Sunday, March 4, 2012

Volney G. Mathison (1897-1965)-Part 6

The Mathison E-Meter

The history of Volney Mathison's involvement with L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology is a dark and tangled one, obscured not only by the passage of time but also apparently by design. By the 1940s, Mathison, a builder and operator of radio equipment and a budding "psychoanalyst," was living in southern California and beginning to experiment with the polygraph machine, popularly known as the lie detector. Invented by John Augustus Larson (1892-1965) and based in part on work by William Moulton Marston (1893-1947), the polygraph came into existence in 1921. Other men developed variations on the invention in the 1930s and '40s. (1) According to several sources (including Wikipedia), Mathison invented his own variation, called the electroencephaloneuromentimograph, electropsychometer, or simply E-meter, in the 1940s. Mathison also developed techniques of psychoanalysis using the machine and a form of self-hypnosis. To top it all off, Mathison--like Hugo Gernsback with his radio equipment many years before--marketed E-meters, audio tapes, and books through catalogs and advertisements. The idea was to use Mathison's equipment and techniques to explore the secret workings of the troubled mind and to relieve its suffering. (2)

Meanwhile, L. Ron Hubbard left active duty service in the U.S. Navy and arrived in Pasadena in the same month the war ended, August 1945. Wikipedia offers an informative account of Hubbard's activities in southern California in the immediate post-war period. According to that account, Hubbard left the state in 1948 and began developing what would become Dianetics, "the science of the mind," which was announced in John W. Campbell's Astounding in May 1950. Whether Mathison and Hubbard had met in southern California or not, they seem to have been on the same track by the early 1950s.

According to one source, there wasn't any mention of the E-meter in the early days of Dianetics. That would imply that Hubbard and his followers had not yet learned of Mathison's machine or that they had not yet integrated it into their practice. In any case, by the early 1950s, Volney Mathison and L. Ron Hubbard were associates, and Hubbard's auditors were putting Mathison's E-meter to use. Apparently Mathison retained control and ownership of his invention despite pressure from Hubbard to relinquish it. (3) That appears to have been the reason for their falling out.

Decades before, when Volney Mathison was a boy, his father had instructed him:
You see, you can't believe much of what you hear. You must use your own eyes, read up-to-date scientific books, and always find out what is really going on. One must be wary about believing things people declare are 'eternal truths'. One must always investigate and find out the facts.
Mathison's own words from 1954--about the time he and Hubbard parted ways--echo those of his father. In Creative Image Therapy, he wrote:
Don't be tricked by any faker, whether he claims to be holy, "illuminated", or "scientific." There are charlatans who promise--even through the U. S. mails, so stupidly reckless are they--to heal or transform you for large sums of money--some by esoteric "teachings", others by their mere presence or by their invoking some mysterious Power. . . . The faker who hypnotizes you out of your money is not himself a sane, whole, and happy man--he is usually operating, puppet-like, on some deep, uncleared set of subconscious image patterns as brutal as those of some stray killer shark.
Mathison could very well have been writing of L. Ron Hubbard. It's interesting to note that his words--"uncleared set of subconscious image patterns"--echo those of the belief that had by then become Scientology.

For four years, from 1954 to 1958, Hubbard discouraged the use of the E-meter in the process of auditing. Then, in 1958, Don Breeding and Joe Wallis patented their own version of the E-meter. Smaller than Mathison's version and powered by batteries, the new device was dubbed the Hubbard E-meter and Scientology no longer needed the Mathison E-meter. Whether Mathison continued to have contact with or involvement in the organization is an open question. I suspect that Mathison--who seems to have been his own man in all things--would not have stuck with any organization for long. In any case, Mathison went about his work, authoring a number of booklets during the last full decade of his life. Their titles offer clues as to the nature of Mathison's work:
  • Super-Visualization: The Duplication Techniques of Applied Creative Energy, Volume 1 (1950)
  • Creative Image Therapy (1954)
  • Electropsychometry (1954 or 1955)
  • The Power and Glory of Sex (1956)
  • How to Achieve Past Life Recalls (1956) published by Mathison Electropsychometers
  • The Secret of the Lourdes Miracles Revealed (1956)
  • Practical Self-Hypnosis: How to Achieve and Effectively to Use Hypnosis without the Presence of an Operator (1957)
  • Space-Age Self-Hypnosis (1957)
  • The Secret Power of the Crystal Pendulum: How to Use It (1958) published by the Institute of Self-Hypnosis
To be concluded . . . 

(1) Larson, like Mathison, was of Scandinavian descent. Coincidentally, the two men died within months of each other in 1965. Marston by the way was also creator of Wonder Woman, who had her own lie detector in the form of a golden lasso. All three men--Larson, Mathison, and Marston--were based in California and engaged in the same kind of inquiries. The question is, did they ever meet?
(2) The dates of these developments are unknown.
(3) In my search for patents by Volney G. Mathison and for his E-meter, I couldn't find anything from before 1954. The Aberee reported on Mathison's vying with the U.S. Patent Office in its July/August 1954 issue. If that report is accurate, Mathison appears to have first applied for a patent in 1951. He received patents in 1954 and 1957.

The Mathison Electropsychometer or E-meter.
Who knew there could be a connection between Wonder Woman, Weird Tales, and Scientology?

Original text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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