Categorized | History

Victor Tausk, His “Influencing Machine,” and Wilhelm Reich

Article by Stephan Simonian M.D.

Victor Tausk, His “Influencing Machine,” and Wilhelm Reich

In several of his writings, Wilhelm Reich mentions the name of Dr.Victor Tausk, referring to him as a brilliant psychiatrist with deep insight into psychiatric illnesses and one of the few, active psychiatrists in the psychoanalytic society of his time.

Victor Tausk

Reich specifies that Tausk’s (1919) paper, “The Origin of the Influencing Machine in Schizophrenia,” was highly significant. In it, Tausk discussed the origin of delusions common to a wide array of schizophrenic patients, mainly their belief that an alien device, malignant and remote, influences their thoughts and their behavior. This concept, the “influencing machine,” has become one of Tausk’s most well-known theories.

Tausk’s paper, “The Origin of the Influencing Machine in Schizophrenia,” was translated from German to English in 1933 by Dorian Feigenbaum and was first printed in Psychoanalytic Quarterly in 1933.  

Tausk’s understanding of the “influencing machine” is consistent with Reich’s theories of schizophrenia. According to Tausk, this “influence apparatus,”  was a projection of the patient’s own body, particularly of the genitals. Reich admits, “I did not fully understand this until I discovered that vegetative sensations are based on bioelectric 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 an outer word filled with malicious purpose. Schizophrenia only show to a grotesque degree a condition that 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. He must of necessity hate anybody who tries to bring him into contact with it” (Reich, Function of the Orgasm, 1942, p. 28).

Wilhelm Reich

In his paper, Tausk provided a brilliant analysis of delusional formation with a valuable discussion of projection, hallucination, narcissism, hypochondriasis, and the formulation of libido development. Based on his observations of one patient, Tausk postulated that most schizophrenics experience the phenomenon of the influencing machine, which can be seen in schizophrenics during the development of their illness. He acknowledged that at times schizophrenics might not reach this particular stage or might pass through this stage rapidly and thus be undetected by the clinician. Tausk likens the clinician to a pathologist looking under a microscope to observe various stages of cancer cells: each cell is in a certain stage of development and no one corpuscle carries all the stages at once. Hence, clinicians may not always detect this particular stage in schizophrenic patients.

Tausk indicated that giving significance to the meaning of symptoms and studying the dynamics of psychosis leads psychiatrists to a deeper understanding of illness, in which psychiatrists of his time were not interested. This is even more true today: clinical psychiatrists generally place no significance whatsoever on the content of delusions or their origins and development. In fact, Tausk argued, “Clinical psychiatry is interested only in general descriptions and places no importance on studying individual symptoms of psychosis. Psychiatry has not hitherto sufficiently investigated the origin, meaning, and purpose of the symptoms because by not employing the psychoanalytical method, it does not even postulate such problems” (p. 189 Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, Volume1 Spring 1992).

In this same paper, Tausk discussed a patient who had delusions that an influencing machine was controlling all his behavior and functions. Tausk described the machine as mystical, consisting of boxes, cranks, levers, wheels, buttons, wires, batteries, etc. The patient felt controlled and persecuted by this machine, which created images in the patient’s mind; produced and removed thoughts and feelings; produced motor phenomena in the body such as erections; or deprived the patient of his male potencies, thus weakening him. Tausk explained that the machine created sensations that at times patients cannot describe because these sensations are foreign to them, at times experienced as electromagnetic or as air currents. The machine also can cause eruptions, abscesses, and other pathological illnesses. Although Tausk acknowledged that a large number of patients complained of all these elements without ascribing them to the influencing machine, the patient’s delusion of the influencing apparatus comes later during the subsequent development of schizophrenia. This delusion serves the purpose of explaining the pathological changes that feel alien and painful and control patients’ emotional lives and sensations. The patients who are suffering from such symptoms must ascribe them to a cause; thus, they attribute them to the influencing machine. 

Tausk suggested that the schizophrenic’s delusions of persecution and influence prompt the construction of the influencing apparatus, which appears during the advanced stages of schizophrenia, beginning with a simple change of sensations. Anyone who is familiar with Reich’s theories of schizophrenia will recognize the similarity between these two theories. Tausk acknowledged that the onset of schizophrenia may not initially be apparent and acknowledged that different stages of schizophrenia may be concealed by secondary symptoms such as depression, mania, paranoia, compulsive neurosis, anxiety and hysteria, all of which may obscure one stage. At times, the rapidity of the pathological process varies, depending upon a patient’s individual disposition, and a patient may bypass this stage altogether. Tausk provided examples of cases when patients experienced strange and unfamiliar sensations such as electromagnetic currents but attributed these changes to something other than the machine—for example, a deceitful lover twisting one’s organs.

Tausk described the process as follows: First, the patient experiences a simple sensation of inner change accompanied by a sense of estrangement as to the origins of the sensation. This stage often remains unrecognized because in many cases it occurs in the early stage of schizophrenia prior to puberty.  Such pathological changes often are masked by infantile peculiarities such as misbehavior, aggression, repressed fantasies, dullness, etc. Next, Tausk identified different stages that occur in which the patient recognizes the inner sensations as abnormal, attributing them either to himself or to outside entities. Sometimes in an advanced stage, these inner changes are accompanied by hallucinatory projections in which the patient believes that enemies are manipulating the influencing machine. The patient’s circle of enemies gradually increases, and thus begins a pattern of paranoid conspiracy.

Tausk then referred to one of the Freud’s lectures in which he argued that dreams of a complicated machine always represent patients’ genitalia. “Having studied machine dreams analytically over a long period of time,” Tausk explained, “I can fully confirm Freud’s statement and I may add that, moreover, the machine always represents the dreamer’s own genitalia, and the dreams are of a masturbatory nature. It may therefore, be assumed that the influencing apparatus is a patient’s projection of his genitalia, analogous in origin to the machine in his dreams. The frequent complaints of schizophrenics that the apparatus causes erections, dreams of semen, and impotence only confirm this view” (p. 190).

In clinical practice, psychiatrists often see schizophrenic patients complaining of symptoms relating to their genital sexual function. One of my patients who had painful sensations in his genitalia believed that other people, through their movements, were extracting semen from his testicles. This belief was most pronounced in relation to his mother’s movements. He believed that any movement, particularly the hand movements of his mother, caused this sensation in his genitals. Another schizophrenic patient was convinced that an entity from outside himself was causing his erections, sexual dreams, and thoughts and accusing him of homosexuality. Yet another patient described a shooting pain in his genitalia. My experience makes me convinced that if a clinician gently questions schizophrenic patients and delves deeply enough, s/he will discover a core of genital, sexual, and homosexual fears and delusions.

Tausk also suggested that some symptoms could be caused by a patient’s regression to an earlier developmental stage of the libido. “Many patients,” he stated, “are actually aware of this regression to infancy and to the embryonic stage.  A patient said to me, ‘I feel that I am constantly becoming younger and smaller. Now I am 4 years old, shortly I shall be in diapers, and then back to the mother’s womb.’ This schizophrenic’s feelings that his thoughts are coming from outside correspond to his earliest stages of development when there were no thoughts from within, the ego boundaries were not yet clear, and he ascribed his thoughts to the outer world. The capacity, however, for thinking with memory perceptions is still intact” (p. 200).

Tausk reflected on the fact that patients’ compromised libido, regardless of their intellectual state, negatively impacts their relationship with the outer world and object relations. Moreover, as time progresses, intellectual and cognitive functioning may also regress.  Tausk’s description of psychic functioning is similar to that of Reich: “We must assume that the libido flows to the entire body, perhaps like a substance (Freud’s view), and that the integration of the organism is affected by the libido’s strength, the oscillations of which correspond to the oscillations of psychic narcissism and object libido. The resistance to illness and death is therefore dependent upon this strength. Love of life has saved many a man who has been given up by physicians as incurable” (p. 202). Melancholia, explained Tausk, “is an illness, the mechanism of which consists of disintegration of psychic narcissism, in renunciation of love for the psychic ego. Melancholia in pure culture is the paradigm of dependence of the organic upon psychic narcissism.  The separation of the libido from the psychic ego, i.e, the rejection and condemnation of one’s raison d’etre [reason for being] of the psychic person, brings with it the rejection of the physical person , the tendency to physical self-destruct. There occurs a consecutive separation of the libido from those organs that guarantee the functioning and the value of physical individuality, a separation by means of which the organs’ function is impaired or given up. Hence, appetite is lost, constipation occurs, menstruation ceases, and potencies are lost, as a result of the unconscious mechanisms”(p. 201). Tausk described several complex psychoanalytic concepts related to cathexis of the libido on body organs and the influx of organic narcissism to a given organ as a site of predilection involving the phenomenon of hypochondria as described by Freud. He discusses the mechanism of estrangement involving the ego’s denial or psychological rejection of the organ overcharged with libido “pathologically overcharged”.  He describes this estrangement as a defense mechanism against the anxiety associated with hypochondria. He then relates it to cases of paranoia when this mechanism of estrangement no longer affords protection and relates it to the construction of the “influencing machine”. It is to be noted that among these organs, the genitals take precedence in the projections. He argues that when the libido regresses to the pre-genital, early-infant stage, as described earlier in this paper, the entire body becomes a libidinal zone and one’s construction of the influencing apparatus is a projection of the entire body as a genital. Schizophrenia is a symbol of the entire body conceived as a penis and hence represents the pre-genital epoch. Tausk stated, “The evolution by distortion of the human apparatus into a machine is a projection that corresponds to the development of pathological process which converts the ego into a defused sexual being or expressed in the language of the genital period into a genital, a machine independent of the aims of the ego and subordinated to a foreign will. Indeed, the machines produced by man’s ingenuity and created in the image of man are an unconscious projection of man’s bodily structure” (p. 206). 

In his paper, “Introspection in the Case of Schizophrenia,” Reich refers to a patient who had particularly good insight into the mechanism of her delusions of persecution. This patient, he stated, “confirmed the findings of Tausk concerning the role of the genitals and the influencing apparatus.” Reich also stated, “Since Tausk in 1919, it has been known in psychiatry that the genital apparatus constitutes the persecutor in schizophrenic delusions. But it was not known that this had a much deeper biophysical significance: It is the strong sensation of energy streaming in the body, not merely the genitals, which becomes alien and unbearable in adolescent as well as in psychotic. The genital organs are so predominant only because their excitation induces strongest sensation of aliveness” (Character Analysis, Schizophrenic Split, 1972, P.469).

In Sexuality, War, and Schizophrenia, Paul Roazen referred to Tausk as “one of the Freud’s most brilliant early pupils. He was a man of great versatility: a poet, a writer and a lawyer as well as a physician and psychoanalyst. Tausk’s paper on the influencing machine has become a classic in the psychological understanding of schizophrenia” (p. 6).  According to Roazen, Freud refused Tausk’s request for analysis due to his own discomfort with Tausk and instead referred him to Helen Deutsch, a young psychiatrist just starting out as an analyst and who was in analysis with Freud. After three months of Tausk being in analysis with Helen Deutsch, Freud had warned Deutsch that he could not continue as her analyst if she continued treating Tausk, stating that her fascination with Tausk was interfering with her own analysis. She immediately chose to terminate Tausk as a patient and remained in analysis with Freud herself.

Sigmund Freud

Helen Deutsch

On July 3, 1919, at the age of 42, Victor Tausk committed suicide, leaving a note to Freud in his suicide letter: “Your work is genuine and great, I shall leave of this life knowing that I was one of those who witnessed the triumph of the greatest ideas of mankind” (p.13, Sexuality, War and Schizophrenia, 1991).  Paradoxically, Tausk’s paper on the influencing machine appeared at the same time as Freud’s obituary of Tausk, acknowledging the originality and brilliance of his work.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 64 posts on The Journal of Psychiatric Orgone Therapy.

Dr. Simonian is a general and child and adolescent psychiatrist. He completed medical school in Shiraz University, Shiraz Iran. He completed his general psychiatric residency training and fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at New York Medical College, Metropolitan Hospital Center. Concomitant with his psychiatry and child psychiatry training, Dr. Simonian completed the New York Medical College Psychoanalytic School Didactic Courses, including his own required personal psychoanalysis. In 1990, Dr. Simonian started his personal psychiatric orgone therapy, Reichian therapy, with Dr. Morton Herskowitz and in 1991 became a member of the Institute of Orgonomic Sciences (IOS), an Institute which is dedicated to promote and preserve Dr. Wilhelm Reich's work. Dr. Simonian started his private psychiatric practice in Milford, Massachusetts in 1984 and he was a chief of psychiatry department of Milford Regional Hospital for several years. He started his practice in Glendale, California since 2003. Dr. Simonian is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

5 Responses to “Victor Tausk, His “Influencing Machine,” and Wilhelm Reich”

  1. Hasmik Simonian says:

    Good article, I enjoyed reading it, some parts are difficult but I was able to get the general idea., Thank you!


  2. Tzindaro says:

    This explains something I have often noticed in conspiracy theorists who think the government ( the modern boogyman ) is controlling people’s thoughts by some technological means such as spraying chemicals from airplanes or broadcasting radio waves from a base in Alaska. They frequently claim their health is being damaged or their minds controlled by these obviously absurd fantasies and cannot be convinced otherwise by any amount of logical argument or factual evidence.

    Next time I encounter someone who believes in chemtrails or Project HAARP I will keep this article in mind.

  3. Editor says:

    The following comment was sent by Richard Schwartzman, MD

    Mother-Infant Contact and Schizophrenia

    The rigidly armored neurotic, or homo normalis as Reich called such “normal” individuals, completely shuts off the sensation of their plasmatic currents. The schizophrenic cannot. For them, their currents remain strong, and the subjective perception of the movement of their energy is blocked. This prevents the perception of bodily sensations that are too intense. Because the perception of the movement of their biological energy is more than they can tolerate, they handled it by splitting off. This split in their bioenergetic system is the basis for the schizophrenic’s delusions, projections, and hallucinations

    Reich asked, “Would it be reasonable to assume that schizophrenia is a true “brain disease,” induced by some specific type of emotional upheaval, with a local contraction the special parts of the brain due to severe anxiety?” He also asked,“Is it the base of the brain, the region of the crossing of the optic nerve?” (Reich, Character Analysis, 1949, p. 433)

    Reich tells us schizophrenia is laid down in the first ten days of life and we are are left with the question as to the cause of so profound an alteration in natural functioning, one that occurs so early in life. The answer appears to be that only the loss of contact with mother could produce such severe anxiety, and it is this that is the basis for schizophrenia.

    Loss of contact occurs if baby is separated from mother, or if it remains with a mother who cannot provide the emotional and loving eye contact her baby needs. To the extent she is blocked and unable to make this needed deep connection, her newborn will handle its anxiety by contracting—and going “off” in its eyes. This, in turn, affects the brain itself and begins the process that leads to the development of schizophrenia.

  4. lorcan says:

    Very interesting article. Very sad that he committed suicide…I like the distinction you, (and Reich), made between armoring against the “homo normalis” sexuality, (maybe society’s half accepted yet still sadly ridiculed and attacked phallic level of general developmental achievement), and armoring against stronger healthier plasmatic movement or “currents” of pleasure and love. This distinction explains why the theory that the schizophrenic’s psychological and physical antics are solely supported by an armoring against sexuality, is lost on the average clinician. This article is great because it again shows why the mysticism of schizophrenia, (and “mental illness” in general), must be confronted and not dismissed as a strange organic brain imbalance that requires endless pharmaceutical research as the only solution. Dr Schwartzman’s comments about mothers and children and eye contact were a very nice extension.

  5. Sarkis Mirzaeian says:

    Very informative and interesting article. I enjoyed reading it and I learned fascinating concepts about Schizophrenia.


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