Schooling The Mind. Learning from Alan Turing's genius

school mindstMANILA - We can all learn from genius. I know. I'm doing it all the time. It takes genius, and you have it; all you have to do is use it! Now, as I genius will explain the genius of Alan Turing, if you just care to listen you might learn something.

Alan Turing was a practicing gay, was the godfather of modern computing, was the war hero in deciphering the Enigma code that essentially won World War II for the Allies, was charged in 1952 and found guilty with a young man engaged in homosexuality that was forbidden in England at the time and was given the choice of going to prison or chemical castration by injection of female hormones and he chose the latter and suffered the side effects, and died 2 weeks before his next birthday - he would have been 42 on 23 June 1954. The Coroner pronounced it suicide, a self-destructive act "while the balance of his mind was disturbed" (Harvey Morris, 23 June 2012, nytimes.com). Disturbed no doubt by the foreign substances in his body, and no doubt by the social stigma he received from his countrymen.

Yet, after an independent study, Professor Jack Copeland, Director of The Turing Archive for the History of Computing, who has authored a new Turing biography, says (ANN, 23 June 2012, walesonline.co.uk):

From the records I have been able to obtain, it seems to me very obvious that the inquest was conducted in a very superficial way. The Coroner didn't really investigate the evidence at all, he just jumped to the conclusion that he committed suicide. He seems to have been very biased from the statements in newspapers at the time.

He says Turing "could have died as a result of inhaling the poison he used in amateur experiments than deliberately ingesting it." He had a lab at home where he was conducting experiments. It was reported that beside the body was found an apple laced with cyanide, with a bite.

The Coroner said, "In a man of his type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next." You're a genius if you can guess what next for a genius.

For a background, David Leavitt says (23 June 2012, washingtonpost.com):

Suspecting his boyfriend of robbery, (Alan Turing) summoned the police to his house. They ended up arresting Turing under the “blackmailer’s charter,” which criminalized “acts of gross indecency” between adult men in public or in private. It was under this law - not repealed until 1967 - that Oscar Wilde had been sentenced to hard labor in prison.

To avoid a similar fate, Turing agreed to submit to a course of estrogen therapy intended to cure him of his homosexuality; as a result, he grew breasts and became impotent. Yet even after the treatment ended, the police, fearing that he might defect to the Soviet Union, stayed on his trail, interrupting every effort he made to live life as he saw fit. In June 1954, Turing committed suicide by biting into an apple laced with cyanide - a nod to his favorite film, Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven (Dwarfs).”

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the unfairest of them all?

I believe the suicide angle, as it was romantic, if tragic. If the Englishmen would have none of his life before and after chemical castration, he would deny them further pleasure by ending it.

Remember, Alan Turing was a genius, as I define genius (see my "Here's to Genius anyway! Pinoy Henyo and Artificial Intelligence," 23 June 201, americanchronicle.com). The balance of the mind of a genius is always disturbed - compared with yours, a non-practicing genius. In a man of genius alive, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next! That's why he's a genius.

Still, we can learn more from the life of Alan the Genius whether he committed suicide or not.

Now then, Mike Lynch says, "Society failed the genius, we must learn from his loss" (22 June 2012, bbc.com). Of computer-based devices, Lynch particularly mentions information & communication technologies (ICT).

We can encourage a love of technology at an early age and promote an ICT education system that develops analytical minds that learn to create stuff and make things work using technology, largely through trial and error.

Begging to differ, I would encourage not the love of technology but the love of ingenuity; I would promote an ICT education system that develops creative minds. It's easy to have a critical mind; rather than create stuff and stuff, critical (analytical) minds only tend to deconstruct them.

It is young people who are adapting the quickest of all to new technologies and, crucially, the practices they facilitate. They tweet, download apps and buy online with astonishing agility and speed.

The youth are the hope of the fatherland, as the Filipino National Hero Jose Rizal said more than 100 years ago. If they know what they're doing, if we teach them with genius. So, let's go ahead, discover and reward the genius in our teachers!

Government policy needs to give ICT teachers the freedom to move away from program-based lessons and give them (chances) to show pupils the real magic of technology - of the power it has to create, improve and entertain.

With genius, age does not matter. For instance, I 72 am able to show you the magic of creative writing in a Windows and Word environment anytime at all, your place not mine. (Check out if you will my blog Creattitudes, blogspot.com.)

The UK has a wealth of untapped talent, but to grow the Turings of the future we need to set the right educational ecosystem in place to allow young people to question our technological landscape, not just live in it.

Question our technological landscape? Let them explore it first! A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Society's narrow-mindedness failed Turing - we must not fail today's students with limited school curricula.

In the Philippines, not unlimited as in the use of English for instruction in all grades, but limited as in biased in favor of the local Filipino (Tagalog) language. A social cyanide that the lovers of Tagalog are willing to bite laced in their nationalist apple.

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the unfairest of them all?!

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