Peace of Mind in Dianetics?
by Frederick L. Schuman
I first read with skepticism and the reread with growing interest: Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health, Hermitage House, New York.
Let it be clearly understood that Hubbard's neat and exciting theory is not proved, in any genuinely scientific sense, by any documented evidence in the book or anywhere else to date. None of the 275 cases on which Hubbard based his work has been written up in scholarly form. No one has ever "seen" an engram or observed any proof that engrams exist other than their apparent effects. Is the idea, then, a fantasy? Not necessarily. No one has ever "seen" an inferiority complex, or a conditioned reflex, or an atom, or an electron. Such abstractions are tools to think with. They are "true" if action based on their assumed existence produces expected results, and "false" if no such results follow. As for this test of dianetics, more later.
Mr. Hubbard and others who had a hand in the exploratory work preferred, for better or for worse, to present their "new science" in the guise of a popular handbook, designed to encourage large numbers of people to begin dianetic auditing, rather than to prove their case in advance through long and costly experimentation. This decision, perhaps justified on the ground of making help immediately available to people who need it, has aroused suspicion and distrust among serious scientists. Within another year, reports of cases and controlled experiments will be published in the Dianetic Auditor's Bulletin and by various independent physicians, psychoanalysts, and psychiatrists now employing dianetic techniques. Yet even this may not end the great debate, which has really only just begun.
In our town, almost a year ago, the debate began on Main Street and continued in living rooms, classrooms, and even churches. The genial proprietor of our College Bookstore was delighted at the mounting sales of the book. A teacher of mathematics and a local doctor both said, "Rubbish!" Another physician expressed interest. A visiting psychiatrist was puzzled. Our best-beloved philosopher wrote me a letter on "responsible statements." The dispute then slowly faded out, except among a select few who decided there was only one possible way to check Hubbard's claims. That way was to put them to a test in practice.
By summer a physics professor, who was bored with his migraine and stomach ulcers, was auditing his wife at the same time she audited him. I was auditing my wife, who was soon auditing two townswomen. Others joined in the adventure. Cynics scoffed. But fools (and some professors) rush in where angels fear to tread.
We were soon quite excited, as if we had come upon a revelation. Not that we did very well, at first. Dianetics may, or may not, become a science. But auditing is an art. We learned by trial and error. We compared notes. I was sufficiently impressed to visit the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation in Elizabeth, New Jersey. A professional auditor's course was under way. A co-auditors' course was flourishing. Publishing plans were being pushed. Eager and able young people, some of them with stars in their eyes, were working enthusiastically at what they plainly regarded as a great mission. Mr. Hubbard was on the eve of departure for California to direct and expand the work on the West Coast.
Back home, we argues, corresponded with critics and converts, and reread our books on psycho-analysis and psychiatry. The chairman of our Psychology Department pointed out some of Hubbard's crude errors and suggested that dianetic reverie was probably a form of light hypnosis. A younger psychologist was interested in trying it, but could not bear the thought of returning to a thing he had struggled hard to forget: a bomber crash in England in 1943 when, as the sole surviving flyer, he had screamed, "Let me out; let me out!" My wife's query to him -- "Have you ever experienced any feelings of claustrophobia? -- brought the somewhat surprised reply that since the crash he had felt unhappy if he stayed very long in any one job. He left our town in September for a new teaching post.
By late autumn a small group of our local students, quite on their own initiative, were auditing one another. The Hubbard book was a national sensation. I had vainly tried to persuade various editors to permit me to review it. They preferred to ignore it, and when they could no longer do so, to assign it to "authorities" who denounced it with varying degrees of ridicule, anxiety, or apoplexy. I lectured on dianetics in Boston's Community Church, and met with what is usually called "a mixed reception."
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Americans across the continent were taking up the "cause" or "cult" or "craze," or whatever it is, in some disrespect for authority. So what, in the name of common sense, can people who are as yet unacquainted with dianetics believe about it? Let's look at the record.
Aside from the treatment of psychotics under medical care, dianetics helps only those who help themselves. The search for engrams, whether helpful or not, is fascinating. All of us here, in our audited journeys into the past, have discovered a new dimension of memory. We have relived events of infancy of which we had no previous awareness. Most of us, your humble author included, have returned sooner or later to prenatal happenings, proved in some cases by outside data of which we had no earlier knowledge. Several of us, having restimulated engrams (or something) without being able to erase them fully, have known periods of apathy, upset, or depression. All of use have found relief from tension through tears, yawns, and laughter, which are signals of success in dianetic auditing. All of us have perceived vividly that the power of an engram is not to be under-estimated, and that its reduction and refiling unburdens the heart and clears the mind.
More concrete testimonials are in order. A housewife lost a head cold in a single session. A teacher, after some weeks of being audited, parted company with his migraine and with a chronic nervous twitch. Another discovered the boyhood source of his kidney stones and why he detested dogs and cucumbers. A girl who couldn't eat carrots and did poorly in school now eats carrots and does well. An older man's gastric ulcers, of many years' standing, have apparently vanished. A student who left his studies to seek expensive psychiatric help returned to college after several months of auditing. A boy with hay fever, annually restimulated by his father, has had no return of it after a few auditing sessions. And so on.
Does such a record prove the final value and truth of dianetic theory, or the existence of engrams, or the possibility of "clears"? Not at all. Other theories are still respectable. Other modes of treatment might have achieved similar results. What personal experience with dianetics proves, I believe, is that the practice does work, that it is not dangerous if properly pursued and that it is helpful to a good many persons. To say more than this would be to say what cannot now be demonstrated.
In all fairness, however, I must note that most authorities and experts do not share the enthusiasm of our Berkshire dianeticists, and of the counterparts over the country. Dr. I. I. Rabi, Nobel prizewinning physicist, writes (The Scientific American, January, 1951): "This book probably contains more promises and less evidence per page than has any publication since the invention of printing. ... Its huge sale to date is distressing evidence of the frustrated ambitions, hopes, ideals, anxieties, and worries of the many persons who through it have sought succor." Psychoanalyst Milton R. Sapirstein in The Nation (August 5, 1950) denounces the dianetic "conception of the amoral detached, 100 percent efficient mechanical man -- superbly free-floating, unemotional, and unrelated to anything." A psychologist at a psychiatric foundation writes me (August 18): "I have studied memory for 15 years. I know that what Hubbard writes has nothing to do with science or factual truth."
Dr. Joseph A. Winter, M.D., who wrote the introduction to the book, has a very different opinion: "For the past year, I have been practicing dianetics on my patients, on my friends, and on my family. For the first time in my life, I'm satisfied that there is a method by which many questions, hitherto unanswerable, can be answered with definiteness and proved correct. Correct, insofar as the improved health of the patient is concerned. Correct, insofar as his well-being has been implemented by a feeling of security. Correct, insofar as his approach to living has become more advanced, interesting, and productive of growth. To me this correctness is meaningful and worthy of acceptance. ... Dianetics is the most advanced and most clearly presented method of psychotherapy and self-improvement which has ever been discovered."
Sidney Kline of the New York Compass (September 28) finds the results of an experimental auditing all too vivid, disturbing and convincing, and expresses keen interest in the prospects of dianetics.
The American Psychological Association in its resolution of September 8, 1950, is reasonable and reserved:
Authorities who object to any unusual approach, or who have preconceived ideas may fairly be dismissed. But many of these criticisms deserve sober consideration. Experimental proof of the truth of dianetics may be as difficult to prepare and present as proof of the truth of psychoanalysis or of many propositions and principles of conventional psychology and psychiatry. Meanwhile, many laymen and a few medical specialists are continuing to experiment with dianetic auditing.
The glorious vision of the complete dianetic "clear" may turn out to be a kind of "far-off, divine event," always to be approached, but never fully attained. A few of Hubbard's co-workers, and some among the 400-odd certified professional auditors now available, lean toward this view. No "clears" are on exhibit, nor does Hubbard himself claim to be one, as yet. Nevertheless, within limits still uncertain and which are subject to improvements still unlimited, dianetics appears in practice to work substantially as advertised. But only for those who pursue auditing seriously and persistently, despite its puzzles and its capacity to consume endless hours.
Will dianetics "save the world"? I think not. Will dianetics fade away as a passing fad and a curious and useless memento of our time of troubles? Again I think not.
Something new and hopeful, in my considered opinion, has here emerged from a fog of confusion and ignorance. "Know thyself!" was the highest wisdom of the ancient Greeks. Dianetics is a new road to self-knowledge. "To thine own self be true," wrote Shakespeare, "and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." Dianetics offers people a means of taking their own part and ceasing to play the false roles (as all of us so often do) of dead ancestors or of relatives whom we unknowingly love, fear or hate.
It is scarcely probable that dianetics, as it develops further, will conform in all respects to Hubbard's first statement of it. What may reasonably be anticipated, I believe, is an eventual reconciliation between dianetics and the best of older methods of dealing with problems of personality, combining them in new ways capable of contributing richly to human self-fulfillment.
We may yet have an opportunity to learn far more about ourselves, and our parents and our children than we have hitherto believed possible. In the learning, we may find the road to sanity for One World as well as for ourselves. Whatever its errors and follies, dianetics carries a message of hope and an invitation to survival. Those who prefer life to death are therefore privileged still, I trust, to wish it well and to make of it what they will in coping with personal frustrations and community problems.