Turing’s inspiration

It is fair to say that some of King’s College’s most famous alumni have inspired others. One of the most influential must surely be Alan Turing, who is popular with both mathematicians and computer scientists.

Alan Turing, aged 16 (AMT/K/7/4)

Who inspired Turing though?

Some indication of the answer to this might be found in his papers at the King’s College Archive Centre, the catalogue of which can be seen on Janus.

When he was just 15½ years old, Turing wrote a precis of The Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein. In this small memo book, he produced summaries for each chapter of Einstein’s famous work. He did so with the intention of explaining it to his mother.

First page of Alan Turing’s precis of The Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein (AMT/K/2/4)

First page of Alan Turing’s precis of The Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein (AMT/K/2/4)

On 6 October 1936, upon arriving in Princeton (where he received his PhD), Turing wrote a letter to his mother which included a critique of the mathematicians and ‘logic people’ at that university:

The mathematics department here comes up to expectations. There is a great number of the most distinguished mathematicians here. J.v. Neumann, Weyl, Courant, Hardy, Einstein, Lefscheftz, as well as hosts of smaller fry. Unfortunately there are not nearly so many logic people here as last year. Church is here of course, but Gödel, Kleene, Rosser and Bernays who were here last year have left. I don’t think I mind very much missing any of these except Gödel. Kleene and Rosser are, I imagine, just disciples of Church and have not much to offer that I could not get from Church. Bernays is I think rather ‘vieux jeu’ that is the impression I get from his writing, but if I were to meet him I might get a different impression. (AMT/K/1/42)

Alan Turing (AMT/K/7/12)

 

To see scans of these and other documents held in the papers of Alan Mathison Turing, visit the Turing Digital Archive or make an appointment to visit the original documents at the Archive Centre.

PGM

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