How much do the Don Rogers letters shake up early Dianetics history? Two experts weigh in. - 2018-05-10
Over the last two days, we've seen some fascinating letters made public for the first time which were written by Donald H. Rogers, an eyewitness to the earliest days of Dianetics. Rogers wrote the letters in 1984-85 to Jon Atack, who was researching his book, A Piece of Blue Sky, and who generously shared the letters with us.
In his letters, Rogers covered a lot of territory regarding L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics, and the early Scientology movement, and we asked a couple of people for their thoughts on them. We were glad to hear back from Chris Shelton, and we also received some observations from Alec Nevala-Lee, author of the upcoming book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, which will be released by HarperCollins on October 23. One of the subjects that Alec covers in the book is how much Hubbard's famous book Dianetics was really a group project, and what contributions his editor Campbell made to it. He tells us he can also see that group dynamic working when he looked at the letters of Don Rogers...
Alec Nevala-Lee: When I read these letters, I was reminded of a fascinating detail in the "Affirmations," the confessional document that Hubbard produced sometime in the late forties. He says of his unpublished manuscript Excalibur: "There was one error in that book and you have psychically willed it into nothing. It was the electronic theory of the workings of the human mind. Human, material minds do work this way and you were right. Your own mind does not work this way." This implies that an "electronic theory" of the brain was present at an early stage, but it bothered him, and it doesn't show up at all in the earliest surviving descriptions of his work. Just a few years later, though, it's all over the book Dianetics, which speaks of "demon circuits" and compares the brain to a computer or an adding machine. Most of this material evidently came from John W. Campbell, but also from Don Rogers, who was the second person to be recruited into the project. It was openly influenced by Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, which had been published a year earlier by Norbert Wiener — Campbell's old professor at M.I.T. — and its inclusion seems to have been largely motivated by the need to position Hubbard's ideas for professional readers.