An E-meter is an electronic device used as an aid in some forms of Dianetics and Scientology auditing. The device is a variation on an ohmmeter, using a Wheatstone bridge to measure electrical resistance. The device is formally known as the Hubbard Electrometer, for the Church's founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
The Church of Scientology restricts the use of the E-meter to trained professionals, treating it as "a religious artifact which can only be used by Scientology ministers or ministers-in-training. It does not diagnose or cure anything. It purports to measure the mental state or change of state of a person and thus is of benefit to the auditor in helping the preclear locate areas to be handled. The E-meters used by the Church of Scientology are manufactured at the Church of Scientology's Golden Era Productions facility.
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 through the body, the device measures changes in the electrical resistance of the human body. According to Scientology doctrine, the resistance corresponds to the "mental mass and energy" of the subject's mind, which change when the subject thinks of particular mental images (engrams).
E-meter sessions are conducted by Scientology staff known as auditors, and its use is covered in advanced Scientology training courses. 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, with each having its own special 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.
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 christened 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" (). The patent is now expired and in the public domain. The Church of Scientology continues to make, sell, and teach its use in auditing.
Mathison never litigated the appropriation of his invention, but was bitter and disillusioned about Hubbard. In 1964 Mathison stated: "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."
Today, models of the E-meter include the Mark V, the Mark VI and the Mark VII. 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. (Hilton, 2001)
Hubbard claimed that this "mental mass" has the same physical characteristics, including weight, as mass as commonly understood by lay persons:
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 but are presumably pounds). 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 "150".
On January 4, 1963, more than one hundred E-meters were seized by US marshals at the "Founding Church of Scientology" building in Washington, D.C. The church 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 church'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 church'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:
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 church has adopted a modified version of this statement, which it still invokes in connection with the E-meter. The current statement reads:
Critics point to a lack of scientific basis for the E-meter and associated practices. They claim that at the time Hubbard began claiming the E-meter to be an accurate and precise instrument for detecting mental tension, no attempt had been made to scientifically validate this hypothesis by comparing the E-meter readings of individuals under tension to the readings of a control group.
A Californian student of American Studies, Laura Kay Fuller, claimed in a 1999 thesis that the E-meter furthers totalitarian tendencies in Scientology: :"Scientology insists that the E-meter is the final indicator of the truth, consistently relying on the "scientific proof" of this machine to further its ideology. ... In addition to this, Scientology uses the E-meter as a lie detector, gradually building a state of fear and paranoia for its members."