There is a lot of misinformation, speculation and strange claims about the Scientology E-Meter. Since I try to clear up such confusing areas, it is high time I tackled this subject.
People (who have not actually studied or used the e-meter) very often claim the instrument is bogus; can't work; doesn't work. It has been described by uninformed critics as "a crude lie-detector".
I recently had a conversation with someone who had heard it was only measuring skin resistance and reacted only to sweat and grip. This is not accurate.
I have to tell you -- it works.
Before I get into a lot of caveats about that statement, about what it doesn't do, let me first establish what it does do. The following is a description of a test, called the "pinch test", that anyone trained in the e-meter can do to anyone to show what the e-meter does. I've done this myself on non-Scientologists, it is pretty convincing.
The "Pinch Test"
The person with the e-meter, let's call them the operator, sets the meter up and hands the other person the electrodes, the "cans". The operator then has the person watch the needle while the operator pinches them, hard.
The person will see the needle immediately and quickly move to the right in response to the pain.
The operator then gives the command, "Recall the moment of the pinch." When the person does so, they immediately see the same motion of the needle, usually a bit smaller. The person can, again and again, recall the pinch and, the instant they do so, see that needle motion, a little less each time.
If you know someone who has a meter and has been trained, they can do this for you.
This is obvious proof that the meter really does react to the thought.
This is actually pretty amazing.
There is another test, a drill used during training, where the student puts another student on the meter and says, "Consider the events of today." The other student does so. When the first student sees a distinctive needle movement, he says, "That". As prearranged, the second student immediately thinks of something else for a little, and then thinks the same thought he was thinking at the moment the first student said "That". The first student is supposed to see that same needle movement and say, "That is the same thought."
Every graduate of an e-meter course has done this drill and passed it.
This shows that different thoughts can cause different and individually identifiable needle motions.
The unproven theory about all this is that some thoughts have "charge" attached to them, that this "charge" impinges on the body when the thought is "activated" by thinking it and this effect can be detected by measuring the change of resistance of the body.
There is no proof that this is true, but it's the only explanation at this time and it does seem to fit the current evidence. It sure would be nice if someone competent did some scientific research on this.
So, that's what the meter can do. Here's what it can't do.
It can't read or measure emotions. It can't tell truth from lies. It cannot tell what a person is thinking. It cannot make a person do anything. It can be rather easily fooled. And the meter is affected by many other factors than just thoughts.
The meter is affected by 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"). Of course, sweat doesn't cause needle movements because it is slow to occur and very slow to evaporate, but sweat can affect the range, causing the meter to read too low. Likewise, dry hands can make the meter read too high.
Preclears are carefully instructed on grip, and this is also why each meter comes with many different sizes of cans.
The meter operators are instructed and drilled on body motion, so they can, it is hoped, recognize and ignore needle motion caused by that.
The e-meter, as sold by the Church of Scientology, is a very expensive, but still somewhat primitive instrument. It has never been analyzed in any scientific way. It has many limitations. The meter is quite easily fooled, if you know what you are doing. The mind is a complex thing and the meter is a very simple thing, so problems can and do occur because the meter reads on something other than what is expected.
More research has been done in the Freezone concerning the e-meter and they claim they have improved it, but there is still no independent, scientific research on the e-meter.
How the E-Meter is part of the trap
It is the fact that the e-meter actually works that makes it a very integral part of the very effective trapping mechanism of the Church of Scientology.
Very early on, every new Scientologist is led to believe that they cannot keep any secrets from the e-meter. In session, when the auditor asks about their secrets, their bad actions, the meter reads. And the auditor won't stop until the meter stops reading, meaning the Scientologist has "told all".
In this way, the Church of Scientology can and does get all the person's crimes, sexual problems, secrets and so on. Every session starts with those questions. The church's files are quite full and quite complete.
In addition, the existence and apparent effectiveness of the e-meter convinces the new Scientologist that the rest of the Scientology tech must be just as effective.
Of course, neither the e-meter nor the Scientology tech is as effective as claimed. But that isn't obvious at the beginning. By the time the Scientologist might detect the failings of both, they are usually too far into the indoctrination and can't perceive the flaws any more.