What’s Inside A Scientology E-Meter?

This is something we’ve been waiting a very long time for. The Church of Scientology uses devices called E-Meters to measure Thetans in the body. We’re not going to discuss this further, because we don’t want to be murdered. In reality, the E-Meter is simply a device that costs five thousand dollars and only measures the resistance of the human body. It does this by having the subject hold two copper cylinders and a simple Wheatstone bridge. Why does the E-Meter cost five thousand dollars? As [Play With Junk] found out, it’s an exquisitely engineered piece of hardware.

[Play With Junk] acquired this E-Meter from eBay for something around $100, and from a system-level analysis, it’s really not anything special. There’s a fancy analog meter, yes, but most of this wouldn’t be out of place in any 90s-era piece of test equipment. There’s an 8051 microcontroller reading what are probably some fancy ADCs, and there’s an LCD driver on board. Slap it in a fancy injection-molded case, and you have an E-Meter.

What’s most impressive is the quality of the components that go into a machine that effectively only measures the resistance of the human body. The ‘trim’ pot is a Vishay wire-wound precision potentiometer that costs somewhere between $20 and $60. The power switch is an over-specced switch that probably costs $5. The control pots look and feel great, and the wiring is wrapped around chokes.

This is an exceptionally well-engineered device, and it shows. There’s an incredible amount of work that went into the electronics, and a massive amount of money that went into the fancy injection molded enclosure. If you’re looking for an example of a well-engineered tool, price be damned, you need only look at an E-Meter.

Check out the video below of the entire teardown.

145 thoughts on “What’s Inside A Scientology E-Meter?

    1. The Mark 7 predates RoHS by quite a bit. The “latest” Mark 8s were built in 2004 and then spent over a decade in boxes in their warehouse. It has a serial port that needed a USB convertor bring it up to date.

      1. In the winery industry that’s known as aging. The older it gets, the higher the value. I never thought anybody could find someone stuhpid enough to pay for the same when it came to electronics though. But I assume that’s why some say there’s one born every minute…

        1. Well, aging of voltage and resistance references is also something people in the electronics industry pay for.
          Even aged transistors too.

          All of this is down to how the semiconductor changes its properties through time, this is a very slow process and can be speed up significantly in higher temperatures. This is mostly down to the fact that the dopants used to make transistors and diodes isn’t fully uniform in its concentration. And will spread out more evenly over time within the confines of the depletion regions within the device. (Though, this description is so highly oversimplified, but should at least paint a general picture of what is at play.)

          Other components such as resistors age by surface corrosion. (Yes, a 1mm thick conductor growing a 20nm thick layer of oxide does make a change in the 0.002%, and that is rather huge for precision devices.)

          Ceramic and film capacitors also age, though by out gassing as liquids within the device evaporate over time. Yes, even this is fairly tiny, but for high stability devices, even this can make or break a product.

          Though, this is all just scratching the surface of aging, how it works, what leads to it and how it effects stability.

    1. I would venture a guess, that the older e-meters didn’t have that, and were truly just Wheatstone bridges. Analog ones, I mean, and not containing even so much as an op-amp. Probably the 8051 was added because some infidels in past years opened up their pricey e-meters, to discover a total parts value of about $20. With a microchip of any kind, it’s plausible to say that that magic sauce is inside the chip, so no, we’re not refunding your money. Infidel.

      1. I will say, though: they sure made it LOOK fancy. As he says, not fancy enough to justify $5000-7000, but still fancy. Wonder if they got pallet-loads of those precision pots from somewhere for a buck a piece – if these are just being used to produce a voltage that’s then read by an ADC, then they could use any of a wide range of pots, whatever is available cheap as surplus. It really doesn’t make sense that they would put such high quality parts into a sham device, but I guess they’re in it for the long con. They’re going to run into trouble again, once those 4-digit LCD module drivers go obsolete, but if they’re just voltmeters, it shouldn’t be too hard to make updated boards for those as well as the 80C51.

        1. I’m working on one from 1996, whose date codes are in the 1992-1994 range on the components.
          The (discrete implementation) darlington pair that provides the gain are _GERMANIUM_ transistors.
          They don’t care in the slightest about having to pay top dollar to acquire long obsolete parts.

          And much of the reason it’s so fancy is it has a couple of gain stages, which allows the auditor to manipulate the overall system to get the desired result regardless of what the galvanic skin potential actually is. The auditors are trained to stick to a very tight script without understanding what they’re doing, so if the script directs them down a path that says the needle is supposed to rise, they’ll jigger the controls to make it rise, and then when it does, oh, you have a bad case o’ the thetans and that means even more high dollar auditing.

    2. because it has to look fancy and do fancy things in order to complete the con. Its often said that science advanced enough will seem like magic, well the Scientologists took this to heart and found a way to mingle science and majic in such a way that gets their marks to believe them. once a mark has started to believe in the magic then Scientology starts to drain their bank accounts. So all that extra stuff is to help sell the con and it works because the vast majority of people have no understanding of basic electronics and want to believe that there is an easy way to save themselves from eternal damnation.

      1. Um, actually, Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is INDISTINGUSHABLE from magic” (my empahsis). And really, he meant, “To the uninitiated…”. Point is, you can describe something as magic, then SHOW something ostensibly performing that magic, and to most people, what’s the difference, and would the truth be any more believable? I mean, if you hand someone a bit of metal and plastic the size of the last segment of your little finger, and it contains hours and hours, and DAYS of movies, how is that NOT magic? So how can you blame people for not being able to detect bullshit, under these conditions? What’s the difference between believing in Thetans and believing in MPEG encoding?

        1. I don’t see much difference.
          My vague understanding of Thetan from Wikipedia, is a spec for “the soul” that some organisation want’s all your money to implement.
          Mpeg is a specification for video encoding that some organisation wants all of your money to implement.
          There’s no magic in cash grabs.

          1. No, a Thetan is the soul of a murdered alien, an intelligent and civilised creature, that was nuked in a volcano billions of years ago. Then some even stupider shit happened. Each human is plagued with actual billions of Thetans.

            This is the Xenu story, or however the Clams put it. Look up “Xenu” and “Thetan” and it’s all well-known, to the COS’s embarassment. Before the Internet, people had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out this galactic secret!

            I’m genuinely not making any of this up.

          1. ADS: Of course it is. Or is it? If you have read the MPEG source code and understand it, then your point is valid. MY point is that the MPEG code is complex enough that it could be complete gibberish, and few would ever explore deeply enough to discover it. I guess the fact that it WORKS, i.e., you DO get a considerable amount of compression while retaining a considerable amount of picture quality, would be a better argument. But a Scientology proponent could (and many probably do) take the same approach, claiming that it “works for them”.

          2. Quick, double-blind – no, triple-blind tests of effectiveness! Use them on millions of people that don’t understand how they work, while watching cat videos and crazy driver videos.

          1. True.

            Nevertheless, without closely examining the source code, building the encoder software, and lots experimentation you will never know whether it is incredibly sophisticated or very simple.

            I.e. how much of the code is actually necessary…

            It is a working magic box that does exactly what they say it does… You get smaller files with minor quality loss.

            Whether or not you think it’s worth paying for…

  1. I think it’s interesting that any reading acquired is completely bogus because the person holding the copper pipes can vary the resistance by slight adjustments of their hands, as demonstrated in the video. I don’t know anything about Scientology or how this device would be used by them, but it seems like that would be a poor way of obtaining a precision reading.

    1. All you need to know is that it’s used to make money.
      Lots of money (which explains the quality of the components and workmanship — cost wasn’t a driver)

      The actual readings are immaterial. It’s the money paid by the mark to get those readings that’s important.

    2. It’s really not about getting any particular reading – it’s about getting the subject to reveal their deepest secrets, which are then written down, indexed, cataloged, and archived. Why? To be used later if you ever even think of crossing the church.

    3. As you say, body motion will affect the reading. The auditor is supposed to watch the subject’s motions and ignore readings resulting from it. They’re not interested in empirically measuring skin resistance, though. During a session, the meter is continually adjusted to keep the needle in the target range. Every time the adjustment is turned down (corresponding to a decrease in resistance across the cans), it increases a counter. This counter is used to judge when the session is finished, along with whether the needle’s movements have slowed down. It’s all arbitrary, of course. Because obtaining a constant reading requires the subject to tightly control their body motions, and auditors often ask provocative and personal questions, you can imagine the emotional stress being inflicted on subjects

      1. Yup, this is the answer. It’s why they spend so much time “learning” how to be an auditor (the operators of e-meters) and why it costs so much money for the professional service.

    4. You are reading it completely wrong. Literally NOONE gives a crap about the reading. The whole point of the contraption is in looking SERIOUS and credible, so its operator can produce some serious and convincing shipload of bullsh*t, to make the subject fork over all of his money.

    1. No, “some” engineer, probably didn’t “ran with the money”. The Church of Scientology wants ALL the money, maybe “some” engineer tried to buy his way out by designing it, or…

    1. It would take serious balls to sell even one of these, and the people who have probably claimed it was stolen, and have looked over their shoulders ever since. A job lot might be hard to find.

  2. Sounds kind of like … oh. Nevermind. I was going to name a couple of slightly more traditional religious organizations, but _I_ don’t want to get murdered, either.

  3. I do like some of the positions of the Scientologist though, especially regarding the American Psychological Association and American Medical Association… they do have valid points regarding those cults invalidity. https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/scientologys-war-on-medicine/ (neat image of a newer fancy e-Meter)

    Interesting item found in the CIA reading room: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP88-01315R000400410007-9.pdf

    1. Interesting find!

      New York Times, Nov 1, 1979

      “…documents, seized in a raid by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at two Scientology offices in Los Angeles in 1977, were released by Federal District Judge Charles R. Richey.”

      “…Scientologists had copies of communications from William Colby, the former Director of Central Intelligence, and reports of confidential conversations among United States Attorneys who were trying a civil case against the church.”

      “Church leaders were also said to have had files on Federal judges and copies of tax returns filed by Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles and Frank Sinatra.”

      “The Rev. Kenneth Whitman, the church’s president said in a statement that release of the documents ‘will tell nothing about the actual workings’ of the church.”

      It would seem, to me, that the documents were more informative of their practices than their theology ever could be.

  4. Stranger than science fiction. Sprague de Camp once remarked, when approached by a religious salesbeast outside the hotel of Boskone 9 in 1972, “I knew LRH when he was just a small-time crook.”

    1. I have a Solidworks guy emailing me twice a week even though I told him I went another way and was not interested. The only thing worse are HVAC “techs” (salesmen).

  5. You say that as if religious persecution was a bad thing. But seriously, I see religion in the context of occam’s razor: this has been stated in many different ways, but they usually come down to “the simplest explanation is the most likely to be true”. As applied to religion, Jim’s corollary is, “He with the most outlandish premise has the burden of proof.” Somebody else said this, but I’m claiming it as mine, at least for this comment. Or to quote Dire Straits, “Two men say they’re Jesus – one of them must be wrong.” But since every religion I know of is based on outlandish premises, I see no reason NOT to scoff at their pronouncements. You can call it persecution if you want, but since I’m not in a position to punish them, and I’m neither a money lender nor a landlord, it’s moot.

    For some reason, people’s religious beliefs have gained the status of characteristics that they have no control over. In many legal contexts, we can’t legally discriminate against people because of their race, sex, age, or national origin, and that’s all fine with me because these are truly things that people have no control over. But to put religious beliefs in the same category is just wrong. People CHOOSE their beliefs. Even if they’re told from conception that a thing is true, there comes a time when they are confronted with facts and observations that contradict these truths, and they have to choose between continuing to believe and changing what they believe. And people accept this, because otherwise we would have a religion of Santa Claus, because why would anybody want to NOT believe in Santa? And for religions like Scientology, the operative beliefs are in most cases freely chosen as adults, anyway. So I feel no obligation to treat someone who believes in Thetans like a fully-functioning person.

    Yes, I realize I’m arguing both sides of this, here. I guess that makes me a troll. Oops. Uh, uh, I can’t help it – I was BORN a troll!

    1. “Yes, I realize I’m arguing both sides of this, here. I guess that makes me a troll. Oops. Uh, uh, I can’t help it – I was BORN a troll!”

      Must have been a difficult birth. :-p

    2. “..a religion of Santa Claus, because why would anybody want to NOT believe in Santa?”
      cough cough,a “gateway” religion ?
      Just believe, behave and you’ll be rewarded!

      1. I do realize that. In most cases, it wasn’t just a matter of “you can’t believe whatever you want”, but more of “if what you believe conflicts with what I believe, I will kill you”, so it wasn’t really a joking matter. But the Scientologists take it to a point where it really IS a joking matter. Never mind that they’re ripping off many, many people; sometimes people are just begging to be ripped off.

  6. In the quack technology field, the matrix drop computer is pretty good.
    Quotes from their material :
    – “The first quantum computer that can analyze the psyche” didn’t know sony vaios were quantic
    – “Our computers are able to diagnose several millions of Fourier mathematical functions encountered in a single individual”
    – “Our computer can detect any distortion and untunning in the seven fields building up the human”

    The videos on youtube are quite good too.

  7. “exceptionally well-engineered device”? Lol! I would agree with a teardown of a similar model: http://xenu.freewinds.be/meter/e-meter_e.htm

    “an improvised design, with Rube Goldberg solutions thrown in by an amateur”

    Constructing a 8051 replacement with a PIC makes no sense. But maybe they don’t have the original circuit diagram anymore, or nobody of these Scientology lunatics know how to create a new circuit with modern parts, so they might have ordered such a replacement from an external engineer when the 8051 microcontroller became obsolete, but didn’t want to give them the original circuit diagram to make a full modern solution.

    And the analog part makes no sense as well. You can do all the calibration in software, no need to turn multiple knobs etc. In fact you could just buy a $5 multimeter from eBay and measure the skin resistance with it. Or the DMM chip in it, and then program a PIC if you want to show some fancy output like this counter.

    1. Those are very practical suggestions. But that sort of thinking has no place in this device.

      It needs knobs and a dial to look “technical”, and I’ll bet if LEDs were cheaper back then, it would have lots of blinking lights too.

    2. “when the 8051 microcontroller became obsolete” Really?? The 8051 40 pin DIP, might be, but the core architecture is vastly enhanced and running on billions of devices, today.
      Last time i checked, they are still being made

    1. I don’t think it’s going to happen soon. Scientology got badly beaten by Anonymous in the past years so they need to keep a low profile damage control mode for a while; they re slowly getting their adepts back in the streets trying to convert gullible people (seen them a few months back) but that’s it IMO. The sad thing is that they still have shitloads of money and one day all that money will buy lawsuits against anyone they consider dangerous to their business.

  8. Considering its ‘high BOM cost’, would be interesting to know also where those machines are built and assembled? In the Far East as usual, or rather made in secrecy in some electronic lab owned by the cult, somewhere in US?

    1. Depends on the “drug or medical device claims” whether or not if the drug or device requires FDA Approval in the U.S.

      If a claim is made noting manufactured in a cGMP FDA Regulated site… then the site needs to meet the relevant Code of Federal Regulations.

  9. Oh, a friend asked “what are thetans?”

    So apparently the story goes: evil intergalactic bad guy Xenu shipped billions of his people to earth in DC3s, strapped them to volcanos and set them off. We’re all haunted by the souls of those dead space aliens – what can I say, it’s a religion made up by a hack SF writer.

    Scientology can help you exorcise your hauntings, they use the emeter to ‘help’, it also takes hundreds of thousands of dollars – cheap at half the price, or possibly the other way around

  10. On the flip side if you wanted a nice meter, precision switches etc… why not? Strip it down and use it for parts!

    I am totally going to buy one now, pimp it out and make it into a PKE meter for the spook season!

      1. True. A lot of East European (Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian etc.) shops on Ebay sell ex soviet military NOS analog meters for a few bucks; I would get them instead, they’re top notch quality.

  11. So if one presented oneself to be “audited” having prepared one’s hands to be a dead-short (say… covert wires in the palms which run around one’s back under the shirt) then is one judged to be the antichrist/chock-full-o-baditrons or as the reencarnation of L.Ron?

  12. Everybody needs to bwliwvw in something, least their suckers are willing victims, least have some choice. The most popular doomsday cult these days, Climate Change, they own the planet. Us ignorant, low-intelligent deniers, still have to pay higher taxes and fuel costs. I don’t deny that the earth surface is getting warmer, natural, normal, been doing so, for a very long time. Wasn’t the surface a frozen wasteland, just 14,000 years ago? Doesn’t take a genius to realize, the planet was much warmer, before the ice. All those giant lizards had to eat, plants do real well without freezing temperatures, so did the lizards. The fossil remains, can be found on pretty much ever continent, safe to presume it was a global thing. We pump and dig, vast quantities, of Fossil Fuels, which I’d guess to be the residue, of those great reptiles that couldn’t take the cold weather, when the climate changed, the other direction. All that carbon was once free in the environment, and there was a lot of life going on, in a warmer climate. Can’t accept the Doomsday computer models. Under the planet surface, the crust, isn’t it accepted by most scientist, that it’ moten rock, much like that volcano over in Hawaii is slinging at boats loaded with tourists?

    I figure everyone is entitled to make their own choices on what to believe, and can only hope others will respect my right to decide for myself, rather than cram it down my throat, like ObamaCare

    1. You can laugh, but Lisa McPherson died while imprisoned by the “Church”. Many others have died thanks to the COS’s hatred of psychiatrists (basically just an artefact of Elron failing a mental health test once in the Navy. Because he’s a butthole, he decided to try destroying psychiatry). Others have been bullied and abused, physically and through legalistic means, as well as all sorts of psychological bullshit. No trick is too dirty, or pathetically weeny-ish, for them to try.

      Since the 80s they’ve had the organisational version of Short Man Syndrome, from the short man who skuldugged his way to the top. Nothing but bad shit coming from that lot of nutters. And it’s a shame cos there are many innocent victims who really don’t deserve to be sucked in by them. They use lies, tricks, and manipulation on their rank and file victims. Most Scientologists are victims, though the whole thing is set up as a sort of web where each victim keeps tabs on and facilitates the abuse of their fellows.

      Just a very nasty bunch of cunts, and a whole lot of victims. It’s not nearly as funny as it seems to be from a distance. If only more people had bought his books, Elron might only be known as a rather poor scifi writer. Then again, you can’t blame people for not buying them.

      1. Oh and they do “outreach” work through things like Narconon. Which sounds a lot like Narcanon, which is what you might think would be a plausible short name for Narcotics Anonymous. Who are a bit cultish themselves but not a straight-forward evil bunch of ripoff bastards.

        Narconon is just Scientology, but aimed at drug users. Except they don’t call it that. They have other front groups, aiming at sections of society that have problems, but again are just front groups for yet more recruiting hapless suckers. Drug “rehab” is a good way to do that, since you get people at their weakest.

        The Narconon / Narc Anon mixup is just a HELL of a coincidence, though, isn’t it?

        So people aren’t actually safe from them even if they want nothing to do with cults and weird belief systems. The Clams come out into the world in disguise, looking for victims.

  13. I am surprised that an E-Meter managed to get listed on eBay and actually get sold without the CoS finding out and forcing the auction offline (they seem to go to great lengths to make sure no-one can get one unless they are part of the church and signed all sorts of NDAs and contracts not to reveal the secrets of the church)

  14. Ha reminds me of my electronic dowsing rod I foolishly bought when getting into metal detecting with money from my first job. It was basically a defective Turbo Rat board with an analog meter to test battery voltage and ‘tune’ the ‘instrument’.
    As an adult, I looked up the piece of excrement that created this garbage and went full loser on him to the point he tried to file a restraining order on me from Australia. This is why I think review systems are good when they work-you can warn others of the chicanery involved. Oh well I learned an important lesson just sucks it cost so much kid money back then AND my dad was right lol.

    Fun teardown though for sure! I had always wondered what kinda lipstick they stuffed into those devices.

  15. I was thinking it was odd that they did not do a more reliable and repeatable way to make skin contact instead of holding rods. But then I realized I was being silly, the whole holding things and variable unreliable results are part of the joke of course.

  16. Someone should hook an e-meter up to one of those scientology alter boys locked up in the dungeon and display the results dynamically as an Internet of Thetans device. Oh no! Travolta’s gonna wanna rip my Face Off for that comment.

    In all seriousness, this cult is dangerous and disgusting!

  17. Huh. Looks like someone has been deleting comments. Heaven forbid (pun intended) that I should make comments about religion to an article about a device made by a religious organization.

  18. The best part of looking at the circuits is seeing that Scientology’s claims of vast precision and accuracy are hogwash. In the Mark 8 version, they use a 12 bit D/A chip to feed the meter. Only 4096 discrete values.

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