Hello SOBP Members,
Many readers may not know of Victor Tausk, who was a judge and journalist, later received medical training, and became a psychoanalyst. He is best known for writing a now classic paper, “On the Origin of the ‘Influencing Machine’ in Schizophrenia,” published in 1919.
Tausk wrote that the influencing machine was a machine of mystical nature, which may consist of boxes, cranks, levers, wheels, buttons, wires, batteries, and the like, but whose construction is very obscure and largely unimaginable to the patient. All the discoveries of mankind, he said, are regarded as inadequate to explain the marvelous powers of this machine, by which patients may feel themselves persecuted. The influencing machine, sometimes described as a “magic lantern” or “cinematograph,” makes patients see pictures that are flat images, like on a windowpane, and not three-dimensional. It produces and removes thoughts and feelings by means of waves or rays or mysterious forces that the patient’s knowledge of physics is inadequate to explain. In this way, Tausk said the influencing machine often is called a “suggestion-apparatus.” It also creates motor phenomena in the body as well as strange, indescribable sensations, either by means of suggestion or by air-currents, electricity, magnetism, or X-rays.
Though the influencing machine serves to persecute the patient and is believed operated by enemies, Tausk noted that the manipulation of the apparatus is obscure to the patient, who rarely has a clear idea of its operation. The patient who is subject to the influencing machine cannot distinguish feelings, thoughts, sensations, and memories that have been caused by this external influence from those that result from their own personal experience. In his paper, Tausk proposes that patients may unconsciously create the concept of an influencing machine as an outward manifestation of confusion about the separation of one’s own thoughts from the experiences of the world outside themselves. The patient, he says, cannot or does not make this distinction.
It has been said that the mission of social media is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. Tausk described the case of Miss Natalija A., who believed that a rejected male suitor was trying, by means of suggestion, to bring about a friendship between his sister-in-law, Natalija’s mother, and Natalija herself to make her accept him. When suggestion failed, the suitor subjected her to the influence of the machine. Not only she herself, Natalija told Tausk, but also her mother, her physicians, her friends, all those who had her welfare at heart, came under the influence of this diabolical apparatus.
Can the social media of today be considered a potentially diabolical apparatus? Recent studies, published and unpublished, have demonstrated that it is possible for those who control the function of social media to manipulate the feelings and behaviors of millions of users. Today’s version of a “suggestion-apparatus” or an influencing machine may be Facebook, Instagram, and other social media apps, viewed on the flat windowpane-like screens of smartphones.
As we are now drawing closer to our 2022 SOBP Annual Meeting, to be held April 28-30, 2022 in New Orleans, I was reminded of Tausk’s paper. The theme of the meeting is "Positivity and Happiness in a Worrisome World". Our exciting lineup of plenary sessions and speakers has been announced:
Thursday April 28-Plenary I: Good Life
- Well-being is a Skill, Richard Davidson
- Genetics of Happiness and Wellbeing, Meike Bartels
- New Directions in Understanding Moral Cognition, Molly Crockett
- A Cross-Species Approach to Empathy, its Neurobiology and Relation to Prosocial Behavior, Christian Keysers
Friday April 29- Plenary II: An Unsettled Life
- Mechanisms of Threat Control, Elizabeth Phelps
- Neuroimaging Cognitive and Emotional Processes in Human Drug Addiction: An Eye Towards Intervention Development, Rita Goldstein
- Ketamine: Opportunities and Challenges for Translational Therapeutics, Carolyn Rodriguez
Saturday April 30- Plenary III: Approaches to a Good Life
- Navigating Abstract Space, Daniela Schiller
- Activation of Primate Subcallosal Cingulate Cortex Alters the Balance of Affective Tone From Positivity to Negativity, Angela Roberts
- Brain Bases of Delight, Desire and Dread, Kent Berridge
- Psychedelics: Brain Mechanisms, Robin Carhart-Harris
There is still time to submit oral and poster abstracts by the December 2 deadline. To find more information on the submission guidelines, please click here.
Registration for the meeting begins in December and registration rates will be announced shortly. This year, we are excited to be returning to an in-person meeting with virtual opportunities available for participants that are unable or prefer to attend virtually.
This year brought new challenges with the global pandemic, but let us hope that 2022 brings us more positivity and happiness. We look forward to once again meeting in person.
Robert H. Howland, M.D.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital