Better Homes & Gardens
Dianetics book review
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,
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
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
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
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
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
The American Psychological Association in its resolution of
September 8, 1950, is reasonable and reserved:
"While suspending judgment concerning the eventual
validity of the claims made by the author of dianetics,
the Association calls attention to the fact that these
claims are not supported by empirical evidence of the
sort required for the establishment of scientific
generalizations. In the public interest, the
Association, in the absence of such evidence, recommends
to its members that the use of the techniques peculiar
to dianetics be limited to scientific investigations
designed to test the validity of it claims."
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
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.