"The greatest task before civilization at present is to make machines what they ought to be, the slaves, instead of the masters of men."

-Havelock Ellis

On a teleclass with author Gay Hendricks, I heard for the first time the story of how epistemologist Gregory Bateson had come up with the double-bind theory of schizophrenia, considered one of the first true inroads into the understanding and treatment of the illness in the 1950's.

Apparently, Bateson had been having lunch with his friend Norbert Weiner, the father of modern cybernetic science. Over lunch, Bateson attempted to explain to Weiner his problems in developing a working theory (and in so doing effect a possible cure) of the causes of schizophrenia.

After listening for a time, Weiner threw up his hands in frustration and said "I'm an engineer, not a psychologist - let me ask you a question... if I were going to build a machine which produced that result, what would the machine need to do?"

It was in attempting to answer what Hendricks affectionately calls 'the Weiner question' that Bateson developed his theory, and answering the same question can lead to wonderful insights into the many psychological barriers we put up between ourselves and the life of our dreams.

For example, one of my clients was continually overeating, no matter how hard she tried to 'be good' and lose weight. I asked a variation on the Weiner question:

"If I were going to build a machine that produced consistent overeating just the way you do it, what would the machine need to do?"

Well, she worked out that her machine would need to run non-stop advertisements for chocolate and ice-cream and pizza and cake in her brain - an endless reel of mini-movies designed to make those foods appeal to every sense.

Then, at the end of each commercial, it would show a videotape of her mother pointing at her and telling her that she couldn't eat any of the foods or she'd be in big trouble.

Finally, with her tastebuds salivating and her inner rebel aroused, the machine would whisper in her ear a litany of 'positive' affirmations, like "you work hard - you deserve a treat", "one bite won't hurt you", or my personal favorite, "it's not spiritual to focus on outer beauty".

Having designed her overeating machine, she was then able to modify it to produce a different result. Using a bit of creative visualization, she replaced the mental advertisements of food with movies showing her looking and feeling great.

Then, instead of her mother, Tony Robbins would come out, pointing at her and telling her she could do anything she wanted to do and no-one could stop her.

Finally, she wrote out a new, consciously created litany of affirmations, including 'nothing tastes as good as thin feels', 'I feel energized and alive throughout the day', and the oddly effective 'the more I speak my truth, the thinner I get'!

Thirty pounds and sixty days later, she had transformed her eating habits and perhaps more importantly, had begun speaking her truth in a variety of situations where in the past she would have 'shoved it down into her stomach'.

Ready to experiment with the Weiner question for yourself?

1. Think of a barrier to your success in one or more areas of your life. How do you get in your own way? What result do you continually produce in your life that you would like to change?

2. Now ask yourself the Weiner question:

"If I were going to build a machine which that produced that result, what would the machine need to do?"

3. Design your machine. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you make it.

4. Next, modify the design. What would you need to change about how the machine worked in order to produce a different result?

5. Implement the changes in your life!

Here's one last question for you:
If I were going to build a machine that had fun and learned heaps, what would that machine need to do?

With love,


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