The Creation of dianetics is a milestone for Man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and arch ...L. RON HUBBARD
I first heard of L. Ron Hubbard in the early 50's, as author of the book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. I was studying music then in my hometown, Rochester, New York, and spotted Dianetics at a local bookstore. Its green jacket blurbed that Hubbard had found "the hidden source of all psychosomatic ills and human aberrations ... and skills for their invariable cure." This was the kind of stuff I liked! I took home a copy and read it in a day or two.
Hubbard derives the word "Dianetics" from the Greek dianoua, meaning "thought." "Dianetics is an exact science," he writes, "and its application is on the order of, but simpler than, engineering." The principles of Dianetics are, as Hubbard says, easy to grasp, though the book runs to several hundred pages of spacy jargon, mostly common English words which Hubbard bends to his own use.
The Dianetic model of the human psyche actually consists of "two minds," the analytical, or conscious thinking mind, a flawlessly performing portable computer, and the reactive mind, or "stimulus response mechanism," an unfortunate remnant of cavemen days. The analytical mind records every moment in its possessor's life in full stereo, visual, smell and touch, and files the recordings, which are then readily available in the "memory bank." However, should pain, shock or anesthesia "fuse out" the analytical mind (render the individual unconscious), the reactive mind takes up the recording process, still in full detail, only in such instance a traumatic incident is filed away in the reactive mind, where it is no longer available and has destructive effect. Hubbard calls reactive mind recordings "engrams," and claims that engrams are "the hidden source of all psychosomatic ills and human aberrations," the cause of human affliction from minor neuroses to sickness, war and insanity.
Engrams are "restimulated" in present time by something in the environment that resembles one or more of the sensory imprints -- sight, sound, etc. -- in the engram, and make their professors suffer a full array of psychosomatic, neurotic or psychotic symptoms. The verbal content of engrams is particularly insidious. The reactive mind cannot "think"; it takes words literally. Hence, words recorded during a painful incident become commands (such as "Stop!" yelled during a car crash) that cause sickness and irrational behavior through an entire lifetime.
A person may have hundreds of engrams. Everyone has at least one -- birth. But there are also prenatal engrams, writes Hubbard. When Mother makes love, bumps into the bureau, or attempts an abortion by flushing, scraping, or sticking the fetus with knitting needles or bent hangers, recordings are imprinted in the "fetal reactive mind." According to Hubbard, attempted abortion is much more common, even in the best of households, than many people might suppose.
The notion of words recorded during sexual intercourse must have evoked fabulous vistas for prospective engram-hunters. Indeed, I learned much later that by the time I read Dianetics the book had won a nationwide following and become something of a fad.
Hubbard's cure for the world's ills, called "auditing," is equally rudimentary. An "auditor" puts the subject into "Dianetic reverie" with a short countdown, and directs the subject to recall painful incidents in the past and relive them in full detail. Reliving is also called running, like a film take. Memory of an incident is not enough; the subject must "relive" it in present time, with all sensory perceptions, most importantly pain. Repeated running (rerunning) is usually necessary. At some point the subject suddenly feels relief from his symptoms. He may break into laughter or tears. The auditor then knows that the engram has been erased, and with it its harmful effect.
Now Hubbard's jackpot. A person who runs and erases all his or her engrams is now a clear, free from aberration and psychosomatic symptoms, gifted with total recall, higher IQ, and greater overall capability. A Clear would be the first fully autonomous being on our planet, the happy occupant of a shining world, thus fulfilling mankind's age-old dream of achieving a state something "above human." All one needs is the book "Dianetics" and a partner with whom to take turns auditing.
I found all this immensely appealing. Of course, even self-help books not as sweeping as Dianetics can make a carefree person suddenly aware of personal weaknesses. I hadn't even finished the opening chapter before I realized that all I had needed was a "cure" for my laziness in practicing the piano, unsensational results with women, and resentment for my parents. Dianetics seemed logical and consistent within its own context, though repetitious. I noticed similarities between Dianetics and psychoanalysis. Both methods call for journeys into the past, and Hubbard's mapping out of the psyche strongly resembles Freud's.
However, in auditing, the subject's trouble spots -- engrams -- are not discussed or analyzed. The material is summoned up from the "memory bank" in a computer-like fashion and treated as a "computation" by the auditor, a distinctly modern concept.
It was Hubbard's style as much as his ideas that convinced me. He is superconfident, brash, grandiose. He attacks the established healing professions with swash-buckling gusto, claiming that a few hours of auditing will achieve much greater results than twenty years of psychoanalysis, which produce, at best, a "well-adjusted neurotic."
Hubbard was the underdog, the precocious upstart, the test pilot, the whizkid in the attic saving his country with a marvelous invention in the nick of time. Why, maybe Hubbard was right! There was something heroic about this thing.
I broached Dianetics to a friend in one of the practice rooms at the Eastman School of Music. This bull-session fell in easily with our regular pastime of brainstorming quick ways to master piano playing. My friend was willing to give auditing a shot. Perhaps engrams were causing his marital problems. I made him an outline of the Dianetic procedure, and a few nights later we began auditing sessions in a garage apartment that smelled of cat droppings.
First I was the auditor. My partner lay on a couch, according to Hubbard's instructions, and soon after a short countdown to get him into "Dianetic reverie" he seemed to be in a car crash of a dozen years ago. I directed him through the incident several times, and he began to speak in the present tense, an indication that he was "reliving": "It's late at night ... I'm riding home from a party ... I feel the motion of the car ... the tires screech, we hit something, I'm flying through the windshield ... I hear someone yelling in the distance ... I'm waking up in some bushes ... they're scratchy ... I'm bleeding ... people are running over, helping me up."
I directed him once more to the beginning of the incident to rerun it. This time he heard words spoken while he was lying in the bushes, but could not identify them. When three successive runnings failed to add details, I "brought him up to present time" and ended session with the word "canceled."
I had tried to run the session according to method, but he was upset that he hadn't gotten the words and was left "stranded in an engram" -- meaning that I'd violated one of Hubbard's auditor's rules.
We tried several more sessions, dividing our time equally as auditor and subject. Nothing really noteworthy happened, though at times we both felt we were close to something significant. Auditing held a hint of promise. It was just too time-consuming. Hubbard states that it might take hundreds of hours to audit someone to Clear but doesn't mention that anyone has ever made it. What with the time element and the obvious danger of things getting out of control when running heavy incidents, we stopped experimenting.
I saw none of the reviews or critiques of Dianetics at that time. In the mid-50's I read another Hubbard book, Science of Survival, and was disappointed to find a proliferation of jargon and complicated-looking charts that I couldn't relate to my understanding of Dianetics. There was MEST -- Matter, Energy, Space and Time, the physical universe; and enMEST, MEST in a state of turbulence. Also theta, the spiritual, and entheta, "enturbulated" theta. Subjects slept off the effects of engram running in periods of grogginess called "boil-offs" which lasted up to 30 hours.
I wondered why Hubbard innovated so soon after proclaiming the original Dianetics unfailingly successful. An ad in the book announced the establishment of a Dianetic Research Foundation in Wichita, Kansas, where one could be audited for a fee.
By 1960 I was settled in New York, still single, playing piano in ballet rehearsal studios and orchestra pits for a living. I heard nothing of Hubbard for several years, except for a rumor in a magazine that he had spent time in a mental hospital. Occasionally I read Eastern philosophy, and dabbled in mystic ideas -- never for very long; there were always other systems that "almost worked" to experiment with. At times I wished I could find a commitment, a goal to stick to, but I had pretty well learned to accept my lack of it.
For the most part I forgot about L. Ron Hubbard and Dianetics.