Sunday, September 13, 2009

Breaking The Code

It can be fairly be said of Alan Turning (pictured above) that, more than almost any other human being during World War II, he saved Western Civilization. And it can also be fairly said that, once it had been saved, the full savagery of Western Civilization fell on Turing like the wrath of God and persecuted him to death for the crime of being gay.

Yesterday, the British government which Turing served so ably over half a century ago, officially apologized for hounding him into an early grave.

So good on them.

Thanks to the digital information age in which we now live -- and which Alan Turning is in no small part responsible for creating -- there are lots of tributes and clips and history lessons available to us all over the internet, any one of which, or all of which, would be appropriate to meditate on today.

I myself find this exchange from the play "Breaking the Code" which demonstrates both the sheer joy of aroused genius and the frustration of genius trying to communicate with others to be absolutely mesmerizing. However, if I had to choose only one item to recommend to your attention, it would be this scene from the same play.

As oh-so-carefully-calibrated as any science fiction alien first contact, this gentle, cautious exchange between Turing and his boss show both men struggling gamely from tea mugs to mortality to find just the right words to make each other comprehensible to each other across wide intellectual, sexual, professional and cultural barriers. And as they struggle, the author (Andrew Hodges) and the playwright (Hugh Whitemore) reveal the shared, sincere humanity of their characters in a way that make us believe for at least a moment that such struggles are not always doomed.


D. said...

Ah, yes. I saw this on Broadway with Derek Jacobi in the lead role.

The fear of The Other goes very deep, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Surely in addition to the intellectual, sexual, professional and cultural barriers, there's a generational barrier between Turing and his boss. The former would have been born under Victoria, while Turing just missed being born during Edward VII's reign, known for it's much more permissive sexual arrangements.

That's just a nit; beautiful post about an amazing man. I studied Turing machines in graduate school (Ph.D. Philosophy 1990) and saw the play live in Minneapolis as well as eating up the PBS version with Jacoby. It's one of a handful of plays you leave feeling as though your head has exploded. And if you love spy novels as much as I do, the story of Enigma and Bletchley is almost too wonderful to believe, except it's *true*.

Fran Langum / Blue Gal said...

Perhaps one day our governments will pass the Turing Test and we will mistake them for being human. What Britain did this week is a step in the right direction.

Thank you for this and the amazing, amazing post you wrote yesterday. It is always an honor to visit this blog.

mymatedave said...

Blue Gal, let me second your statement about visiting this blog wholeheartedly. Couldn't agree more.