The Scientology Money Project

Science Vs. Pseudoscience: A Brief History of How Scientology’s E-Meter Came Into Existence – Part 3

1950: Dianeticist Thomas Rother is photographed in a “Dianetic Reverie” during which he examines and discharges the contents of his reactive mind. The photographer for the Minneapolis Star obviously worked intently to get a few close ups in order to show Thomas Rother’s intense range of emotions during his Dianetic reverie. Photo from the story “Can we doctor our minds at home?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Sun, Oct 29, 1950 · Page 128

Prior to launching his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health on May 9, 1950, L. Ron Hubbard refined his auditing techniques by experimenting on many people over a period of several years. As mentioned previously, Hubbard’s original Dianetics methodology was based upon his fusion of hypnotism, Freudian psychotherapy, and Sargant’s systematic trauma reduction. While there were other influences, Hubbard’s early writing credits Freud and others, employs hypnosis, and Sargant’s work can easily be inferred. There was never any psychogalvanometer present in Hubbard’s original system of Dianetics.

L. Ron Hubbard’s original Dianetics technique was to put his “patients” as he called them, into a light hypnotic state. Hubbard denied this was hypnosis and instead called it a “Dianetic reverie.” In a Dianetics reverie, the auditor would take the patient back into an engram. Hubbard defined an engram as a mental image picture that contains pain and unconsciousness. The auditor would assist the preclear (preclear = the person being audited) to bring the pain and unconscious content of the engram into full consciousness in order to re-experience it over and over until the engram erased. The preclear was left with full memory of the incident, but there would no longer be any pain, fear, or other negativity associated with the memory. Hubbard claimed this in Dianetics:

Dianetic therapy may be briefly stated. Dianetics deletes all the pain from a lifetime. When this pain is erased in the engram bank and refiled as memory and experience in the memory banks, all aberrations and psycho-somatic illnesses vanish, the dynamics are entirely rehabilitated and the physical and mental being regenerate.

Dianetics leaves an individual full memory but without pain. Exhaustive tests have demonstrated that hidden pain is not a necessity but is invariably and always a liability to the health, skill, happiness and survival potential of the individual. It has no survival value.

While doing his developmental work on Dianetics, Hubbard attracted many supporters who were enthusiastic about his work. Hubbard organized a small team of his most sophisticated supporters and made them members of the Board of Directors when he incorporated the Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation of Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Hubbard put the Foundation in place in order to support what would be his new franchise business. From the very beginning, Hubbard intended Dianetics to be more than just a book; it was to be a business. As a pulp writer, Hubbard had made a penny a word from his short stories and never owned the rights to these stories. Where Hubbard made his money was off the royalties from the sale of his fiction books. Therefore, Hubbard’s goal in writing Dianetics and creating the Dianetics Foundation was fourfold:

1. To enjoy the stream of royalties from the sales of Dianetics.

2. To teach and certify people to become Dianetics auditors. This would be done on fee basis under the aegis of the Dianetics Foundation. Once certified, Dianetics auditors could start field practices. Hubbard would then collect 10% of the income auditors earned.

3. To earn income from his live lectures on how to deliver Dianetics and the sale of the recordings of these lectures.

4. To write additional books on Dianetics and earn royalties from the sale of these books.

This plan shows us one of the great and undisclosed secrets of Dianetics and Scientology: The author must be paid royalties. This dictum is set in stone. Probity stated this Law of Scientology long ago on If you understand that the author must be paid royalties, even if he is dead, then you understand a crucial part of Scientology. Where the royalties were paid after Hubbard’s death is a question for another article.

Much to Hubbard’s surprise and that of everyone else, Dianetics took off like a rocket and became an overnight sensation. Hubbard was smart to have put the Dianetics Foundation in place as he now had a team of executives in place to help him scale up and expand the business. As the money poured in, Hubbard took plenty off the top for himself. But he also plowed enormous sums of cash back into his business. The Foundation opened Dianetics Centers in major American cities and hired staff. The overhead soon became staggering.

As the Dianetics craze swept America in the second half of 1950, newly-minted Dianetics professional auditors – those men and women who had paid $500 and spent a month in training at the Dianetics Foundation — took their show on the road. Public demonstrations of Dianetics and lectures by Dianetics-certified auditors proved quite popular. A personal appearance by L. Ron Hubbard in Los Angeles packed the Shrine Auditorium.

Volney Mathison circa 1925

While Ron Hubbard was living large and raking in the cash and notoriety in New Jersey, it was a far different situation for Volney Mathison out in California. Mathison was broke.

Volney Mathison (1897–1965) — who also went by the name of Dex Volney — was a man of many talents. He was an inventor, writer, union representative, wireless radio operator, and chiropractor. Despite his many talents, Mathison had fallen onto hard times in 1949 when there was little demand for his newly patented device that monitored the quality of light emitted from arc lamp projectors in movie theaters. The new technology of xenon theater projection lamps had replaced expensive, messy, and labor-intensive carbon arc lamps.

Devastated by his significant financial and emotional losses, Mathison went to see a psychoanalyst. As a chiropractor, Mathison had a natural interest in therapy and psychotherapy and was widely read on these subjects. As Mathison later told his story, conventional psychoanalysis didn’t help him as it, in his opinion, lacked precision.

Mathison’s dissatisfaction with psychoanalysis didn’t cause him to dismiss the subject. Rather, given his interest in psychotherapy he decided to use his talents to improve the situation. Mathison had obviously read the scientific papers on psychogalvanometry and therefore designed, built, and patented a better psychogalvanometer. Mathison demonstrated his knowledge of the clinical literature when he later wrote of his new instrument:

What was needed, then, in psychotherapy, was an instrument that would to some degree read the mind of the autonomic or central nervous system , disclosing especially painful past events that had impinged upon the central nervous system, or upon the structure of the individual, but which had not been perceived at the time with full consciousness and alertness. — Volney Mathison, Electropsychometry. Los Angeles, 1955. Print.

Volney Mathison shrewdly differentiated his new device from the existing psychogalvanometer which had been in use since 1850 when Helmholtz pressed a galvanometer into service as psychogalvanometer. Accordingly, Mathison cleverly called his device an Electropsychometer.

The new name was a brilliant piece of marketing which tells the entire story: Electro + Psychometry. The name of the device conveyed a sense that computer-precise psychological measurements were now available.

This was not Dr. Helmholtz’s 1850 galvanometer. This was a new purpose-built precision piece of psychological research equipment — and the device was a handsome beast to be sure:

As a sales engineer of 30+ years, we cannot help but admire the Mathison Electropsychometer as a beautiful piece of over-engineered 1950’s industrial art. This was clearly a labor of love on Mathison’s part. It is also easy to see that Volney understood the aesthetics of product design; his meter was elegant and did not suffer from the “Frankenstein factor” as did so many clinical and medical devices of the era.

Mathison’s 1951 patent language for his electropsychometer reveals his bravado as an inventor:

My invention, to which I apply the descriptive name electropsychometer, is a novel bio-electronic instrument which registers human dynamic emotion in a more accurate and sensitive manner than has been possible with any previous device of comparable simplicity…in the hands of a skilled therapist, the [electropsychometer]…is a valuable adjuvant in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.


As a chiropractor and an amateur psychoanalyst, Mathison pressed his new e-meter into service even before he filed for the patent. We know this because Mathison began compiling his session information in 1950. Mathison noted how a chiropractic adjustment would sometimes psychologically effect patients by bringing up painful memories of an automotive car accident or other injury that had caused them to seek chiropractic services. As an adjunct to treating sublaxations, then, Mathison would place his patients on a sofa or divan and ask them questions about the traumatic event while they held the electrodes of his new e-meter.

Like Jung and others before him since Freud had first articulated the existence of the unconsciousness and sought to access its repressed contents, Mathison sought to get down to this level and bring repressed painful past trauma up to the level of full consciousness. There, he had his patients talk about what happened, what they experienced, and their fear, terror, and other sensations. They would do this over and over until there was what Mathison called a “reduction” as indicated by the needle on his e-meter. This was Freud’s process. It was also abreaction therapy aided by an e-meter. For some people this process allowed them to unload what had been a  terrible and unconscious psychic burden that often manifested as physical symptoms and problems.

Due to his training as an electrical engineer, inventor, and chiropractor, Mathison kept meticulous research notes of his electropsychometric counseling sessions. Along the way he innovated new techniques, concepts, and terminology.

We stated that Volney Mathison was obviously familiar with the existing clinical literature on the psychogalvanometer. This leads us to ask what constituted the existing clinical literature on the psychogalvanometer?

In our previous installment we mentioned Carl Jung’s 1906 experiments with a psychogalvanometer and word association. These experiments were conducted by Jung and other psychiatrists over many years of clinical research.

The extensive body of data, graphs, charts, and observations compiled by Jung and his colleagues was  published in a voluminous tome in 1919. Studies in Word-Association is available online in a 604 page English translation here. The book cover and a sample page (505) shows the heft of the scientific examination into the psychogalvanometer made by Jung and his colleagues:

In the introduction to this work, the authors acknowledge Freud’s revolutionary discovery of the unconscious as crucial to their experimentation in word association using a psychogalvanometer:

Based upon our review of Jung’s 1919 work, it is our opinion that Volney Mathison had access to this text and used it to inform his design and electropyschometric auditing procedures to some extent. There are other research papers and Mathison would have had access to these living as he did in Los Angeles with its many university research libraries.

Mathison had the further advantage of electrical components that had been enormously improved since 1906 due to the demands of WWII and the burgeoning postwar consumer demand for electrical appliances and devices of all kinds. In particular, Volney Mathison’s electropsychometer was based on vacuum tube technology which was then the state of the art in electronics. The dial on Mathison’s e-meter featured a marvelous jeweled movement and was an expensive precision component:

Mathison also created his own new clinical model of electropsychometry based upon the original research and experimentation he engaged in with his patients. Mathison further created an entire line of e-meters of different sizes and capabilities. He wrote instruction manuals and auditing procedures. He marketed and sold his products to his fellow chiropractors, psychologists, medical doctors, and anyone else who had an interest in them.

We are not claiming that Volney Mathison’s work had any scientific validity; we’re simply stating that he was methodical, well read, and extremely creative in what he was attempting to do. Mathison had high hopes that his electropsychometric auditing procedures would help people. What Mathison fortunately did not possess was the shameless and hyperbolic PR and marketing horsepower of L. Ron Hubbard. For instance, Mathison had the commonsense to not make the outlandish claims for his e-meter-based system of auditing that Hubbard had made for Dianetics:

Dianetics is “a milestone for Man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and the arch…The hidden source of all psychosomatic ills and human aberration has been discovered and skills have been developed for their invariable cure.”

“Arthritis vanishes, myopia gets better, heart illness decreases, asthma disappears, stomachs function properly and the whole catalogue of illnesses goes away and stays away.”

“A Clear, for instance, has complete recall of everything which has ever happened to him or anything he has ever studied.”

“You are only three or four hours from taking your glasses off for keeps.” – L. Ron Hubbard, “Eyesight and glasses.” “Dianetic Auditor’s Bulletin,” Vol. 2, No. 7, January 1952

As other commentators have noted — and we deeply appreciate their research — it was Mathison who created the Tone Scale. He did so in order to give his electropsychometric practitioners a basis to classify their patients based upon readings observed on the Mathison e-meter. We mention the Tone Scale as Mathison had created a lock-and-key system in which the Mathison meter was intended for use only with Mathison’s written guidance, instructions, interpretations of needle reads, and the other written specifics of the system he had devised or would devise in the future.

Conversely, Hubbard had taken a different direction in 1951 by devising his cumbersome and bloated Chart of Human Evaluation. This chart was Hubbard’s attempt at creating a psychometric basis to classify human behavior within a Dianetic framework.

The illustration below shows Mathison’s Tone Scale and is reproduced from his 1954 manual entitled Electropsychometry:

Ron Hubbard would later refine his Chart of Human Evaluation into a graphic form he called The Tone Scale in Full. This graphic features colorful little tribbles depicting various emotional states ranging from Total Failure (-40.0) to Serenity of Beingness (+40.0). Hubbard’s Tone Scale is quite subversive and dangerous as it serves as the basis of his form of social engineering and genocide. Hubbard called for all persons 2.0 and below on his Tone Scale to be “disposed of quietly and without sorrow.” See our essay on Scientology’s call for Genocide.

Mathison’s 1953 book Electropsychometry was quite detailed and based upon several years of work. We reproduce the Table of Contents here to show how developed Mathison’s system had become by 1953:


While Volney Mathison was quietly doing his work in Los Angeles, all hell was breaking loose for Ron Hubbard in 1951. Due to the nature of Hubbard’s claims that Dianetics could teach its auditors how to treat all psychosomatic illnesses, the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners filed criminal charges alleging that the Dianetics Foundation was operating a medical school without a license. These charges were filed in January of 1951, a scant seven months after Dianetics was launched.

When Dianetics began to fade in early 1951, the Dianetics Foundation found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. Hubbard was taking excessive amounts of cash out of the business; he also didn’t know how to manage a startup business. Hubbard over-expanded, rented buildings in five cities to serve as Dianetics centers, and had a big payroll of staff members and staff auditors. The Board of the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation tried to reign in Hubbard’s profligate spending to no avail.

Additionally, Ron Hubbard incurred huge printing, telephone, advertising, and travel bills. He was printing more copies of Dianetics along with a great deal of promotional materials. He spent hours each day on the phone talking long distance across the US and overseas to the UK, Australia, and South Africa where Dianetics was taking off. Hubbard  frequently traveled back and forth across the US by airliner in a day when airline travel was an expensive luxury of the upper class.

During his acrimonious and very public divorce from his second wife Sara Northrup, Hubbard kidnapped his daughter Alexis and fled to Havana where he spent the spring of 1951. The relative anonymity of Havana afforded Hubbard the opportunity to complete his second major work on Dianetics, Science of Survival. Margery Wakefield wrote of this book:

Hubbard produced a second book, called Science of Survival, but the book in its first printing sold only a disappointing 1,250 copies. After his meteoric rise the year before, Hubbard was now facing personal and public ruin, having squandered his fortune from the early success of Dianetics and having no other prospects in sight. Salvation came in the form of a knight in shining armor from Wichita, Kansas. A self-made millionaire named Don Purcell, who was an early convert to Dianetics, invited Hubbard to Wichita with the promise of salvaging the beleaguered Dianetic empire.

And so, the Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation was reborn in Wichita. Success remained elusive, however, as only a trickle of students made their way to Wichita to sign up for Dianetics training and Hubbard’s lectures. — Understanding Scientology, by Margery Wakefield

While Dianetics had sold 150,000 copies since its release, Science of Survival sold only 1,250 copies in its first print run. This was a staggering 99.2% decrease in units sold. Interest in Dianetics had collapsed. These were the conditions under which the new Wichita Foundation opened in April 1951.

While Don Purcell could pump money into the failing Dianetics movement, L. Ron Hubbard desperately needed something new and dramatic to save his quickly crumbling reputation and empire from utter ruin.

Go to Part 4

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