Show for Sept. 29, 2013. Mike Jay on James Tilly Matthews and Techno-Paranoia.
“For everyone who has since had messages beamed at them through their fillings, or their TV sets, or via high-tech surveillance, MI5, Masonic lodges or UFOs, James Tilly Matthews is Patient Zero,” writes Mike Jay. Matthews was an 18th/19th century British merchant who who believed a sinister conspiracy was afoot in London, employing the latest discoveries in gas chemistry and “mesmerism” to manipulate the minds of England’s leaders and plunge the country into war. He was branded a lunatic and locked away in Bethlem Royal Hospital, aka Bedlam.
A century later, visions of technology-assisted thought control were so widespread that Freud contemporary Victor Tausk felt compelled to give the phenomenon a clinical name. He called it the “influencing machine” delusion. Today, Jay says, the influencing machine has become a defining preoccupation of our age: not just the hobgoblin of schizophrenics, conspiracy nuts and sci-fi writers, but a generalized suspicion that invasive technology, unseen puppetmasters and seductive media hold increasing sway over our thoughts, decisions and collective future.
So was James Tilly Matthews just cuckoo or was he a canary in the coal mine?
Mike Jay’s book A Visionary Madness: The Case of James Tilly Matthews and the Influencing Machine, forthcoming in Jan. 2014.
James Tilly Matthews’s own drawing of the Air Loom, the pneumatic-magnetic contraption he said was controlling thoughts from beneath the streets of London.
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