Over fifty years ago I happened to be present during some quite extraordinary conversations. This is an edited compilation of transcriptions of tape recordings made at that time. I have included associated materials of interest. The title used here - "Meetings and Conversations" - is simply a convenient umbrella.
In 1952 our group's common interest was in the (then novel) hypotheses and methods proposed two years earlier by L. Ron Hubbard. His"Dianetics" took as given the time-honored (if non-ordinary) notion that nearly all human beings are physiologically and neurologically capable of attaining self-determined, integrated mind/body function. It went on to express an heuristic theory of such function; and claimed to have developed practical means by which ordinary people of normal intelligence, working together, could realize that goal, and described these methods in some detail.
For many of us, that summer of 1950, this was a hopeful prospect. The terror and destruction of war were still vivid in the memories of tens of thousands of us who only a few years earlier had come home from combat theaters on every continent. The Korean War was underway; another general war, probably nuclear this time, seemed quite possible, and with it the end of the world we knew. Civilization seemed to be lurching into insanity. With the publication of Dianetics, and some first-hand experience of its utility, if not confirmation of its broader claims, many took heart and began to feel that our race might take another road.
By the end of 1951 several non-professional groups throughout the country, including our own, were actively exploring these possibilities. Mimeographed newsletters were circulating, exchanging ideas and carrying news of mutual interest. By this time many of us had realized that while for some the methods of dianetics seemed to work quickly and well, for others it was slow and difficult work; and not a few experienced only frustration. And already questions were being raised about Hubbard himself.
Yet our hopes remained. We were students, engineers, secretaries, carpenters, businessmen, clerks, chemists, electricians, salesmen, housewives, mailmen, technicians. All were quite ordinary people, ranging in age from 14 years to perhaps 40-something. None of us had met Hubbard, or had much interest in doing so. Our focus had always been on the possibilities suggested by his book, rather than on his personality. Such was the context, then, one Sunday night in January, 1952. Some twelve of us were in the second-floor offices our group had rented near the University. As in earlier meetings, we sat at a long table, drinking coffee, talking about what we'd been doing, what had worked for someone, what hadn't worked for someone else.
Our group had been brought together some months earlier by a man (call him N), who was highly intelligent, often impatient, sometimes authoritarian. He was a physical chemist, twenty-six years old, married, with two young children. We all knew him as a person who could make things happen. For a few days past, N apparently had been making productive use of these techniques. He was working with someone visiting our group from another state, using methods derived in part from dianetics. This person had told us briefly, without providing details, that their mutual effort was going surprisingly well, and we had naturally been speculating on N’s progress. Each of us had our own notion of what we might expect, but what we actually encountered surprised us all. That Sunday evening, when N joined us at the table, it was clear to everyone that a great change had come about.
None of us were prepared for what we met.
The actuality was overwhelming. The printed word does not begin to convey the profound depth and intensity of being we all experienced from this man’s presence. Each one of us was deeply moved; and we were also (as I later came to see) severely shocked.
That night he began to tell us of his recognition of the nature and structure of a human being, and within that framework, of the capability of every human to attain a completely coordinated, autonomous, responsible state, whose boundaries and capabilities exceeded anything previously proposed. In fact what we heard from him that night went far beyond anything most of us had even imagined. We recognized, on a visceral basis, that our friend had accomplished precisely what he was talking about. And he was telling us that we could do it too.
Contrary appraisals as to these events, this person, and the ideas he expressed, were not long in appearing. These were put forth, without exception, by persons who had not been present that Sunday night. We had a small reel-to-reel recorder running, and the tapes from this first meeting generated great interest as they circulated among various individuals and groups around the country. Within the week several people had come from other cities to meet this man and take part in further discussions.
Many of our questions and comments, including my own, now seem irrelevant at best. Later we all thought of questions we might have asked— and remembered the answers we did not explore. But—in all our ignorance—we were there. Whether any of our group, or any of our visitors, went further along the paths suggested, I don't know. All have long since gone their separate ways.
Dianetics had introduced a view of human development in which our responses, psychological and physiological, to the events and conditions of life, often inefficient, sometimes disastrous, were considered to result from the action within us of something primordial, cellular, instinctive: the so-called "reactive mind." That is to say, we are not de novo self-determined, but are in a real sense victimized by our primitive nature. Things "happen" to us; we react unconsciously and irrationally. These responses, anchored in suppressed and unacknowledged pain, become automatic, later to be expressed inappropriately, often to our detriment.
An utterly different outlook was apparent in what we were hearing from our friend. He spoke of human development from a standpoint in which each person is completely responsible for his own situation, is completely free to act within very broad limits, is never the helpless victim of circumstance. These transcripts make it clear that this view of the human situation is neither hedonist nor solipsistic.
Nowadays readers of the New Testament, David Bohm, Joseph Chilton Pearce, Carlos Castaneda, even of Patanjali, may recognize some of the ideas expressed in these talks, though perhaps in less familiar format. Clearly, since these meetings, the limits of public discussion and of its acceptable substance have expanded very considerably.
This Sunday night meeting, late in January, 1952, was followed by another the following Saturday, which included a few visitors. These two are given here virtually in their entirety. Sometime in February the public was invited to attend a lecture to be given by N. He spoke to this more general audience in less specialized terms, generating some lively exchanges.
In a third meeting on March 2nd N took a quite different approach. Several persons from other cities were now present for the first time. It seemed to me then, and I am certain of it now, that on this occasion N had a specific agenda. He knew that many of those present would be returning to other cities and talking to others, and that the transcripts would be circulated, and he had things to say he wanted a wider audience to hear.
This meeting lasted much longer than the first two. Much of it was taken up with intense one-on-one exchanges of concern only to the individuals involved. This personal material has been omitted, leaving only discussions of general interest, and subject headings have been added for clarity.
The Open Letter of March 5 was included with the original publication of the transcripts from the meetings of January 20th and 26th. Its author, then unidentified, was N.
Statements by N are shown throughout with no attribution. In the two January meetings, in addition to N, fourteen people - twelve men and two women - participated in one or both meetings. Their remarks are set off in italics.
Editing has been restricted as follows: place names have been removed to support the anonymity of the participants. In a few instances words that were inaudible or unintelligible on the original tape, or which seemed needful to clarify a statement have been added. (These talks were informal and unrehearsed, and at times two or more persons were speaking at once.)
A final personal comment: N’s ongoing development and growth during this brief period are evident in these transcripts. Those of us who kept in touch with him saw this accelerate in the months and years that followed. We learned a lot along the way, but he was surely learning too, communications skills among others. I think our world is different for it. I hope (dare I say it?) that someone, somewhere, may find here a hindrance diminished, a threshold lowered, a vision supported....
For the curious, a small glossary:
engram: Richard Semon, Mnemic Psychology (Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1923: "A lasting mark or trace. The term is applied to the definite and permanent trace left by a stimulus in the protoplasm of a tissue. In psychology it is the lasting trace left in the psyche by anything that has been experienced psychically; a latent memory picture."
facsimile (in this context): any coherent set of beliefs, emotions, and physiological configurations maintained by an individual, which expresses a behavioral/conceptual image based on prior experience judged to be successful. Occasionally as "service facsimile," denoting its perceived utility.
MEST: acronym for Matter, Energy, Space and Time, i.e., the physical universe in its common acceptance.
Theta: term used as referent for unspecified
aspects of the universe, consciousness-related, "extra-physical".
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