Sacred Cows in Collision . . . . . . . Yvette Gittelson 603
De Profundis Via Dianetics
The popular overemphasis on the
mechanical-brain analogy is reflected
at its worst in a best-selling horror
called Dianetics. (3) Possibly the only
justification for mentioning this book in
print is not that it expounds a cure but
that it illustrates a syndrome. Cybernetics
is the big new idea of the times, and
in my opinion Hubbard (who never
mentions the word) has got cybernetics, and
got it bad; this is to say, he has got it
Dianetics (Gk. dianouo, thought) is,
according to the subtitle, The Modern
Science of 'Mental Health, and, according
to the physician who writes the Introduction,
the first science of mind.
There is, in the opinion of this reviewer,
some reason to doubt that no other
science of mind exists, although if one
(unjustifiably) excludes experimental
science and restricts the territory to the
clinical field only, the accusation is not
so absurd. therapy being at present
more an art than a science. "The creation
of dianetics." the author states, "is
a milestone for Man comparable to his
discovery of fire and superior to his
inventions of the wheel and arch" (p.ix).
He states further: "With the techniques
presented in this handbook the psychiatrist,
psychoanalyst and intelligent layman can
successfully and invariably treat all
psychosomatic ills and inorganic
aberrations.... The release can be done
in less than twenty hours of work and is
a state superior to any produced by
several years of psychoanalysis since
the release mill will not relapse" (all italics
supplied). These are ambitious claims;
they suggest the absolutism of the fanatic
more than the skepticism of the scientist.
The fact that the book is not the work
a psychiatrist is not a matter of grave
concern nor in itself s valid cause for
criticism. As the healing powers of
Lourdes and Mary-Baker Eddy bear
witness. psychotherapy is where you
find it. The fact that the author is identified
by his publisher as "mathematician and
theoretical philosopher” is,
however, mildly alarming.
Dianetics, its creator avows. is not
psychoanalysis, not hypnosis, not
narcosynthesis. It is, rather, an exact science,
comparable to physics and chemistry,
but simpler, and is essentially engineering,
but simpler! The theory is the theory
of mechanical calculators: it assumes
that the mind is incapable of error. that
“any person, aberrated or clear, computes
perfectly on the data stored and perceived”
(p. 16, , italics the author's).
(4) Cf., e.g. “Dianetics has no relation to paste mental treatment. It is entirely
mechanistic and works with engineering
Scorning (he implies) the methods of
other forms of psychotherapy, Hubbard
employs (he says) the methods, of
engineering.(4) Certainly the frame of
reference is that. of engineering. But the
method in practice. which achieves and
controls the dianetic reverie, clearly
borrows heavily from any and all likely
therapeutic techniques. including free
association, and suggestion and
autosuggestion, the whole deftly
overmaneuvered and fantastically
oversimplified on interpretation.
The terminology, formally presented
in a glossary, is quite acceptable. For
example. the term auditor for the
therapist is apt enough. as are the terms
preclear and clear for the subject before and
after the course of treatment: similarly
aberration, analytic mind, and reactive
mind are meaningful concepts. On the
whole, however. one has the impression
that it is the terms that are new, that the
old structure of psychoanalysis is still
very much in evidence. Special mention
should perhaps be made of the term engram.
which is fundamental to the theory.
This is defined by Hubbard as “a
cellular trace of recordings impinged
deeply into the very structure of the
body itself." and is of course a concept.
familiar to all student, of Gestalt psychology
as fundamental to the trace theory of memory.(5)
(5) 5 See Kurt Koffka's Principles of Gestalt
Psychology (New York, Harcourt, Brace &
Co., 1035).Memory is interpreted as the
functioning of organized dynamic forces
according to a a continuity of behavior derived
from "traces" (i.e., effects) of previous functioning.
The continuity of behavior which comes from
these traces is explained by isomorphism
( = identity of form, physical or psychological).
Memory implies some sort of message between a
process and a trace, and learning depends
upon the leaving of a trace by a process.
Although he asserts that function determines
structure, Hubbard makes no reference to this
theory. Neither does he mention Herrick's
notion of the functional determination of
physiological nervous paths. Herrick's theory
implies only a change in the permeability of the
synapse, while Koffka's postulates s change
in the cytoplasm of the neuron.
In dianetics, however engrams are the villain,
of the piece, "the single source of aberrations and
psychosomatic ills," and they have to be
"erased"; in this context they are recognizable
as the unrecalled impressions, festering below
the level of awareness, which comprise the
subject matter of psychoanalysis.
There are two ideas in this book which
impress the reader as "new"-startlingly new:
(1) the pre-clear returns, on his "time track,"
to the traumatic event, rather than recalling. it;'
and (2) the extent of time subject to
recall includes the entire prenatal period.
from the moment of conception. In the face
of these assumptions, the recall of very early
infantile experiences through the techniques
of psychoanalysis or hypnosis. and even the
controversial data relating to a general
prenatal memory, admitted by several
reputable analysts. is pretty prosaic stuff.
These two ideas raise some interesting
questions. This reviewer would like to know,
for example. by what criteria dianetics decides
that. the subject particularly in his wanderings
through his intrauterine past, returns rather than
remembers -or remembers imaginatively
-or imagines. Furthermore, many of the
pre-clear's difficulties are the result of
misinterpretations of prenatal engrams containing
impressions produced by the spoken word,
the misinterpretations frequently being
attributable to the absence of visual data
to supplement what is "heard." It is not
clear why, if the foetus "hears" (records
impressions) so sensitively and retentively,
long before he bas developed an auditory
nerve or a tympanic membrane or an
auditory cortex, he does not also get
visual data through similar ethereal
channels. This is not good engineering.
In any event, the foetus, in the improbable
light of dianetics, hears many things which
he is much, much too young to hear. Beside
Hubbard, the works of psychoanalysis, standard or
avant-garde, have a refreshing dignity.
6 - Remaining in present time and 'remembering'
does no good" (pp- 427-8).
The difference in the impression on the
reader is due not so much to content as
to the attitude and taste of the writer.
No reputable analyst, of any school would
present his case histories in the manner of
L. Ron Hubbard.
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion,
despite the author's loud protests
and louder silences, that, dianetics as a
working project. is as heavily indebted to
the earlier work which it disowns or ignores,
as to the new contributions of engineering
to which it appeals excessively.
Commendable as a fresh approach may be,
it is nevertheless true that in the history of
science, or for that matter in the history of
thought. new ideas usually bear some relationship
to older ones. even if the relationship be negative.
To make use of concepts while repudiating
them, or without clarifying the evidence
for or against. Them, is not the way of
science. On the whole it seems that what is good
about dianetics is not very new. and what is new
about it is not very good and not very scientific either.
Any intelligent reader with scientific orientation
will find serious flaws in the Hubbard logic and
will be aware of the fundamental shakiness of the
substructure. Apart from the highly questionable
basic assumptions, there. are countless passages
in this book which imperil its claim to scientific
status. Limitations of space permit only s few
expressive examples. In the first place,
this is rather a vague and arbitrary way
for a scientist to submit evidence: "The test,
while not observed personally by the author,
seems to have been conducted with proper controls
according to report" (p. 105); "Tests had held up
(supported, not delayed, we presume) the
discovery that all data ... from the
moment of conception on was always
recorded somewhere in the mind or
body" (p.127 ); " . . . it is evidenced now by much
research that the cell, not an organ, records
the engram" (p. 127).
The reader familiar with scientific writing and
reasoning will find himself continually asking,
What test? What controls? What tests? What research?
The casual and misleading dismissal of "the
little matter of myelin sheathing" (p.127), and the
fantastic summary of Pavlov's experiments (p.142)
are worthy of special note.
What, to Hubbard (who keeps railing against
appeal to Authority. While asserting "It is" or "It isn't"
in the manner of a child stamping his foot) constitutes
evidence, proof, or for that matter research, is a
puzzling question. The only possibly valid evidence
presented is: it works. But if it does work, no
verifiable explanation is offered of how or why it works. 7 Of or
Presumably the "scientific" status of the
book rests upon five pages (not by the author)
dropped in at the end of the text and entitled
"The Scientific Method." and upon a series
of block diagrams (circuit graphs) constructed
by a Western Electric engineer.
In a sense this book does for psychiatry
what Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision
does for astronomy. In each case a
gigantic superstructure rises to dizzy
heights from a very insecure foundation,
and each production gives one the sense
of witnessing a Hindu rope trick. Both
books are guilty of an unforgivable degree
of oversimplification. Both of these
opera, however, could eventually prove
to have been to a limited degree worth
while, not in tile sense of being "right,"
but because each does provide some new
data which, untangled from the meticulously
fabricated web of detail. and properly
interpreted, could contribute to knowledge.
In one of the less hysterical reviews of
Velikovsky's book. Dr. Otto Struve of the
Yerkes Observatory emphasized this aspect.
It seems unfair to Velikovsky, however. To
pursue the comparison further, because of what
seems an obvious difference in motivation.
7 I am not unmindful of the fact that
other systems of psychotherapy are likewise
incapable of scientific proof and are nevertheless
justifiable on pragmatic grounds. But the
proponents of dianetics are not interested in
being measured against other systems of
psychotherapy; they claim an exact science.
8 See American Scientist vol. 38, p, 474.
Since these notes on Dianetics were. First
written, the folly of attempting to review the
book seriously has been demonstrated by a
clinical psychologist. In the first two months
following publication, about 20,000 copies of
Dianetics were sold, without benefit of
advertising (in the conventional sense).
During this period book review editors
associated with serious publications grave it a
wide berth. On July 2. the New York Times
broke the spell with a three-column review by
Dr. Rollo May, complete with woodcut.
Unfavorable as this review was (in a gentlemanly
manner), it must have been very gratifying to the
dianeticians, especially since it was followed a
month later a full page of entertaining correspondence.
Most of that page, however. Can be subsumed
under the first sentence of Dr. May's reply to a
smoke-screen offensive of Hubbard's. "I believe
[May writes] my review is open to one
sound criticism, namely, that of trying
to deal with Dianetics as a scientific
work." It would interesting to know
more about the views of some of Hubbard's
"professors of biology, political science,
sociology, psychology and physics
[who] have given Dianetics a fair and
impartial survey and have discovered in
it some of the answers for which they
have long sought." But if "The derogatory
letters, are in the ratio of 1 to 503
letters of approval," this should serve as
a reminder that the quantification of
data, by a process of simple addition, is
not valid unless the separate items are
equivalent or appropriately weighted.
Dianetics made its debut in Astounding
Science Fiction, which is where the
reviewer should leave it because that is
where astounding science fiction belongs.
It was perhaps inevitable that the productive
thinking which generated the cybernetic
point of view should beget some incidental
monstrosities amidst the voluminous literature
accumulating in and about the field. It is to
be hoped, however, that such ambitious
misapplications as dianetics will be infrequent.
Dianetics is the kind of "science" that soils
the reputation of science; that gratifies people
who write books like Anthony Standens paranoid
little success of last spring; and that moves
certain elements of the population to recoil in
pious reactionary horror from the possibility
of understanding mind at all.
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