The Scandal of Scientology, by Paulette Cooper | Next | Prev | Cites | Index

Chapter 18

The E-Meter

The E-meter is never wrong. It sees all; it knows all. It tells everything.
-- L. Ron Hubbard{1}

An important part of a Scientology auditing session is the E-meter. It lures people into Scientology and, for some, gives a scientific basis to the methods used. Scientologists are accepted or expelled according to its revelations. It helps to extract the Scientologists' most intimate secrets and confessions, including those of a sexual and criminal nature. It helps to determine the length, intensity and nature of the auditing session. It helps to determine the date and details of their present problems and their past lives.

In fact, the E-meter often determines whether they have had past lives. If someone believes he hasn't lived before, but the E-meter does not respond to a date in the person's current life, then he is led to believe that the event must have happened in a past one.

The E-meter or electroencephaloneuromentimograph is about ten inches by six inches by two inches{2} and its appearance was described by one reporter as a "cross between a car speedometer and a practical joker's electric shock machine."{3} Hubbard usually refers to its inventor as "Mathison" and Scientologists will tell you it was invented by Olin Mathison;{4} actually it was invented by Volney Mathison,{5} a chiropractor.{6}

To buy the machine at an Org costs about $162; in 1963 the government determined that it cost only $12.50 to make, and that the Scientology organizations bought it wholesale for $47.{7}

Even at this price, the Scientologists and Hubbard will tell you that it's infallible. It is said that it never fails to pick out the date on which an incident occurred. Scientologists will tell you to the exact second when something happened to them a trillions of years ago.

Apparently, it is less than perfect in picking dates in their current life. Its failure in this task is what caused author Alan Levy, who wrote a piece on Scientology for Life magazine, to become disenchanted with the organization. (Along with the fact that his New York contract said Grades V-VII would cost him $390 at Saint Hill, but when he got there he discovered it was $3,150 "plus living expenses.")

Alan Levy's problems in Scientology started when he was told to use the E-meter to locate the date on which he had a fight with his wife. (Present one, current life.) Without the meter, he knew the year was 1958, and that it was a Sunday morning in March.

Although he suggested to his auditor that they consult a calendar, he was told, "There's no need for that.... The E-meter will find out for us." The meter "found out" that the fight occurred on March 18. But when Alan Levy checked an almanac at a bookstore in East Grinstead, he discovered that March 18, 1958 fell on Tuesday, not Sunday.

It seems pathetic to me still, and terribly precarious, that my failure to perform so simple a journalistic chore -- under other circumstances I would have automatically looked up the date -- could have kept me half tied to Scientology, the deep-probing auditing sessions and the damned E-meter.... I am sure that among the millions of words ... [Hubbard] has written, there are some to convince me that the engram I unlocked did happen on a Tuesday -- in another life -- or that March 18 did fall on a Sunday when I was in the womb. But thankfully it no longer matters.

A number of government witnesses in the Food and Drug Administration's case against the meter also agreed that its functioning was considerably less than perfect. George Montgomery, Chief of the Measurement Engineering Division of the National Bureau of Standards, and Dr. John I. Lacey, Chairman of the Department of Psychophysiology and Neurophysiology at Fels Research Institute in Yellow Springs, stated that the E-meter "failed to meet the commonly accepted criterion by which such an instrument is judged."

This was because:{8}

  1. The E-meter has no device to control the constancy of current.

  2. Holding a can in the hand permits great variations in the area of the skin in contact with the metal electrodes, and would allow great variation in the amount of actively sweaty tissue that is in contact with it.

  3. The instrument is subject to polarization.

  4. It is not a quantitative instrument due to uncontrollable variations in skin contact and current.

These experts also explained that the machine was not really a measure of skin resistance at all, but partially a reading of how firmly the individual was grasping the can; if the person squeezed the can, there was more contact, and apparent skin resistance would drop. If he held the cans loosely, the apparent skin resistance would simply increase.

Scientologists, on the other hand, claim that the E-meter is so sensitive that it will react not only when a person is holding onto it, but also when it is placed on a tomato -- garden variety that is. While some people would view this as an argument against the meter, Scientologists feel that this proves its validity and that it also supports their hypothesis that plants have feelings like humans.{9}

Scientologists have admirably gone to the trouble to research a number of experiments in this field and have presented them to the public in their newspapers and press releases.{10} These experiments were as follows:

  1. Dr. Erwin Kapphan, in Zurich, "using a sensitive version of the skin galvanometer" ("similar to the E-meter used in Scientology confessionals" said the press release) showed that a tomato, when pierced with a nail, showed "definite emotional anxiety reactions" similar to those of humans. Kapphan also said that "plants only catch a disease or blight if they are already thinking of dying."

  2. Dr. Bernard Grad, at McGill University in Montreal, conducted the experiments which showed that plants fertilized by a solution that had been given a flow of attention by a well-known faith healer with acknowledged extrasensory powers grew significantly faster and bigger than other plants.

  3. Dr. Rex Standord, of Duke University showed that plants which are shown love, affection and lots of warm attention grow "demonstrably faster and bigger."

The press release contained no information about the statistical levels of significance of these experiments, or even how the experiments were carried out (for example, how did they give "love" or a "flow of attention" to a plant?) nor how the results were analyzed (how does a tomato show "definite emotional anxiety reactions"? etc.) They simply stated, in a rather unscientific but sincere manner, that three experiments proved beyond doubt that Hubbard's theory (and by extension, the E-meter) was valid. "After ten years of ridicule for his theory ... L. Ron Hubbard has finally been vindicated ... totally validated ... it was about time."{11}

The reader may decide for himself whether the E-meter proves that plants feel pain, have emotional anxiety reactions, grow faster when given a flow of attention by a faith healer, etc., -- or whether to accept the word of the chairman of the Department of Psychophysiology and Neurophysiology at one institute and the Chief of the Medical Engineering Division that the E-meter is not an accurate instrument for measuring the flow of electricity.

But if you choose the latter, just remember that you cannot argue your position with the Scientologists. They claim that the E-meter registers the thetan, which they believe may have an electrical voltage,{12} and since no non-Scientologist has ever seen a thetan, much less checked it for electricity, how can anyone possibly disprove this theory?

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Citations & Notes

{1} first quote [7]
{2} size of meter [261]
{3} car speedometer [202]
{4} Olin Mathison [136, 30, 277]
{5} Volney Mathison [254]
{6} chiropractor [277]
{7} cost of meter really [254, 255]
{8} gov & Dr.'s claims against E-meter [254]
{9} plants have feelings [65a]
{10} 3 experiments [166, 57]
{11} Scientology statement about Hubbard validation [66]
{12} electrical flow of thetan [261]