Dawn of Dianetics: Hubbard, Campbell, & Origins of Scientology
October 26, 2018 10:26 PM   Subscribe

An excerpt adapted from Alec Nevala-Lee’s book: Astounding For most of his life, John W. Campbell, Jr., the editor of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, had trouble remembering his childhood. He had filled his stories with extravagant images, but he had no visual memory, to the point that he was unable to picture the faces of his own wife and children. When L. Ron Hubbard, one of his most prolific writers, approached him with the promise of a new science of the mind, he was understandably intrigued. And he was especially attracted by the possibility that it would allow him to recall events that he had forgotten or repressed.
posted by MovableBookLady (17 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Some very close friends of mine were friends of Hubbard's during his time in Phoenix AZ (1950s). They left the organization when they discerned that he was molding the psychological processes into a quasi-religious approach. Back in the 60s I participated in e-meter readings and attempts to "go clear." I have to say that none of it made much sense to me then or now, and I did get accused of being a "dilettante" by someone in the Los Angeles HQ and a friend was labeled a "suppressive personality" which began with shunning. Weird bunch of people.

And reading this excerpt made Campbell seem even weirder than I thought.
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:32 PM on October 26 [32 favorites]


I don't have much good to say about Hubbard but, in fairness, "Countess Motorboat" is an excellent cat name.
posted by thelonius at 3:49 AM on October 27 [12 favorites]


The inability to see or process faces is a real documented disorder called prosopagnosia. Campbell sounds like a textbook case.
posted by jonp72 at 7:52 AM on October 27 [1 favorite]


This is what I can't get over here: Campbell was actually a trained physicist, (well, a BS degree, but they didn't just hand those out in the day), but he was capable of conceiving of this concoction of ad hoc speculation and uncontrolled amateur experiments as a "science of the mind", superior to the actually existing discipline of psychology?
posted by thelonius at 8:15 AM on October 27 [1 favorite]


The inability to see or process faces is a real documented disorder called prosopagnosia. Campbell sounds like a textbook case.

Prosopagnosia is an impairment in the recognition of familiar faces. [H]e had no visual memory, to the point that he was unable to picture the faces of his own wife and children (emphasis added) sounds more like a form of aphantasia. That said, I see very little percentage in engaging in pseudo-psychological armchair diagnosis in a thread about Dianetics.
posted by zamboni at 8:30 AM on October 27 [7 favorites]


This is what I can't get over here: Campbell was actually a trained physicist, (well, a BS degree, but they didn't just hand those out in the day), but he was capable of conceiving of this concoction of ad hoc speculation and uncontrolled amateur experiments as a "science of the mind", superior to the actually existing discipline of psychology?

It's amazing to me that Campbell could use his institutional contacts to start roping in people like Claude Shannon, a highly lauded scientist who won just about every prize except the Nobel.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 9:00 AM on October 27 [1 favorite]


What's the Paul Di Filippo story, the alternate history where Joseph Campbell becomes Astounding's editor?
posted by doctornemo at 10:56 AM on October 27 [4 favorites]


I recognize that Campbell is a vital part of the publishing tradition that lead to all of the SF that I love. On the other hand, his insane devotion to psionics is even more directly responsible for everything I hate about the genre that I love. I can't help but wondering how much less silly classic Asimov would be without Campbell's influence. But, perhaps classic Asimov would live in a desk drawer, unread, if it weren't for this batshit crazy mystic used car salesman.

I'm looking forward to reading this book.

(Also, the podcast Behind the Bastards just finished a nice three part series on LRH. There isn't much new, but it's a decent introduction. Campbell is only very briefly discussed.)
posted by eotvos at 1:53 PM on October 27 [6 favorites]


doctornemo, it's called "Campbell's World" and was collected in Lost Pages.
posted by cgc373 at 3:22 PM on October 27 [2 favorites]


I just stumbled across this post the other day. It's by Nevala-Lee and is reflecting on Campbell's role as, in effect, pulp SF's art director. I'm somewhat skeptical that a man with 'no visual memory' would have been so effective in this role, but those are Nevala-Lee's words.

I am very interested in Nevala-Lee's writing and research now.
posted by mwhybark at 4:36 PM on October 27 [3 favorites]


he was capable of conceiving of this concoction of ad hoc speculation and uncontrolled amateur experiments as a "science of the mind", superior to the actually existing discipline of psychology??

"actually existing" is a very low bar, maybe as low as they get.

and no, you did not have to have something fundamentally not very good about your brainworkings in order to believe that some dingdong unsupported theory was superior to psychology as it existed and was practiced in the 1940s and 1950s. though I'm sure it was helpful in Campbell's case. the appeal of Scientology even in its earliest days is entirely lost on me, and I like a lot of garbage nonsense. but psychology and psychiatry of the time were plenty scary and irrational too. even compared to religion.

as for the iron fortress of a physics b.s., no group of people can be more easily taken in than one whose members' egos are built up and sustained around knowing better, knowing more, seeing further, seeing through. you don't even have to be a scientist to have this personality type; I have it. it's not as self-protective as it seems.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:41 PM on October 27 [11 favorites]


Being of a certain age, I did not immediately grasp that I had linked to his Campbell tag stream. This is the writer expostulating in near real time as his book, as it were, crosses the bar. Godspeed, Admiral Nevala-Lee. The post I had hoped to link to is dated October 26, but I strongly encourage your to browse through the October material at least.
posted by mwhybark at 4:47 PM on October 27 [2 favorites]


Well, regarding dingdongs and whatnot, Jack Parsons and Hubbard had a long set of interactions that ended poorly for Parsons. It's reasonable to think of Parsons as the last of the alchemists, in a way; he also founded the JPL. The veils were thinner at one time.
posted by mwhybark at 4:51 PM on October 27 [6 favorites]


as for the iron fortress of a physics b.s.

Call me crazy, but I expect that they teach their students to tell the difference between an e-meter and a discovery "far bigger than the atomic bomb".
posted by thelonius at 6:43 PM on October 27 [2 favorites]


see also Linus Pauling and vitamin C. It's a variety of engineer's disease.
posted by mwhybark at 8:48 AM on October 28 [5 favorites]


Well, regarding dingdongs and whatnot, Jack Parsons and Hubbard had a long set of interactions that ended poorly for Parsons.

Parsons, Hubbard, Heinlein, Aleister Crowley. That scene's always reminded me of smart drug-era Silicon Valley in more ways than one.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:21 AM on October 29 [2 favorites]


he was capable of conceiving of this concoction of ad hoc speculation and uncontrolled amateur experiments as a "science of the mind", superior to the actually existing discipline of psychology?

To be fair, even today, psychology falls short of being able to use scientific methodology to help people. We understand plenty about how to cause specific reactions, build patterns, and what makes trauma; we have a lot less understanding of how to fix psychological damage and help people become who they want to be.

We know a whole lot about what doesn't work, but even in cases of, "this person has PTSD because of these specific stimuli in that specific setting," it's still touch-and-go for being able to heal. It doesn't take much to be disenchanted with psychology, especially with the methods available 50+ years ago, and be willing to entertain the notion that some new method might work better.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:16 PM on October 29


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