsed around the world with his father, a
lieutenant commander in the Navy, and ultimately would up at George
Washington University Engineering School. His biography in Who's Who in
the East says that he got his bachelor's degree in civil engineering there
in 1934. His publishers, Hermitage House, Inc., identify him as a
mathematician and theoretical philosopher. Hubbard himself finds this
somewhat embarrassing, because, as he is quick to tell interviewers, "I
never took my degree."
Exploring the Pulps
He also deprecates the inaccuracy of his Who's Who biography, which lists
him as "explorer since 1934." Actually, as Hubbard now recalls the
details, he led the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition, conducting a
group of college students from island to island. "It was a two-bit
expedition and a financial bust," he says, "and I quit the ship at Puerto
Rico in 1933."
Hubbard really got going a few years later, however, when he took to
writing for the pulp magazines. He moved into the science-fiction field
under such six-shooter pseudonyms as Winchester Remington Colt. A dynamic
(though not yet dianetic) writer, he says he used to bat out as many as
120,000 words between Friday and Monday.
But after a time, despite such success, he just couldn't put his heart to
science fiction any more. For he had begun to fathom the innermost regions
of the mind, and life took on a new meaning and purpose.
The war interrupted the development of dianetics. As a Naval Reserve
lieutenant, Hubbard served on escort vessels until he was sent to the Oak
Knoll Naval Hospital near Oakland, Calif., where he stayed for the best
part of a year, suffering, he now recalls, from "ulcers, conjunctivitis,
deteriorating eyesight, bursitis and something wrong with my feet."
But his sufferings were not entirely in vain. For the hospital had an
excellent medical library, and Hubbard, with dianetics boiling up within
him, wanted to avail himself of this facility.
"Doctor" in the Library
The library, unfortunately, was not for patients but rather for the use of
staff medical officers. But the young scientist got around that easily
enough. "I just had a friend in the Marines refer to me as Doctor, loudly,
several times, within earshot of the librarian. After that I had free run
of the joint."
By 1947, Hubbard, discharged from the Navy and granted a VA disability
pension, had pretty well unraveled the mysteries of the engram and was
venturing to "process" his friends, who urged him not to withhold this
great boon from suffering humanity. There remained, however, the problem
of choosing a suitable scientific medium in which to announce and expound
This problem was resolved in May, 1950, when John W. Campbell, Jr.,
convinced Hubbard that Astounding Science Fiction, which Campbell edits,
was the ideal medium. A month after that, the definitive issues of
Dianetics, 452 pages for four bucks, appeared between hard covers under
the imprimatur of Hermitage House. It carried an introduction by J.A.
Winter, M.D., an appendix on The Philosophic Method by Will Durant
(reprinted from The Story of Philosophy, 1926), and two other appendixes
by Campbell and Donald H. Rogers.
Birth of a Best Seller
Since then, history has been in the making. Although virtually
unadvertised, the volume has been disappearing from bookstore shelves at
an astounding rate. Virtually boycotted by book reviewers for many months,
and later panned by them, it nonetheless climbed onto the best-seller
lists and has remained at the top.
The Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation shortly was set up as a nonprofit
New Jersey corporation, with Hubbard as president, Arthur R. Ceppos (of
Hermitage House) as executive vice president, John W. Campbell, Jr. (of
Astounding Science Fiction), as treasurer and Mrs. Hubbard as librarian.
Hubbard went on the payroll at a picayune $500 a month, and the rapidly
accumulating book royalties, student fees and associate-membership
revenues have all been channeled into the Foundation, for the support of
dianetic research and the greater glory of dianetics.
Human Mind Divided
In The Book, Hubbard defines and discusses two main parts of the human
mind. The "analytical mind" is what you think with; it perceives,
remembers and reasons. Hubbard also calls it the "computational mind" and
- affectionately - the "egsusheyftef." By any name, however, it's a nice
old plodder, doing its best to be good. But behind it is the "reactive
mind," and that is the seat of all evil - a sort of glorified tape
recorder that files and retains pain and painful emotions as "engrams."
And these engrams, still according the the master, are impressions on
cellular protoplasm itself, complete recordings down to the last accurate
detail of every perception present in the moment of unconsciousness.
Engrams Will Get You
It's your engrams that will get you if you don't watch out. They cause
aberrations, psychosomatic diseases, neuroses and psychoses. Unless they
are "released: - by dianetic therapy, of course - you're a gone goose.
Worst of all, you just can't help gathering up engrams. You didn't even
have to wait to be born for the evil work to begin. It started at the very
instant of conception, when you were just a little freshly fertilized egg
nestling cozily in your mother's womb.
Here is Hubbard's own jazzed-up description of what happened to you then:
"Mama sneezes, baby gets knocked 'unconscious.' Mama runs lightly and
blithely into a table and baby gets its head stoved in. ... Mama gets
hysterical, baby gets an engram. Papa hits Mama, baby gets an engram.
Junior bounces on Mama's lap, baby gets an engram. And so it goes."
What happens to your engrams? They wait like potent little demons until
they are "keyed in" by some later event. And then they bring on every sort
of mental, moral and physical ailment.
Along the "Time Track"
But these aberrations can be cured, says Hubbard, by tracking down the
engrams and releasing them. The process is simplicity itself. You lie on a
couch. Your auditor will help you fall into a state of "reverie," usually
by counting slowly. Then he will take you back along your "time track," a
sort of mental clothesline on which hangs all your dirty wash of engrams.
One by one, as you go back through the years in reverie, you relive the
painful experiences engraved, as engrams, upon your unconscious reactive
mind. You may recall the shock of operations, the phrases the doctor used
when he had you under anesthesia, even the things that were said when, as
an innocent baby, your father and mother argued above your cradle. As you
recall these things, reading them off your cellular tape, engrams release
their charge and lose their power of evil.
Most important of all is the engram that Hubbard calls "basic-basic" - the
one impinging upon your protoplasmic cells almost as soon as you were
conceived. All too often, according to Hubbard, these prenatal engrams
stem particularly from abortion attempts on the part of the mother.
Unlike many religious groups, the proponents of dianetics have nothing
against birth control. But the greatest of all crimes and the root of most
evils, as they see it, is the attempt - or even just the verbal wish - to
cause the abortion of a child already conceived. They object here, not so
much on moral grounds, as because such attempts - or such wishes and
thoughts - load down the time track with the basic-basic demon engram.
But all is not lost. Dianetics can transform you into a "clear" - a person
whose every engram has been resolved. Then, and only then, according to
Hubbard, will you be free of your ills and experience a tremendous surge
of new energy, creating dynamism and well being.
Tens of thousands of people have been swallowing this doctrine with almost
Cultists Have a Try
Some are the usual lunatic-fringe types - frustrated maiden ladies who
have already worked their way through all the available cults, young men
whose homosexual engrams are all too obvious. But most are serious people,
deeply believing and sincerely wanting to believe.
A defender of dianetics is Frederick L. Schuman, Woodrow Wilson Professor
of Government at Williams College. He is but one of those men of high
achievement in their chosen professions, so convinced of the importance of
dianetics that they willingly write long letters protesting antagonistic
comments, and and enthusiastic articles singing the praises of the new
National headquarters of the Dianetic Research Foundation is an
unprepossessing back-street office building in Elizabeth, N.J. There are
five other centers of dianetic teaching and instruction, in Washington,
New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Honolulu.
Of all the dianetic centers, Los Angeles is the most exuberantly expansive
and enthusiastic. There the Hubbard Foundation moved into a suite of
modest offices last July. In August, it took over a two-story building
housing a lecture theater and 20 "processing" rooms. A few weeks later, it
had to expand again - this time into a 110-room building where swarms of
student auditors raptly attend Hubbard's lectures and practice processing
Still more recently, there have been instituted a series of weekend
sessions at the swank Country Club Hotel in Hollywood. Here, taking over
20 or 30 rooms, a band of student auditors and pre-clears meet under the
guidance of professional auditors for "intensive auditing with chemical
Hubbard and his associates insist that this use of drugs has nothing to do
with narcosynthesis. They claim that "chemical assistants," purchasable
in California at any drugstore, aid in helping resistant pre-clears to
achieve dianetic reverie and to dredge up their basic-basic engrams.
Medical Men Protest
This treatment by laymen of deep-seated psychological and psychiatric
problems is one of the chief causes of the violent criticism from medical
men - and particularly psychologists and psychiatrists.
Under the laws of almost every state, the practice of the healing arts is
restricted to medical physicians, osteopaths and similarly trained
professionals who have passed stringent, state-administered licensing
But the proponents of dianetics are not worried about these restrictions,
despite the face that most of the professional auditors, trained in
one-month courses, could never qualify for the practice of medicine or any
of the related healing arts.
"Pre-clears," Hubbard explains, "get dianetic processing ... neither
therapy nor medicine." Then he adds, with a disarming grin, "It just
happens that what we release is the cause of their psychosomatic
Temporary Aid Likely
Leading psychiatrists, however, are not so sanguine about either the
effectiveness or the innocuousness of Hubbard's poor man's psychiatry. Dr.
Jack A. Dunagin, of the Menninger Foundation, for example, concedes that
some sufferers from mental malaise may find temporary relief under
dianetic hocus-pocus, just as they sometimes do under hypnotism, Coueism
"But," he declares, "the greatest harm to a person would come, not because
of the vicious nature of dianetic therapy, but because ... it will lead
them away from treatment which they may badly need."
Other psychiatrists point out that Hubbard has borrowed from (and in the
process, distorted) most of the psychiatric researches of the last fifty
years. They object to the extreme claims of dianetics, to Hubbard's
constant repetition of his assertion that dianetics "always,"
"invariably," "uniformly," and "without exception" cures the most amazing
list of mental and psychosomatic ills.
M.D.s Reject "Science"
They are outraged and indignant at Hubbard's insistence that he has
developed a "science." They charge that his "evidence" is merely the
endlessly repeated assertion that cures have been achieved in "270 cases"
- unsupported by documentation that these individuals were ever really
sick in the first place or ever achieved cure under dianetic processing.
Although these faults appear overwhelming to men who have spent their
lives in the scientific disciplines, they carry little weight with
Hubbard's growing legions. For dianetics apparently brings them something
that conventional psychiatry has failed to offer them.
Condemn it as obscure, verbose, unscientific; the fact remains that some
individuals find in dianetics a way to bring onto a conscious level some
of the troubles and fears and idiosyncrasies most of us hold deeply buried
within ourselves. Some persons, whether they are cured of anything at all
or not, find satisfaction and a feeling of better adjustment to the world
through this confessional process.
Also, though dianetics is certainly far from the conventional psychiatry,
it has great commercial advantages over the real thing.
In place of the psychiatrist, with his many years of training and his
medical degree, Hubbard offers a professional auditor, supercharged for
processing by a month of high-pressure training - or even an amateur who
points you toward the couch with one hand while he finishes The Book in
In place of scores, and sometimes hundreds, of sessions on the psychiatric
couch, Hubbard offers a few intensive hours - but still the comfort of a
In place of a whole host of complex Freudian causes for neuroses - Oedipus
complexes, father images and what not - Hubbard offers a neat package of
engrams. When he gets down to explaining them in detail, they turn out to
smack rather strangely of Freud. But dresses up in English words (instead
of Greek or Latin), they seem easier to understand.
Dianetics Reaches All
Hubbard's greatest attraction to the troubled is that his ersatz
psychiatry is available to all. It's cheap. It's accessible. It's a public
festival to be played at clubs and parties.
In a country with only 6,000 professional psychiatrists, whose usual
consultation fees start at $15 an hour, Hubbard has introduced mass
production methods. Whether such methods can actually help you if you're
sick is a moot point.
But moot or not, half a million people are having a lot of morbid fun,
getting a lot of excitement and going through a whirl of mental gymnastics
while red-headed Ron builds his chain-store Foundation.
To Father Divine's "Peace, it's wonderful," the dianetician might add,
"Become a 'clear' - it's basic-basic, wonderful-wonderful."