Dianetics is a set of ideas about the human mind and human behavior originating from science-fiction author Lafayette Ron Hubbard. The basic idea behind dianetics involves the mind being split into three parts. The analytical mind is fairly straightforward as it navigates us through the world with rational decision making. The reactive mind, however, hold memories in the form of images during unconsciousness. The somatic mind takes all the input from the other two parts in order to direct action in the physical world. Within the reactive mind, a sting of painful experiences called an engram can start to affect behavior. In order to rid the mind of these engrams to alleviate negative experiences in the real world, one must go through “auditing” which is when a “therapist” interviews a subject in order to isolate and confront these painful experiences. After various tests and sessions, the subject can be declared “clear” which will greatly improve their life in the physical world. Dianetics was first popular in around 1949-1950 when Hubbard published the book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. However, at this time, Hubbard was trying to portray his ideas as science. However, Hubbard was forced to abandon the name “Dianetics” due to bankruptcy, so he modified the ideas slightly with a different name: Scientology. While these ideas are not scientifically correct since the mind is much more complicated than that, the mixing of science with these extraordinary beliefs allows Scientology to be practiced by thousands including actor Tom Cruise and musician Beck. Scientology can also be attractive to certain people because it portrays itself as a way to rid negativity.
One of the ways Hubbard would support his theories was by running experiments done by the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation. Hundreds of trained auditors would use their taught techniques on subjects whose physical and mental health would be compared before and after auditing. Unfortunately, experiments set up in this fashion are ripe conditions for vast amounts of confirmation bias. The “trained professionals” would only look for what they wanted to see. They would only report positive results. Also, the way Dianetics’ science is reported, it is almost impossible to replicate to get the positive results because the experimenter basically has to be a part of that society. This is the very reason Hubbard restructured Dianetics from being scientific to a more philosophical idea because it could not be proven scientifically. Another piece of evidence the Scientology community points to is the e-meter. The e-meter reads a person’s electrodermal activity (EDA). This is the machine used while auditing. One of the first critiques of this device is that it was invented by a man inspired by Hubbard and worked with Hubbard. Basically it was built purely just to have some sort of evidence for Hubbard’s theories.
One of the ways Scientology will keep their believers in their web is by playing on cognitive dissonance. It is much harder to pull someone away from their established beliefs if they’ve invested time or money in that belief system. Scientology’s first step involves purchasing a lot of their materials. Not only does that provide one side of the scientific debate since it does not provide the critiques of the scientific basis of their beliefs, it also makes the person put their money and time towards this belief. Another way they keep their believers in their circle is by the availability heuristic. They will only look at the positive results, that being someone’s life improving due to the practices of this belief, rather than the many times they do not work. If one were to bring up the negative results, it is always easy to respond with a claim that cannot be tested. They could always say there are more engrams within that negative result, and that they only need to go further into the belief system before the improvement can be seen. Of course this whole time confounding variables are not being considered as alternative explanations.
Just as important as the factors that keep someone within the belief system, the type of community that believe Dianetics is crucial to how they get started. Essentially, Dianetics allows Scientology to operate as self-help tactics. They state all the negativity in your life can disappear if the engrams are eliminated. Naturally then, many of the people that turn to Scientology are desperate to alleviate some serious negativity in their lives. This, first, sets the seeds of cognitive dissonance keeping them within the belief system. It also allows grassroots spreading to happen more easily. If someone who had their problems “cured” by Scientology (when in reality it may have been other forces), they may become devout and look to spread these methods to other desperate people. Those people may not have enough information to contradict the claims being made towards them and only sees the positive result in front of them. Due to the nature of the community in which Scientology reaches out, it allows the beliefs to be more easily maintained and spread. Also, many of the members of Scientology are probably surrounded by mostly other believers in Scientology. If this is the case, it does not allow for other competing or contradictory points to be made. Instead, the beliefs continually get reinforced by others who only affirm rather than challenge.
Scientology was created by a man who’s entire life was to envision and create compelling stories. In this case, he created compelling ideas which he presented under the facade of being scientific fact. People who are desperately trying to improve their lives are essentially preyed upon using people’s instinctive biases and heuristics in order to reel them in and keep them there. Since the claims cannot be definitively tested in a scientific way, there’s a great deal of uncertainty. Human beings inherently do not do well with uncertainty. The ones who already subscribe to that belief system that does produce uncertainty may come up with excuses to reduce the cognitive dissonance. The excuses may be seeing patterns in results from auditing, looking to only positive results, or referring back to faulty science such as engrams. They will use their own ideas in order to explain why non-believers act the way they do. It essentially allows a denial structure that is impenetrable by outside sources and can only crumble from disbelief within.
Dianetic Processing: a Brief Survey of Research Projects and Preliminary Results, Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation, 1951, accessed: 10 Feb 2019.
Kent, Stephen. “The Creation of ‘Reliogious’ Scientology,” Universities of Alberta, 1992, accessed: 10 Feb 2019
Miller, Russell. “Bankrolling and Bankruptcy,” Bare-Faced Messiah, The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard. 1987. New York: Henry Holt & Co. pp. 305–306
“What is Dianetics?” scientology.org. accessed: 10 Feb 2019 (many of the other frequently asked questions about Dianetics on their official information on their perspective on Dianetics