(Roughly) Daily

Some things change; some things stay the same…

It was 71 years ago this month that Alan Turing published the paper “On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” (an extension of Godel’s thinking in answer to a challenge from Hilbert), that laid the intellectual foundation for computing by positing a “Universal [aka Turing] Machine.”

Turing went on to distinguish himself as a cryptographer at Bletchley Park, a key member of the team that broke the German Enigma code, and surely shortened– indeed, may have changed the course of– World War II.

But then, in 1952, Turing was prosecuted for his homosexuality, still a crime in those days.  Convicted, he took a course of hormone therapy, designed to “cure” him, instead of a jail term.  Though Turing’s loyalty was never questioned, homosexuals were considered security risks; Turing’s clearance was revoked.  In 1954, disheartened, he committed suicide.

In the years since then, the world has come better to understand the full scope and depth of Turing’s extraordinary contributions– to knowledge, and to peace and freedom.  And in his native England, as in much of the West, society has come to understand diversity of sexual preference as– at the least– worthy of respect and tolerance.

So in the saddest of ways, it’s ironic that this same month is a month in which several of the United States passed propositions that would reinstate the prejudices that brought Turing low, and would deny– in some cases, roll back– civil liberties, as they were denied to Turing.

As we watch good deeds punished, we might whisper Joyeux Anniversaire to Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, who was born on this date in 1694, and who might well have been channelling today’s missive when he asked (in “Tolerance”) “What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly — that is the first law of nature”…  and when he wrote:

All men are equal; it is not their birth,
But virtue itself that makes the difference.
Eriphile, Act 2, Scene 1


Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 21, 2008 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized