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Over a ball-breaking glass of Fantome Brise-Bonbons at Blind Tiger last night, I made a stunning revelation: I'm totally entranced by this Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes experiment. It has everything I could ever want from a news story: Potential brainwashing, aliens, ninjas (well, Tom was a samurai once, which is like a ninja with a bamboo fetish), and gadgets. One in particular: the 'e-meter,' or 'Electro-psychometer,' a "pastoral counseling device" used by the Church of Scientology to detect, among other things, the emotional state and thoughts of those attached to the device.

The original device was developed by Volney Mathison, a chiropractor, as an aid to psychotherapy, ironic considering the vehemence held by Scientologists against conventional psychiatric therapy. At heart, the e-Meters are based on the simple circuitry of the Wheatstone Bridge, which measures resistance to current passed through a human body (or anything else that can be connected to the 'can' electrode probes, including vegetables). Scientology founder and principal prophet L. Ron Hubbard introduced the original e-meter in the '50s [pictured above], leading up to the 'Mark V,' which was the e-Meter of choice for the religion until the 'Mark VI' was released in the 80s, powered by an Intel 8051 microprocessor.

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Find out more about the only electronic gadget that is also an official 'religious artifact' after the jump.

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The Mark V was not the very first e-Meter, but certainly enjoyed a long period of use. These models may still be found and purchased for a relatively inexpensive $200 or so, although to be used in official Church procedures, must undergo a yearly $150 certification process. E-Meters previous to the Mark V had been seized by the FDA.

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Developed in 1979, the Mark VI was the first major upgrade since the Mark V and was in use heavily, despite occasional technical inadequacies that caused some machines to break down. This e-Meter has a built-in clock.

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The Super VII, developed in the late 80s, was reported to be much more reliable than the Mark VII, and featured the 'technical' precision to perform 'upper level auditing.' These units are no longer produced by Hubbard's Church, but can be found occasionally on eBay for between $300 and $900. Like all in-service e-meters, the Super VII must be sent in for an annual certification.

This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.

The Cadillac of current official offerings, the Quantum Super VII is the ultimate in e-meter artifacts, priced at over $4,500 new. From e-meter.org.uk's Quantum Super VII page, which may or may not be an official outlet of the Church: "Using the meter, the auditor ensures the process covers the correct area in order to discharge the harmful energy connected with that portion of the preclear s reactive mind. When charge lessens, the person heightens his ability to think clearly in the area being addressed and his survival potential increases proportionately. As a result, the preclear discovers things about himself and his life new realizations about existence, the milestones that mark his gains."

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Since the design of the e-meter itself is relatively simple from an electronic standpoint, many third-party manufacturers have built generic models, including models that connect to PCs or PDAs for statistics monitoring and tracking. If you'd like to get more details about the variety of e-meters and e-meter clones available, check out Clearbird's fantasticly comprehensive All Meters: The E-Meter Supersite. For more information about the e-Meter's history and use, the Secrets of Scientology page by David S. Touretzky is equally thorough. The Church's official site is here.

And yes, this is probably the last 'Religious Gadget Thursday,' since, well, that's it.