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Robert Todd Carroll

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The Skeptic's Refuge

For information on the devious tactics used by Scientology to recruit new members in the aftermath of the anti-American terrorist attacks on 9/11/01 see Rod Keller's page on Scientology.

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R & R

The Sound of One Mouth Blathering

review of

The Rediscovery of the Human Soul
by L. Ron Hubbard
Scientology, 1996

Robert T. Carroll
October 22, 1996

Which of the following does not belong? The Talmud, the Upanishads, the New Testament, the Vedas, Dianetics?

Here is an even easier question: which of the following does not belong? Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Scientology?

Despite what its founder and its advocates say, Scientology is not a religion. It has no creed, no rituals, and no hope of becoming a major social institution for the transmission of values. It has no cosmological myths and offers nothing new or interesting in ethical teachings. What it does have is philosophical dogma which it claims is scientifically validated by its practice of auditing. And while these dogmas do assert belief in a soul which is independent of the body and which usually resides in a person's head, the origin of the soul is obscure while its destiny is vaguely described in Buddhistic terms of escape from the cycle of rebirth. Scientology is an eclectic collage of philosophical and religious notions imaginatively brought together in a loose system by a man with a gift for fantasy.

I know, in 1993 the Internal Revenue Service of the United States of America declared that Scientology is a religion. The IRS had initially denied Scientology the tax-exempt status of a religion. But after years of war which featured numerous lawsuits and tit-for-tat harassment techniques by scientologists, the IRS surrendered. What they should have done, in my humble democratic secular opinion, is eliminated the tax-exempt status for all religions. Or they should have continued to deny Scientology status as a religion, as the German government continues to do.

Which of the following does not belong: Einstein, Darwin, Newton, Feynman, Hubbard? Too easy? Yet scientologists claim that Scientology is a science. It isn't. The Rediscovery of the Human Soul, a collection of essays by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, along with background essays provided by the institute which bears his name, is a hostile collection of anti-science literature.

If Scientology is neither a religion nor a science, what is it? It is an eclectic collection of metaphysical notions which are "applied" in counseling sessions called auditing. If a label must be given to Scientology, I would call it a philosophical cult and its teachings applied metaphysics. It shares in common with other ancient philosophical schools, such as Stoicism, the offering of an alternative to traditional religion. In common with many ancient mystery cults such as Mithraism and early Christianity, it offers a refuge from a turbulent, heartless world while promising immortality. Scientology claims to be able to improve a person's happiness, intelligence, well-being, etc. Maybe so. I can't speak to the issue of its benefits or harms to people who have been audited. But I can speak to the ideas upon which Scientology is based, especially to the claim that these ideas are "scientific." Not only are the fundamental notions of Scientology not scientific but metaphysical, there is a basic hostility to science at the heart of Hubbard's teachings.

I received an unsolicited copy of The Rediscovery of the Human Soul. It was sent to my office in the Philosophy Department at Sacramento City College. I also received an invitation to think about it from Kaye Copley, the L. Ron Hubbard Public Relations Director. Copley writes that the book was sent to me to "provide an understanding of some of the fundamental principles of Scientology and an insight into what lies behind its phenomenal growth." And, "We look forward to receiving your thoughts on [Scientology]." Well, here goes.

Slick but unimpressive

I'll begin with the positive. This book is beautifully done: slick, glossy pages, colorful photos, artistic black and white shots and graphics. It's pretty enough to go on the coffee table.

Now to the content and the negative.

The book is a collection of articles either by or about Hubbard. In "An Introduction to L. Ron Hubbard" we're told that no "single philosophic work" is as large as the materials of Scientology. This is unimpressive. Bigger is not necessarily better, or even good, for that matter.

Scientology is also called a "major religion" with solutions to criminality, drug addiction, illiteracy and social unrest--concerns which set Scientology apart from most other religions. Scientology is also called "an applied religious philosophy" based upon "axioms derived from precise observations," not "theory or assumptions." These claims, however are based on epistemological ignorance or arrogance. Hubbard uses the term `axiom' himself in describing the "truths" of dianetics. He uses the word to mean "absolutely certain truths." Axioms are self- evident propositions such as "the whole is greater than any of its parts", or postulates (essential presuppositions), or universally accepted principles such as "everything has a cause." Axioms are either statements which are true by definition, or they are assumptions or based on assumptions. Observation, by its very nature, cannot yield axioms. Any data derived from sense observation must be organized and interpreted by our fallible human organs and consciousness, and cannot yield absolutely certain empirical truths. If there is anything epistemologists and philosophers of science are in agreement on it is this: sense perception can, at best, lead to probabilities, not absolute certainties. Hubbard did not understand this and neither do his followers. Those who practice science recognize that axioms cannot be reasonably derived from sense observations or experiments.

Scientology might best be described as Irrefutable Pragmatism. The only criteria for truth, we're told, is "workability." Did procedures "better our capacity to survive, actually make us happier, more causative and more able?" The beauty of such imprecise concepts is in their slipperiness: there is no need to invent ad hoc hypotheses to explain disconfirming evidence because the concepts are so vague that one can fit any data to them. I fear that the "axioms" of Scientology which are not false or trivial are likely to be so vague as to be useless.

In the introductory essay, we are presented with another example of philosophical ignorance when metaphysical materialism is identified with the philosophy of "get what you can before you die." I suggest that Scientologists read some Epicurus or d'Holbach for starters. Not only is collecting material possessions irrelevant to metaphysical materialism, it is in fact a predominant motif among many "spiritual" leaders and their flocks, including Scientology which may one day rival the wealth of the Catholic Church. The Epilogue to the book claims that Scientology is growing at the rate of 10,000 a week. (At that rate, if there is no population increase on earth, everyone will be a Scientologist in about 10,000 years.)

Somebody needs auditing

With a foundation so flawed, so evidently comprised of philosophical falsehood and ignorance, it is hard to take the rest of Hubbard's claims seriously. He says that we are all "troubled." We need "auditing" to find the cause and cure of our "troubles." Most people tremble at the thought of being audited, but L Ron H turned auditing into a rich concept. He even added a spiritual touch to auditing: his own version of reincarnation. We have past lives which need auditing to get at the root of our "troubles." Past lives is mentioned as if it were an axiom. It is not an assumption or article of faith. In fact, faith is never mentioned in this "religion." At least other religions, even the minor ones, usually admit they are based on faith. By the way, auditing is not free, like confession, and may require many sessions to get through all those past lives. If nothing else, the convert will learn the true meaning of eternal giving.

In Hubbard's "A Note on Excalibur," we are introduced to what he calls his fundamental insight into the secret of life. Unfortunately for those who actually know something about philosophy, this turns out to be little more than a rehash of naive vitalism, a philosophy whose adherents have dwindled to near none since the time of Aristotle. Briefly, L Ron H's vitalism holds that there is a basic Life Force which directs living things in a purposive fashion towards survival and survival only. He claims that he demonstrated that this Life Force exists in each living cell by a grand experiment he did in 1937. The same experiment, he says, proved Darwin was wrong about inheriting learned responses. By implication, I suppose, L Ron H might be thought to have vindicated Lamarck, who had argued that evolution occurred by a process of passing on learned behavior to progeny. In either case, Hubbard's claim must come as a great surprise to the whole evolutionary biology community, including any Lamarckians still around since Lamarck was as mechanistic and non-vitalistic as Darwin in his explanations.

What was this great experiment which has been systematically ignored by every biology text book since its alleged occurrence? He claims he proved that bacteria can mislearn from experience and pass on their mislearning to their progeny.

1. He subjected bacteria to jets of steam and there was no effect.

2. He subjected the bacteria to jets of "toxic cigarette smoke." The bacteria "retreated" from the threat.

3. He continued to "taunt" the bacteria with smoke.

4. He substituted steam for smoke. The bacteria "retreated" because they mistook steam for smoke.

5. Second and third generation bacteria retreated from steam, proof that they mistook steam for smoke like their dumb parents.

L Ron H claims that the new generations had inherited their parents and grandparent's inability to tell the difference between steam and smoke. He also claims that all generations of bacteria "retreated" from smoke in an effort to survive. I find this experiment extremely interesting for several reasons.

1. How does he know the bacteria were retreating? Was there a door marked "exit" on the edge of the petri dish? How can he be sure that they weren't actually seeking the source of the smoke because they enjoyed getting high? This anthropomorphizing of bacteria is charming, I suppose, but not too scientific.

2. No reputable biologist has ever heard of this crucial experiment.

3. He expects us to believe he "taunted" bacteria with jets of steam and got no response until he first "taunted" them with smoke. Maybe the bacteria were "taunting" L Ron H by faking a retreat.

4. He thinks that if bacteria mistakenly retreat from something which is no threat to their survival, this proves there is "an intelligence behind the scheme of life--an `X-Factor'....that shapes and gives meaning to life in ways that Darwin simply could not explain." Perhaps, but it must be a pretty dumb intelligence if it can't tell the difference between what's harmful and what's harmless. If survival is the only thing this Life Force is aiming at, as L Ron H claims, then it is amazing anything has survived since it doesn't even have the ability to distinguish between what is and what is not a threat to survival.

In Hubbard's attempt to refute what he considers to be the Darwinian notion that life is "directed by chance, by a dumb roll of genetic dice as it were" he cites an experiment on dumb bacteria who get dumber with each generation! "Directed by chance" is an oxymoron, of course, but we get the idea: Darwin's view is that there is no purpose to existence or to evolution; Hubbard's view is that even cells have purposes and act intentionally, if unintelligently. I suppose I should not be amazed that such an "experiment" and such reasoning would be the foundation of a body of notions which many people would accept, not on faith, but because they think it is scientific.

Contempt for science

If there is one constant throughout the musings of L Ron H presented in this little volume it is that he had a profound contempt for science. In essay after essay, he presents metaphysical ideas about Mind or Soul or Life and calls them scientific. He repeatedly claims that he has scientific proof that the soul exists, that the soul goes through many incarnations, that even minerals have souls, etc. I wonder if the trustees of Scientology sent a copy of these notions to any scientists. The science is nearly non-existent, and what science there is, is bad science. But the philosophy is there for all to see, and what is visible is a metaphysical belief in the soul as a directing force in all of nature and whose direction is toward "survival." This idea is no more scientific than the notion L Ron H opposes to it, viz., that nature is nothing but material (i.e., non-spiritual) entities and forces, following mechanistic laws, and is essentially without direction or purpose. There is nothing new about this debate. The opposition of mechanistic materialism to teleological spiritualism has a long and interesting history. Unfortunately, L Ron H adds little of note to this debate.

With the foundation laid in an inept experiment, we are now ready to delve more deeply into L Ron H's wisdom and insights. In "The Birth of Dianetics," an introduction to Hubbard's "Original Thesis," we discover that our scientist is really a metaphysician who thinks teleologically in terms of final causes, an idea abandoned by most scientists and philosophers after Spinoza. He caricatures mechanistic materialism as the view that feelings and emotions are nothing but "a consequence of physiology." His view is that "mind regulates body" because "function monitors structure," a view which might be of interest to certain naive vitalists. He also seems to think that because he can apply his metaphysical notions to the empirical world that his notions are therefore scientific and result in axioms. But his main supportive reason for opting for naive vitalism as opposed to a mechanistic materialism seems to be that he thinks materialism is bad. For example, he thinks the popularity of metaphysical materialism led to the excessive use of drugs to treat both physical and mental illness. He ignores any benefits which come from drug therapy to such people as diabetics, those who've had their thyroids removed, and even the mentally ill. In a very real sense, what Hubbard offered was the ultimate in alternative medicine. The mind regulates the body.

I can see how these ideas might be attractive to someone who is ill but who does not want to deal with medical doctors or who does not want to admit that there may be nothing he or she can do about the illness. No one wants to be a patient , a passive recipient of disease: we'd like to be in control. But L Ron H has ignored the benefits of drugs and he has misrepresented mechanistic philosophy when he claims that drugging people to get them to act "normal" is a consequence of materialistic conceptions of human reality. If anything, the idea of a "normal" state for human behavior is rooted in teleological systems which posit that there is a goal or purpose which each being must strive to achieve in order to fulfill its nature.

To his credit, though, L Ron H does cite an empirical reason for rejecting materialism and the attempt to reduce consciousness to brain processes. However, his empirical reason is suspect. In the title essay (written in the 1930's) of this collection, he tells the story of a how a biology student told him that "the brain contained an exorbitant number of molecules of protein and that each molecule `had been discovered' to have holes in it." Our scientist then muses: "It seemed to me that if molecules had holes in them to a certain number, then memory, perchance, might be stored in these holes in molecules." He then says he did some mathematical calculations "done with considerably higher math than psychologists or biologists use" and discovered that "the brain did not have enough storage for more than three months memory." Apparently, it did not occur to Hubbard that there might be a hole in his theory. While we can't blame him for not knowing much about the brain, we can criticize his followers for not keeping up to date in sciences such as neurology. If Scientology were truly a science, it would be a major scientific research institution. Not only is Scientology not a science, it is anti-science. Science studies the material world and attempts to understand Nature on its own terms. A neurologist might believe in souls, but as a scientist the neurologist notes that the brain's 100 billion or so neurons ought to be enough to hold even a memory the size of L Ron H's. This fact seems to be of little interest to scientologists, who think that because we do not have a good understanding of how memory works at the neuronal level we should believe in a spiritual mind with its apparently infinite capacity for memory. There is no scientific value to this metaphysical assumption. On another level, how many scientologists do you suppose will be reading papers on their current research on memory at the next symposium of the National Academy of the Sciences? It won't take too many neurons to figure that one out.

In addition to trying to pass off his metaphysical notions as if they were scientific, L Ron H tried to pass off himself as a great scientist who, while working independently, had made great discoveries. He even wrote to the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, informing them of his progress. The letter, written in 1947, is reprinted in this collection. It is not hard to understand why his letter was ignored. He sounds like a crank at best or a rambling lunatic at worst. In the letter he claims he's treated 20 people, though he does not say where or what qualifies him to treat anyone. He says he's cured migraine headaches, ulcers, asthma, sinusitis and arthritis by uncovering their chief cause in prenatal or birth traumas. He mentions attempted abortion as a main factor in four of his cases. After writing this strange letter, he then complains that there is a conspiracy against his genius which has continued to this day. Yet, it seems rather reasonable to ignore someone who claims he is doing research on his own and has cured migraines and ulcers by finding the cause in the patient's mother's attempted abortion while the patient was in the womb decades ago!


In an interview with Stillson Judah in 1958, Hubbard expresses a genuine shock that sciences (i.e., psychology) could not answer all his questions. Neither could philosophy. "We didn't even know what a spirit was, " he says. "Whether it was Nietzsche or Schopenhauer, Kant, or any of the rest of them. These men were all groping. So I said, here's a wide-open field." Nietszche and Schopenhauer groping to know what a spirit is? I don't think so. Unlike Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, Hubbard was looking for "the principle of existence," i.e., the purpose of life. He says he found the answer: to survive! Nietzsche and Schopenhauer had determined that there is no purpose to life. To them, beings don't exist to survive, they exist because they survived. Beings which did not have a strong urge to preserve themselves would not survive unless by chance they found themselves in an environment friendly to them. Beings which did not have reproductive urges would become extinct. We don't have sexual urges to preserve the species; the species is preserved because we have sexual urges. In any case, why Hubbard found the desire for self-preservation so profound is elusive.

Hubbard jumped from his "discovery" that everything is striving to survive to the notion that something is "entangling man." What was it? "He was tangling himself up with combinations of mental image pictures." He claims he measured these pictures in 1953, using a meter (the E-meter)  he built to measure the response of the soul "while exteriorized from a being." In 1951, he says, he found out who was looking at the pictures: "the human soul was the fellow."

In the introduction to "Scientology Fundamentals," we are told that the claim "you are a spirit" is "a unique statement, and factually found nowhere else in the whole of philosophic, religious or scientific thought." This seems like an odd statement coming from one who also claims to have studied in depth Buddhism and Taoism. I guess he never read George Berkeley, either. This is the essay which is supposed to be his "definitive introduction to philosophy." Its main virtue is that it is short and can be read in lieu of Dianetics to get an idea of what scientology is all about. I'd love to go into all the details about Thetans (spirits) and the difference between astral projection and true separation of the soul from the body, how the reactive mind takes pictures when a person is unconscious, etc., but I've dealt with that elsewhere. [SD, "Dianetics"] I will share with you a quote or two, however, and comment briefly on Hubbard's lack of connection to the history of philosophy.

In the insect kingdom it is not established whether or not each insect is ordered by a spirit or whether one spirit orders enormous numbers of insects....the general authorship of the physical universe is only speculated upon, since Scientology does not invade the eighth dynamic.

I guess we can all be thankful for that. In any case, another dynamic which Hubbard does not invade is the fray over interactionism, a central problem in dualistic philosophies: how do mind and body interact? Since they are defined as independent and completely unlike substances, this question needs to be answered. Descartes "solved" the problem by declaring that the mind resides in the pineal gland and it is there that connection is made to the body. Hubbard's problem is even more difficult than Descartes since Hubbard's is a pluralistic philosophy with three substances to deal with: spirit, mind and body. However, he is oblivious to the fact that after defining these types of being, each completely distinct in nature from the other, that it is a major puzzle as to how the three interact. He seems so sure that they do interact that it does not seem to occur to him that there is a major philosophical problem here. His obliviousness to central philosophical issues is matched only by his obliviousness to scientific issues. One thing he was not oblivious to, however, was what buttons to push to arouse sympathy and interest in his philosophy.

One of the main attractions of Scientology must be its promise of immortality. In the "The Demystification of Death" we learn of the internal strife caused by the doctrine of past lives, which L Ron H asserts is "not the same as the theory which has been called 'reincarnation' in Hinduism," ("A Note on Past Lives"). There was opposition to the idea from some of Scientology's Board members because it was in opposition to Christian orthodoxy and the materialistic creed of the psychologists. In any case we are supposed to believe that the doctrine was accepted because it is true and the truth must prevail. He claims in "A Note on Past Lives" that "Dianetics gave impetus to Bridey Murphy." He also asserts a belief that some scientologists have been dogs and other animals in previous lives.

In "The Phenomena of Death," Hubbard claims that "It has only been in Scientology that the mechanics of death have been thoroughly understood." What happens is this: the Thetan (spirit) finds itself without a body (which has died) and then it goes looking for a new body. Thetans "will hang around people. They will see a woman who is pregnant and follow her down the street." Then, the thetan will slip into the newborn "usually...two or three minutes after the delivery of a child from the mother. A thetan usually picks it up about the time the baby takes its first gasp." This is the truth about death which only Scientology has understood. On what basis we are supposed to believe this "truth," I can only guess. He says in "A Note on Past Lives" that "Evidently the newborn child has just died as an adult. Therefore he or she, for some years, is prone to fantasy and terror and needs a great deal of love and security to recover perspective of life with which he or she can live." Evidently.

In "Dianetics, Scientology & Beyond" we are told by Hubbard that those who reach "total spiritual independence and serenity" are called Operating Thetans or OTs. The OT has "personal and knowing immortality and freedom from the cycle of birth and death." But this is not the Buddhist doctrine of nirvana.

In "Philosophy Wins after 2000 Years" Hubbard explains why all previous philosophy has been a failure until Scientology. Materialism is again caricatured as the doctrine that "one is merely meat and all life arose by spontaneous and accidental combustion from a sea of ammonia." Contrast this with the good news that "Scientologists are seldom ill" and their intelligence is increased. This is done without "persuasion or hypnosis or 'faith'." Or superstition. Hubbard modestly concludes that Scientology "delivers the answers to the eternal questions and delivers immortality as well." I think it would be more accurate to say that it promises these things but it is unlikely it can deliver the goods.

The collection would not be complete without at least one accusation that the CIA and the FBI have conspired for years not only to discredit Scientology and Hubbard, but to "appropriate the materials of Scientology." I assume he is not talking about tax records, but his philosophical and fanciful writings. The Scientologists believe that Hubbard's lectures on "the state of the OT" now reside within National Security Agency vaults. This fear is only believable because our intelligence agencies have demonstrated in the past their gullibility regarding paranormal, occult and spiritual claims.

The penultimate essay is modestly titled "My Only Defense for Having Lived." It is of little interest but in it Hubbard claims that he was not motivated by fame, fortune or power. His only motivation was to understand man. This essay will have to do in lieu of an autobiography because such a tale "would sound far, far too incredible." Nobody would believe his tales, he says. Still, he can't help but tell a few. For example, there is the story about how as a boy he was expelled by the governor of an island on a charge of "always being happy and smiling."

Finally, in the last essay of this collection of Scientologist writings, we are given "My Philosophy" by L. Ron Hubbard. It is notably uninteresting except for a curious anecdote he shares. He tells us that his service record states that "This officer has no neurotic or psychotic tendencies of any kind whatsoever." Presumably this information is shared so we can appreciate how he cured himself of his war wounds, including blindness. But it might be interpreted as a protest to an anticipated criticism.

[RTC] October 22, 1996

further reading

reader comments

Churchland, Patricia Smith. Neurophilosophy - Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986). 

ęcopyright 2005
Robert Todd Carroll

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Last updated 10/14/05

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