Sunday, May 22, 2005

Scientology at The Flea Market.


Just before my dentist's appointment yesterday I took a stroll through the Berkeley Flea Market. Here you'll find pirated movies, "genuine" African masks and "Rolex" watches at an incredibly cheap price.

I passed by a large yellow tent. The sign attached read, "Scientology - Take a Free Stress Test." I figured I had 30 minutes to kill so I entered the tent. Immediately a scientologist approached me and asked if I'd like to take a stress test. He sat me down and had me hold two metal cans, both of which were attached to a spooky metering device.

Having given the instrument a close look, I figured that it must work something like a resistometer. "So, I don't know much about science," I said, "could you explain what the hell this thing does?" "It measures your thoughts," he responded. "You see," he continued, "your thoughts have mass. We are able to register thoughts using this simple device. Go ahead and try it out. Think of something stressful."

The first thing that came to mind was graduate school. Clearly the needle moved and I realized that a small crowd had developed behind me. I realized that because I heard a collective "Ooh, Ahh." "This is completely ridiculous," I thought. Then I figured that if this thing really is measuring a potential drop across my body, I could play a few games with our friendly scientologist. "Now, I want you to think of something very traumatic," he said, "You will see that the machine can differentiate between regular and traumatic thoughts."

I dropped the two cans out of view and closed my eyes, putting on my best "oh God how could that have happened to me" face. Just then, I touched the two cans together, effectively shorting the circuit. That made the meter go wild. "You see, everyone. The machine works!" Next he asked me to again think of something less traumatic. This time I simply tightened my grip on the metal cans. Remember, crappy contact will result in higher resistance. I closed my eyes and then put on my "I can't believe it's not butter" face. (Not such a traumatic look)

Finally, the scientologist concluded, "You see folks, we have ways of measuring your thoughts." I decided now was the right time to blow the whistle on this guy. "Actually, folks, this whole thing is a fraud. I can 'register my thoughts' simply by touching these cans together and changing my grip. This is pseudoscience at its worst. Thoughts don't have mass. This instrument is a complete farce. It may measure resistance, but that's about it."

Suddenly the scientologist wasn't so friendly. The people around me dispersed quickly. I gave the scientologist one piece of advice, "Look, if you want people to join your religion, tell them about how you've gained personally from spiritual teachings. Show them how you've become a better person and achieved piece of mind. Don't proclaim that you have a kooky machine that can read their thoughts."

I know that lie detectors exist. This one was the most preposterous one I'd ever seen. I know that there are several good ways to track neurological activity. I'm sorry, but this machine just didn't cut it. I've got nothing against Scientology, I'm sure it's a fine religion. I just take issue with their use of this machine to bring in followers. Incidentally, this machine was dubbed by the Church of Scientology as an "electro-psychometer." If you'd like to build one of your own, complete schematics are provided here.

10 Comments:

Anonymous FNPhD said...

My high school chem teacher did this same thing with an ungrounded oscilloscope lead and the RF pickup would change when someone moved or he modulated the ground connection. He'd make people look at other people in the class and selectively make it go nuts. People didn't understand how it worked at all and assumed things that high school students assume when a needle goes crazy while a cute blond is staring at you...

4:23 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

Hahaha! My high school physics teacher pulled the same trick on us! Thank God I went to high school. Had I not, I might have eaten out of this scientologist's hands.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous FNPhD said...

He also handed a girl a tesla coil, with a rather phallic shape, and when there was some tittering in the back of the room, he made a girl stand up and asked, "You know what this is, don't you. You probably have one just like it at home, right?" Then he plugged it in, and touched it to a nail that was going into a container with methanol/oxygen vapors. The bottle exploded and he asked her if hers could do that.

I think that stunt almost got him fired.

5:48 PM  
Blogger thc said...

Well if John Travolta "swears by it", I must have one!

7:59 PM  
Blogger Mentally Challenged said...

Mentally Challenged:

I think I'm in the Seinfeld Bizarro world today.

I just found out that your site said:
"...don't know much about science..." at 1:43 p.m.

My site said:
"...Don't know much about a science book..." at 2:45 p.m.
(The a.m.time on my site is wrong, I forgot to set it to p.m.)

8:45 PM  
Blogger A Fashionista said...

A fine religion? It's a cult dude!

12:06 AM  
Anonymous GSR said...

A number of years ago, I worked for a technology company and was asked to review a version of the E-Meter for production/mass market potential. When I called the designer to discuss this thing(I'd never heard of the e-meter prior to this, although it's been around for awhile)I couldn't help but ask "Are you serious?" in a rather sarcastic tone. We agreed that my company was not a fit for his product at that point and that's the last I heard of the thing, until reading your post....Reminds me of when I was a little kid, putting a metal collander on my head with some wires attached to it,claiming I could read my sister's mind....probably as effective as the emeter....very funny stuff!

2:45 PM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

I kind of find it amusing that anyone would take a religion that was started by a sci-fi writer seriously. Kind of sad actually, but not surprising.

3:53 PM  
Blogger An80sNut said...

I'm just shocked that you took the moment by the testes and outted the scam for what it was in front of a crowd. Very amazing. Don't know if I could have done that but I'd sure have messed with the tests by grabbing them with my long sleeves so they had little contact to my skin.

4:29 AM  
Blogger Jimbobb2 said...

Oh, the memories you've dredged up. In 1968-1969 while stationed in West Germany as a young soldier, I happened to befriend two Air Force officers in Landstuhl. They were a married couple, she a nurse, he in intelligence. We had some very spooky Scientology sessions in their on-base apartment with tin cans, wires and some sort of measuring device they referred to as an "E-Meter". I think it was meant to chase "Engrams", the negative memories that keep one from becoming "Clear" in Scientology babblespeak. Odd that I can recall them hooking it up to a houseplant and then across the room burning another houseplant with a match. The E-Meter went wild! The burned plant was screaming in agony to its friend across the room!!! I always tried to keep a straight face as best I could as some of the people there were **really impressed** with it all and sought a path into this pseudo-science-religion. Frankly, I'm sure today that the biggest effect that had stirred our imaginations had much more to do with the ritual burning of some dead and dried leafy sorts of plants...(wink, wink). Well, that & Led Zeppelin. BTW, L Ron Hubbard's science fiction attempts really sucked...horrid reading.

4:31 PM  

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