Turing’s Turing Decoded

Dermot Turing Alan Turing Decoded The History Press 2015

Apart from his mother’s, previous biographies for Alan have focussed on the technical, historical and social aspects, mainly his influence on mathematics, computing, biology and the wars on Germany and homophobia. This adds considerable broader context and brings – albeit briefly – the story up to Gordon Brown’s apology for his appalling treatment.

For me, two things are notable:

  • Putting Turing’s publications in a chronological, social and personal setting provides a much-needed and powerful re-contextualisation for his work, which previously had only been available in disconnected snippets.
  • In particular, I had not noticed Alan’s appreciation of the work of C.L. Dodgson under the pen-name Lewis Carroll.

Much of Turing’s work is clear as mathematics, but with implications that are unclear and – in my circles, at least – controversial. Lewis Carroll’s childrens’ fiction presents an alternative fantastical yet logical way of looking at reality that is often regarded as ridiculing some of the ideas in logic then being explored. But his work as Dodgson suggests a different story. So maybe while, like Dodgson, Turing had to fit his work into the constraints of the culture of the time, his ambiguity might have reflected some genuine alternative ways of thinking. This would not influence his mathematics as such, but I take this biography as slight evidence in favour of my hypothesis that Turing wa more broad-minded than many who cite his authority suppose.

I hope to follow this up more.

Dave Marsay

Some things to ponder.

Turing’s Notebook.

Foundational Crisis.

Non-standard probability (more)

axiom of comprehension




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