On the Origin of the "Influencing Machine" in Schizophrenia

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"On the Origin of the 'Influencing Machine' in Schizophrenia" is an article written by psychoanalyst Viktor Tausk. It was first published in 1919 in the journal Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse and then, after translation into English by Dorian Feigenbaum, in the Psychoanalytic Quarterly in 1933.[1]

The paper describes Tausk's observations and psychoanalytic interpretation of paranoid delusion that occurs in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. The delusion often involves their being influenced by a "diabolical machine", just outside the technical understanding of the victim, that influences them from afar. It is typically believed to be operated by a group of people who are persecuting the individual, whom Tausk suggested were "to the best of my knowledge, almost exclusively of the male sex" and the persecutors "predominantly physicians by whom the patient has been treated".

These delusions are known in contemporary psychiatry as "passivity delusions" or "passivity phenomena" and are listed among Kurt Schneider's 'first rank' symptoms which are thought to be particularly diagnostic of schizophrenia, and still form some of the core diagnostic criteria.

Machine characteristics[edit]

According to Tausk, patients show a remarkable interest in learning about current technology so that they can explain the operation of the influencing machine. Yet, even with the benefit of this understanding, the machine always has a mystical quality beyond explanation. Its described effects include:

  • Causing the patient to see two-dimensional images as if projected onto their surroundings
  • Creating and removing thoughts in the patient's mind by means of waves or rays
  • Producing odd sensations and physiological changes in the body, with particular attention to the male sex organs, through electricity, magnetism or other action at a distance.

In art and media[edit]


The most well-known example of an influencing machine is that of James Tilly Matthews who believed he was being controlled "body and mind" by a device called the "Air Loom."[2] Matthews was a tea merchant and political activist before he was admitted to the Bethlem Royal Hospital (Bedlam) after shouting "treason" in the British House of Commons in 1797. He was a prolific writer and artist and described the "air loom" in great detail. His descriptions were published as a book in 1810 by John Haslam entitled Illustrations of Madness.

In the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the narrator, "Chief" Bromden, believes that the psychiatric ward in which he is committed (including the staff) is a machine in the service of a broader "Combine" - his name for technological society. This portrayal has been described as one of the best-known fictional examples of an "influencing machine" patient.[3]

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander (1978). Activist Jerry Mander's book argues for the complete removal of television from our lives because of its ill effects. Mander gives the example of Tausk's "Influencing machine" as being a parallel for television: "Doubtless you have noticed that this 'influencing machine' sounds an awful lot like television ... In any event, there is no question that television does what the schizophrenic fantasy says it does. It places in our minds images of reality which are outside our experience. The pictures come in the form of rays from a box. They cause changes in feeling and ... utter confusion as to what is real and what is not."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tausk V (1933) On the origin of the influencing machine in schizophrenia. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 2, 519-556.
  2. ^ Jay M. (2003) The Air Loom Gang. Bantam Press. ISBN 0-593-04997-7
  3. ^ Melley, Timothy (2000) Empire of Conspiracy

External links[edit]