It was fuelled by combinations of "fetid effluvia"
October 10, 2021 4:16 PM   Subscribe

James Tilly Matthews is one of the first well-documented cases of someone suffering from what was probably paranoid schizophrenia. His delusions featured an influencing machine, the Air Loom. Visitors to the Bethlem Museum of the Mind may have seen a physical recreation of the device.
posted by eotvos (24 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
It is wild how similar it is to modern stories. And it's not like the modern variants of "5G" or "GMOs" have any more plausible mechanical cause than "magnetic fluids."
posted by Scattercat at 6:01 PM on October 10 [6 favorites]


And it's not like the modern variants of "5G" or "GMOs" have any more plausible mechanical cause than "magnetic fluids."

It's also striking how well some themes map - magnetism :: 5G for an invisible influence by air, and GMOs :: effluvia for the contaminated natural materials.
posted by solarion at 6:15 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]


It's also striking how well some themes map - magnetism :: 5G

In some cases magnetism AND 5G.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:26 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]




There's a great book about Tilley called The Influencing Engine by Richard Hayden. Before he was confined to an asylum Tilley was involved in a real-life conspiracy to try and overthrow the British monarchy with help from post-revolutionary France that petered out because his French contacts didn't trust him.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 6:50 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


“Glove Woman” is the most unsettling thing about this.
posted by migurski at 6:59 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]


Still rolling this over in my head, but I keep coming back to the similarity between "air loom" and "heirloom"...
posted by phooky at 7:38 PM on October 10 [7 favorites]


This kind of makes me wonder if Wilhelm Reich had a similar but mirror version of this, with his orgone energy and his contraptions for capturing it to affect humans.
posted by hippybear at 8:54 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]


As someone who has a relative with these sorts of delusions, this was both illuminating and very, very distressing.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:32 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


"To facilitate their control over him, the gang had implanted a magnet into his brain."
Covid-19 vaccines contain microchips so that people can be tracked.
posted by Metacircular at 1:31 AM on October 11 [2 favorites]


And it's not like the modern variants of "5G" or "GMOs" have any more plausible mechanical cause than "magnetic fluids."

Matthew’s had significantly more reason to believe. His life is still within the heyday of Mesmerism/Animal Magnetism, and, while there were already skeptics by the 1780s, it was considered a valid medical practice until the mid-19th C. The elaborate machine and plot would have seemed outré, but the underlying “science” less crankish than similar ideas today.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:42 AM on October 11 [5 favorites]


Pity they didn't acquire some costumed actors to recreate Matthews' drawing - even if just for the photoshoot
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 4:15 AM on October 11


I'd just like to say I find it distressing how 18th century apothecaries and psychiatrists were way better at drawing than I am when I literally draw things for a living.
posted by The Monster at the End of this Thread at 4:33 AM on October 11 [12 favorites]


A large machine that sends out dangerous misinformation and fetid effluvia via airwaves? Are we 100% sure this isn’t Facebook’s servers?

he had become involved during the French revolution in clandestine efforts to head off the looming war between France and England

Looming, you say….
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:01 AM on October 11 [7 favorites]


This is so Lynchian. It's like the spout thing representing Philip Jeffries in Twin Peaks 2017.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:27 AM on October 11 [3 favorites]


Are we 100% sure this isn’t Facebook’s servers?

Hmmmmm…..
It was fuelled by combinations of "fetid effluvia", including "spermatic-animal-seminal rays", "putrid human breath", and "gaz from the anus of the horse", and its magnetic warp assailed Matthews' brain in a catalogue of forms known as "event-workings".
You may be onto something.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:29 AM on October 11 [3 favorites]


This would make a phenomenal hollywood period movie.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:38 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]


It is the first ever published work of art by an asylum inmate, but it would hardly have looked out of place in the scientific journals or enyclopaedias of its day


He must have been one of the first to frame his delusions in a scientific rather than religious context. Which, yeah, would be deeply unnerving to his peers.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:05 AM on October 11 [5 favorites]


Psychologically, my guess is that what is going on here is the brain is 100% convinced that they (or others) are being controlled by a physically real force, but they cannot see it directly and it is apparently hard for other people to detect. Our brains already like to jump to conclusions about why things happen and construct nonsense stories about causality, and Paranoid Schizophrenia seems to dramatically increase the certainty and intensity of those nonsense causality stories. It does not seem to be possible to convince people that their story is wrong at a fundamental level, but it will become more elaborate over time to fit with their knowledge of the rest of the world. The more educated someone is, the more elaborate rules their brain will be able to come up with to justify its conclusion that the force must exist and be real.

There's only so many plausible ways that an invisible, hard to detect but obviously physical and real force could be exerting strong control over human behavior. Magnetism and electromagnetic waves are pretty obvious possibilities given those constraints and a knowledge of modern science. Demonic possession is another explanation that is apparently very plausible across a variety of cultures.
posted by JZig at 9:27 AM on October 11 [3 favorites]


It seems like the primary, initial sensation of schizophrenia is "my thoughts are not my own, I do not recognize my internal monologue as my own" and the narratives and mythologies that emerge from the cognitive faculties directed towards providing a technological/social explanatory mechanism for this sensation.

It's interesting to think that all of the grandiose imagined conspiratorial structures common to these delusions are not in an of themselves delusions or a direct product of illness or disordered thinking - rather, they are the product of rational processes and repeatable observations coming from a mind with a perceptual fault that cannot recognize itself.
posted by anazgnos at 2:50 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


The paranoid schizophrenic relative who lived with us for a year was heavily into early D&D, and his central delusion was of an evil wizard who was intermittantly controlling him and sending him terrible thoughts and instructions. He would go off his meds because they had obviously been tampered with by the wizard, spend hours designing protective rituals using gaming manuals as source material, and then want to debate with us how best to raise wards on the house. Sometimes I would pull out the grocery list in the store and discover he had added something like '16 pounds kosher salt and 3 selkie whiskers' which has stuck vividly in my memory for decades.

To this day any time I notice the salt on the store shelves I find myself calculating if there's enough there to add up to 16 pounds, and how much it would cost, and sometimes I scan the spices for selkie whiskers which I assume are sold one to a jar like vanilla beans.
posted by buildmyworld at 3:06 PM on October 11 [5 favorites]


sometimes I scan the spices for selkie whiskers which I assume are sold one to a jar like vanilla beans

I know this doesn't help, but @selkiewhiskers makes custom pillows for furries.
posted by hippybear at 9:06 PM on October 11


I hope the Museum of the Mind continues to make physical recreations of influencing machines throughout the ages. I wouldn't mind seeing a model of Francis E. Dec Esq.'s “Computer God Frankenstein Controls”, installed in a cutaway mannequin head, or blown-up versions of the 5G microchips in the Covid virus and/or vaccine.
posted by acb at 6:09 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]


I hope the Museum of the Mind continues to make physical recreations of influencing machines throughout the ages.

Reich left full plans for his Orgone Accumulator. Many have in fact been built. I have never seen or used one, however.
posted by hippybear at 9:42 PM on October 12


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