CoS and Totalitarianism

Here is part 3 of Laura Kay Fuller's 1999 senior thesis at UC Santa Cruz, CoS and Totalitarianism. This portion deals with the E-Meter. The full thesis is available here.


"The E-Meter sees all, knows all. It is never wrong."

-L. Ron Hubbard, Electropsychometric Auditing Operator's Manual, 1953.78

The Hubbard Electro-psychometer, or E-Meter, has become an indispensable part of Scientology. The E-meter is a device which measures the changes in electrical conductivity of the skin that occur at moments of even slight excitement or emotional stress.79 It is similar to the machine used in giving lie detector tests. The rather crude device consists of two tin cans held by the subject or "preclear."80 The cans are attached to an apparatus with several dials and a small window in which a needle moves, indicating responses by registering the change in electrical resistance of the subject's skin. Scientologists claim the E-meter allows people to "see a thought."81 Originally invented by early Dianetics enthusiast and chiropractor, Volney Mathison, Hubbard eventually patented the device, which proved to be quite a profitable venture.82 Every Scientologist wanted to have his own E-meter and the only place to buy them was from the Hubbard Association of Scientologists. The little gadget would later prove to be an essential tool in Scientology processing.

Scientology processing, or auditing, is a central element of the cult's practices. Auditing usually involves two people: an auditor and a preclear. An auditor is someone trained in applying Scientology techniques and has been through Dianetics processing themselves. The preclear pays to be guided by the auditor through a series of techniques involving the E-meter, which are used to uncover areas of mental distress. The auditor asks questions of the subject, and the movement of the meter's needle is apparently used as a check of the emotional reaction to the questions. According to complex rules and procedures set out in Scientology publications, the auditor can interpret the movements of the needle after certain prescribed questions are asked. These reactions are then used in diagnosing the mental and spiritual condition of the subject.83

During the auditing session, only the auditor sees the movements of the needle. The preclear's role is to answer questions and work to remember painful experiences that have occurred in the past. Interpreting the motions of the needle, the auditor then coaxes the subject to view a mental picture of the supposed event. The idea is that the same E-meter needle reaction will continue until the person has faced up to whatever is being repressed. In this way, the E-meter is essentially used to uncover buried thoughts or experiences on behalf of the subject. The following is a simplified dialogue showing how the E-meter is typically used in Scientology processing-Auditor: "Have you ever stolen anything?" Preclear: "No." Auditor (looking at needle moving): "That reads. What do you consider this could mean?" Preclear (envisioning a past experience): "I'm not sure...Oh yeah, I did steal a candy bar when I was eight years old." Auditor (viewing needle): "That's clear." (moves onto next question).84

Many Scientologists are initially impressed that the auditor can apparently discover what they are thinking. The E-meter seems like sheer magic in its ability to dredge up forgotten experiences.85 Some members come to regard the instrument with a special, almost supernatural awe. Hubbard claimed that the E-meter was infallible, and as such was an invaluable tool in providing a scientific basis for the methods prescribed in Dianetics.86 The machine revealed what was beneath the surface of the human conscious in a precise and accurate manner, said Hubbard. Above all, he stressed that the E-meter was scientific proof of the workability of Scientology processing.87 For Hubbard, the needle's movements reflected a scientific precision that lent an air of credibility to the movement. The machine was the final indicator of what was true- it did not lie.

The importance that Scientology places on the E-meter and how this correlates with the ideology of totalitarianism is the subject of this section. I argue that Scientology's relation toward its E-meter has come to epitomize the movement's totalitarian leaning toward technology and science. Referring to Hannah Arendt's writings, I will discuss how totalitarian movements use the language of science to propel their ideology. In addition to this, I will consider Hubbard's emphasis on logic and axioms, as well as the mechanized processing it entails. A discussion of the various ways the E-meter is used within Scientology will also be included.

One of the major things that Hannah Arendt stressed about the nature of totalitarianism was that once it has come into the world, it will continue to arise in new ways that we have not considered.88 Arendt was concerned with the many possible forms in which totalitarianism could disguise itself. She particularly felt that science and technology were areas where totalitarian movements would arise in the future. The nature of the totalitarian guise demands that it be difficult to recognize. In the case of science and technology, Arendt wrote that totalitarianism is the last stage in a process where "science has become an idol that will magically cure the evils of existence and transform the nature of man."89 This faith in science, which has become a dominant characteristic of American culture in the twentieth century, is the guise in which Arendt felt totalitarianism was most likely to emerge.

Totalitarian movements always accentuate the scientific aspects of whatever they are asserting. As Arendt writes, "the obsession of totalitarian movements with 'scientific' proofs" is a distinguishing characteristic of their ideology.90 Scientology has exhibited this trait from the very moment Hubbard conceived of Dianetics as "The New Science of the Mind."91 Hubbard's initial approach in writing about Dianetics was that of an engineer seeking practical, scientific solutions to the mysteries of the human mind. Gone was Hubbard's previously racy science fiction prose; it was replaced by a sober and logical textbook style.92 The new scientific thesis rested upon a system of axioms and mechanisms, giving Hubbard the appearance of a respectable scientist laboring away for years to uncover the hidden truth within nature. In reality, Hubbard never held a degree in neither science nor engineering.93 However, this did little to discourage him from writing in the scientific language he favored, as it served to make Dianetics seem more credible and thus more persuasive.

This emphasis on the scientific has followed Scientology throughout its brief history. Hubbard based Scientology on the premise that the human mind is predictable according to certain axiomatic laws of mechanics. He drew elaborate maps of how the human mind works, entitling the sketches "Mind Schematic" and "Analyzer Schematic."94 These maps were the equivalent of linear computer models, complete with Hubbard's wordy and often incomprehensible language.95 Having conceived the notion of a mechanized human mentality, Hubbard then declared that the mind was now subject to a "science of certainty."96

Hubbard's complicated, mechanical outlines are an excellent example of how Scientology exploits society's faith in science and technology to establish a system of unverified scientific proofs as fact. As Arendt notes, every totalitarian movement "asserts that all happenings are scientifically predictable according to the laws of nature."97 In the case of Scientology, Hubbard said that mental behavior was scientifically predictable within the laws of engineering and physics and could be measured accurately with the assistance of an E-meter. Thus, utilizing the E-meter as a source of scientific evidence for its theories, Scientology can continue to spread the fantasy it is based upon. The result is a movement where "ideological lies are supposed to be believed like sacred untouchable truths," each surrounded by a carefully elaborated system of "scientific proofs."98

Another correlation between Scientology's relationship to science and the totalitarian ideology is the revealing name that Hubbard chose to call his religion. "Scientology" is derived from the Latin scio (knowing in the fullest sense) and the Greek logos (study)99. An exact definition of the word would be "knowing how to know," a phrase which Scientologists always refer to when discussing the origins of the word.100 Hearing the word "Scientology," one is reminded of science; that is, science with an -logy stuck onto the end of it. This combination of word connotations produces a meaning which seems to be half scientific and half philosophical- in short, scientific philosophy.101 Interestingly, Hannah Arendt wrote that ideologies themselves are "known for their scientific character: they combine the scientific approach with results of philosophical relevance and pretend to be scientific philosophy." This is exactly what Scientology does, as its name testifies. Scientology functions as an ideology, for it orders ideas under the subject matter of a science. Arendt states that the suffix -logy in ideology, and, I would add, in the word Scientology, "indicate nothing but the logoi, the scientific statements made on it."102 Such ideological thinking within Scientology is significant because it characterizes the totalitarian desire to build a fictitious world. The application of a scientific model functions merely as a justification for that desire. Hubbard's logical procedures, which are the foundation of Dianetics and Scientology, begin with an axiomatically accepted premise which "deduces everything else from it, proceeding with a consistency that exists nowhere in the realm of reality."103

Returning to the subject of the E-meter, it is critical to examine the various ways Scientologists have used this technological apparatus over the years. In 1959, Hubbard introduced "security checking," known as "sec checks," whereby Scientologists are interrogated, having to answer long, prepared lists of questions about their moral transgressions.104 The E-meter is used as a lie detector throughout these "sessions." Scientology defends sec checks as a way of handling hidden "overts", i.e., harmful acts.105 Apparently, one of these "harmful acts" is addressed with the question "Have you ever had any unkind thoughts about L. Ron Hubbard?"106 A careful record is kept of all confessions, which has proved to be a highly effective means of silencing dissidents. Due to strong criticism, the procedure was later renamed "integrity processing," using the exact same list of questions as the earlier "security checks."107 Scientology presumes that any of its members might become a security risk at any time, and the "accuracy of the E-meter" is used to blackmail those who turn against the movement.108

Many people also view the E-meter largely as a biofeedback device. In biofeedback, the subject learns how to control his or her own unconscious physical responses by manipulating them with conscious mental control.109 These people argue that while the E-meter may help people, there is little if any real measurement of repressed experiences occurring during auditing. Instead, subjects experience a heightened self-confidence as they learn how to pass the E-meter's tests by controlling their own thoughts. The more familiar a Scientologist becomes with the E-meter, the easier it can be tricked, much like a lie detector. The biofeedback viewpoint contradicts Scientology's official position that processing "discharges the harmful energy connected with the preclear's reactive mind."110 Nonetheless, it is another way of viewing the E-meter which has gained a following within factions of dissident Scientologists.

While ways of understanding the E-meter vary, it is crucial to recognize how the device reflects Scientology's totalitarian attitude toward science and technology. Scientology insists that the E-meter is the final indicator of the truth, consistently relying on the "scientific proof" of this machine to further its ideology. Hubbard's overwhelming vision of mechanical processing, leading to his "science of certainty," was based on the notion of a scientifically predictable human mind that obeys axiomatic laws of logic. In addition to this, Scientology uses the E-meter as a lie detector, gradually building a state of fear and paranoia for its members. All the while, the movement continues to rely on a `pseudo-scientific philosophy that has proven itself to be a defining characteristic of the totalitarian ideology. It is only when such an ideology aims to obliterate all opposition, as I will discuss in the following section, that it begins to reveal the absolute terror that forms the basis of totalitarian domination.

Copyright (c) 1999 Laura Kay Fuller

Dave Touretzky
Last modified: Thu Jun 24 14:31:42 EDT 2004