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"Science fiction operates a little bit like science itself, in principle. You've got thousands of people exploring ideas, putting forth their own hypotheses. Most of them are dead wrong; a few stand the test of time; everything looks kind of quaint in hind"
- Peter Watts

Electromechanical Educator  
  An automated teaching machine.  

"How do we memorize anything?"

She thought. "Why, by repeating and repeating and rehearsing and rehearsing."

"Yes," said James. "So this device does the repetition for you. Electromechanically."

"But how?"

"...Well, then, my mother, as a cerebral surgeon, knew the anatomy of the human brain. My father, as an instrument maker, designed and built encephalographs. Together, they discovered that if the great waves of the human brain were filtered down and the extremely minute waves that rode on top of them were amplified, the pattern of these superfine waves went through convolutions peculiar to certain thoughts..."

"Now, the general theory is that the cells of the brain act sort of like a binary digital computer, with certain banks of cells operating to store sufficient bits of information to furnish a complete memory. In the process of memorization, individual cells become activated and linked by the constant repetition.

"Second, the brain within the skull is a prisoner, connected to the 'outside' by the five standard sensory channels of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Stimulate a channel, and the result is a certain wave-shape of electrical impulse that enters the brain and—sort of like the key to a Yale lock—fits only one combination of cells. Or if no previous memory is there, it starts its own new collection of cells to linking and combining. When we repeat and repeat, we are deepening the groove, so to speak.

"Finally comes the Holden Machine. The helmet makes contact with the skull in those spots where the probes of the encephalograph are placed. When the brain is stimulated into thought, the brain waves are monitored and recorded, amplified, and then fed back to the same brain-spots. Not once, but multifold, like the vibration of a reed or violin string. The circuit that accepts signals, amplifies them, returns them to the same set of terminals, and causes them to be repeated several hundred times per millisecond without actually ringing or oscillating is the real research secret of the machine. My father's secret and now mine."

"And how do we use it?"

"You want to memorize a list of ingredients," said James. "So you will put this helmet on your head with the cookbook in your hands. You will turn on the machine when you have read the part you want to memorize just to be sure of your material. Then, with the machine running, you carefully read aloud the passage from your book. The vibrating amplifier in the machine monitors and records each electrical impulse, then furnishes it back to your brain as a successive series of repetitious vibrations, each identical in shape and magnitude, just as if you had actually read and re-read that list of stuff time and again."

Technovelgy from The Fourth R, by George O. Smith.
Published by Ballantine in 1959
Additional resources -

This special circuit formed the heart of the Holden Electromechanical Educator:

It was the tiresome repetition of going over and over and over the lines of a poem or the numbers of the multiplication table until the pathway was a deeply trodden furrow in the brain. Forever imprinted, it was retained until death. Knowledge is stored by rote. To accomplish this end, Louis Holden succeeded in violating all of the theories of instrumentation by developing a circuit that acted as a sort of reverberation chamber which returned the wave-shape played into it back to the same terminals without interference, and this single circuit became the very heart of the Holden Electromechanical Educator.

Compare to electro-education from The Knowledge Machine by Edmond Hamilton, published in 1948.

Thanks to Winchell Chung of Project Rho for contributing the tip on this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Fourth R
  More Ideas and Technology by George O. Smith
  Tech news articles related to The Fourth R
  Tech news articles related to works by George O. Smith

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