‘The Influencing Machine’ Revisited

Posted September 23, 2013

In 1919, former Freud disciple Victor Tausk published an article called “The Origins of the ‘Influencing Machine’ in Schizophrenia“, which became a classic of psychiatric literature. In it he describes “Influencing Machines”, elaborate mechanical constructions that simulate artificial realities, invented by schizophrenics to explain their delusions. In their operation, these contraptions reflect uncertainties about recently discovered phenomenon like radio waves and invoke the power of the then-budding cinema.

T/F Co-conspirators Paul Sturtz and David Wilson read about Tausk and his machines in a 2004 piece in Cabinet Magazine by Christopher Turner. This served as the inspiration for our 2012 theme and poster, created by artist Erik Buckham based on Tausk’s own drawings.

Now a new piece in Aeon Magazine by Mike Jay shows how the influencing machines continue to churn along, still projecting the paranoid fears and narcissistic fantasies engendered by our technological culture. Jay describes “The Truman Show Delusion”, where one believes oneself to be the star of a hidden reality TV show, constantly on the brink of experiencing the This-is-Your-Life moment of revelation.

Jay’s essay concludes:

In the 21st century, the influencing machine has escaped from the shuttered wards of the mental hospital to become a distinctive myth for our times. It is compelling not because we all have schizophrenia, but because reality has become a grey scale between the external world and our imaginations. The world is now mediated in part by technologies that fabricate it and partly by our own minds, whose pattern-recognition routines work ceaselessly to stitch digital illusions into the private cinema of our consciousness. The classical myths of metamorphosis explored the boundaries between humanity and nature and our relationship to the animals and the gods. Likewise, the fantastical technologies that were once the hallmarks of insanity enable us to articulate the possibilities, threats and limits of the tools that are extending our minds into unfamiliar dimensions, both seductive and terrifying.