The Highly Productive Habits of Alan Turing

In honour of what would be the 100th birthday of Alan Turing, Ars Technica has an interesting view of his life, disguised as a guide to his highly productive habits. Alan Turing, by the way, was instrumental in breaking the German Enigma code in WWII and is commonly regarded as the father of computer science. He died in 1954 of an apparent suicide after years of persecution for his homosexuality, although alternate theories abound.

Habit #2: Don’t Get Sidetracked by Ideologies:

Turing went to King’s College, Cambridge in 1931. Two years later the Oxford Union debating society issued its famous declaration: “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” While not an explicitly pacifist statement, the Oxford Pledge reflected enormous disillusionment with the course and consequences of the First World War.

1933 was a year for radical credos. The global Great Depression was in full swing. “Am thinking of going to Russia some time in vac[ation] but have not yet quite made up my mind,” Alan wrote to his mother. He also joined an organization called the Anti-War Council. “Politically rather communist. Its programme is principally to organize strikes amongst munitions and chemical workers when government intends to go to war.”

But none of this ever came to anything. Turing didn’t go to the Soviet Union, and he found the Marxist institutions on campus just as suffocating as the public school that he attended. Turing “was not interested in organising anyone,” Hodges observes, “and did not wish to be organised by anyone else. He had escaped from one totalitarian system, and had no yearning for another.”

Not only did Alan Turing reject a Marxist framework, but he would soon fix his skeptical sights on an overarching question haunting theoretical mathematicians at the time:

“Could there exist, at least in principle, a definite method or process by which it could be decided whether any given mathematical assertion was provable?”

The Highly Productive Habits of Alan Turing   [Ars]


One response to “The Highly Productive Habits of Alan Turing

  1. Very interesting although sad. Wonder what else this brillant man would have accomplished!

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