From Psychological Newsletter, 1959, 10 131-134

An Experimental Investigation of Hubbard's Engram Hypothesis (Dianetics)

by Jack Fox, Alvin E. Davis, and B Lebovits

The Problem

The purpose of the experiment was to provide an experimental test of Hubbard's engram hypothesis. Dianetics uses concepts and constructs which, for the most part, are gross over-simplifications of concepts and constructs culled from general semantics, cybernetics, dynamic psychologies, and academic psychology. The one construct that is new and seems crucial is the construct of the engram. This must not be confused with Koffka's or Semon's use of the term. Koffka (1935) understands by it a memory trace of a perceptual event, while Semon (1920) understands by it a relatively permanent change in the excitatory substance as a consequence of, and congruent with, an excitatory process. Hubbard means by it an automatic recording of events during states of unconsciousness of varying degrees. Koffka's engram, in Hubbard's scheme of things, is but a bit of information filed in the standard memory bank. While there are many superficial similarities between the concept of Hubbard and the concept of Semon, as for example in the congruence between excitation and engram, engram-chains (Hubbard, 1950) and homophony (Semon, 1920), there are vast differences in generality and the anlytical considerations of the engram properties and their consequences.

The difference between the concept of traditional psychology and those of Hubbard may be schematized as follows:

Unconsciousness                         focal consciousness

      increasing clarity of awareness
      increasing clarity of memory image

Traditional psychology

      increasing involvement of attention units
   ---------------------------------------------------->  Analytic
      increasing function of standard memory bank         Mind

        increasing involvement of automatic recording
    <---------------------------------------------------- Reactive
        increasing pervasiveness of engram formation      Mind


Thus, in traditional psychology retention is a direct function of the degree of awareness, while in dianetics it is independent of awareness. What varies with the degree of awareness is not retention, but the mechanism by which retention is accomplished. The difference is the crux of the matter, lending itself well to experimental investigation.

From these theoretical approaches two diametrically opposed hypotheses follow, only one of which can be verified. If an individual should be placed, by one means or another, into an unconscious state, then, according to traditional psychology, no retention of the events occurring about him should take place and consequently, no reports of such events can be elicited from the individual, no matter what methods of elicitation are employed (hypothesis I). According to dianetics, retention should take place with high fidelity and, therefore, an account of the events can be elicited by means of dianetics auditing (hypothesis II). Hubbard claims that he has recovered from surgical patients long conversations between doctors and nurses which took place while the patients were in deep anesthesia; this is in corcordance with hypothesis II. The following procedure was evolved to test the above hypotheses.


In the performance of this experiment the cooperation of the Dianetic Research Foundation, Los Angeles, California, was secured. This organization furnished the subject, an approximately 30 year old, male employee of the organization, and a number of certified auditors.

The subject reclined on a bed. Dr. A. Davis, M.D., administered intravenously 0.75 gram of sodium pentothal in the presence of the senior author and a representative of the Dianetic Research Foundation. When, after a number of appropriate tests, Dr. Davis indicated that the subject was unconscious, all those present left the room. Mr Lebovits then entered the room and read to the subject a 35-word passage from a physics text. Following a suggestion from a representative of the Dianetic Research Foundation, the passage was "anchored" by some pain. Mr. Lebovits produced pain during the reading of the last 18 words of the passage by exerting pressure upon the tissue between the subject's fingers. After reading the passage he left the room. The subject was left resting for over an hour, after which he was awakened.

The proceeding was recorded on a wire-recorder set up by the experimenters and on a tape-recorder set up by the representative of the Dianetic Research Foundation. These wire and tape recordings were placed in the custody of a co-worker of the experimenters. It was agreed that the tape would be returned to the representatives of the Dianetic Research Foundation when the passage will have been recovered from the subject.

In the selection of the subject and the passage, the following considerations were paramount. It was thought that, in order to increase the validity of the experiment, it must be conducted within the frame of reference of dianetics.

Thus, in order to avoid as much as possible conditions which might unnecessarily lengthen the auditing process by facilitiating the operation of what Hubbard calls "wild" variables, the connection of the event with the previous engram chains, we looked for a subject who had "sonic" and whose reactive bank was well on the way toward "clearance". The subject furnished by the Dianetic Foundation had "sonic", according to the Foundation's representatives, and was currently undergoing dianetic processing.

["Sonic" may be defined as vivid auditory imagery representing verbatim reproductions of past conversations which occurred during states of pain and/or unconsciousness and were recorded in engrams. "Clearance" is the end state; the reactive bank is empty, and the individual reacts in a purely natural fashion.]

The passage selected met the following criteria. It was free of all personal references, such as proper nouns, personal pronouns, and other parts of speech which might be construed in a personal way.

Two days after the implantation of the engram, the subject and the two auditors returned to the University. The subject was audited in the presence of two of the experimenters. During two hours of auditing nothing relevant was produced. It was then proposed by the dianetic auditors that the recovery might take a little time and that further auditing be done at the Foundation. It was further agreed that a report would be forwarded to the experimenters as soon as the engram was contacted, and that the subject and auditors would return to the University to record the "running" of the engram so that it may be compared with the wire which was made during the implantation.


Approximately one and one-half months later the first report was received, covering 31 hours of auditing. Since the report is too long, only the summary covering the last few sessions will be quoted.

"The sessions following have been run in very much the same way. Additional phrases that have turned up are as follows:

'You can remember this.'
'To supplement the equation we need three additional factors.'
'Number one is the result of prime plus three.'
'Number two is that result put into prime again.'
'Number three is the combination of the other two.'
'Therefore where the equation is supplemented by additional factors, three components need to be considered.'
'Number one is the result of the prime plus three added to the original equation.'
'Number three is the combination of factors one and two.'
'Then to supplement the equation three additional factors must be considered.'
'Number one is the result of the prime plus three'.
'Number two is the............of the prime.'
'Then when the equation is supplemented by additional factors three factors need to be considered.'
'Number two is the..........'
'I don't care what you say to me.'
'I won't do it. Not for you or anybody else.' (Latched on to earlier engram which was run to reduction.)

It is not possible at this time to confirm any of the phrases which have been so far contacted to be the control phrases.

The sense of reality of the pre-clear is weak in that he experiences full sonic in the prenatal bank but has no sonic in the control engram."

To the above might be added that the subject as well as the auditors had ample opportunity observe that Mr Lebovits carried a physics text under his arm.

Comparison with the selected passage shows that none of the above-quoted phrases, nor any other phrases quoted in the report, bear any relationship at all to the selected passage.

Since the reception of the first interim report, in November 1950, the experimenter tried frequently and repeatedly to obtain further reports, but so far without success.


Such results as these are contrary to hypothesis II, but they tend to confirm hypothesis I.

Although the negative results do not preclude success at another time and although the N in this case is only one, it is the opinion of the investigators that the negative results of the experiment are fairly conclusive since the experimental conditions were well controlled. Moreover, the nature of the experiment is not one that lends itself to the use of many subjects, as it involves careful selection of the subjects, medical administration of the anaesthetics, and medical supervision of the anaesthetized subject.


This paper formulates two hypotheses concerning the retention of events occurring during states of unconsciousness. It describes an experiment in which a passage selected from a physics text was read to a subject placed in an unconscious state by administration of sodium pentothal. During a period of almost six months, dianetic auditors were unable to recover the passage. Thus, the engram hypothesis was not substantiated by this experiment.


Anon. The Dianetics Auditor's Bulletin. 1950, 1.

Hubbard, L.R. Dianetics: The modern science of mental health. N.Y.: Hermitage House, 1950.

Koffka, K. Principles of gestalt psychology. N.Y.: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1935.

Semon, R. Die Mnome Leipzig: Engelmann, 1920.

Accepted for publication November 15, 1958.