Going Clear
Author:Lawrence Wright

Has received rave notices from all reviewers!

Alexis was the image of her father, who delighted in her precociousness. “Ron is going at a little less than the speed of light all day and every day,” Sara wrote to the Heinleins, “then, in the middle of the night he goes in and tells Alexis all about it.”

Ron promised to send Heinlein a galley of Dianetics as soon as it was available. He reported that it was 180,000 words, “begun Jan. 12, ’50, finished Feb. 10, off the press by April 25.” When one of his followers asked Hubbard how he had been able to dash it off so quickly, Hubbard said that his guardian spirit, the Empress, had dictated it to him.

Like several other prominent sci-fi writers of the Golden Age, including Heinlein and A. E. van Vogt, Hubbard had been strongly influenced by the writings of Alfred Korzybski, a Polish American philosopher who created the theory of general semantics. In New Jersey, Sara read Korzybski and quoted several passages aloud to Ron, who immediately grasped the ideas as the basis for a system of psychology, if not for a whole religion.

Korzybski pointed out that words are not the things they describe, in the same way that a map is not the territory it represents. Language shapes thinking, creating mental habits, which can stand in the way of sanity by preserving delusions. Korzybski argued that emotional disturbances, learning disorders, and many psychosomatic illnesses—including heart problems, skin diseases, sexual disorders, migraines, alcoholism, arthritis, even dental cavities—could be remedied by semantic training, much as Hubbard would claim for his own work. He cited Korzybski frequently, although he admitted that he could never get through the texts themselves. “Bob Heinlein sat down one time and talked for ten whole minutes on the subject of Korzybski to me and it was very clever,” he later related. “I know quite a bit about Korzybski’s works.”

From this secondhand knowledge, Hubbard saw the need for creating a special vocabulary, which would allow him to define old thoughts in new ways (the soul becomes a thetan, for instance); or invent new words, such as “enturbulate” (confuse) and “hatting” (training); or use words and phrases in a novel manner, such as turning adjectives or verbs into nouns, or vice versa (“an overt,” “a static,” “alter-isness”); plus a Pentagon-level glut of acronyms—all of which would entrap his followers in a self-referential semantic labyrinth.

Hubbard granted his friend and acolyte John Campbell a scoop by letting him buy a lengthy excerpt of his forthcoming book. Thus the world got its first look at Dianetics in the pages of Astounding Science-Fiction. “This article is not a hoax, joke, or anything but a direct, clear statement of a totally new scientific thesis,” Campbell warns his readers, who might be confused by finding a work of scholarship in a pulp magazine. “I know dianetics is one of, if not the greatest, discovery of all Man’s written and unwritten history,” he wrote to a puzzled contributor. “It produces the sort of stability and sanity men have dreamed about for centuries.” He assured a young writer that Hubbard would win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

The book itself, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, appeared in May. It was completely unexpected, given Hubbard’s history as a writer. He intended it to stand as a capstone to the “fifty thousand years of thinking men without whose speculations and observations the creation and construction of Dianetics would not have been possible.” In Scientology, Dianetics is known as Book One. “With 18 million copies sold, it is indisputably the most widely read and influential book on the human mind ever published,” the church maintains. Scientology dates its own calendar from 1950, the year Dianetics was published.

Hubbard’s theory is that the mind has two parts. The analytical, or conscious, mind is the center of awareness, the storehouse of all past perceptions. Nothing is lost from its data banks. Every smell or pattern or sound attached to one’s previous experiences is present and capable of being completely recaptured. This is the mind that observes and thinks and solves problems. It is rational and aware of itself.

The other form of mentality is the reactive mind. It is the single source of nightmares, insecurity, and unreasonable fears. It doesn’t think. It is a repository of painful and destructive emotions, which are recorded even while an individual is sleeping, or unconscious, or still in the womb. The recording is not the same as a memory, in the sense of being a mental construct; it is physically a part of the cellular structure and capable of reproducing itself in generations of new cells. “Cells are evidently sentient in some currently inexplicable way,” Hubbard speculates. When awakened by some stimulus, the recording—Hubbard calls it an “engram”—turns off the conscious mind and seizes control of an individual’s actions or behavior.

Hubbard compares the engram to a posthypnotic suggestion. He describes a man in a trance who has been told that every time the operator touches his tie, the subject will remove his coat. When the subject is awakened, he is not consciously aware of the command. “The operator then touches his tie,” Hubbard writes. “The subject may make some remark about its being too warm and so take his coat off.” This can be done repeatedly. “At last the subject may become aware, from the expressions on people’s faces, that something is wrong. He will not know what is wrong. He will not even know that the touching of the tie is the signal which makes him take off his coat.” The hypnotic command in his unconscious continues to govern his behavior, even when the subject recognizes that it is irrational and perhaps harmful. In the same way, Hubbard suggests, engrams work their sinister influence on everyday actions, undermining one’s self-confidence and subverting rational behavior. The individual feels helpless as he engages in behavior he would never consciously consent to. He is “handled like a marionette by his engrams.”

Although there were no recorded case histories to prove his claim that hundreds of patients had been cured through his methods, through “many years of exact research and careful testing,” Hubbard offered appealing examples of hypothetical behavior. For instance, a woman is beaten and kicked. “She is rendered ‘unconscious.’ ” In that state, she is told she is no good, a faker, and that she is always changing her mind. Meantime, a chair has been knocked over; a faucet is running in the kitchen; a car passes outside. All of these perceptions are parts of the engram. The woman is not aware of it, but whenever she hears running water or a car passing by, the engram is partly restimulated. She feels discomfort if she hears them together. If a chair happens to fall as well, she experiences a shock. She begins to feel like the person she was accused of being while she was unconscious—a fickle, no-good faker. “This is not theory,” Hubbard repeatedly asserts. It is an “exact science” that represents “an evolutionary step in the development of Man.”

Hubbard proposed that the influence engrams have over one’s current behavior can be eliminated by reciting the details of the original incident until it no longer possesses an emotional charge.4 “Dianetics deletes all the pain from a lifetime,” Hubbard writes. “When this pain is erased in the engram bank and refiled as memory and experience in the memory banks, all aberrations and psychosomatic illnesses vanish.” The object of Dianetics therapy is to drain the engrams of their painful, damaging qualities and eliminate the reactive mind entirely, leaving a person “Clear.”


WRITTEN IN a bluff, quirky style, and overrun with patronizing footnotes that do little to substantiate its bold findings, Dianetics nonetheless became a sensation, lodging itself for twenty-eight weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and laying the groundwork for the category of postwar self-help books that would seek to emulate its success. Hundreds of Dianetics groups sprang up around the United States and in other countries in order for its adherents to apply the therapeutic principles Hubbard prescribed. One only needed a partner, called an auditor, who could guide the subject to locate his engrams and bring them into consciousness, where they would be released and rendered harmless. “You will find many reasons why you ‘cannot get well,’ ” Hubbard warns, but he promises, “Dianetics is no solemn adventure. For all that it has to do with suffering and loss, its end is always laughter, so foolish, so misinterpreted were the things which caused the woe.”

The book arrived at a moment when the aftershocks of the world war were still being felt. Behind the exhilaration of victory, there was immense trauma. Religious certainties were shaken by the development of bombs so powerful that civilization, if not life itself, became a wager in the Cold War contest. Loss, grief, and despair were cloaked by the stoicism of the age, but patients being treated in mental hospitals were already on the verge of outnumbering those being treated for any other cause. Psychoanalysis was suspiciously viewed in much of America as a European—mainly Jewish—import, which was time-consuming and fantastically expensive. Hubbard promised results “in less than twenty hours of work” that would be “superior to any produced by several years of psycho-analysis.”

The profession of psychiatry, meantime, had entered a period of brutal experimentation, characterized by the widespread practice of lobotomies and electroshock therapy. The prospect of consulting a psychiatrist was accompanied by a justified sense of dread. That may have played a role in Hubbard’s decision not to follow up on his own request for psychiatric treatment. The appearance of a do-it-yourself manual that claimed to demystify the secrets of the human mind and produce guaranteed results—for free—was bound to attract an audience. “It was sweepingly, catastrophically successful,” Hubbard marveled.

The scientific community, stupefied by the book’s popularity, reacted with hostility and ridicule. It seemed to them little more than psychological folk art. “This volume probably contains more promises and less evidence per page than has any publication since the invention of printing,” the Nobel physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi wrote in his review of Dianetics for Scientific American. “The huge sale of the book to date is distressing evidence of the frustrated ambitions, hopes, ideals, anxieties and worries of the many persons who through it have sought succor.” Erich Fromm, one of the predominant thinkers of the psychoanalytic movement, denounced the book as being “expressive of a spirit that is exactly the opposite of Freud’s teachings.” Hubbard’s method, he complains, “has no respect for and no understanding of the complexities of personality.” He derisively quotes Hubbard: “In an engineering science like Dianetics we can work on a push-button basis.” But, of course, that was part of the theory’s immense appeal.

One of the most painful reviews of Dianetics, no doubt, was by Korzybski’s most notable intellectual heir (and later, US senator from California), S. I. Hayakawa. He not only dismissed the book, he also criticized what he saw as the spurious craft of writing science fiction. “The art consists in concealing from the reader, for novelistic purposes, the distinctions between established scientific facts, almost-established scientific hypotheses, scientific conjectures, and imaginative extrapolations far beyond what has even been conjectured,” he wrote. The writer who produces “too much of it too fast and too glibly” runs the risk of believing in his own creations. “It appears to me inevitable that anyone writing several million words of fantasy and science-fiction should ultimately begin to internalize the assumptions underlying the verbiage.” Dianetics, Hayakawa noted, was neither science nor fiction, but something else: “fictional science.”

Not all scientists rejected Hubbard’s approach. One of his early supporters was Campbell’s brother-in-law Dr. Joseph Winter, a physician who had also written for Astounding Science-Fiction. Searching for a more holistic approach to medicine, Winter traveled to New Jersey to experience Hubbard’s method firsthand. “While listening to Hubbard ‘running’ one of his patients, or while being ‘run’ myself, I would find myself developing unaccountable pains in various portions of my anatomy, or becoming extremely fatigued and somnolent,” he reported. “I had nightmares of being choked, of having my genitalia cut off, and I was convinced that dianetics as a method could produce effects.”

Hubbard’s method involved placing the patient in a state of “reverie,” achieved by giving the command “When I count from one to seven your eyes will close.” A tremble of the lashes as the eyelids flutter shut signals that the subject has fallen into a receptive condition. “This is not hypnotism,” Hubbard insists. Although a person in a Dianetic reverie may appear to be in a trance, the opposite is the case, he says: “The purpose of therapy is to awaken a person in every period of his life when he has been forced into ‘unconsciousness.’ Dianetics wakes people up.”

Sara watched the effect that Ron was having on his patients. “He would hold hands with them and try to talk them into these phony memories,” she recalled. “He would concentrate on them and they loved it. They were so excited about someone who would just pay this much attention to them.”

Dr. Winter tried out Hubbard’s techniques on his six-year-old son, who was afraid of the dark because he was terrified of being choked by ghosts. Winter asked him to remember the first time he saw a ghost. “He has on a long white apron, a little white cap on his head and a piece of white cloth on his mouth,” the boy said. He even had a name for the ghost—it happened to be the same as that of the obstetrician who delivered him. Winter then asked his son to look at the “ghost” in his mind repeatedly, until the boy began to calm down. “When the maximum relaxation had apparently been obtained after ten or twelve recountings, I told him to open his eyes,” Winter reported. “It has been over a year since that short session with my son, and he has not had a recurrence of his fear of the dark in all that time.”

The idea that early memories—even prenatal ones—could be recaptured was central to Hubbard’s theory. Every engram rooted in the reactive mind has its predecessors; the object of Dianetics therapy is to hunt down the original insult, the “basic-basic,” which produced the engram in the first place. Freud had also postulated that childhood traumas would be played out in later life through symptoms of hysteria or neurosis. In his famous Wolf Man case, for instance, Freud traced a childhood neurosis in his patient to the sight of his parents copulating when he was a year and a half old. “Everything goes back to the reproduction of scenes,” Freud thought at the time. He recognized that in many cases such childhood memories were clearly invented, but from an analytical perspective, they were still useful, because the emotions and associations attached to the confabulations opened a window onto the patient’s subconscious. False childhood memories were often as deeply believed in as real ones, but what made them stand apart from actual memories was that they were almost always the same, unvarying from patient to patient; they must be somehow universal. Freud’s protégé Carl Jung would seize on this fact to construct his theory of the Collective Unconscious. Freud himself came to believe that what was a false memory in a present-day patient’s mind had been a reality at some point in prehistory. “It seems to me quite possible that all the things that are told to us to-day in analysis as phantasy—the seduction of children, the inflaming of sexual excitement by observing parental intercourse, the threat of castration…—were once real occurrences in the primaeval times of the human family, and that children in their phantasies are simply filling in the gaps in individual truth with prehistoric truth.” And yet Freud continued to be troubled by the fact that many of these supposed memories were formed at a suspiciously early age. “The extreme achievement on these lines is a phantasy of observing parental intercourse while one is still an unborn baby in the womb,” he noted wryly. That absurdity was one of the reasons he eventually cast aside the seduction theory.

For Hubbard, however, early or even prenatal traumas were literally true. He believed that the fetus not only recorded details of his parents copulating during his pregnancy, but also every word spoken during the act. Such recordings can be restimulated in adult life by hearing similar language, which would then awaken the anxiety that the fetus experienced—during a violent sexual episode, for instance. That could lead to “aberration,” which for Hubbard includes all psychoses, neuroses, compulsions and any other deviation from rational behavior. Engrams form chains of similar incidents, Hubbard suggests. He gives the example of seventeen prenatal engrams found in a single individual, who “had passed for ‘normal’ for thirty-six years of his life.” Among them:

COITUS CHAIN, FATHER. 1st incident zygote. 56 succeeding incidents. Two branches, father drunk and father sober.

COITUS CHAIN, LOVER. 1st incident embryo. 18 succeeding incidents. All painful because of enthusiasm of lover.

FIGHT CHAIN. 1st incident embryo. 38 succeeding incidents. Three falls, loud voices, no beating.

ATTEMPTED ABORTION, SURGICAL. 1st incident embryo. 21 succeeding incidents.

ATTEMPTED ABORTION, DOUCHE. 1st incident fetus. 2 incidents. 1 using paste, 1 using Lysol, very strong.

MASTURBATION CHAIN. 1st incident embryo. 80 succeeding incidents. Mother masturbating with fingers, jolting child and injuring child with orgasm.