'On the Origin of the Influencing Machine in Schizophrenia' by Viktor Tausk (1919)

The first recorded clinical description of an Influencing Machine was published in 1810 by John Haslam, the apothecary at Bethlem Hospital (otherwise known as Bedlam) in London. His book, Illustrations of Madness, extensively quoted one of his patients’ descriptions of his persecutory fantasies. James Tilly Matthews, a Welsh tea-broker and architect, had embarked on a hopelessly optimistic solo mission to broker peace between Britain and post-Revolutionary France, only to be thrown into jail by the Jacobins. He was released three years later as a “dangerous madman” and returned to England in 1796. On his arrival, he noisily interrupted a session in the House of Parliament, accusing the government of “traitorous venality” and the Prime Minister of being under a “spell, … a mere puppet” of French spies. He was declared insane and a public menace, and was once again incarcerated, though his family sought his release and persuaded several experts to testify to his sanity. Haslam countered with his book, which documented Matthews’s bizarre conspiracy theory in enough detail to embarrass his professional supporters, perhaps explaining the book’s sneering and unsympathetic tone. His patient remained in manacles (Haslam was dismissed in 1816, accused of maltreating his inmates).
Matthews, who signed himself “James, Absolute, Sole, Supreme, Sacred, Omni-Imperious, Arch-Grand, Arch-Sovereign … Arch-Emperor,” thought French agents had placed a magnet in his brain and were manipulating his mind, and those of other important figures, with waves of animal magnetism emitted from an Influencing Machine, which he termed an “air-loom.” From their hideout in London Wall, he claimed the “gang of seven” controlled him from a distance, using their sinister machine to carry out a horrible litany of tortures: “foot-curving, lethargy-making, spark-exploding, knee-nailing, burning out, eye-screwing, sight-stopping, roof-stringing, vital-tearing, fibre-ripping, etc.” In his sleep he was plagued by “dream-workings,” as the gang acted out gruesome performances with “puppets” which were projected straight onto the retina of his mind. 

Haslam reproduced one of Matthews’s sketches of the air-loom—thought to be the first picture by a mental patient ever to be published—which shows the artist being struck by rays, his arms outstretched as though he were screaming operatically or receiving the stigmata, as he falls under the mesmeric spell emitted by the machine. Matthews depicts himself in the throes of “sudden death-squeezing” or “lobster cracking”; anyone wanting to understand what this might feel like is asked to imagine themselves being throttled by a large pair of “lobster-crackers, with teeth, which should pierce as well as press him through every particle within and without; he experiences the whole stress, torture, driving, oppressing, and crush all together.” 

Bill the King, or the “Middle-Man” (“who has never been observed to smile”), sits at the controls of the diabolical instrument and is shown operating its levers, tubes, and piano-forte keys to sadistic effect. The rest of the villainous gang are shown lying around it “in promiscuous intercourse and filthy venality.” The air-loom resembles a large organ, capped by a windmill or whirligig, and is fuelled by several barrels of disgusting gases (“effluvia of dogs—stinking human breath—putrid effluvia,” etc.). It is the product of the industrial revolution, a bizarre mechanical loom which produces strings of “spermatic animal-seminal” rays.
(From The Influencing Machine by Christopher Turner, Cabinet Magazine, 2004 issue 14).

The psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn began collecting for his famous Museum of Pathological Art the same year that Tausk published his essay (within a year Prinzhorn had acquired 4,500 works, which are currently housed in the Psychiatric University Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany). One of these images illustrates an Influencing Machine in strikingly graphic form. The artist was Jakob Mohr, a farmer and hawker suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and his picture shows someone holding a small box which resembles an old-fashioned camera and transmits something like static at its victim. The structural workings of the contraption are explained in a palimpsest of scribbled notes, which Prinzhorn called “word salad.” The operator, who is thought to be the psychiatrist (he wears headphones so that he can listen in on Mohr’s thoughts), aims a radiation tube at his subject that emits “electric waves” and renders him a “hypnotic slave.” The machine’s energy flows two ways—it is a magnet as well as a gun: “Waves are pulled out of me,” Mohr scrawled, “through the positive electrical fluorescent attraction of the organic positive pole as the remote hypnotizer through the earth.” The appliance’s malevolent power over Mohr is illustrated by a series of childishly drawn arrows and wavy tentacles which unite both men in a painful-looking spasm of electricity.
(From The Influencing Machine by Christopher Turner, Cabinet Magazine, 2004 issue 14).

Francis E. Dec was a U.S. lawyer from Hempstead Village, New York, disbarred for fraud in 1959, and later known for the bizarre socio-political tracts of conspiracy theories he mass-mailed to the media. Often denouncing a "Worldwide Mad Deadly Communist Gangster Computer God" mind-controlling mankind.

A selection from On the Origins of the Influencing Machine in Schizophrenia by Viktor Tausk, 1919. A selection from Hanns Sachs responce to Tausk's essay titled The delay of the Machine Age (1933) will be included in an Appendix.

"[Tausk] showed that the 'influencing apparatus' was a projection of the patients own body, particularly of the genitals. I did not rightly understand this until I discovered that vegetative sensations are based on bio-electric currents. Tausk was right: what the schizophrenic patient experiences as the persecutor is really he himself. I can add now: because he cannot cope with his vegetative currents that are breaking through. He must feel them as alien, to be part of the outer world, and as having malicious purpose. Schizophrenia only shows, in a grotesque degree, a condition which characterizes man of today quite generally; the average human being of today has lost contact with his real nature, with his biological core, and experiences it as hostile and alien."
Reich, 'Function of the Orgasm' (1940).



The schizophrenic influencing machine is a machine of mystical nature. The patients are able to give only vague hints of its construction. It consists of boxes, cranks, levers, wheels, buttons, wires, batteries, and the like. Patients endeavor to discover the construction of the apparatus by means of their technical knowledge, and it appears that with the progressive popularization of the sciences, all the forces known to technology are utilized to explain the functioning of the apparatus. All the discoveries of mankind, however, are regarded as inadequate to explain the marvelous powers of this machine, by which the patients feel themselves persecuted. The main effects of the influencing machine are the following:

    1. It makes the patient see pictures. When this is the case, the machine is generally a magic lantern or cinematograph. The pictures are seen on a single plane, on walls or windowpanes, and unlike typical visual hallucinations are not three dimensional.
    2. It produces, as well as removes, thoughts and feelings by means of waves or rays or mysterious forces which the patient's knowledge of physics is inadequate to explain. In such cases, the machine is often called a 'suggestion-apparatus.' Its construction cannot be explained, but its function consists in the transmission or 'draining off' of thoughts and feelings by one or several persecutors.
    3. It produces motor phenomena in the body, erections and seminal emissions, that are intended to deprive the patient of his male potency and weaken him. This is accomplished either by means of suggestion or by air-currents, electricity, magnetism, or X-rays.
    4. It creates sensations that in part cannot be described, because they are strange to the patient himself, and that in part are sensed as electrical, magnetic, or due to air-currents.
    5. It is also responsible for other occurrences in the patient's body, such as cutaneous eruptions, abscesses, or other pathological processes.

The machine serves to persecute the patient and is operated by enemies. To the best of my knowledge, the latter are exclusively of the male sex. Thy are predominately physicians by whom the patient has been treated. The manipulation of the apparatus is likewise obscure, the patient rarely having a clear idea of its operation. Buttons are pushed, levers set in motion, cranks turned. The connection with the patient is often established by means of invisible wire leading into his bed, in which case the patient is influenced by the machine only when he is in bed.
However, it is noteworthy that a large number of patients complain of all these aliments without ascribing  them to the influence of a machine. Many patients consider the cause of all these alien or hostile sensations of physical or psychic change to be simply an external mental influence, suggestion or telepathic power, emenating from enemies. My own observations and those of other authors leave no room for doubt that these complaints precede the symptom of the influencing apparatus, and that the latter is a subsequent pathological development. Its appearance, as many observers state, serves the purpose of an explanation for the pathologic changes that are felt as alien and painful and dominate the patient's emotional life and sensations.
According to this view, the idea of the influencing machine originates in the need for [a causal explantation]; and the same need for causality will probably also account for the persecutors who act not through the medium of an apparatus but merely by suggestion or by telepathy. Clinical psychiatry explains the symptom of an influencing machine as analogous to the ideas of persecution in paranoia (which, it is known, the patient invents in order to justify his delusions of grandeur [here Tausk is invoking a long established correlation in medical thought between delusions of persecution and delusions of grandeur, some of which regards the former as a consequence of the latter]), and calls it "paranoia somatica".

In machine dreams, the sleeper awakens, more often than not, with his hand on his genitalia, after having dreamed of manipulating the machine. It may, therefore, be assumed that the influencing apparatus is a representation of the patient’s genitalia projected to the outer world, analogous in origin to dreams.



Attention may be called now to a symptom in schizophrenia, which I have named "loss of ego bountaries". This symptom is a complaint that "everyone" knows the patient's thoughts, that his thoughts are not enclosed in his own head, but are spread throughout the world and occur simultaneously in the heads of all persons. The patient seems no longer to realize that he is a separate psychical entity, an ego with individual boundaries. A sixteen-year-old patient in the Wagner-Jauregg Clinic indulged in gay laughter whenever she was asked for her thoughts. Catamnesis revealed that for a long while when being questioned, she had believed I had been jesting; she knew that I must be familiar with her thoughts, since they occured at the same time in my own head.
We are familiar with this infantile stage of thinking, in whcih a strong belief exists that others know of the child's thoughts. Until the child has been successful in its first lie, the parents are supposed to know everything, even its most secret thoughts. Later on, in the event that the child has been caught lying, this conception may be formed again, now caused by the feeling of guilt. The striving for the right to have secrets from which the parents are excluded is one of the most powerful factors in the formation of the ego, especially in establishing and carrying out one's own will. The developmental stage observed in the above-mentioned case falls into this period, in which the child does not yet sense this right to privacy and does not yet doubt that the parents and educators know everything [authors note: This would fall into the period before the first successful lie, whcih occurs very early in infancy.]


The estranged organ-- in our case, the entire body-- appears as an outer enemy, as a machine used to afflict the patient.

We are, then, compelled to distinguish three principle stages in the history of the "influencing machine":
(1) The sense of internal alteration produced by the influx of libido into given organ (hypochondria).
(2) The feeling of estrangement produced by rejection, whereby the pathologically altered organs or their functions are so to speak denied and eliminated as something alien to the wholly or partially sound organs and functions accepted by the ego.
(3) The sense of persecution (paranoia somatica) arising from projection of the pathological alteration on the outer world, (a) by attribution of the alteration to a foreign hostile power, (b) by the construction of the influencing machine as a summation of some or all of the pathologically altered organs (the whole body) projected outward. It is to be noted that among these organs the genitals take precedence in the projection.

I do not know why the persons who work the influencing machine are in my observation exclusively male. [...] Further investigations must clarify this point.


The construction of the influencing apparatus in the form of a machine... represents a projection of the entire body, now wholly a genital.

...[the] evolution by distortion of the human apparatus into a machine is a projection that corresponds to the development of the pathological process which converts the ego into a diffuse sexual being or into a genital, a machine independent of the aims of the ego and subordinated to a foreign will [note: see Foucault's lectures on Psychiatry in which he discusses the principle within asylum practice of the 'foreign will' (i.e., Faurnet)] . It is no longer subordinated to the will of the ego, but dominates it.



A selection from Hanns Sachs The delay of the Machine Age, published in the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1933: