HUBBARD & DICK—"Dianetics" vs. "Valis"

And the last of my book reviews (for this month, anyway):

'Dianetics' vs. 'Valis,' Sci-Fi Spiritual Guides

Philip K. Dick and L. Ron Hubbard were both brilliant philosophical thinkers, but appreciation of their work has been marginalized by the fact that they were writers of pulp science fiction. Psychologically perceptive and metaphysically curious, both men had a keen eye for understanding and decoding the human condition. Occasionally couching their philosophies in cutting-edge futurist thought, they nevertheless managed to formulate groundbreaking theories on the nature of existence itself.

Their paths depart, however, as their bibliographies progress: Dick kept most of his ontological explorations firmly rooted within the context of his fiction, and later in life seemed to be on a Gnostic-influenced voyage with no definite answers. Hubbard, on the other hand, saved up his deepest insights for his latter-day nonfiction works, such as his breakthrough 1951 self-help manual, “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.”

“Dianetics” passionately refutes modern-day psychology and psychiatry as being ridiculously primitive—Hubbard is so determined to dispose of Freudian psychology, in fact, that he neurotically keeps the word “unconsciousness” in quotes throughout the entire 700-page work. He proposes a “reactive mind” instead—one filled with debilitating “engrams.”

Similar to the concept of humans having a “reptilian” mind left over as an evolutionary remnant, the idea of the “reactive mind” is fleshed out in astounding ways. The conclusions Hubbard ultimately reaches are debatable, and his research and experiments at times seem sketchy and dubious; but his thoughtful explorations have possibly influenced some of the most important theories of the last 30 years, although few would admit it.

For instance, the influential concept of “selfish genes” described by scientist Richard Dawkins in 1976 has a predecessor in Hubbard’s proposal of evolution and man’s need to survive. And the Dawkins-inspired “meme,” described in 1999 in Susan Blackmore’s “The Meme Machine,” bears similarities to the “Dianetics” engram concept that language can have a virus-like power all its own.

The big problem with “Dianetics”: It can become mind numbingly repetitive, it has a musty smell of New Agey self-help neo-spiritualism, and it too often mistakes it’s own philosophical theories for scientific fact.

But Hubbard does manage to liven things up by repeatedly referring to loose women, sexual perversions, and even “prenatal” rape. According to Hubbard, your dad having sex with your mom while you were still in her womb probably really fucked your “preclear” self up. But don’t worry, “Dianetics” can help.

Regrettably, “Dianetics” never gets into the really fun Scientology stuff involving the alien “Thetan” spirits, the evil Galactic Leader Xenu, levitation, or any of the other smacked-out-awesome ideas rumored to be found in the “Dianetics”-based religion. Oh well, if Hubbard won’t tell us his secrets, then who wants to help me found the Church of Philip K. Dick? Let Dick’s semi-autobiographical, spiritual, sci-fi masterpiece—“Valis”—lead the way.

(Note: Dick's final three books--all ingenious--are commonly, but not officially, called The Valis Trilogy. The first book is "Valis," and the final two volumes are: "The Divine Invasion" and "The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.")

And just for fun, here's an alternate review of just "Dianetics":

“Dianetics,” by L. Ron Hubbard

Tired of all these religions that laugh in the face of modern science, spit at Darwin’s evolution, don’t promise salvation until after you’re dead, and go jumping up and down for a bloody jihad every chance they get? Well worry no more! Scientology is here to help you with your ills. It’s like Deepak Chopra for the modern-science minded; Unitarian Universalism without the lingering Christian vestiges; or Ralph Nader in a flying saucer, totally whooping some Republican ass (but, umm, in a peaceful sort of way).

However, before you snuggle up with the chosen church of Johnny Travolta, read the book that started it all: “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health,” an even-tempered, thoughtful, ambitious, and clever attempt at trying to codify a new set of metaphysical, psychological, and philosophical laws that explain human nature, make a science of the human mind, and have the potential to relieve human suffering, increase happiness and intelligence, and cure the common cold (seriously). Oh, and if everyone uses this tome, then all wars will come to an end as well. Isn’t that swell? So don’t be a cynical bastard: Buy this book.

Only, try to ignore the fact that it gets pretty boring and repetitive and the internal logic doesn’t always seem to hold up—or else all the circular reasoning will eventually give you a facial tick. While Hubbard incessantly claims, without proper documentation, that everything is “fact” and has been “scientifically tested,” he neurotically puts quotation marks around every occurrence of the word “unconsciousness” and chatters on forever about “engrams” in your ”reactive mind” making you do bad things. But he does manage to liven things up by repeatedly referring to loose women, sexual perversions, and rape. Prenatal rape is an especially hot topic: Mommy and daddy having sex with you in mommy’s belly probably really fucked your “preclear” self up with some nasty engrams, from the sound of it.

Regrettably, “Dianetics” never gets into the really fun Scientology stuff involving the alien “Thetan” spirits, the evil Galactic Leader Xenu, levitation, or any of the other smacked-out-awesome ideas rumored to be found in Tom Cruise’s favorite religion.


Additional facts and links:

  • George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866, 1872, or 1877-1949), a spiritual philosopher that merged Eastern and Western religious and philosophical ideas (and founded of “The Work”), is often referenced as having had a profound influence on Hubbard’s Scientology concepts. And much like Scientology, the modern Practical Philosophy Foundation (US)/School of Economic Science (UK) was influenced by Gurdjieff.

  • Kevin Langdon raises some interesting ideas (and mentions both Scientology and Gurdjieff) in his alternative exploration of the question “What Is This Life?

  • Scientology's mysterious Operating Thetan phases/sections are nicely critiqued and partially exposed at the OT III Scholarship Page; and a full critique of Scientology is located at Operation Clambake (

  • And no look into Hubbard is complete without a visit to the official Church of Scientology website.

  • Although there have been horror stories of people being brainwashed by the Church of Scientology and having all their money taken away, I think you could find just as many tales of mainstream religions changing the personalities of their parishioners and asking for as much cash as they can get. Before labeling Scientology a cult and not giving it respect as a legitimate religion, one must ask, "WHAT IS A CULT?"

  • My only real beef with Scientologists is their hatred of psychology and psychiatrists. Hubbard's thoughts in "Dianetics" are clearly derived from or influenced by the roots of the psychological sciences/philosophies, so it's ridiculous for him to completely deny their legitimacy. I give him credit for offering a unique opposing view to psychology (especially during Hubbard's lifetime, when mental institutions still thought wholesale lobotomies weren't such a bad idea), but the idea that modern psychiatry and psychotherapy should be completely abandoned is just absurd. Especially considering the large holes found in Hubbard's own "scientific" work... if he's correct in saying that psychology is nothing more than a philospohy with little scientific proof, his followers should be swift enough to notice that he's at least guilty of the same crime (perhaps even more so, since he mixes philosophy, science, religion, and inventive speculation together so liberally).

  • Cool factoid from Jon Atack’s “Possible origins for Dianetics and Scientology” : “During the late 1930s and the 1940s, Hubbard corresponded with and visited fellow adventure writer [and "Fictioneers" founder] Arthur J. Burks. Burks' own work shares much of the philosophical basis of Hubbard's. Hubbard got into print before Burks, but the Hubbard Archive contains many copies of letters exchanged by Burks and Hubbard. These letters if produced would show the extent of Hubbard's plagiarism of Burks.” (After reading Atack's full article, you can't help but respect Hubbard for being so well read. He derived his ideas from a vast spectrum of sources.)

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