Special Exhibition Label: 'Eccentricity: Unexpected Objects and Irregular Behaviour' (10/5/2011 - 16/10/2011)
The upper instrument describes itself as 'ALFRED LONG'S PATENT METABOLICAL MACHINE'. Long, who was a lecturer at the Royal Polytechnic Institution, London, published a pamphlet on his invention in 1865, having been inspired by a method for learning languages devised by a Thomas Prendergast and published in 1864. Rejecting the study of grammar, Prendergast held that a language was most naturally acquired by imitation and repetition of chance sentences, followed by the interchange and transposition of words to form new combinations in different sentences.
The machine contains a set of words and its action is to present them to the user in unpredictable combinations. Prendergast held that the machine could be used also to learn arithmetic, while Long claimed it was effective for acquiring shorthand and composing music.
On the lower shelf is a Brain Wave Synchronizer from approximately a century later by the Schneider Instrument Company of Illinois, designed to induce various levels of hypnosis by subliminal and photic stimulation of the brain waves. It could be used clinically or by individuals seeking to alter their mental states.
Dr Sidney Schneider designed the machine after studying the experiences of radar operators on submarines, who would experience trance-like states after staring at flickering radar screens for extended periods. Since it employed a strobe light, the effect of Schneider's synchronizer could stray beyond the intended subject; a report of his demonstrating one to an audience in 1963 records that the front row also passed into a relaxed trance.
'Alfred Long's patent metabolical machine', c.1865
A rotatable walnut-wood box with 21 glazed compartments, each containing a hollow block of wood on which words are to be written (and can be rubbed out). The blocks revolve freely as the box is rotated, presenting their chance combinations as a succession of different sentences. The instrument is designed to assist with learning a language, following the method promoted by Thomas Prendergast.
The machine was deposited in the Museum in 1939 by the trustees of Dr L. H. Dudley Buxton, along with an important collection of manuscripts relating to Charles Babbage and a piece of his difference engine, so it may once have belonged to Babbage.
Brain Wave Synchroniser, by Schneider Instrument Co., Skokie, Illinois, c.1965
An early advertisement for the Schneider synchronizer promises:
Reduce Induction Time to seconds
Deepen Hypnosis to the level you select
Used for Altered States of Consciousness instantly
Induces Healing States. Programs Mind states & MUCH MORE!!
'The uses are unlimited! ... This is the "STATE OF THE ART" model for the serious researcher or trance inducer. Why waste hours getting to "higher States" of consciousness. DO IT ALMOST INSTANTLY AND GET TO STATES MUCH DEEPER THAN YOU COULD WITHOUT THIS DEVICE.'