Frequently Asked Questions about Dianetics

In 1950, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. [Published by The American Saint Hill Organization, Los Angeles. All page references are to this hard back edition.] The book is the "bible" for Scientology, which calls itself both a "Church" and a "religion." Hubbard tells the reader that dianetics "...contains a therapeutic technique with which can be treated all inorganic mental ills and all organic psycho-somatic ills, with assurance of complete cure...." and that he has discovered and demonstrated "The single source of mental derangement...."(p. 6) However, in a disclaimer to the reader on the frontispiece of the book, we are told that "Scientology and its sub-study, Dianetics, as practiced by the "Church..." does not wish to accept individuals who desire treatment of physical illness or insanity but refers these to qualified specialists of other organizations who deal in these matters." The disclaimer seems clearly to have been a protective mechanism against lawsuits for practicing medicine without a license; for, the author repeatedly insists that dianetics can cure just about anything which ails you. He also repeatedly insists that dianetics is a science. Yet, just about anyone familiar with scientific texts will be able to tell from the first few pages of Dianetics that the text is no scientific work and the author no scientist. Dianetics is a classic example of a pseudoscience. And Scientology is a classic example of a fraud built on a pseudoscience and sustained by the desperate needs and hopes of sick, lonely and/or uncritical thinkers.

Our concern here, though, is not with scientology or with scientologists. For all I know, most scientologists are good- willed people who [believe] they are performing God's work for the benefit of humankind. What concerns us is dianetics and Hubbard's claim that it is a science. By examining this so-called science we will be able to see more clearly some of the key differences between science and pseudoscience.

On page 5 of his book Hubbard tells us of what a science of mind must be composed: "A single source of all insanities, psychoses, neuroses, compulsions, repressions and social derangements....Invariant scientific evidence as to the basic nature and functional background of the human mind....The cause and cure of all psycho-somatic ills...." He also notes that it would be unreasonable to expect a science of mind to be able to find a single source of all insanities, since some are caused by "malformed, deleted or pathologically injured brains or nervous systems" and some are caused by doctors. Undaunted by this apparent contradiction, he continues to say that this science of mind "would have to rank, in experimental precision, with physics and chemistry." He then tells us that dianetics is " organized science of thought built on definite axioms: statements of natural laws on the order of those of the physical sciences...." (p. 6)

There are broad hints that this so-called science of the mind isn't a science at all in the claim that dianetics is built on "definite axioms" and in his a priori notion that a science of mind must find a single source of mental and psychosomatic ills. Sciences aren't built on axioms and they don't claim a priori knowledge of the number of causal mechanisms which must exist for any phenomena. A real science is built on tentative proposals to account for observed phenomena. Scientific knowledge of causes, including how many kinds there are, is a matter of discovery not stipulation. Also, scientists generally respect logic and would have difficulty saying with a straight face that this new science must show that there is a single source of all insanities except for those insanities which are caused by other sources.

There are other evidences that dianetics is not a science. The single source of insanity and psychosomatic ills is called by Hubbard the engram. Engrams are to be found in your engram bank which is in your reactive mind.1 This "reactive mind", he says, "can give a man arthritis, bursitis, asthma, allergies, sinusitis, coronary trouble, high blood pressure, and so on down the whole catalogue of psycho- somatic ills, adding a few more which were never specifically classified as psycho-somatic, such as the common cold." (p. 51) One searches in vain for evidence of these claims. We are simply told: "These are scientific facts. They compare invariably with observed experience." (p. 52)

An engram is defined as "a definite and permanent trace left by a stimulus on the protoplasm of a tissue. It is considered as a unit group of stimuli impinged solely on the cellular being." (p. 60 note) We are told that engrams are only recorded during periods of physical or emotional suffering. During those periods the "analytical mind" shuts off and the reactive mind is turned on. The analytical mind has all kinds of wonderful features, including being incapable of error. It has, we are told, standard memory banks, in contrast to the reactive bank. These standard memory banks are recording all possible perceptions and, he says, they are perfect, recording exactly what is seen or heard, etc.

What is the evidence that engrams exist and that they are "hard-wired" into cells during physically or emotionally painful experiences? Hubbard doesn't say that he's done any laboratory studies, but he says that in dianetics, on the level of laboratory observation, we discover much to our astonishment that cells are evidently sentient in some currently inexplicable way. Unless we postulate a human soul entering the sperm and ovum at conception, there are things which no other postulate will embrace than that these cells are in some way sentient. (p. 71)

Somehow, this explanation doesn't strike me as being on the "level of laboratory observation." Furthermore, the theory of souls entering zygotes has at least one advantage over Hubbard's own theory: it is not deceptive and is clearly metaphysical. Hubbard tries to clothe his metaphysical claims in scientific garb.

The cells as thought units evidently have an influence, as cells, upon the body as a thought unit and an organism. We do not have to untangle this structural problem to resolve our functional postulates. The cells evidently retain engrams of painful events. After all, they are the things which get injured....

The reactive mind may very well be the combined cellular intelligence. One need not assume that it is, but it is a handy structural theory in the lack of any real work done in this field of structure. The reactive engram bank may be material stored in the cells themselves. It does not matter whether this is credible or incredible just now....

The scientific fact, observed and tested, is that the organism, in the presence of physical pain, lets the analyzer get knocked out of circuit so that there is a limited quantity or no quantity at all of personal awareness as a unit organism. (p. 71)

Why are these claims "scientific facts" but the claim that souls enter zygotes is not? No reason is given. Hubbard just asserts that these are scientific facts based on observations and tests, despite the fact that there hasn't been any real work done in this field!2

If you're still wondering what an engram is, here is Hubbard describing "an example of an engram":

A woman is knocked down by a blow. She is rendered "unconscious." She is kicked and told she is a faker, that she is no good, that she is always changing her mind. A chair is overturned in the process. A faucet is running in the kitchen. A car is passing in the street outside. The engram contains a running record of all these perceptions: sight, sound, tactile, taste, smell, organic sensation, kinetic sense, joint position, thirst record, etc. The engram would consist of the whole statement made to her when she was "unconscious": the voice tones and emotion in the voice, the sound and feel of the original and later blows, the tactile of the floor, the feel and sound of the chair overturning, the organic sensation of the blow, perhaps the taste of blood in her mouth or any other taste present there, the smell of the person attacking her and the smells in the room, the sound of the passing car's motor and tires, etc." (p. 60)3
If you're still wondering what this has to do with insanity or psycho-somatic ills, here is Hubbard describing the engram at work:
The engram this woman has received contains a neurotic positive suggestion....She has been told that she is a faker, that she is no good, and that she is always changing her mind. When the engram is restimulated in one of the great many ways possible [such as hearing a car passing by while the faucet is running and a chair falls over], she has a `feeling' that she is no good, a faker, and she will change her mind. (p. 66)
So, not only do we learn how engrams work, we find out that changing one's mind is a neurosis!

Hubbard tells us that enormous data has been collected and not a single exception has been found. (p. 68) We are to take his word on this, apparently, for all the "data" he presents are in the form of anecdotes or made-up examples.

Another indication that dianetics is not a science, and that its founder hasn't a clue as to how science functions, is given in claims such as the following: "Several theories could be postulated as to why the human mind evolved as it did, but these are theories, and dianetics is not concerned with structure." (p. 69) This is his way of saying that it doesn't concern him that engrams can't be observed, that even though they are defined as permanent changes in cells, they can't be detected as physical structures. It also won't bother him that the cure of all illnesses requires that engrams be "erased" from the reactive bank. How can what is permanent be erased? Don't bother him with questions of structure! (His answer will be that they aren't really erased but transferred to the standard bank. How this physically or structurally occurs is irrelevant! It does, he tells us. It is a scientific fact. This he says again and again.)

Another "scientific fact" is that the most harmful engrams occur in the womb. The womb turns out to be a terrible place. It is "wet, uncomfortable and unprotected." (p. 130)

Mama sneezes, baby gets knocked "unconscious." Mama runs lightly and blithely into a table and baby gets its head stoved in. Mama has constipation and baby, in the anxious effort, gets squashed. Papa becomes passionate and baby has the sensation of being put into a running washing machine. Mama gets hysterical, baby gets an engram. Papa hits Mama, baby gets an engram. Junior bounces on Mama's lap, baby gets an engram. And so it goes. (p. 130)

We are told that people can have "more than two hundred" prenatal engrams and that engrams "received as a zygote are potentially the most aberrative, being wholly reactive. Those received as an embryo are intensely aberrative. Those received as the foetus are enough to send people to institutions all by themselves." (pp. 130-131) What is the evidence for this non-sense? "All these things are scientific facts, tested and rechecked and tested again." (p. 133) You can take L. Ron Hubbard's word for it.

Furthermore, to get cured of your illnesses you need a dianetic therapist, called an auditor. Who is qualified to be an auditor? "Any person who is intelligent and possessed of average persistency and who is willing to read this book [viz., Dianetics] thoroughly should be able to become a dianetic auditor." (p. 173) The auditor must use "dianetic reverie" to cure you. The goal of dianetic therapy is to bring about a "release" or a "clear." The former has had major stress and anxiety removed by dianetics; the latter has neither active nor potential psycho-somatic illness or aberration. (p. 170) The `reverie' used to achieve these wonders is described as an intensified use of some special faculty of the brain which everyone possesses but which "by some strange oversight, Man has never before discovered." (p. 167) And yet, when Hubbard describes this `reverie' in terms we can all understand, he simply says that it is like a man sitting down and telling another man his troubles. (p. 168) Therefore, he says, that it "falls utterly outside all existing legislation," unlike psycho- analysis, psychology and hypnotism which "may in some way injure individuals or society." (pp. 168-169) It is not clear, however, why auditors couldn't injure individuals or society.

Hubbard tells the reader that "The purpose of therapy and its sole target is the removal of the content of the reactive engram bank. In a release, the majority of emotional stress is deleted from this bank. In a clear, the entire content is removed." (p. 174) Actually, we're told (in a footnote on page 174), engrams are shifted to the standard banks rather than removed. I suppose if we were to ask how this is possible, we would be told that this is a matter of `structure' and is unimportant. But it seems that this is just another claim that could never be empirically tested. What Hubbard touts as a science of mind lacks one key element that is expected of a science: empirical testing of claims. The key elements of Hubbard's so-called science don't seem testable, yet he repeatedly claims that he is asserting only scientific facts and data from many experiments. It isn't even clear what in the world such "data" would look like. How could one test a zygote to see if it records engrams? Why should we believe that a patient who believes she was raped by her father at age nine ("Large numbers of insane patients claim this." p. 144) was `raped' when she was "nine days beyond conception....The pressure and upset of coitus is very uncomfortable to the child and normally can be expected to give the child an engram which will have as its contents the sexual act and everything that was said." (p. 144)

Dianetics exhibits several classical traits of a pseudoscience. While much lip service is placed on providing supportive facts and observations, little in the way of actual evidence is provided. Most, if not all, of the basic explanatory claims of dianetics are untestable. In fact, Hubbard advises auditors: "Don't evaluate data....don't question the validity of data. Keep your reservations to yourself." (p. 300) This does not sound like a scientist giving sound advice to his followers. This sounds like a guru giving advice to his disciples.

Two of my students, who were active scientologists at the time I met them, lent me a book on reincarnation published by their "church." The book was a collection of anecdotes, case studies of scientologists who had been hypnotized and had recalled past existences. This adds a new dimension to the search for those bad engrams. Now a person might have to go back through who knows how many previous lives before remembering the basic basic that is causing all his or her problems today. This could take a long time, as many counseling sessions may be needed to get back into previous wombs and tombs. You may need to take out a loan.

See related entry on Bridey Murphy.


1. According to Hubbard, the mind has three parts. "The analytical mind is that portion of the mind which perceives and retains experience data to compose and resolve problems and direct the organism along the four dynamics. It thinks in differences and similarities. The reactive mind is that portion of the mind which files and retains physical pain and painful emotion and seeks to direct the organism solely on a stimulus- response basis. It thinks only in identities. The somatic mind is that mind, which, directed by the analytical or reactive mind, places solutions into effect on the physical level." (p. 39) "The dynamic is the tenacity to life and vigor and persistence in survival." (p. 38)

2. To his credit, Hubbard recognized that the belief "no recordings can take place in the mind until the nerves are sheathed depends upon a theoretical postulate", i.e., it is a metaphysical not an empirical claim. However, his criticism of this notion because it "has never been subjected to scientific research" indicates that he doesn't recognize one key difference between metaphysical and empirical claims: only the latter can be subjected to scientific research. (p. 127)

3. Martin Gardner notes that throughout Dianetics, "Hubbard reveals a deep-seated hatred of women....When Hubbard's Mama's are not getting kicked in the stomach by their husbands or having affairs with lovers, they are preoccupied with AA [attempted abortion]--usually by means of knitting needles." Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science (New York: Dover Publications, 1957), p.267. Gardner devotes chapter 22 to exposing the pseudo-scientific traits of dianetics.

further reading

reader comments

Scientology Associated Deaths

Review of The Rediscovery of the Human Soul by L. Ron Hubbard

alt.scientology.war Wendy M. Grossman

Science and Dianetics by Jeff Jacobsen

Fact Net on Dianetics and Scientology

Unsanctioned information about Scientology, Dianetics,and L. Ron Hubbard Scientology

vs. the Internet More Scientology vs. the Internet

Free Zone Association A heretical sect.

Dirio de um crente A Portuguese reporter gets audited by Scientologists

Atack, Jon. A Piece of Blue Sky : Scientology, Dianetics, and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed (New York, NY: Carol Pub. Group, 1990).

Gardner, Martin. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1957), chapter 22.

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