The Ego Machine


The Blackpool Exhibition

The first ego machine in Britain appeared at the Blackpool Institute of Technology’s Lost inventions and fantastic creations exhibition in 1860. A Parisian group from the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne assembled a working ego machine and displayed it alongside printed articles and lithographic illustrations. The team gave enthusiastically received daily lectures illustrated with lithographic plates copied from the Tlön, Unbar, Orbis Tertius manuscript. They made the illustrations from Volume 11 of the Anglo-American Cyclopaedia, a condensed version of the 1853 8th edition Encyclopædia Britannica. The  article named ‘Tlön, Unbar, Orbis Tertius’, is one of fifty-six entries in the Anglo-American Cyclopaedia that were not present in the Britanica. The article describes the cultural traditions of Uqbar and its environs in Asia Minor. It also recounts the finding of a 15th century folio now known as the Tlön, Unbar, Orbis Tertius manuscript in the basement of an Algerian coffee shop in 1820. Six photographic plates accompanied the entry of which three, reproduced here (Figure 2-5), featured in the exhibition. I can find no trace of the lecture transcript nor the pamphlets distributed during the talk, but the Blackpool Evening Gazette reports that, during the talk, the mechanism moved and spoke with, ‘great intelligence and animation’. Figure 1 is a sketch of the mechanism by the Gazette’s journalist. Though the mechanism appeared in the 1862 International Exhibition in London, its listing was absent from the exhibition catalogue second print run. The organisers gave no reason for the removal, though given the Gazette’s fervent account, the Parisian team might have oversold the mechanism. The Kensington and Chelsea Times reported the mechanism broken, or it had never worked. I believe the Parisian exhibit stimulated interest in the ego machine, for construction of Dorian, the Royal Institute’s ego machine, began a month later.

I have reproduced the exhibition catalogue entry below. Please note that the illustrations are facsimiles taken from the Anglo-American Cyclopaedia. An illustrator, commissioned to make lithographic prints for the exhibition, reportedly used the original manuscript.

A mind mechanism or a golem for our times. 

The Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne presents, for your entertainment and intellectual edification, a mechanism simulating consciousness, based on the famous Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius manuscript and assembled with care from contemporary materials. We will give a talk detailing the history and operation of the mechanism twice daily. A pamphlet which provides translated annotations and lithographs copied faithfully from the original manuscript is available for your inspection. 


The mechanism transcribes sight and sound onto the spinning disc, whose spinning serves also to stabilise and propel. It conveys impressions received by the main funnel and via vibrations to a needle that engraves the disc surface. It transmits the recorded sound impressions to the Consciousness Sphere via the vibrational energy experienced by another needle. A single lens attached to the Sphere reads visual impressions from the disc surface. The mechanism function therefore posits that Human Consciousness is nothing more than Awareness. Specifically, awareness of the recorded contents on the disc surface or what we may now interpret as the mind or ego.

Madness and Suffering

The disc spins and the ocular mechanism and auditory needle are, mostly, fixed onto the surface of the disc, though both the ocular mechanism and needle, despite the operation of damping mechanisms, jump randomly between grooves on the disc surface. The Consciousness Sphere is therefore subject to a continuous stream of semi-random impressions, impressions which become more salient in delirium and madness though even temperate dispositions experience wayward thoughts numbering in the hundreds every moment.

Death and Sleep

The disc stops spinning in darkness. Spinning starts when the light returns. Sometimes the spinning cannot start. This coincides with critical damage to the mechanism, whether by age or trauma. Sleep and death, in terms of awareness or consciousness, are therefore identical.


There is flexibility inherent in the ocular mechanism attached to the Consciousness Sphere which allows the lens to see over the edge of the disc. Peering over the ego disc rim corresponds to the Christ-like awareness achieved only in advanced meditative states. The flexing of the ocular mechanism is difficult and effortful. Some can see the abyss beyond the rim, if only for a moment. Contemplation of the serene darkness changes them forever.  Most achieve only a twitching of the ocular mechanism and condemn themselves to live through the ego until their disc ceases to spin and their breath stops.

Figure 1. The ego machine exhibit.

Figure 2. Plate 1 from the Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius manuscript.

Figure 3. Plate 2. from the Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius manuscript.

Figure 4. Plate 3. from the Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius manuscript.

Figure 5. Plate 3. from the Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius manuscript.

© Copyright 2016 Mark Peatfield