I'm unsure of when the first images appear representing the human mind as a sort of anthropomorphic filing system, utilizing a desk or filing cabinet or (later) a computer. From the early history of human memory-making mnemonic devices and memory palaces there are represnetations of where information in the brain could be stored for rapid access and retrieval, like memories being stored in rows of theater seating, or in the branches of complex trees, or in the buildings of a bird's eye street map. But these show where the memory "goes", and not where this memory set sits in the brain of the individual.
This came to mind seeing this odd little ad in the magazine Illustrated World for July 1919 seeing these fairly high-creep factor faces endowed with different sorts of cerebral applications. The top man is depicted with a messy desk and a hand-cranked calculator; at bottom we see the organized man, with papers sorted in their labeled places. (As it turns out, the image used for a company selling memory-improvement books).
Perhaps this image was in a small way a pre-historic insight to brain computer interface (the acquired, direct signal processing of the brain to a computer), in the same way, say, as Hans Berger's 1924 invention of the electroencephologram, where we can actually see electrical activity of the brain displayed on a piece of paper. Of course, one image is a simple semi-folly to help hawk a mostly-useless huckerter book on memory improvement, while the other is a bona fide medical breakthrough. But in similar ways they were insights into looking at the activity of the brain in connection to an external resource.
In 1944 there was something else, something quite different allocated to the Leonardo-like head, something far in advance of the filing system of 1919: the computer.This may well be the first public, popular, report on the Harvard Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC) (appearing in the American Weekly, 15 October 1944), the first automatic, general-purpose, digital calculator. Known as the MARK 1, it was the brainchild of Howard Aiken (1900-1973), a graduate student at Harvard, who started it all in 1937 by proposing a series of coordinated Monroe calculators to function as a unified whole that would cross the threshold of the physically-impossible calculation (though theoretically possible) to the eminently doable. The project was immeasurably aided by the input of Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley (who had earlier dealt with the enormously problematic aspects of the scale of the universe) who put Aiken in the hands of IBM at Endicott (NY). From there the building of the computer came under the supervision of Clair D. Lake, with the engineering and theoretical team of Francis Hamilton, Ben Durfee and Howard Aiken.
The machine was basically completed in 1943 and tested in Endicott for the better part of the year before it was shipped of to Harvard in February 1944, where it was put almost instantly to work on ballistic calculations (like its cousin ENIAC at the Moore School at U Penn), as well as naval engineering and design issues.
The author of this article, Gordind Bhari Lal (“noted science analyst”), actually does a pretty decent job describing the machine and its (1940’s) possibilities, noting at the end that “it may even unleash for Man’s Use the long-dreamed-of energy of the atom”. This part did come true, especially post-war, when the machine was put to fair use by the US Atomic Energy Commission.
The part I really don’t understand in this article is comparing the speed and function of the ASCC to two women working on calculators and Albert Einstein, working with a pencil, paper and pipe, none of whom look comfortable or happy. (Actually the dresses on the women look a little hiked-up to me, just a little too high.) Lal does make a decent comparative point (of uncertain veracity) about four generations of humans (the three above-mentioned calculators?) doing calculations that the ASCC could do in seconds. Right or wrong, it gave the crowds in 1944 a real something to think about.
And so at the end of this post I believe that the representation of the brain as a mechanical device is relatively new, and I wonder if it isn't a mostly-20th century creation. Finding images of SteamPunk humans and robots and such roaming their ways through the literature in the 1920's-1950's is fairly easy, but showing the stuff inside the head and representations of how the mechanical brain was functioning seems to be a different matter.