Criticisms of L. Ron Hubbard’s Theory of “Dianetics.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 3.57.17 PM.png

L. Ron Hubbard created a system/theory he called Dianetics (1). He penned two books in 1950 on the subject, Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science and Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, with the latter becoming a big seller.

Dianetics consists of a number of ideas and practices relating to the metaphysical relationship between the mind and body. Hubbard’s ideas intended to form the basis of a new kind of psychotherapy although it evolved into the spiritual domain. The later led to it being employed frequently within contemporary Scientology. Over time Hubbard described Dianetics in a number of ways including “a mix of Western technology and Oriental philosophy,” “a spiritual healing technology,” and “an organized science of thought” (2).

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 3.58.37 PM.png
The book in which Hubbard presented his theory of Dianetics.

The Basics of Dianetics.

Numerous concepts form the basis of this theory. First, it operated on the notion that human beings hold on to the things they have experienced in life and that these experiences, notably the negative ones, could return and affect them (3). In this respect, Hubbard came up with the term “engram,” which he defined as the source of “all psychological pain, which in turn harmed mental and physical health” (4). Engrams are located in the “reactive mind,” the unconscious part of the mind that records the likes of shock, trauma, pain, and harmful memories (5). These engrams were allegedly the cause of all psychological and physical problems in the person. Hubbard also posited the “analytical mind,” the part of the human mind that is conscious, rational, and that is used to solve problems (6). He believed that through a counseling method called auditing, by which a person helps another individual to bring up past events as a means to re-experience them (7), an individual could become “clear,” which was deemed to be a state of “exquisite clarity and mental liberation” (8). The auditor asks the individual questions, observes and records the subject’s responses, and then returns to the experiences that appear painful in order to confront them. Hubbard believed that if this psychotherapeutic method was repeated, it would clear the reactive mind which would then result in an individual being deemed “clear.”

Hubbard’s Claims Regarding Dianetics.

Hubbard posited numerous dramatic claims as a means to bolster public opinion about his theory. For instance, he described Dianetics as,

“an organized science of thought built on definite axioms: statements of natural laws on the order of those of the physical science” (9).

Given that natural law undergirds everything in the hard sciences this is indeed a rather big claim to make. Hubbard also claimed that his theory could eliminate unwanted emotions, increase intelligence, and alleviate psychosomatic illnesses. He stated in 1950 that “To date, over two hundred patients have been treated; of those two hundred, two hundred cures have been obtained” (10). Additionally, he also claimed that the likes of ulcers, eye issues, arthritis, allergies, asthma, some coronary difficulties, migraine headaches, and sexual deviation could be treated by Dianetics (11). Hubbard referred to these conditions and ailments as “aberrations,” that ranged “from simple neuroses to different psychotic states to various kinds of sociopathic behavior patterns” (12). Aberrations are harmful as they negatively affect our ability to survive. Hubbard believed that if applied Dianetics would lead to “A world without insanity, without criminals and without war” (13).

Medical & Scientific Response to Dianetics.

Prior to Hubbard’s theory developing into the “applied religious philosophy” of Scientology, a number of criticisms were made against it, some of which were based on independent studies. For example, in contrast to some of the dramatic claims made by Hubbard, a study by Harvey Jay Fischer found that applying Hubbard’s methodology to his sample of 36 participants between the ages 22 and 47 did not result in any significant change in terms of mathematical ability, intellectual functioning, or the degree of personality conflicts, despite such claims being made by Dianetic proponents (14). In one other study conducted in 1950, three researchers at the University of California put Hubbard’s engrams concept to the test. According to Hubbard one could scientifically prove the existence of engrams,

“If you care to make the experiment you can take a man, render him “unconscious,” hurt him and give him information. By Dianetic technique, no matter what information you gave him, it can be recovered. This experiment should not be carelessly conducted because YOU MIGHT RENDER HIM INSANE” (15).

The researchers, along with auditors from the the Dianetic Research Foundation of Los Angeles, tested this claim with a participant rendered unconscious with sodium pentathol for the purposes of the study. While the participant was unconscious a 35 word section of a physics book was read to him, and pain was administered during the reading of the last 18 words. The participant was then left to rest for an hour longer and then awakened. Two days later, auditors from the Dianetic Research Foundation began to audit the participant with the goal of eliciting the engram or recording of the spoken text which, according to Dianetics, resided in the subject’s reactive mind. As the results showed, the auditors did elicit several possible passages from the subject and provided them to the researchers. However, post analysis the researchers concluded that “comparison with the selected passage shows that none of the above-quoted phrases, nor any other phrases quoted in the report, bear any relationship at all to the selected passage. Since the reception of the first interim report, in November 1950, the experimenter tried frequently and repeatedly to obtain further reports, but so far without success” (16).

According to this study the engram concept could not be validated, and where Hubbard claimed that individuals were healed, as in the case of 88 people who went through the process of Dianetics therapy, critics have criticized him on the biased nature of the research, the lack of scientific controls, and the failure to consider other possible factors involved which could possibly influence the results of the study (17).

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 3.53.36 PM
The E-meter. Image Source.

Hubbard also made a machine he called the “E-meter.” This machine sells for expensive prices and is used by auditors because of its alleged ability to detect “spiritual distress or travail” (18). The E-meter is a proposed scientific instrument that can be used to locate engrams within the minds of individuals and encourage the shifting of actual mental mass and energy (19). The machine passes a tiny amount of electrical current (roughly 1.5 volts) through the body of the individual (called a “pre clear”) holding its two can-shaped electrodes. Auditors believe that the machine can inform them concerning the pre clear’s thoughts. However, no evidence suggests that the E-meter has any such affect. It appears that E-meter captures “biofeedback,” by which it measures modulation in the flow of electrons brought to the surface of the skin by ions that have probably traversed “through long muscle cells, long nerve axons, or through the bloodstream” (20). It is suggested to measure muscle tension and skin temperature (21). Additionally, the notion that the E-meter can result in the shifting of mental mass and energy is speculative. No evidence in neurology suggests that thoughts have mass to them. Accordingly, the Church has been obligated by law to affirm that the device “by itself does nothing” and that it is used specifically for spiritual purposes (22). The full statement on the data plate of the instrument reads,

“By itself, this meter does nothing. It is solely for the guide of Ministers of the Church in Confessionals and pastoral counselling. The Electrometer is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily function of anyone and is for religious use by students and Ministers of the Church of Scientology only.”

In conclusion, it would appear that where Hubbard’s theory of Dianetics has been tested it has failed to be validated, which goes a long way in explaining why it was deemed pseudoscientific, as well as “unscientific and unworthy of discussion or review” (23). The American Psychological Association reasoned to this conclusions itself positing that “these claims are not supported by empirical evidence of the sort required for the establishment of scientific generalizations” (25).


1. Hubbard, L. 1998. What is Scientology? p. 529.

2. Mcall, W. 2007. Psychiatry and Psychology in the Writings of L. Ron Hubbard. Journal of Religion and Health. 46 (3): 437-44.

3. What Is Auditing? Available.

4. 2009. L. Ron Hubbard publishes Dianetics. Available.

5. The Solution To The Reactive Mind. Available.

6. What is the Mind? Available.

7. What Is Auditing? Available.

8. 2009. Ibid.

9. Winter, J. 1987. Dianetics: A Doctor’s Report. p. 18

10. The Scientologist. Dianetics Developer Hubbard. Available.

11. Christensen, D. 2017. Rethinking Scientology. In Lewis, J. Handbook of Scientology. p. 55.

12. Melton, G. 2000. The Church of Scientology. p. 25.

13. Hubbard, L. 1990. Science of Survival: Prediction of Human Behavior. p. 1.

14. Fischer, H. 1953. Dianetic therapy: an experimental evaluation. A statistical analysis of the effect of dianetic therapy as measured by group tests of intelligence, mathematics and personality.

15. Hubbard, L. 1950. Dianetics: the modern science of mental health: a handbook of dianetic procedure.

16. Davis, F. 1959. An Experimental Investigation of Hubbard’s Engram Hypothesis (Dianetics). Psychological Newsletter. p. 133.

17. Winter, J. 1987. Ibid. p. 40.

18. The E-Meter. Available.

19. Christensen, D. 2016. Rethinking Scientology A Thorough Analysis of L. Ron Hubbard’s Formulation of Therapy and Religion in Dianetics and Scientology, 1950–1986. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review. p. 155.

20. Schafmeister, C. Biophysics and the E-Meter. Available.

21. Martin Hunt quoted in The Metabolism Test. Available.

22. Scott, P. A Study of E-meter Frequency Response. Available.

23. News Week. 1950. Poor Man’s Psychoanalysis. Available; Kent, S. 1999. The Creation of ‘Religious’ Scientology. Religious Studies and Theology. 18 (2): 97-126.

24. New York Times. 1950. Psychologists Act Against Dianetics; APA. Chapter XI. Scientific Affairs. Available.


One comment

Let me know your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s