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Monday, June 14, 2010

More on the Scientology E-Meter

Now that I've upset those who believed that the e-meter didn't work, I'll now really upset those who believe it does.

In my last article, I gave examples of tests and drills that appeared to prove that the e-meter reacts to thoughts.  I also mentioned that it reacts to a lot more than just thoughts.

I also presented Hubbard's explanation as to how and why it works.  I even said it was a reasonable explanation that fit the facts.  But, on purpose, I skipped the complications and contradictions between the theory and practice.

Let's delve a bit deeper into this subject.

To repeat the basic theory according to Hubbard, some thoughts have "charge".  When a person "activates" the charge by thinking some thought, the associated charge impinges on the body changes the body's resistance.  The meter measures these changes.

The charge, according to Hubbard, comes from some past trauma, which was called, in Dianetics, an "engram" - essentially a moment of pain and unconsciousness.

While this seems pretty far-fetched, the "pinch test" (as described in my last article) certainly seems to validate this idea.  No matter the theory, the "pinch test" proves that the meter does react to a thought (or, to appease the more critical reader, a thought can impinge on the body in a way that is detectable by the e-meter).

But I want to emphasize that this is all that it proves.  There is a lot of Hubbard's theory that is not proven and, in fact, doesn't make much sense.

First, let me tell you a bit more about Hubbard's explanation of the e-meter. Hubbard said that the e-meter reacts to charge that is "just below the person's awareness". This means that the person is not aware of the problem, but is "ready to confront it".  As the person becomes aware of the problem, the charge "blows" and it no longer "reads" on the e-meter.

By the way, this part of Hubbard's theory about his e-meter is necessary to explain why so many things do not register on the e-meter until later up The Bridge -- the person, you see, "isn't ready to confront" the higher levels.

That's the theory about the e-meter that is accepted by Scientologists.

But when you get into actual practice, things start to fall apart.

First, let's visit the Scientology course room again.  When you are learning how to operate the e-meter, you must do the "Dating Drill".  In this drill, one student thinks of a date and writes it down, the second student puts the first student on the e-meter and attempts to find out the date using only the e-meter. 

Now, if Hubbard's theory about the e-meter is correct, this drill would never work.  There is no trauma (and therefore no charge) associated with that date.  And the first student is fully aware of the date -- it isn't "just below his awareness".

So why does the Dating Drill work?  There is only one explanation: It works because they believe it should.

Oops!  That isn't part of the theory -- and that drill alone destroys the certainty about any read on the e-meter.  If something reads only because someone believes it should, then how can anyone determine which reads are "real" and which are "belief"?

In this same theme, let's look at a question asked at the beginning of every session about a person's "witholds" (things they have hidden and don't want found out).  Why do they read on the meter?  Where is the trauma?  The meter may read even though no one was hurt at all.  The person may have participated in some victimless, harmless activity that is nobody's business -- and the meter reads.  Why?  Because the person was afraid it would.  All Scientology auditors know this happens but they don't question it.  According to theory, the meter shouldn't read because the person is fully aware of what they did, there was no trauma and there was no harm.

Well, what if a person doesn't believe the e-meter will react?  What happens then?  Well, apparently the meter doesn't react.  You get the all too frequent situation where a Scientology criminal continues their criminal activities for years and years -- all while getting auditing.  Apparently, they don't believe the meter will react to their crimes, and it doesn't.

All these contradictions between theory and practice suggest a rather different theory than Hubbard's: The e-meter reacts not only to actual memories of actual "trauma", but also reacts because the person on the meter believes or fears that it will.

Do you see what this means?

This means that the e-meter is almost completely useless, since a reaction on the meter might indicate a real problem or it might not -- and the meter cannot detect the difference.

One result of this is the incredibly bizarre "4 trillion year past track history" that is accepted as truth by Scientologists but is logically, obviously and scientifically proven to be false.

Another result is that it seems there are thousands of Scientologists who were famous people. In fact, there are many who share being the same famous person -- and all these past identities were fully verified by the e-meter.

But the worst result of these reads-just-because-they-believe is the entire Bridge.  Scientologists, and their auditors, believed they were uncovering and "handling" vast amounts of past track incidents of trauma and upset -- 4 trillion years of it, no less -- but what is the truth?  No one has become Clear.  No one has become OT.  Scientologists, even those high up The Bridge are struggling.  Where are the miraculous gains and the incredible abilities that were promised and were supposedly delivered?

They believed and the e-meter showed them what they expected to see.


  1. I'd love to see Mythbusters get their hands on a few of these things to "put them to the test."

    Speaking of which, Bill; if one were to want to test these devices, where would one go to get a representative sample? You'd want more than one for testing purposes.

  2. @Cycle Ninja

    Yes, the Mythbusters! Good one.

    The church doesn't sell meters to non-Scientologists, of course. An ex-Scientologist who is still flying under the radar could buy several without any problem - but they are way over priced when new.

    They appear on Ebay sometimes. The church used to have the power to remove them, but I don't think they do any more. I think that now the church tries to buy them all. E-meters appear in pawn shops and junk stores from time to time. I gather that the batteries seem to give out on these older meters and would have to be replaced.

    Asking on the Ex-Scientology Message Board, or similar might do the trick.

    Ralph Hilton sells his own version of the e-meter - a Freezone edition, if you will - much cheaper and it's supposed to work better. Of course, testing with a Freezone version wouldn't be "valid" for the Scientology version.

  3. Here is an experiment that i would like to do if i had an emeter to test how much of the needle reaction can actually be attributed to grip alone:

    Instead of using cans as electrodes, that one has to hold in the hands, use electrodes that can be taped directly on the skin, similar to the electrodes that are used for example on ECG devices.
    This way one can could completely exclude all influence that are merely a result of hand pressure.
    Then do the pinch test or some standard auditing again. I would really be interested in the outcome.

  4. Maybe I'm dense(pun intended), but I don't understand why you say the meter reacts to a thought. A pinch produces a galvanic body reaction. I'm sure a lie detector would register something if a person is given a sharp pain like that. Are you saying the meter measures something non-physical, like the thought "pain"?

  5. Re: Meter reacts to thought

    All I'm saying is what I (and many others) have observed with the Pinch Test.

    The person holds the cans, the operator pinches them and there is a meter reaction. The operator then says "recall the moment of the pinch" and the same meter reaction occurs - just because of the thought. I don't pretend to understand why or how this occurs, I just know it does happen. That's all.

    Until someone does a real, scientific analysis on this, anyone with any theory about how and why that occurs could be right - although I recognize some are more likely to be right than others.

    The only theories that I know are wrong are the ones that assert that the phenomenon can't happen -- because it does happen.

  6. Yup, it happens. And it's such a dramatic and unexpected phenomenon that everybody who sees it, from kids to well-educated adults, is impressed with it. Some people are incredulous at first, but the results can be recreated. "Stress tests" are a favorite tool for disseminating, selling books, etc.

  7. Okay, dense AND argumentative--

    I see what you mean, but to me that could be the body's recall. In other words, when told to 'think' of the pinch, the attention goes to the part of the body that was pinched, and because it was so short a time ago, the nerves "recall" the sensation.

    I'm playing devil's advocate, because I experienced that the e-meter seemed to have found some buried "thoughts" about 'past lives'I didn't even know I had, but when processed in auditing, never bothered me again--physically or mentally. It was compelling AND lasting. If Hubbard had stuck with his "insight" (they say he read a lot on this subject and built off it) and not conjoined it with religion/megalomania, I think he'd be remembered as clever and someone who moved psychology (for lack of a better term) along a bit.

    However, for the sake of clarity, I'm not saying some other psychological mechanism was not at work in my personal experiences--early childhood memories 'masked' as past life scenarios, for example. But, if the body and subconscious are "one" (i.e. everything traumatic we've experienced leaves traces in the body that are linked in the brain to our thoughts about the trauma), then a mechanism like the e-meter could be helpful in locating those connections. There doesn't have to be any non-physical (spiritual) element at all, if you follow me.

    I saw a documentary lately wherein they were using a sort of 'auditing' without the e-meter to reduce stress in veterans with ptsd.

    Is that all confused enough? Tough subject, Just Bill!

  8. Re: Confused enough

    That's why I keep saying there should be research by reputable people. Is all this just the "body's memory"? Is it more than that? There may be something important there.

    If all that is done by others is ignore it or argue "it can't happen" or insist "nothing there, it's all known", then we just might miss something important.

    If it's just left up to Scientologists, they won't investigate - because they "already know everything".

    Too many questions, not enough facts.

  9. Would you be willing to instruct Myth Busters on how to use the E-meter if you were not named and shown?

  10. Re: Myth Busters

    Heck, we could easily find many ex-Scientologists willing to do that, anonymous or not.

  11. The whole idea of Scientology and Dianetics and which is true to why the e-meter doesn't work is simply that to a Scientologist life is a game. The track was a game.. it's all a game. So, the whole cog in any session, at any level is to apply the "what is true for you.."

    Remember, at the start of each session, is always the R-factor and training. The PC is already "pre-notified" about the expectations and the "achievement" therefore, to pass the e-meter and get the EP and F/N, one only have to convince oneself what is "true" and make up the expected wins as part of the game (= a pretend game.)

    This concept is also re-iterated in the now old GO policies and TR-L's. Although, I never took the L's, I certainly understood how that works and how it affects the e-meter - You believe it is true and there's the F/N. And, it is a true statement that if the PC "thinks/feels/doubts" the e-meter will read. It's all in the mind!

    The e-meter cannot tell the difference between the "convinced, true for me" vs. the "thinks/feels/doubts" so, the e-meter never works because it does not know the real truth or difference.

    Therefore, so many end up spending so much time and money on auditing because the real cog is "it's a game.. we made it up... this is not real so, if I play along and say, ok, I pass. It's a game!"

    Somewhere, I learned that that my body can be captured but not my mind unless I allow it, so with that thought, no one controls my mind except for me therefore, I control my thoughts ~ and the e-meter. This was true for me.

  12. Yes, many, many Scientologists have learned to "control the e-meter" -- and yet most never fully realized what that meant, that the e-meter is a very, very unreliable tool.

  13. Man you've got good stuff on this blog! I never read it before because I thought you were a Scientologist. This blog should be called Ask The Ex-Scientologist.

    I was one of the e-meter believers. I was trained how to use it too. Now I have a better understanding of what was happening. Thanks.

  14. Sorry about the misleading blog title. When I first started the blog, I was out of the church but still, to some extent, a True Believer of Scientology. I was, however, determined to tell the truth as fully as I could about Scientology and the church.

    That commitment to honesty forced me to confront reality -- which, of course, unraveled all that belief.

  15. Hi Just Bill--

    I've tried to post a comment to this thread, but am told that I can't because comments are limited to 4,096 characters. Any way to get comments and/or questions to you that are longer than that?

  16. Re: 4,096 characters

    If a question of comment is greater than that, it's really too long. Most people don't like and won't read such long comments. Undoubtedly you've seen "tl;dr" ("too long; didn't read") after some long comments on various forums.

    To shorten your comment, don't cut and paste long output from some other source, just include a link to that source.

  17. Dear Bill--

    No one needs an e-meter to tell them that thinking about certain things can cause physiological responses. Anyone who has crapped his pants from thinking he is going to die knows that. So, what I have to say below is no rejection of the intimate relation between one's mind and one's body, or, as I prefer to put it, between one's being minded and one's being embodied.

    It seems from this and the previous post, as well as from your responses to comments to those posts, that you were very impressed by what you experienced with the E-meter, in particular by the "pinch test." It seems, though, that you are allowing how impressed you were to cloud your judgment about what it is that you observed at all. Certainly you observed a correlation between a movement of the e-meter needle and being pinched, and a correlation between a similar movement of the needle and a command to "recall the moment of the pinch." But the conclusions you draw go far beyond this.

    For example, you write things like, "The person holds the cans, the operator pinches them and there is a meter reaction. The operator then says "recall the moment of the pinch" and the same meter reaction occurs - just because of the thought. I don't pretend to understand why or how this occurs, I just know it does happen. That's all." " And in your first post, you describe the procedure of the "pinch test" and the movements of the needle, and then you conclude, 'This is obvious proof that the meter really does react to the thought." The whole question, though, is whether the reaction from the meter is "just because of the the thought," and whether "the meter really does react to the thought." That is what is supposed to be established by scientific testing (with a double-blind set up, control groups, etc.). It's not a datum. It's something to be established after all the other possible causes are controlled for and so eliminated as the cause of the needle movement that is correlated with the command (and the attempt at recalling the moment of the pinch, changes in grip on the cans, both deliberate and involuntary, various body motion, etc.)

    That is, you yourself have pointed out a number of factors that are never controlled for, e.g., "sweat, the grip on the cans, body motion and some other things. This is a significant problem and requires much training on the part of the operator and much instruction of the person holding the cans (the "preclear")." So, what you've observed so far establishes nothing about what causes what. After all, no one would think that the pinch test showed anything about the e-meters reactivity to thought if its results could be duplicated by deliberately or involuntarily altering one's grip on the cans. And so far as I can see, nothing in the current procedure of the pinch test controls for, or could control for, e.g., involuntarily altering one's grip the cans when recalling a painful episode.

    Your respect for the scientific method is laudable, but one of the basic concepts there is the difference between correlations and causes, and how difficult it is to sort the one from the other experimentally. So far, your data are just a bunch of correlations, with a bunch of possible causal factors.

    Frankly, this all seems like an exercise in "teaching to the test," i.e., in training pre-clears to interact with the technology and the operator so that the insisted upon results are achieved.

  18. Thanks for your thoughtful analysis. What you say is true, in that there is no scientific proof concerning the e-meter, only anecdotal evidence and personal observation.

    I have drawn conclusions from what I have personally observed, but that isn't proof in any sense and I don't presume to dictate what anyone else should think about it.

    Perhaps, some day, someone will take the e-meter seriously enough to do some comprehensive and unbiased testing of the thing. That's difficult, given its association with Scientology.

    I, personally, think it would be quite valuable to know what it really is doing, how it works (if it does work) and under what conditions it might be useful in some broader application.

  19. Wow! The 'theory' behind the practice... that's incredible! Manipulating people is so easy when you know how, seemingly.... It's rather sad.

  20. Hi Bill!

    I want to offer an alternative explanation for e-meter reactions: affect

    An under-recognized genius of North American psychology, Silvan S. Tomkins, discovered the hard-wired affect system consisting of 9 primary affects which forms the primary motivating system for human functioning. Affects are coodinated endocrinal and neuro-muscular programs that get triggered autmatically.

    Thus, when someone pinches you the affect of distress is triggered because the overall firing of neuron firing increases beyond an optimal level.

    Tomkins called distress the affect of "too much". When the level is raised further anger is triggered, as when someone steps on your toe - this is the affect of "way too much."

    Since the skin is the major organ of affect and particularly the skin of the face, there are neuro-muscilar patterns and vocalization patterns for each affect: the slumping of shoulders and hung head of shame; the turned down mouth in distress; the scream of rage.

    Since the e-meter is a crude device to read galvanic *skin* response, it is these emotional reactions that register, and not thoughts.

    When the instruction is given to recall a memory, what is recalled is not a just thought but an affected-laden image.

    All conscious experience is stored an image of a scene - not just the way it looked, but every bodily, affective, and cognitive aspects of the way you experienced the scene and all the affects associated with it. Traumatic scenes are imbued with massively dense negative affect

    Tomkins maintained that each scene is stored as a trace in the brain which he called engrams. Perhaps LRH stole the term.

    So what the e-meter registers is affect. Our affective reactions are complex - they can involve many affects in complex mixtures.

    The e-meter is absolutely useless to measure any of this in any the crudest, most general fashion.

    More information on Tomkins' understanding of human functioning can be found at the website of the Tomkins Institute.

  21. Leaving aside the debatable metaphysics that goes with thinking that "All conscious experience is stored [as] an image of a scene," the basic gist of what Athanasius writes seems highly plausible: recalling a painful episode like getting pinched, particularly right after the fact, will cause the same (type of) galvanic skin response, that the original pain caused, to occur again. It also seems highly plausible that thinking again about something that one last thought about quite recently, and where one was painfully pinched while thinking about it, will cause one to recall the pain one experienced when last having the thought, which will in turn trigger the relevant (type of) galvanic skin response that the e-meter reacts to.

    Importantly, this way of making sense of what is happening when the "pinch test" is conducted does not require the postulation of any individual "items" like "thoughts" or "images" or "traces" or "engrams" or "affects" floating around in the mind with a "charge," or that are identical to some particular neurophysiological structure in the brain, such that it would even make sense to talk of the e-meter as detecting "that one!"

    I don't think individual Scientologists are particularly duplicitous about all this, and I expect most practitioners are as confused as anyone about what is going on in the "pinch test." However, once you've learned that you can deliberately "float the needle", etc. the question has to come up of what all this is really doing...though I expect that when you're several thousand dollars into the game, that question is as easily pushed back down...

  22. Hello Just Bill,

    i have to agree with some posters here, you really borked up this one. The E-Meter is really nothing more than a slightly modified (read: messed up) Wheatstone bridge. The modifications are mainly to give the operator a way to tweak the readings all the time.

    If you talk about "reacting to thought", well, millions of EEG machines do exactly that day in and day out. After all, the brains, muscels, etc. work by using electrical impulses, in case of the brains there are additional chemical reactions.

    There is nothing mysterious or novel about the E-Meter. The reason why no one seems to scientifically evaluate the E-Meter is because it is already well understood what it effectively does. Not only understood, but in widespread use.

    The patents (and thus the schematics) for the E-Meter are out there for everyone to see. Again: slightly modified wheatstone bridge, signal amplifying, and the meter. That's about it. By the way, here's a nice page with more details about it, in case you haven't found that one already:

    The circuitry is so simple, and the basic circuitry so well known, that there is no reason to think that Hubbard has not "created" it. Every highschool student with a class in basic electronics can come up with this.

    Just for the fun of it, get access to a simple multimeter. Set it to meassure resistance, and see what happens when you touch the probes in different ways & pressures. But don't stop there, now set the multimeter to measure milivolts, and again play with the probes. As you can see, there is not only a resistance that changes, but also electrical currents produced.

    Ever got "zapped" by a static discharge, after you walked over the carpet in your socks? Same buildup of charge can happen with common combinations of fibers in your trousers, underpants, shirt, etc.

    Last but not least, the human body is also a nice antenna. If you can get access to an oscilloscope, play with the probe at various time and voltage settings of the scope. Watch the displayed signal waveform as you move around, come closer to electrical wiring, etc.

    Really, the E-Meter _is_ nothing more than a crude "lie-detector", just with some added knobs so that the operator can fiddle-around-as-you-go.



  23. @Chris

    Thanks for your input but I really do wish people would understand what I am attempting to say.

    Rather than disagreeing, you really do make my original point rather well. In that previous post, I said that, while Hubbard's explanation of how the emeter works is doubtful, the emeter does react to thought in some way.

    You, and many who commented on that earlier post, have emphatically said that the emeter is a crude machine that, like so many other existing machines, can react to thought. Your examples are great: from EEG machines to sophisticated lie detectors to simple multi-meters.

    Let me emphasize this in hopes that people will finally get what I'm saying: I'm definitely not saying the emeter is anything special, sophisticated or particularly accurate. This current post tries to make that exact point.

    All I'm saying is there can be a reaction to a thought, similar to what the other machines you mentioned do (previous post), but that such meter reactions can be caused by anything and are not necessarily associated with anything real (this post).

    The intention of these two posts was to explain how the emeter is used as part of the hocus-pocus that convinces some people that Scientology is "scientific", and how the Scientologists' belief in and reliance on the emeter has led them so far astray.

  24. Hello Just Bill,

    yes, maybe i came across a bit harsh, and maybe i slightly misinterpreted some things (english isn't my native language, after all).

    I fully agree that it does something, there is no doubt about that. I was more refering to some of your statements in the dscussion here, that (at least to me) seem to implicate that no one really knows what it actually shows, and that there "might be something to it", so to say. Like, for example:

    "Is all this just the "body's memory"? Is it more than that? There may be something important there."


    "Perhaps, some day, someone will take the e-meter seriously enough to do some comprehensive and unbiased testing of the thing."

    Just wanted to make my point that the general workings of it are indeed tested and understood, and that there are certain applications for it already. "It" meaning what the circuitry in the E-Meter represents and does generally, not an E-Meter specifically. It's just that it is not the way that SoC wants to make people believe it works.

    Oh, and i possibly should have also said that lie detectors are not reliable or valid as well. Here in Germany, for example, lie detector tests hold no legal value at all. It's well known that they don't really detect lies. They work mostly through intimidation and psychological pressure by the operator. After all, complicated machinery looks impressive to the lay person. As you said, that's pretty much the same factor that makes Scientologists believe that there is something to it.

    Again, sorry if i wasn't that clear in my wording. Anyways, thanks for your great blog and the work you put into it. And for allowing and engaging in honest discussion of the topics as well, something that surely is rare on the net.



  25. @Chris

    I understand, and that's reasonable.

    When I said "There may be something important there" I was wondering if such a thing as what the emeter claims to be was actually possible and if it might ultimately be developed.

    If something could accurately indicate how a person's thoughts were affecting them, this would greatly help counselors, therapists and the like. It would be a good thing and I hope that the debunking of Scientology's emeter doesn't discourage others from working on this concept.

  26. I have a group of friends that would like to go to the local Scientology church and get an e-meter reading (an audit). Is it possible for any random Joe to go and get one of these as a preclear? Or do we actually have to be members? Also, do we get any kind of numerical result back (as if applying a scientific method to analysis) or is it simply a spiritual consultation? I ask because it seems all online media pussyfoots around these kinds of questions and I would like facts

    1. Re: E-meter reading

      I don't think this is quite what you imagine it is. I hear people say things like "they use the emeter to measure your thetan level". It isn't like that at all. The "Stress Test" that Scientologists use to trick people on the street doesn't help clarify things either -- that's bogus.

      In Scientology, the correct way to use an E-Meter is as part of an "auditing session" or, as you say, a spiritual consultation. You, the "preclear" (the person receiving auditing), go into session with an "auditor" (the person giving the session). The auditor asks you questions or gives you commands (like "think of ..." or "locate a time when ...") which you are supposed to answer or carry out. The auditor uses the E-Meter to help locate "areas of charge" and to determine when the purpose of the session has been attained.

      The auditor is never supposed to tell you what the "meter said" or what the meter did.

      So, really, there is no such thing as a "e-meter reading". If you want to see what an E-Meter looks like and what it does, ask a Scientologist for one of their "Stress Tests". It's completely bogus and what the meter "tells you" is meaningless but at least you could see one in operation.

      (In case you haven't done a Stress Test, the Scientologist has you hold "the cans" and asks you to think about your life. The E-Meter needle will bop around and the Scientologist will say "There! What did you just think about!" And then, no matter what you come up with, the Scientologist will then exclaim, "Well, Scientology can help you with that! Buy this book!")

      Note: Do not give any Scientologist your real name or any information that would allow them to contact you later -- because contact you is what they would do -- and by "contact you" I mean hound you to come in and buy something.

    2. In answer to your question "Is it possible for any random Joe to go and get one of these as a preclear? Or do we actually have to be members?"

      The answer is that you do not have to be a member (i.e. Pay for an IAS membership). Pretty much anyone can come in, pay for, and receive auditing. "Introductory auditing" might be pretty cheap.

      If you volunteer to be a "free PC" (meaning be a preclear for a student) there is no cost. The only problem with that is they have to have students. Most churches don't have students these days.

  27. Hello, I am in Africa. I have constructed e-meters using the schematics of Koos and Ralph Hilton but they don't quite respond to the pinch test even at the highest level of sensitivity. Am I missing something?

    1. This would be the wrong place to ask your question. You might try to contact Koos or Ralph with this question.

    2. have you figured this out, I have the same problem

  28. I have a friend that lives in Breckenridge, Colorado that has one of the original e-meters used by the Church of Scientology (the e-meter has a metal plate stating "patent pending"). My friend's father was a member of the Church of Scientology and was hired to manufacture the first e-meters. He also has a crate full of reel-to-reel recordings of early Scientology lectures (it is believed these are from the 1960's). How would I go about assisting my friend in finding out if these items have any value?

    1. Honestly, I don't know. I imagine the tapes won't have much value, but I could be wrong. The "patent pending" e-meter might be valuable to the right buyer. You could check things like Ebay to see what similar items are selling for.


    2. I would think if L. Ron Hubbard's voice was on the tapes, they would be worth something. When my friend was young, he could remember his father being on transatlantic phone calls with L. Ron Hubbard about manufacturing the e-meters.


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