Dianetics: From Out of the Blue?
The following article was originally published in The Arizona Skeptic, vol. 5, no. 2, September/October 1991, pp. 1-5.It was reprinted in the UK Skeptics publication The Skeptic, vol. 6, no. 2.
L. Ron Hubbard, author of the book Dianetics: The
Modern Science of Mental Health and founder of the Church of
Scientology, was a science-fiction writer before penning the book
that would launch his fame. Dianetics is a self-help book
published in 1950 which claimed to include new and unique
theories on how the mind works. Hubbard claimed that this work
was totally unprecedented; "Man had no inkling whatever of
Dianetics. None. This was a bolt from the blue." (1) So there would
be no doubt as to the originality of his ideas, Hubbard wrote
that "dianetics borrowed nothing but was first discovered and
organized; only after the organization was completed and a
technique evolved was it compared to existing information." (2)
According to Hubbard, some philosophers of the past helped
provide the foundation of Dianetics, but the remaining research
had been done "what the navigator calls, 'off the chart.'" (3)
Dianetics became a New York Times bestseller in 1950, and has since sold many millions of copies.
Was this a totally unique theory of the mind wrought from
Hubbard's "many years of exact research and careful testing," (4) or
was it a loose composite of already existing theories mixed with
novel, unproven ideas? This paper proposes to show that, despite
Hubbard's claims of originality, many of the ideas in Dianetics
were already existing and even in vogue before Dianetics
appeared. Either Hubbard really studied other works before he
wrote Dianetics, or he wasted years of his time re-inventing
Although there are no reference notes in Dianetics to
see what are Hubbard's ideas and what are borrowed, we can
quickly eliminate the idea that Dianetics appeared "from the
blue" by Hubbard's own statements. In Dianetics itself is the
statement that "many schools of mental healing from the
Aesculapian to the modern hypnotist were studied after the basic
philosophy of dianetics had been postulated." (5) Alfred Korzybski,
Emil Kraepelin, Franz Mesmer, Ivan Pavlov, Herbert Spencer, and
others are mentioned as resources in Dianetics, so we must
assume Hubbard was crediting these people to some degree. He must
certainly have known, then, of at least some of the research from
his time which will be mentioned in this article. Hubbard in
other settings acknowledged Sigmund Freud (especially through
Commander "Snake" Thompson), (6) Count Alfred Korzybski, (7) and
Aleister Crowley (8) as contributors to his ideas on the human mind.
In a speech in 1950, Hubbard stated that he had spent much time
in the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital medical library in 1945 during a
stay for ulcers, where "I was able to get in a year's study." (9)
In fact, most of the theories and ideas in Dianetics
can be found in scientific literature previous to the first
publishing of Hubbard's theories. Parts of Dianetics, for
example, have striking resemblance to two articles found in
Volume 28 (1941) of the Psychoanalytic Review..
Dianetics theory posits the existence of engrams. These
are memories of events that occur around us when our analytical
mind is unconscious, and they are recorded in a separate area of
the mind called the reactive mind. A seemingly unique theory in
Dianetics is that these memories begin being stored "in the
cells of the zygote--which is to say, with conception." (10) These
engrams can cause problems for the person throughout life unless
handled through Dianetics auditing.
Dr. J. Sadger, nine years before the introduction of
Dianetics in 1950, wrote that several of his patients were not
cured of their psychological problems until he had taken them
back to their existence as sperm or ovum. He declared that "there
exists certainly a memory, although an unconscious one, of
embryonic days, which persists throughout life and may
continuously determine an action." (11) Sadger spends much time
explaining how his patients' memories of the time when they were
zygotes or even sperm or ovum had affected their adult behaviors,
noting that "an unconscious lasting memory must have remained
from these embryonic days." (12) There were "unmistakable dreams" of
being a sperm in the father's testicle.
Engrams, those unconscious memories of Dianetics, are
said by Hubbard to be stored in the cells of the body and passed
on to their clone cells and finally on to the adult being.
Hubbard claimed to discover that "patients sometimes have a
feeling that they are sperms or ovums... this is called the sperm
dream." (13) It was impossible, he claimed, to deny to a pre-clear
that he could remember being a sperm. But Sadger wrote about this
first, and Hubbard could well have read this in his "year's
study" at Oak Knoll Hospital.
Another coincidental discovery of Hubbard and Sadger was
that mothers often attempt to abort their child. Sadger states
that "so many a fall or other accident of a pregnant woman is
nothing else than an attempt at abortion on the part of the
unconscious, not to mention those cases where the mother seeks to
free herself more or less forcibly from the unwanted child." (14)
Hubbard concurs; "Attempted abortion is very common," (15) and in
fact "twenty or thirty abortion attempts are not uncommon in the
aberee." (16) Again, not an idea "from the blue."
Life in the womb was not very kind, according to one of
Sadger's patients: "Perhaps when father performed coitus with
mother in her pregnancy I was much shaken and rocked. Shall that
have been one reason that I so easily became dizzy and that all
my life I have had an aversion even as a child from swings and
carousels?" (17) Hubbard, in a similar vein, insists that the mother
"should not have coitus forced upon her. For every coital
experience is an engram in the child during pregnancy." (18) "Papa
becomes passionate and baby has the sensation of being put into a
running washing machine." (19)
There are at least three other similarities like the
"sperm dreams", commonality of abortion attempts, and fetus
discomfort during parental sex. This seems quite a coincidence,
but it is not known whether Hubbard read Sadger's article.
Suffice it to say that these are major ideas in Dianetics, but
they are not new ideas.
The second article under discussion from Psychoanalytic
Review deals with the unbearable conditions during birth and the
affects of these in later life. Grace W. Pailthorpe, M.D., argued
in this 1941 article that patients should be psychoanalyzed more
deeply into the period of infancy, or at least to the 'trauma of
birth'. Otherwise no lasting therapeutic effect could be
expected. Birth has traumatized all of us, she declares, and
these unconscious memories drive us in our adulthood. "It is only
when deep analysis has finally exposed the unconscious deviations
of our vital force" (20) that we can recover and enjoy life.
In Dianetics, the reader is left with the impression
that the ideas of birth and pre-birth memories and traumas,
multiple abortion attempts, and fetal discomfort in the womb are
new discoveries. As can be seen, this is not the case. And there
are many other impressions of "new" and "unique" that are
incorrect as well.
With Pailthorpe's article, for example, we can also note
the dramatic similarities of Dianetics with simple Freudian
psychoanalysis. There is in both the return to past times in the
patient's life to search for the source of his or her current
problems. Once these problematic memories are discovered and
treated the problems vanish. In Pailthorpe's article we have a
man who was hopelessly traumatized by the events at his birth. He
was cruelly kicked out of his "home" in the womb, and his
resistance to this was assumed to be the cause of the immediate
traumas of the nurse's and mother's attentions (which were
"painful to the child's sensitive body" (21)). These traumas caused
headaches and social disorders in adult life. Psychoanalysis
discovered the causes (birth trauma) and when these were brought
to the conscious level with their meaning explained, the
headaches and social dysfunctions were alleviated.
Dianetics follows this line of reasoning to a great
degree. According to Hubbard, engrams (past traumas) are
discovered in the pre-clear's past, and bringing these engrams
into consciousness (from the reactive to the analytic mind)
alleviates the disorder. Hubbard claims that after auditing
people (he had the pre-clear lie on a couch in Freudian
imitation), "psycho-somatic illness...by dianetic technique...has
been eradicated entirely in every case." (22)
A theory in psychoanalysis known as abreaction is so
similar to Dianetics (and preceding it by many years) that it
must be mentioned in more detail here. A 1949 article by
Nathaniel Thornton, D.Sc., gives a brief overview of abreaction
and his views on its value. Abreaction began with Freud and was
considered early on to be "one of the very cornerstones of
analytic therapy." (23) This is a method of freeing a patient "from
the deleterious results of certain pathogenic affects by bringing
these affects back into the conscious mind and re-experiencing
them in all their original force and intensity." (24) A patient of
one of Freud's colleagues, under hypnosis and "with a free
expression of emotion" (25) was freed of all her psycho-somatic
symptoms using abreactive therapy. Pierre Janet is credited in
the article with utilizing abreactive therapy to restore painful
memories to consciousness and thus relieving a patient's
symptoms. A patient being treated with this method must
continually work through such painful memories until the patient
"could accept the fact that the original experience no longer
loomed up as a threat to him." (26)
Thornton concludes that abreaction is a useful tool
simply because "confession is good for the soul", and that
talking to someone about one's problems is almost always
"Auditing" in Dianetics is a virtual clone of abreactive
therapy. Auditing basically is searching through a person's past
until an engram is discovered, then continually reexperiencing
the event when the engram (painful memory) was instilled "until
the pre-clear is no longer affected" by the memory. (27) Hubbard
takes abreaction to an extreme and declares that once a person
has removed all his engrams, then Dianetics has done its job and
an almost god-like human results. Once again, the similarity of
an already existing theory on the mind is presented as a great
discovery in Dianetics.
Alfred Korzybski, mentioned in passing in Dianetics, (28)
owes a debt to Hubbard for making his theories well-known,
according to some former followers of Dianetics. Bent Corydon, a
former Mission holder of Hubbard's Church of Scientology, has
made a convincing comparison of Dianetics and Korzbyski's
writings, demonstrating that there is in essence little
difference between many aspects of the two. (29) In support of this
comparison, it should be noted that there was a "Korzybski fad" (30)
sweeping through the science-fiction community in the 1940's, of
which Hubbard was a member, and that Hubbard, as mentioned above,
had stated the contribution Korzbyski made in his research.
Corydon also mentions the book The Mneme published in
1923 by Richard Simon, wherein not only the idea of engrams, but
the very word itself is used. The word "engram" is listed in the
Oxford English Dictionary as deriving from Simon's book.
Cybernetics, published in 1948, (31) compares the human
mind to the newly developing technology of computers. Dianetics
also tells us to "consider the analytical mind as a computing
machine." (32) Cybernetics speaks of "affective tone" scales, (33) as
does Dianetics in a remarkably similar vein. (34) Cybernetics was
a very popular work at the time Hubbard was writing Dianetics.
We have seen that many of the ideas in Dianetics which
were claimed to be unique were in fact current in the study of
the mind at the time of, or just before, the introduction of
Dianetics. It is difficult to see whether Hubbard had studied
some of these works during his "many years of exact research," (35)
but as mentioned previously he does acknowledge other
researchers. At any rate, no book is written in a vacuum, so we
may conclude from the evidence that Hubbard was aware of at least
some of this research previous to writing his work. Barring
acknowledgment somewhere by Hubbard, or a list of articles and
works he had read, we can only guess as to the others.
It seems safe to conclude that the theories presented in
Dianetics did not arrive "out of the blue" as claimed, but were
instead a synthesis of previous, uncredited works. In that case,
is there any reason to discount the ideas in Dianetics? There
certainly is. There are outlandish, unsubstantiated claims made
by Hubbard, including the possibility that cancer may be cured by
Dianetic processing, (36) that colds and accidents can be
eradicated, (37) IQ improved, (38) life extended, (39) and total recall
enjoyed. (40) None of this is proven in any way other than constant
mention of previous research. The problem with this research is
that there is no tangible evidence of its existence. Hubbard in a
lecture stated that "my records are in little notebooks,
scribbles, in pencil most of them. Names and addresses are
lost... there was a chaotic picture...." (41) A certain Ms. Benton
asked Hubbard for his notes to validate his research, but when
she saw them, "she finally threw up her hands in horror and
started in on the project [validation of research] clean." (42) He
was putting this into the hands of valid researchers "whose word
can't be disputed" so Dianetics could be legitimized by the
Unfortunately, none of Hubbard's claimed research, nor
those of his valid researchers can be found today, if they ever
really existed. And if the methods and statistical results of the
supposed research are not available, they cannot be checked and
duplicated as the scientific method calls for. Anyone can make as
many outlandish claims as he wants, but the research must be
accessible and reproducible to support those claims if he
brandishes scientific validity.
Dianetics is designed as a how-to manual for
psychoanalysis. Anyone who reads the book should be able to
perform Dianetics auditing and help his fellow man become
"clear". "Dianetics is not being released to a profession... it
is insufficiently complicated to warrant years of study in some
university." (43) It is better to audit someone, said Hubbard,
regardless of how well, than to not audit at all.
But this seems a bit reckless. Auditing can produce
"tears and wailings," (44) and "a patient...that...bounces about,
all unconscious of the action." (45) Regardless of the auditor's
abilities, and regardless of how traumatic a session becomes for
the pre-clear, "If an auditor...can sit and whistle while Rome
burns before him and be prepared to grin about it, then he will
do an optimum job." (46) This sounds more like quackery than
Children often have engrams that are restimulated by
their parents. Hubbard states that it may be necessary to remove
the children from their parents if this is the case, until the
engrams are processed. (47) Here again we have Hubbard making an
outlandish proposal of splitting families in order to produce
The cells of the zygote, according to Dianetics theory,
record sounds during a period of pain (Hubbard often uses a
husband beating his pregnant wife as an example, such as "'Take
that! Take it, I tell you. You've got to take it!'" (48) From this
engram we are to believe that the child grows up to be a thief.
Cellular recordings of sounds by the cells can even be in another
language unknown to the adult or child and still cause similar
problems. All of this, again, has no evidence accompanying it,
and without such evidence it may as well be classified as mere
We have in Dianetics a work by a science-fiction writer
who claims to have created a totally new and foolproof handbook
of the mind with no documentation to prove his claimed research.
This book has been actively sold by Hubbard's Church of
Scientology for many years, and yet it is simply a synthesis of
already published ideas with bizarre, unsubstantiated claims
thrown in. The theories in this book, other than those found in
previous works by others, have never been scientifically
validated, and in fact, one attempt came up dry. (49) There is
little scholastic or societal benefit to be derived from this
work. S.I. Hayakawa put it well in his review of Dianetics:
"The appalling thing revealed by dianetics about our culture is
that it takes a 452-page book full of balderdash to get some
people to sit down and seriously listen to each other!" (50)
Copyright © 1990 by Jeff Jacobsen. For permission to reprint this
P.O. Box 3541
Scottsdale, AZ 85271
- Quoted in L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?, by Bent Corydon and L.
Ron Hubbard, Jr. (Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1987) p. 262.
- L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (Los Angeles: American Saint Hill Organization, 1950), 12th printing, paperback,
August 1975, p. 340. (Henceforth Dianetics.)
- ibid. p.400.
- ibid. p. ix.
- ibid. p.122.
- Russell Miller, Bare-Faced Messiah (N.Y.: Henry Holt & Co., 1987), pp.230- 231.
- L. Ron Hubbard, cassette tape, "Introduction to Dianetics," Dianetics Lecture
Series 1. 1950. Bridge Publications, Inc.
- Stewart Lamont, Religion, Inc.: The Church of Scientology (London: Harrap,
- "The History of Dianetics and Scientology" cassette tape.
- Dianetics, p.130.
- Dr. J. Sadger, "Preliminary Study of the Psychic Life of the Fetus and the
Primary Germ." Psychoanalytic Review July 1941 28:3. p.333
- ibid. pp.343-4.
- Dianetics, p.294.
- Sadger, p.336.
- Dianetics, p. 156.
- Dianetics, p.158.
- Sadger, p.352.
- Dianetics, p.158.
- Dianetics, p.130.
- Grace W. Pailthorpe, M.D., "Deflection of Energy, as a Result of Birth Trauma,
and It's Bearing Upon Character Formation." Psychoanalytic Review July 1941 28:3 pp. 305-326, p.326.
- ibid. p.307.
- Dianetics, p.91.
- Nathaniel Thornton, D.Sc., "What is the Therapeutic Value of Abreaction?"
Psychoanalytic Review 1949 36:411-415. p.411.
- ibid. p.412.
- ibid. p.413.
- Dianetics, p.206.
- Dianetics, p.62.
- Corydon and Hubbard, Jr., pp. 266-269.
- Albert I. Berger, "Towards a Science of the Nuclear Mind: Science-fiction
Origins of Dianetics", Science Fiction Studies, 1989, vol. 16:123-141. p.135.
- Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics; or Control and Communication in the Animal
and the Machine (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1948).
- Dianetics, p.43.
- Wiener, p.150.
- Dianetics, p.323ff.
- Dianetics, p.ix.
- Dianetics, p.93.
- Dianetics, p.92.
- Dianetics, pp. 90, 193.
- Dianetics, p.170.
- Dianetics, p.417.
- L. Ron Hubbard, cassette tape, "What Dianetics Can Do," Dianetics Lecture
Series 2. 1950. Bridge Publications, Inc.
- Dianetics, p.168.
- Dianetics, p.253.
- Dianetics, p.278.
- Dianetics, p.179.
- Dianetics, pp.154, 155.
- Dianetics, p.212.
- Jack Fox, Alvin E. Davis, and B. Lebovits, "An Experimental Investigation of
Hubbard's Engram Hypothesis (Dianetics)," Psychological Newsletter 1959, 10,
- S.I. Hayakawa, "From Science-fiction to Fiction-science", Etc.: A Review of
General Semantics, 1951 Vol. 8 (4) 280-293. p. 293.