The Scientology Money Project

Science Vs. Pseudoscience: A Brief History of How Scientology’s E-Meter Came Into Existence – Part 2

Sigmund Freud by Max Halberstadt

Having established the scientific and psychological background of the psychogalvanometer in our previous article, in this installment we weave together several strands as we inexorably head toward the moment in which the paths of L. Ron Hubbard and the e-meter collided.

As a prelude to that collision, we find the fingerprints of L. Ron Hubbard all over the psychiatric literature at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. During the many months Hubbard spent malingering there in the latter half of 1945, he pretended to be a medical doctor. This allowed him access to the medical library where he devoted his extensive free time to consuming psychiatric texts. He read Wundt, Freud, and even the very current works on systematic trauma reduction by William Sargant. Hubbard was very busy educating himself.

Hubbard experimented on other patients at Oak Knoll and tried out his various proto-Dianetics techniques on them. Hubbard’s “experiments” on patients at the Navy hospital were unauthorized, illegal, and foreshadowed the Dianetics Research Foundation of Elizabeth, New Jersey being criminally charged in January 1951 for operating a medical school without a license.

During his pre-Dianetics years from 1945-1949, Hubbard was so consumed by Freudian psychotherapy, narcosynthesis, hypnotic techniques, Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, and his own personal drama that he never made the connection between what he was doing and the psychogalvanometer. Someone else would have to make that connection for him at a later date by literally shoving a meter into his hands.

                                 Carl Gustav Jung – 1875-1961


As has widely been noted, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung used the psychogalvanometer in his experimental research. Gregory Mitchell describes Jung’s 1906 experiment:

One of the first references to the use of this instrument [the psychogalvanometer] in Psychoanalysis is in the book by Carl Gustav Jung, entitled ‘Studies in Word Analysis’, published in 1906. He describes a technique of connecting the subject, via hand-electrodes, to an instrument measuring changes in the resistance of the skin. Words on a list were read out to the subject one by one. If a word on this list was emotionally charged, there was a change in body resistance causing a deflection of the needle of the galvanometer, indicating that a complex-related ‘resistance’ was triggered. Any words which evoked a larger than usual response on the meter were assumed to be indicators of possible areas of conflict in the patients, hinting at unconscious feelings and beliefs, and these areas were then explored in more detail with the subject in session. Jung used observed deflections on the meter as a monitoring device to aid his own judgment in determining which particular lines of enquiry were most likely to be fruitful with each subject.

Jung had the patient hold the electrodes of a psychogalvanometer as he read words aloud. Any words that caused the needle on the psychogalvanometer to deflect were treated as emotionally charged items to be handled in a psychotherapy session.

In the modern era we speak of emotionally loaded words that can trigger a person. This is what Jung was looking for in word association. He wanted to find word triggers by use of a psychogalvanometer. These triggers could then be addressed in psychoanalysis. Keep in mind that Jung did this in 1906. Current and former Scientologists can already see where we’re going with this one. We leave it for later.


The Mirror (Perth, Western Australia) Saturday 22 November 1930, p.1.

The psychogalvanometer was used in Australia, Europe, and the US in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The fascinating website Freud in Oceania describes various psychological experiments that were done with the device in Australia. These experiments and techniques were in use in other places and were described in the psychiatric literature of the time. Hubbard apparently missed the papers on psychogalvanometry while perusing the psychiatric literature at Oak Knoll.


Josef Breuer was doctor and a early psychiatrist who developed the “talking cure” and its resultant catharsis. Breuer’s protege was Sigmund Freud.

Psychological educator Kendra Cherry comments on  Freud’s notion of catharsis:

The unconscious mind played a critical role in Freud’s theory. While the contents of the unconscious were out of awareness, he still believed that they continued to exert an influence on behavior and functioning. By using psychotherapeutic tools such as dream interpretation and free association, Freud believed that these unconscious feelings and memories could be brought to light.

In their book Studies on Hysteria, Freud and Breuer defined catharsis as “the process of reducing or eliminating a complex by recalling it to conscious awareness and allowing it to be expressed.” Catharsis still plays a role today in Freudian psychoanalysis. The American Psychological Association defines the process as “the discharge of affects connected to traumatic events that had previously been repressed by bringing these events back into consciousness and reexperiencing them.

In the book Two Short Accounts of Psycho-Analysis, Freud describes systematic trauma reduction by tracing “pathogenic memories” back to their earliest root causes:

What left the symptom behind was not always a single experience. On the contrary, the result was usually brought about by the convergence of several traumas, and often by the repetition of a great number of similar ones. Thus it was necessary to reproduce the whole chain of pathogenic memories in chronological order, or rather in reversed order, the latest ones first and the earliest ones last; and it was quite impossible to jump over the later traumas in order to get back more quickly to the first, which was often the most potent one.

The quote above shows us yet another aspect of Freud’s work that Hubbard would appropriate, re-language, and contextualize within a Dianetics framework, i.e. locks, chains, and secondaries; going earlier on the chain until the basic-basic is located; earlier similars, etc. We mention this quote of Freud’s here as it is part of the Freud/Korzybski/Sargant et. al. sources of Dianetics that were documented by other writers long ago.

In his early work Freud used hypnosis. However, he later abandoned in favor of techniques he and Breuer created such as dream analysis and free association, the latter of which became one of the major underpinnings of psychotherapy. Allowing people to talk about anything in a stream of consciousness form was a breakthrough in the sexually-repressed 19th century where strict and heavily judgmental religious proscriptions were the norm.

We will circle back around to how L. Ron Hubbard incorporated hypnosis, free association, catharsis, systematic trauma reduction and other techniques into Dianetics and Scientology and called them something else.


In the Wiley Online Library, Mary Jo Peebles offers a concise summary of abreaction therapy:

In mental health, abreaction has come to mean an intense emotional release or discharge in an involuntary, vivid, sensory reliving or re‐experiencing, of an event that was originally neurobiologically overwhelming (i.e., “traumatic”) and thus could not be remembered (or forgotten) in normal ways. Abreaction has its origins in psychoanalytic theory, but because it taps essential principles of emotional functioning, memory, and mind‐body interaction, aspects of it are blended into diverse modalities across theoretical orientations. Originally, abreaction was viewed as curative in itself, believed to be healing through the discharging of excessive, dysregulating emotions thought to be the cause of dysfunctional symptoms.

 In an online piece entitled Visionary or Disaster; a perspective on William Sargant, Dr. Nick Read writes of the British psychoanalyst Dr. William Sargant (1907-1988) and his work on abreaction therapy with combat soldiers at the end of WWII:

While at Sutton, Sargant treated veterans with battle trauma by abreaction, deliberately getting them to relive their experience on the premise that it would eventually wear away. He described a man who was shot at by German pilots as he swam out to the boats at Dunkirk, experienced all over again the terror of drowning but then walked away from the session without a care in the world. Sargant never really validated or controlled his studies or even analysed the results of his treatments. He was no scientist; he just did what he considered right.

Sargant’s 1951 book Battle for the Mind: The Mechanics of Brainwashing, Indoctrination and Thought Control
had much to say about coercion, manipulation and what was then called brainwashing. He cites techniques used by evangelists and interrogators alike. Sargant might as well have been writing about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology in this quote:

Sargant used barbiturates in his abreaction work as Hubbard later did in his pre-Dianetics works. Thus, we again see Hubbard in the medical library at Oak Knoll reading the medical literature of the time in which Sargant’s work was widely read and quoted.

We know Hubbard used barbiturates in his Dianetics period because he wrote a letter to the Gerontological Society of the Baltimore City Hospital on April 13, 1949 to pitch his work. In this letter Hubbard, acting as if he were a medical doctor, candidly stated that he was using narcosynthesis and hypnosis in his experiments aimed at getting people to recall what he called their birth trauma:

A very brief resume of this work follows: In an effort to evolve a better clinical approach to the treatment of certain neuroses and psychoses, to permanently relieve psycho-somatic ills and to investigate some of the longevity factors, an extensive investigation of the early work of Freud was undertaken and revealed certain premises. First amongst these was the belief that the unconscious mind recalled birth shock. Lack of technology made it impossible for Freud to pursue that work at that time. By making changes in the practices of narcosynthesis and combining it with certain techniques of hypnosis but employing no positive suggestion or other therapy peculiar to hypnosis, a trance state was induced in patients and, with these evolved techniques, they were induced to recall the birth trauma.

Narcosynthesis is defined as:

Psychiatry Psychotherapy under partial anesthesia, induced by barbiturates, first used to treat acute mental disorders in a combat setting.

Hubbard’s 1949 work with barbiturates shows that he had read Sargant’s work and was using narcotics and hypnosis to see if he could reproduce Sargant’s result in those people he used as his pre-Dianetics guinea pigs. Somewhere between 1949 and the 1950 release of Dianetics, Hubbard abandoned the use of barbiturates in his work but retained the use of hypnotic techniques to induce a state of “Dianetics Reverie.”

While Hubbard abandoned the use of barbiturates, he nevertheless advocated the use of Benzedrine (amphetamines) for certain “cases” – including those that involved past lives. As we read in Hubbard’s lecture of June 15, 1950 entitled Case Factors:

If you have to grab hold of anything, grab hold of Benzedrine… Benzedrine doesn’t shut down the analyzer. It is said in the Handbook that as a stimulant Benzedrine helps blow emotional charges. This is true. To handle such a case, I would put him on Benzedrine, and go back over the case and start picking up the deaths and emotional discharges….

Ron Hubbard was dangerous. His lack of formal medical training was compounded by the fact that he was an amoral marketer and entrepreneur who was quite willing to use barbiturates and Benzedrine as an adjunct to Dianetics auditing. It is also quite easy to see how L. Ron Hubbard superimposed his model of Dianetics over existing psychoanalytic theory and abreaction techniques.


What is psychometry? It is a compound word formed from the words “psycho+ metrics.” Psychometrics concerns itself with the study and measurement of psychological states. Personality and intelligence testing are forms of psychometric testing. We acknowledge the intrinsic problem of bias in such testing and address this issue, as it pertains to Scientology, in a future installment.

Psychometrics has been around since the 19th century. Charles Darwin’s cousin Sir Francis Galton is considered the father of psychometrics. As we read at, the the world’s first psychometrics laboratory was established at Cambridge University by the early American psychologist James McKeen Cattell (1860-1944):

It is a little-known fact that psychometrics as a science began in Cambridge between 1886 and 1889. The first laboratory dedicated to the subject was set up within the Cavendish Physics Laboratory at the University of Cambridge by James McKeen Cattell in 1887.

Cattell, an American, completed his Ph.D., entitled ‘Psychometric Investigations’ (Cattell, 1886), with Wundt at Leipzig. During his period in Leipzig, Cattell had been in frequent correspondence with Francis Galton at his Anthropometric Laboratory in London (Galton, 1887) and he quickly saw the potential for synergising Wundt’s psychophysics with Galton’s mathematical approach to the examination of individual differences. On leaving Leipzig, and after a brief visit to America, Cattell returned to Europe to take up an appointment at the University of Cambridge in October 1886 as ‘Fellow Commoner’ at St John’s College and lecturer in the University.

James McKeen Cattell was a pioneer in the field of psychometrics. Cattell argued that the discipline of psychology needed to establish a scientific basis of measurement for what it was doing:

Cattell believed that the continued growth of psychology was dependent on the field’s acceptance of quantitative methods similar to those used in other sciences. This belief was somewhat controversial: Although psychological laboratories were flourishing in the United States, the philosophical underpinnings of psychology led some to question the validity and, indeed, the necessity of psychological measurements. But Cattell felt that experimental approaches to psychology, especially those involving “psycho-physical” measurement, were critical to the rise and continued success of academic psychology:

“I venture to maintain that the introduction of experiment and measurement into psychology has added directly and indirectly new subject-matter and methods, has set a higher standard of accuracy and objectivity, has made some part of the subject an applied science with useful applications, and enlarged the field and improved the methods of teaching psychology. In conclusion, I wish to urge that experiment in psychology has made its relations with the other silence more intimate and productive of common good.”

The field of psychometrics is described at Assessment Psychology Online:

The field is primarily concerned with the study of differences between individuals. It involves two major research tasks, namely: (i) the construction of instruments and procedures for measurement; and (ii) the development and refinement of theoretical approaches to measurement…

More recently, psychometric theory has been applied in the measurement of personality, attitudes and beliefs, academic achievement, and in health-related fields. Measurement of these unobservable phenomena is difficult, and much of the research and accumulated art in this discipline has been developed in an attempt to properly define and quantify such phenomena. Critics, including practitioners in the physical sciences and social activists, have argued that such definition and quantification is impossibly difficult, and that such measurements are often misused. Proponents of psychometric techniques can reply, though, that their critics often misuse data by not applying psychometric criteria, and also that various quantitative phenomena in the physical sciences, such as heat and forces, cannot be observed directly but must be inferred from their manifestations.

With the advent of WWII, there was a great need for the US military and private industry to quickly and efficiently test and classify large groups of individuals in order to determine those individuals who were fit for duty and those who were not.

A simple example of psychometric testing would be a group of five hundred US Navy sailors who were psychometerically tested. In our example, dozens of members of the test group would be found to have an extremely strong aptitude in math, science, and engineering. Based upon these results, those sailors with technical aptitude would be assigned for training in specialized fields such as radar, combat engineering, piloting aircraft, troubleshooting and repairing electronic systems, and any other field where a grasp of technical and scientific principles and operational details is crucial.

The US Navy could ill afford to waste technical aptitude given the complexity of the scientifically-designed weapons systems and platforms of modern warfare. In this sense, psychometric testing was as important as physical testing. When the two types of tests were combined, the military was best able to determine those individuals that would likely make the best pilots, submariners, radar operators, electronics technicians, and serve in other duties that demanded peak physical and mental skills.

Just as the US military had to test for strengths, it also had to test for psychopathology. This was necessary to keep mentally unstable people away from the weapons of war and and the brutal psychological stresses of combat. One of the major 20th century psychometric tests used to screen for psychopathology was developed in 1943. This test is called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). describes this test:

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a psychological test that assesses personality traits and psychopathology. It is primarily intended to test people who are suspected of having mental health or other clinical issues… The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory is considered a protected psychological instrument, meaning it can only be given and interpreted by a psychologist trained to do so… psychological testing is nearly always preceded by a clinical interview by the psychologist who is doing the testing. After… the test results, the psychologist writes up a report interpreting the test results in the context of the person’s history and current psychological concerns.

The US Navy used the MMPI as part of screening for psychopathology. A discussion of psychometric testing in the WWII Navy can be found here.

L. Ron Hubbard’s time at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital gave him access to the vaunted new Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or “MMPI” as it is called. In this era, the MMPI was deemed the scientific state of the art in assessing psychopathology and psychopathology.

The MMPI and other psychometric tests used by the US Navy and psychiatrists would have been of great interest to Hubbard.


Jumping ahead in our narrative, we note that in 1951, L. Ron Hubbard went so far as to create what he called “Dianometry.” This was Hubbard’s attempt to create a Dianetics-based psychometric testing program in order to compete with psychometric testing programs performed under the aegis of the American Psychiatric Association and other established organizations staffed by professional and credentialed professionals.

Hubbard’s creation of Dianometry shows how astutely he sought to copy and re-language psychiatry, psychology, and its tools for his own use and profit.

A brief announcement in the January 18, 1951 edition of the Courier News of Bridgewater, New Jersey shows Hubbard using psychometric testing as a condition for acceptance and indoctrination into Dianetics:

L. Ron Hubbard mentions psychometry many times in Dianetics and in his other early works. The concept of psychometry allowed Hubbard to argue that both “aberration” and the improvements made by Dianetics could be scientifically tested and measured.

Hubbard would later create his own psychometric test to prove that Dianetics and Scientology could improve a person’s IQ and the other aspects of their personality. This test woulds be called the “Oxford Capacity Analysis” or “OCA.” The use of the name “Oxford” was not accidental. Hubbard wanted people to think Oxford University had something to do with it. Oxford University never got the memo.

We take a wide systems approach in this series by reviewing the scientific history; academic and clinical sources; intellectual property issues; financial motives; esoteric motifs; potential for psychological manipulation; and Hubbard’s paranoid need for internal security which led him to adopt the e-meter and integrate it into Scientology. The story of how the e-meter became a central part of Scientology is more complex than realized.

In our next installment, we examine L. Ron Hubbard’s launch of Dianetics. We will not locate a  psychogalvanometer or e-meter present anywhere at the creation of Dianetics. However, we will discover the power of cheap little newspaper ads and the profound impact they had for Hubbard and his Dianetics craze.

Go to Part 3


2 replies »

  1. Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa’s lab is overturning old assumptions about how memories form, how recall works and whether lost memories might be restored from “silent engrams” → From Quanta Magazine byline Eero Lampinen for Quanta Magazine ” Light-Triggered Genes Reveal the Hidden Workings of Memory “

  2. Thank you for posting this comment Nicholas.

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