The case of L. Ron Hubbard, discoverer and chief Prophet of 'Dianetics -- the modern science of mental health,' is to the well-known semanticist S. I. Hayakawa an almost unparalleled illustration of the principle long-held by writers in the field of general semantics that language habits tend to become internalized -- i.e. one's evaluations and method of thinking reflect the structure of the language one speaks.
Hubbard has been an extremely prolific contributor to science fiction and other magazines. According to his own account of himself in the 1942-43 edition of Who's Who in the East he has had five million words published under six names -- and he has substantially added to that total since. Hayakawa considers it inevitable that anyone writing several million words of fantasy and science fiction should ultimately begin to internalize the assumptions underlying that verbiage, and he maintains that exactly this has happened in the case of Hubbard and Dianetics.
"The slick craftsman of mass-production science-fiction, mustering his talents and energies for a supreme effort, produces -- and what could be more reasonable? -- a fictional science."
Hayakawa considers the art of science fiction writing to consist in "concealing from the reader, for novelistic purposes, the distinctions between established scientific facts, almost-established scientific hypotheses, scientific conjectures, and imaginative extrapolations far beyond what has even been conjectured." The danger of this technique is that if the writer of science fiction writes too much of it too fast and is not endowed with a high degree of consciousness of his own abstraction, he may eventually succeed in concealing the distinction between his facts and his imaginings from himself. The men of Mars may acquire so vivid a verbal existence that they may, to the writer, seem to have 'actual' existence. Like Willy Loman in The Death of a Salesman, he may eventually fall for his own pitch.
Hayakawa has no bone to pick with literary imaginings as such. To the contrary, he writes:
"Had dianetics been presented as fiction it might have been like other ingenious science-fiction, good entertainment.1 ... But in the book DIANETICS, Hubbard does not write as a novelist. He is, he says, a scientist. He has discovered -- nay, created -- a new science of the human mind which, in one fell swoop,2 renders obsolete the psychological groupings of Wundt, James, Pavlov, Kraepelin, Charcot, Janet, Freud, Jung, Adler, Lewin, Thorndike, Kohler, Moreno, Reik, Menninger, Masserman, Rogers, and all the work of the neuropsychologists to boot."
(Two of the first three sentences in Hubbard's book proclaim: "The hidden source of all psychosomatic ills and human aberration had been discovered and skills have been developed for their invariable cure. The creation of dianetics is a milestone for Man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and the arch." )
To Hayakawa the expository technique of DIANETICS is straight out of science fiction. First, there is the elementary device of taking for granted the existence of things which do not exist, and then making assertions about them. ("The reactive mind is the entire source of aberration. It can be proved and has been repeatedly proven that there is no other, for when that engram bank is discharged, all undesirable symptoms vanish and a man begins to operate on his optimum pattern.") There are innumerable references to 'research' and 'tests' which 'have been' performed. ("A series of severely controlled dianetic experiments over a much longer period demonstrated that the law of affinity, as applicable to psychosomatic illness, was more powerful than fear and antagonism by a very wide margin. So great is this margin that it could be compared as the strength of a steel girder to a straw.")
Hayakawa mentions also the use of "vivid narratives (i.e. 'case histories'3 ) by means of which that which is assumed to be so is transmuted into that which is felt to be so. References are made to unspecified 'laboratories' and 'clinics' where zealous (and unnamed) teams of 'dianeticists' are busy refining the 'techniques' and 'basic postulates.' Occasionally, he (Hubbard) goes through the motions of distinguishing between 'fact' and 'theory' and abstemiously denies himself, as a scientist, the self-indulgence of proceeding on mere theories. ("As an organized body of scientific knowledge, dianetics can only draw the conclusions which it observes in the laboratory.") And, of course, there is an occasional mathematical-looking equation or graph, extremely impressive except to those who can read them."
The special and compelling feature of Hubbard's talent in science fiction is vocabulary. In the main the vocabulary used in DIANETICS is his own invention -- an invention inspired by some acquaintance with the literature of cybernetics. His technical jargon is marvelously suggestive at once of both electrical and psychological phenomena, which, says Hayakawa, although no doubt ultimately related, are certainly not related in the way Hubbard describes.
"The fact that startling analogies between 'thinking machines' and the human mind can be shown is beyond question. But, at present, we don't know how far this analogy can be legitimately carried. The existence of such a scientific No Man's Land is exactly the condition under which the science-fiction writer is stimulated to his best work: dazzling new scientific miracles seem to be around the corner, while enough news of current developments has appeared in popular science literature to arouse public interest and curiosity."
Hubbard speaks of dianetics as an 'engineering' science. The 'analytical mind' or 'analyzer' is 'not just a good computer, it is a perfect computer.' Past experience is stored and filed in 'memory banks.' Of the 'Analytical mind' Hubbard asks: Would you leave its delicate circuits prey to every overload, or would you install a fuse system? ... Any computer would be so safeguarded." Pain results, by definition, in the 'shutting off' of the 'analyzer,' which state is, by definition, 'unconsciousness.' The 'engram' is "a series of impressions such as a needle might make on wax."4
They may be 'keyed in' by 'restimulators' causing 'demon circuits'. Such aberrations are the cause of 'all neuroses, psychoses, insanities' and also (by definition) of all psychosomatic illnesses. Therapy is accomplished by 'discharging' and 'erasing' the 'demon circuits.' The 'auditor'5 sends the patient back on his 'time track' so that he may 'run through' the 'engramatic' painful episodes and eventually become a 'clear'.
Hayakawa points out that Hubbard is not so flat-footed as to introduce in so many words the assertion, "the mind is a computing machine." Indeed, such an assertion would have only the effect of causing the reader to wonder about the degree to which this might be true.
"Hubbard introduces the computing machine analogy explicitly as an analogy, but he hastens to state that the analogy has shortcomings only because the mind is a better machine. The effectiveness of this statement, in its context, lies in the fact that it is, in some respects, true. Nevertheless, the unique abilities of the human brain are of a different order than those of the machine. No computing machine has so far invented so much as a pocket abacus. If this difference of order is ignored -- from that point on, the language does your thinking for you. Hubbard does not have to convince the reader who let the metaphor slip under his guard; the reader convinces himself."
"The difference between the humbuggery of dianetics and the rich scientific and humanistic promise of cybernetics is a measure of the difference between linguistic naiveté and full semantic awareness. I know of no contrast in recent literature which shows more vividly or dramatically the importance of what Korzybski called 'consciousness of abstracting' -- the disastrous results when it is absent, and the rich consequences when it is there."
Despite the devastating criticism which can be, and has been, leveled at Hubbard's new science of mental health, it has gained a tremendous following. Why? Hayakawa sees two answers to this question. The first and obvious answer is that thousands of people today are looking for help in emotional problem solving, and dianetics purports to offer a technique for self-help. But this appeal to economic self-interest is not sufficient in itself, he feels, to explain the sudden spread of dianetics. There is something more: the unusually successful use of mechanical analogies.
What about the oft-made claim that, regardless of its theory, dianetics works? That it has actually cured psychosomatics and produced 'clears'? Hayakawa replies:
"All this computing-machine mumbo-jumbo is only a small part of the incredible nonsense to be found in dianetics. Before going into a discussion of the rest of the chaff, let me state my position at once: there is no wheat. Even if dianetic 'processing' produces, as Hubbard predicts, cures or apparent cures of neuroses, ulcers, falling hair, or diabetes, such results do not 'prove' a single item of dianetics doctrine. I say this on the basis of a simple distinction, familiar in general semantics literature, between kinds of predictions. There is a world of difference between predictions which cannot effect the outcome, and predictions which themselves are part of the outcome."
A prediction that two cannon balls of different sizes dropped from a tower will hit the ground at the same time cannot be overheard by the cannon balls and hence cannot affect the outcome of the experiment. On the other hand, recently a manager of a big-league baseball team nearing a pennant remarked scornfully of a tail-end club, "Are they still in the league?" The semantic reaction of the last-place club was to decisively defeat the league leaders in the last few days of the season, depriving them of the pennant.
"The testimony of any number of individuals who, having been told they will be helped, later claim to be helped by dianetic processing cannot constitute proof of the dianetics theory. Every therapeutic theory (psychiatric or medical) that has ever been believed in has worked to some degree, and sometimes to a spectacular degree (witness the rows of crutches at miracle-working shrines), for the people who have believed in it."
There is one further reason for the 'evidence' that dianetics 'works.' Emotional disturbances are basically failures in inter-personal relations. Thus it is apparent that if a man and his wife read in DIANETICS the technique of 'auditing' and are persuaded to try it, the effects can be those of an improved social structure. The husband no longer listens to his wife in his mind as he waits for an opportunity to break in to her conversation the cutting and unassailable retort. He is now an 'auditor' and must be attentive, non-judgmental, and permissive. The same will be true of the wife.
"With the alleviation of the misunderstandings and the dismissal of suspicions now seem to have been unwarranted, there may arise warmth and pleasure. Headaches and fatigue, and possibly more serious ailments may be relieved. The appalling thing revealed by dianetics about our culture is that it takes a 452 page book of balderdash to get some people to sit down and seriously listen to each other!"
In conclusion, Hayakawa warns that even the limited good that dianetics may do by introducing a single, narrowly-defined role-playing technique into interpersonal relations is probably more than offset by the damage it can do with its accompanying pretensions and nonsensical doctrines:
"Those who are helped by dianetics will necessarily be kept at a low level of intellectual and emotional maturity by the nonsense they have absorbed in order to be helped. The lure of the pseudoscientific vocabulary and promises of dianetics cannot but condemn thousands who are beginning to emerge from scientific illiteracy to a continuation of their susceptibility to word-magic and semantic hash."
As an epilogue, it might be suggested that the danger of internalizing the assumptions of science fiction faces not only the writer, but also the constant reader of science fiction. 6 If the reader is aware of the abstractions being made -- if he keeps in mind the fact that an analogy is an analogy and that there is a distinct difference in the genera to which Mark III and Mark Anthony belong -- the process of abstraction can be extremely provocative and enlightening. This is one of the great values of science fiction. But if, on the other hand, the reader accepts analogy for reality and metaphorical thinking for logic -- he is likely to carry this same method of evaluation over into the realm of non-fictional problems and become ripe for enmeshment in the coils of some new irrational 'science' such as dianetics. Science fiction enthusiasts deserve a kinder fate.
1 Elsewhere Hayakawa mentions that "good science-fiction is not too common. Much of it today is written hastily and according to formula, to meet the unceasing demands of pulps." (Amen)
2 "One swell foop" in the original -- which was, perhaps, even more expressive.
3 Hayakawa describes the 'case histories' as "so rich in absurdity, so preposterously and awkwardly obscene." In a footnote he remarks: "Hubbard's hatred and contempt of women is quite intense; His 'case histories' betray a remarkable obsession with 'AA' (Attempted Abortion) and female adultery.
4 Hubbard is carefully unspecific as to how this recording is made; "Engrams are not memories but cellular level recordings. Therefore, the child needs no eardrums to record an engram."
5 Anyone can become an expert auditor, says Hubbard: "The auditor can do everything backwards, upside down and utterly wrong and the patient will still be better."
6 Not to mention science-fiction editors: John W. Campbell being one case in point, and -- if one can believe in the sincerity of his comments during Amazing's publication of the Shaver Mysteries -- Howard Browne another.
Data entry and page scans provided by Judy Bemis
Data entry by Judy Bemis
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