Hubbard's sources
Jeff Jacobsen

Advance comes from asking free-minded questions of nature, not from quoting the works and thinking the thoughts of by-gone years. (1)

There is certainly no book in existence quite like Dianetics, with its wild scientific claims and unsubstantiated arguments. The claim is that dianetics was a totally unique theory of the mind wrought from Hubbard's "many years of exact research and careful testing." (2) But was it rather a loose composite of already existing theories mixed with novel, unproven ideas? 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 (uncredited) works before he wrote Dianetics, or he wasted years of his time re-inventing the wheel.

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". (3) 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), (4) Count Alfred Korzybski, (5) and Aleister Crowley, (6) as contributors to his ideas on the human mind. In a speech in 1958, 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." (7)

In fact, many of the theories and ideas in Dianetics can be found in scientific and philosophical 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." (8) 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." (9) 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." (10) There were "unmistakable dreams" of being a sperm in the father's testicle.

Engrams, those unconscious memories in 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." (11) 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." (12) Hubbard concurs; "Attempted abortion is very common," (13) and in fact "twenty or thirty abortion attempts are not uncommon in the aberee". (14) 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?" (15) 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." (16) "Papa becomes passionate and baby has the sensation of being put into a running washing machine." (17)

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" (18) that we can recover and enjoy life.

"It was no obscure theory," wrote Hubbard, "which brought about the discovery of the exact role prenatal experience and birth play in aberration and psychosomatic ills." He coincidentally concurs with Pailthorpe's obscure theory, however.

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" (19)). 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 dianetic technique...has been eradicated entirely in every case." (20)

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 impressions of "new" and "unique" that are incorrect as well.

Thomas Hobbes

Another important "discovery" of Hubbard's is that "Man, as a life form, can be demonstrated to obey in all his actions and purposes the one command: 'Survive!'." (21) Hubbard's four "dynamics" of self, sex (meaning procreation), group, and mankind, all deal with survival of man. Although Hubbard makes grandiose claims that he discovered that man's ultimate goal is survival, one can trace this idea back to Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher who wrote in the 1600's. In his famous work, Leviathan, Hobbes wrote; "The Right of Nature... is the Liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will himselfe, for the preservation of his own Nature; that is to say, of his own Life; and consequently, of doing any thing, which in his own Judgement, and Reason, hee shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto." (22) This, in Hubbard's terms, is the first dynamic, or personal survival. Leviathan is divided into three parts, on Man, Commonwealth, and Darkness. The first, in Hubbard's terms, could be said to deal with the first dynamic (self-survival), and the second with the third dynamic (group survival). "The finall Cause, End, or Designe of men... in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves (in which wee see them live in Common-wealths), is the foresight of their own preservation." (23) Again we have an idea which Hubbard claims to have discovered, found in another's writings years earlier.

Coincidentally (?), Hobbes has some other ideas in common with Hubbard. At the beginning of every dianetics and Scientology book is this note: "In reading this book, be very certain you do not go past a word you do not understand." (24) Throughout both dianetics and Scientology training is the notion that words must be clearly understood before course study can continue. This is a useful suggestion, and many Scientologists may believe Hubbard "discovered" this idea, but Hobbes stressed it over 300 years before Hubbard did. In Leviathan, Hobbes derided others whose ideas he was critical of thusly; "The first cause of Absurd conclusions I ascribe to the want of Method; in that they begin not their Ratiocination [argument] from Definitions; that is, from settled significations of their words." (25) Hobbes covers this idea several times, stressing that "in the right Definition of Names, lyes the first use of Speech; which is the Acquisition of Science: and in wrong, or no Definitions, lyes the first abuse; from which proceed all false and senselesse Tenets." (26)

I will leave it to the reader to investigate the other similar ideas between Hobbes and Hubbard, and will leave the question open whether Hubbard borrowed rather than discovered these ideas, since again there is no complete list of what books Hubbard had read.


  1. Dianetics, p. 173
  2. Dianetics, p. ix of 1975 edition.
  3. Dianetics, p. 165.
  4. Bare-faced Messiah, pp. 230-1
  5. L. Ron Hubbard, cassette tape, "Introduction to Dianetics", Dianetics Lecture Series 1. 1950. Bridge Publications, Inc.
  6. L. Ron Hubbard, Philadelphia Doctorate Course series, cassette #18
  7. L. Ron Hubbard,"The Story of Dianetics and Scientology" , 1958, cassette tape #581OC18
  8. Dianetics, p. 176.
  9. Dr. J. Sadger, "Preliminary Study of the Psychic Life of the Fetus and the Primary Germ." Psychoanalytic Review July 1941 28:3. p. 333
  10. Sadger, p. 343-4.
  11. Dianetics, p. 391.
  12. Sadger, p. 336.
  13. Dianetics, p. 211.
  14. Dianetics, p. 214.
  15. Sadger, p. 352.
  16. Dianetics, p. 214.
  17. Dianetics, p. 176.
  18. Grace W. Pailthorpe, M.D., "Deflection of Energy, As a Result of Birth Trauma, and its Bearing Upon Character Formation", (The Psychoanalytic Review, vol. 27, pp. 305-326) p. 326
  19. Pailthorpe, p. 307.
  20. Dianetics, p. 123.
  21. Dianetics, p. 29
  22. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London; Penquin Books, 1968) p. 189
  23. Leviathan, p. 223
  24. Dianetics, p. vii
  25. Leviathan, p. 114
  26. Leviathan, p. 106

Reprinted with permission from The Hubbard is Bare by Jeff Jacobsen. Copyright © 1992 by Jeff Jacobsen, P.O. Box 3541, Scottsdale, AZ 85271.