About the E-meter

This page attempts to give an introductory look at the E-meter: what it is, what they claim it is, and how it is used in Scientology. If you want an extremely in-depth look at E-meters, go here. They’ve written more on the subject than we could ever hope to do.

What is the E-Meter?

“E-meter” is short for electropsychometer, and Scientologists consider it an invaluable spiritual aid. It’s a common misconception that the E-meter was invented by Hubbard. It wasn’t. The first E-meter was invented by a man named Volney Mathison. The later editions that were actually adopted for use were invented by two Scientologists, Don Breeding and Joe Wallis.

Despite Scientologists’ claims to the contrary, the E-Meter really is just a crude lie detector. A quick look at the schematics that Hubbard originally submitted for a patent application (left – click for larger image) of the E-meter will confirm its relative simplicity. The CoS charges around $4000.00 for one E-meter.

The person who is getting auditing (counseling) on the meter holds one metal tube in each hand. The metal tubes are connected to the meter, and the E-meter passes a tiny electrical current through the person’s body. Changes to that electrical current register through a needle on a oval dial on the meter face.

What do Scientologists Think the E-meter Does?

Scientologists believe that thoughts have mass and electrical charge. Thus, per Scientology thinking, when someone has a thought, it effects his body’s electrical flows, and that thought then registers on the needle dial. This explanation is certainly an over-simplification, but those are the basics.

The person who is operating the E-meter is usually called the “auditor”, while the person holding the tubes (called “cans”) is called the pre-clear, or PC. In Scientology auditing, the auditor asks the PC questions from one of many prepared auditing lists written by Hubbard. After each question, the auditor checks the needle movement of the E-meter. If there is needle movement on that question, the auditor probes the PC further on that point. If there is no needle movement, the question is skipped. Most, but not all of Scientology processing follows this formula.

Scientologists believe the meter helps them find areas of their life (this life or past lives) that have emotional charge, and they feel that, when used by a competent auditor, the E-meter is infallible. They believe that the E-meter can also locate incidents and dates without the PC saying anything.

What do Scientologists use the E-meter for?

Plenty of things! The E-meter is most commonly used in auditing. On the lower levels, the PC is audited by an auditor. On the upper OT levels, the PC uses the E-meter to audit himself. But the E-meter is not only used for auditing. It is also used for confessionals, security checks, emotional state tests, and is even used in some Scientology schools to ‘assist’ struggling students to find which parts of their textbooks are the biggest problem areas.

Is the E-meter based on Science?

The CoS is very careful not to make any outright claims that the E-meter is a scientific tool. Within the organization, however, the “scientific basis” for the E-meter is heavily insinuated.

In his books and lectures, Hubbard makes numerous references to the ‘research’ he conducted into the mind and the use of the E-meter. However, no one, including Scientologists, have ever seen that research. Scientologists would not ask to see it, because to ask to see Ron’s research notes would suggest that they are disloyal and they would be looked down upon. There are no published studies. There was no peer review. His conclusions are simply taken at face value within the organization.

What are some of the common critical arguments against the E-meter?

  • The most commonly discussed criticism of the E-meter is that it has been proven to be fallible. For an example of this, we turn to Paulette Cooper’s book, The Scandal of Scientology:”Alan Levy’s problems in Scientology started when he was told to use the E-meter to locate the date on which he had a fight with his wife. (Present one, current life.) Without the meter, he knew the year was 1958, and that it was a Sunday morning in March.”Although he suggested to his auditor that they consult a calendar, he was told, “There’s no need for that…. The E-meter will find out for us.” The meter “found out” that the fight occurred on March 18. But when Alan Levy checked an almanac at a bookstore in East Grinstead, he discovered that March 18, 1958 fell on Tuesday, not Sunday.”It seems pathetic to me still, and terribly precarious, that my failure to perform so simple a journalistic chore — under other circumstances I would have automatically looked up the date — could have kept me half tied to Scientology, the deep-probing auditing sessions and the damned E-meter…. I am sure that among the millions of words … [Hubbard] has written, there are some to convince me that the engram I unlocked did happen on a Tuesday — in another life — or that March 18 did fall on a Sunday when I was in the womb. But thankfully it no longer matters.”

    These “wrong indications” were rampant in Scientology in the early 70’s, when Ms. Cooper published her book, and they continue to be rampant today.

    When confronted with information of this nature, Scientologists will say that the meter is never wrong – only the auditor can be wrong. But ex-Scientologist testimonies say otherwise.

  • Questions have also been raised about the pseudo-scientific nature of the E-meter. Another quote from Ms. Cooper’s book:”A number of government witnesses in the Food and Drug Administration’s case against the meter also agreed that its functioning was considerably less than perfect. George Montgomery, Chief of the Measurement Engineering Division of the National Bureau of Standards, and Dr. John I. Lacey, Chairman of the Department of Psychophysiology and Neurophysiology at Fels Research Institute in Yellow Springs, stated that the E-meter “failed to meet the commonly accepted criterion by which such an instrument is judged.”
  • Its price is far in excess of the actual value of the machinery.