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An Electropsychometer, abbreviated to E-meter, is a modified ohmmeter used during Dianetics and Scientology auditing. The device is a variation of a Wheatstone bridge, which dates to 1833 and measures electrical resistance and skin conductance. It is formally known as the Hubbard Electrometer (although it is not an electrometer as usually defined) after the sect's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Most of the Scientology concepts associated with the "E-meter" and its use are regarded by the scientific and medical communities as pseudoscience, and the E-meter has never been subject to clinical trials.
The sect restricts the use of the E-meter to trained Scientologists, treating it as "a religious artifact used to measure the state of electrical characteristics of the 'static field' surrounding the body". The meter, when used by a trained Scientologist, is claimed to reflect or indicate whether or not a person has been relieved from spiritual impediment of past experiences. Officials within Scientology assert that the E-meter is intended for use only in sect-sanctioned auditing sessions and is in itself not a curative or medical device. The E-meters used by the Church of Scientology are manufactured by Scientologists at their Gold Base facility.
Description and use
The device's primary component is an electrical measuring instrument called a Wheatstone bridge, which measures the subject's galvanic skin response. By inducing a tiny electrical current, the device measures changes in the human body's electrical resistance. In the case of the E-Meter the voltage applied is between 1V and 5V, and the induced current in the order of fractions of a milliamp. According to Scientology doctrine, the resistance corresponds to the "mental mass and energy" of the subject's mind, which are claimed to change when the subject thinks of particular mental images (engrams). Scientologists believe that the device has such sensitivity that Hubbard could use it to determine whether or not fruits can experience pain, as in his 1968 assertion that tomatoes "scream when sliced."
E-meter sessions are conducted by Scientology staff known as auditors. Scientology materials traditionally refer to the subject as the "preclear," although auditors continue to use the meter well beyond the "clear" level. The preclear holds a pair of cylindrical electrodes ("cans") connected to the meter while the auditor asks the preclear a series of questions and notes both the verbal response and the activity of the meter. Auditor training describes many types of needle movements, each with a specific significance.
The meter has two control dials. The larger dial, known as the "tone arm," adjusts the meter bias, while the smaller one controls the gain. Auditors manipulate the tone arm during an auditing session to keep the E-meter needle on a marked reference point.
The documentary "Inside Scientology" from the production company Carlton Television suggests that an E-meter is also used as a primitive lie-detector by Scientology, to get rid of critics that could be spying on Scientology's practices. Former Scientology members have also suggested the readings are both a psychological manipulation and an attempt to turn prospective members into full believers through the proven "Pavlov's Dog" theory of Punishment versus Reward.
The E-meter has undergone many changes since it was invented by Volney Mathison, an early collaborator with Hubbard. The Mathison Electropsychometer (as it was then called) was adopted for use in Dianetics and Scientology by Hubbard in the early 1950s, before being temporarily dropped in 1954 during a dispute with Mathison.
In a quote from Bent Corydon's Messiah or Madman?,
It was the Mathison E-Meter, and Mathison was determined to keep it that way. So in late 1954 the use of the E-meter was discontinued by Hubbard. Wrote Hubbard: "Yesterday, we used an instrument called an E-Meter to register whether or not the process was still getting results so that the auditor would know how long to continue it. While the E-Meter is an interesting investigation instrument and has played its part in research, it is not today used by the auditor... As we long ago suspected, the intervention of a mechanical gadget between the auditor and the preclear had a tendency to depersonalize the session..."
In 1958 when Scientologists Don Breeding and Joe Wallis developed a modified, smaller battery-operated version, which they presented to Hubbard, he again used it. This was dubbed the Hubbard electrometer. Hubbard patented it on December 6, 1966, as a "Device for Measuring and Indicating Changes in the Resistance of a Human Body" (U.S. Patent 3,290,589). The patent is now expired and in the public domain. The sect continues to make, sell, and teach its use in auditing.
Mathison never litigated the appropriation of his invention, but he felt bitter and disillusioned about Hubbard. Mathison remarked in 1964, "I decry the doings of trivial fakers, such as scientologists and the like, who glibly denounce hypnosis and then try covertly to use it in their phony systems".
Food and Drug Administration interest
On January 4, 1963, more than one hundred E-meters were seized by US marshals at the "Founding Church of Scientology" building, now known as the L. Ron Hubbard House, located in Washington, D.C. The sect was accused of making false claims that the devices effectively treated some 70 percent of all physical and mental illness. The FDA also charged that the devices did not bear adequate directions for treating the conditions for which they were recommended.
Prolonged litigation ensued, with a subsequent jury trial finding that the E-meter had indeed been misrepresented. The sect's contention that its literature was exempt from legal action because it was issued by a religious organization was rejected by the court as irrelevant. However, the Court of Appeals reversed the verdict on the basis that the government had done nothing to rebut the sect's claim that Scientology was a religion. A new trial was ordered which upheld the findings and verdict of the first trial.
Judge Gerhardt A. Gesell found that:
Hubbard and his fellow Scientologists developed the notion of using an E-Meter to aid auditing. Substantial fees were charged for the meter and for auditing sessions using the meter. They repeatedly and explicitly represented that such auditing effectuated cures of many physical and mental illnesses. An individual processed with the aid of the E-Meter was said to reach the intended goal of 'clear' and was led to believe that there was reliable scientific proof that once cleared many, indeed most, illnesses would successfully be cured. Auditing was guaranteed to be successful.
The judge ordered use of the E-meter be confined to "bona fide religious counseling" and the device be prominently labeled with a warning notice:
The E-Meter is not medically or scientifically useful for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease. It is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily functions of anyone.
The sect has adopted a modified version of this statement, which it still invokes in connection with the E-meter. The current statement reads:
By itself, this meter does nothing. It is solely for the guide of Ministers of the sect in Confessionals and pastoral counseling. The Electrometer is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily function of anyone and is for religious use by students and Ministers of the Church of Scientology only.
In 1979 in Sweden, a court forbade calling the E-meter an invaluable aid to measuring man's mental state and changes in it in an advertisement. The prohibition was upheld by the European Commission of Human Rights in case X. and Church of Scientology v. Sweden.
In October 2009, a three-judge panel at the Correctional Court in Paris, France convicted the sect and six of its members of organized fraud. The Court's decision followed a three-week trial, where two plaintiffs alleged they were defrauded by the organization. The focus of the plaintiff's complaint was on the use of an E-Meter by Scientologists. The plaintiffs alleged that, after using the device, they were encouraged to pay for vitamins and books and claimed that amounted to fraud. The Court agreed. See Scientology in France#Conviction for fraud.
In 1964, the government of Victoria, Australia held a Board of Inquiry into Scientology which returned its findings in a document colloquially known as the Anderson Report. Psychiatrist Dr. Ian Holland Martin, honorary federal secretary of the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, gave evidence that the E-Meter 'used for Scientology' was a 'psycho-galvano-meter' and was 'dangerous in unqualified hands'. He said that if the E-meter 'was suggested to possess mysterious powers' to someone who did not understand that it had 'been thoroughly discredited as a lie detector' then 'that person would be suggestible to ideas foisted on him by the operator'. The final report of the inquiry stated that the E-meter enabled Scientology:
"...to assume, intensify and retain control over the minds and wills of preclears. Fears of its abilities keep them in constant subjection. Its use can be so manipulated by cunningly phrased questions that almost any desired result can be obtained, and it is used unscrupulously to dominate students and staff alike. All the evil features of scientology are intensified where the E-meter is involved. When used in conjunction with hypnotic techniques, its evil impact is greatly increased. This simple electrical device is not, of course, the sole basis for the condemnation of scientology, but without the E-meter scientology would be partly disarmed."
Today, models of the E-meter include the Mark V, the Mark VI, the Mark VII and the newly released Mark VIII. As of January 2005, the cost of the Mark V was $900 and the Mark VII Super Quantum E-meter was US $4,650.00 (up from US $3,850 in 1995). Scientologists of the Free Zone have developed their own E-meter models which are available at much lower prices. They also offer circuit diagrams and instructions for building a meter.
Scientology's views on the device
For the meter to be read, the tiny flow of electrical energy through the preclear (person) has to remain steady. When this tiny flow is changed the needle of the E-Meter moves. This will happen if the preclear pulls in or releases mental mass. This mental mass (condensed energy), acts as an additional resistance or lack of resistance to the flow of electrical energy from the E-Meter.
Hubbard claimed that this "mental mass" has the same physical characteristics, including weight, as mass as commonly understood by lay persons:
In Scientology it has been discovered that mental energy is simply a finer, higher level of physical energy. The test of this is conclusive in that a thetan "mocking up" (creating) mental image pictures and thrusting them into the body can increase the body mass and by casting them away again can decrease the body mass. This test has actually been made and an increase of as much as thirty pounds, actually measured on scales, has been added to, and subtracted from, a body by creating "mental energy." Energy is energy. Matter is condensed energy.
This text in Understanding the E-Meter is accompanied by three drawings. The first shows a man standing on a weighing scale, which reflects a weight of "150" (the units are not given). The next shows the man on the same scale, weighed down under a burden of "Mental Image Pictures", and the scale indicates a weight of "180". The last picture shows the man standing upright on the scale, now unburdened by "Mental Image Pictures" and with a smile on his face, while the scale again indicates a weight of "148".
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