Alan Turing changed the world. In the movie The Imitation Game, Turing’s life is reduced to a riveting, two hour story. In reality, his was much more complex.
The End is Near
I have very bad news. The world is ending. Not only is the world ending but I know when and how. It won’t be pretty, but I can show you how to manage this catastrophe. Now for the scary part, the date is. . .
This sentence has been finished inaccurately by countless fortune tellers, cult leaders and outright wacko’s. (Just to clarify, that is wacko as in mentally unstable person, not Waco the town in Texas where David Koresh and the Branch Dividians met their demise.)
The scenario has played out almost the same way many times over. A charismatic leader amasses a following. They all believed in something that runs slightly contrary to the general, accepted belief. He (it’s usually a man,) is able to persuade the followers of this belief using a line of reasoning, or an interpretation of ancient text that supports what he preaches.
The followers rally, the movement grows and suddenly their group gains momentum. The believers begin preaching to each other, explaining how the predictions, beliefs and prophecies of the leader have played out in their own life. Now it isn’t just the leader preaching the new “truth,” it is everyday people teaching other, everyday people.
Then it happens. The leader has found a symbol, a sign or a message explaining the world will end. Of course the followers believe him. He no longer has the status of man, he’s superhuman, a deity or a prophet.
Thanks to his status he knows exactly how the followers should handle this upcoming catastrophe. He explains the protocol for the event. Belongings are sold, modifications are made and every detail is addressed in haste to make sure the group is on the proper side of the rapture.
Then, on the date and time the prophet promised it happens.
The sheep-headed god doesn’t show up, the comet doesn’t hit nor do the poles of the earth reverse abruptly.
As a result, all of the intelligent people who witnessed this silliness walk away from the cult, right? A rational person would take this a sign that the leader is wrong, wouldn’t they?
In a blistering display of arrogance, seemingly normal people not only don’t walk away from the cult, but they double down and their faith grows stronger. They refuse to admit defeat and explain away or rationalize what happened.
Think this is an exaggeration? Let’s take a look at Harold Camping.
Harold Camping was the popular Christian radio personality on the Oakland-based radio show, Family Radio. He was one of the original co-founders of the show in 1958. As an engineer, Camping drew very educated listeners, many of whom were engineers like him. The mission of he and his co-founder Dick Palmquist was to spread the Christian gospel as far and wide as possible. But almost 40 years after the founding of the show, the message took a dramatic change.
In the 1990’s, Harold began interpreting the Bible. He made a few calculations and discovered that the end of the world was prophesied within the pages. Thanks to a little math and insight partnered with a lot of speculation, Camping calculated the date to be September 4, 1994, or maybe September 6. After all, no one is perfect. Hence the name of his book, 1994? (Yes, the question mark was part of the title.)
Camping convinced people to sell their homes and donate the money to the show. People cashed out their life saving and offered it up to spread the message. After all, what good is a pile of money when the world is about to end?
Then it happened. It didn’t happen. September 4 and 6, 1994 came and went with nothing more than a few showings of Saved by the Bell, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on TV and Boyz II Men songs playing on the radio.
So what was the result? Did Family Radio fold up and die after listeners learned they had given all of their money to a fraud?
In a word, no.
Between 1997 and 2011, Family Radio accepted $216 million in donations alone. This money came from a wide spectrum of listeners. Highly educated listeners to high-school dropouts supported the cause. At the time the station also enjoyed big profits from the sale of some assets.
Being flush with cash, Camping (amazingly) stumbled upon the errors in his previous calculations. He found the new calculations pointed to May 21, 2011. For the media blitz to spread this new revelation, the station had over $100 million of listener money to spend. That is $100 million offered up freely by people who were, for the most part, completely aware of the previous failed prediction!
Again, May 21, 2011 came and went.
Harold Camping’s obituary on April 10, 2014 in the Telegraph says this about his listeners.
“Such was their generosity, that by 2011 his radio network owned 66 stations in America alone with assets worth $120 million.”
Is It Odd?
If the words unthinkable, or odd come to mind, you aren’t alone. Most of us on the outside of these cults feel the same way. But if it were a one-off, strange occurrence, wouldn’t it be isolated? Surely there wouldn’t be more examples like this, would there? Camping was far from the only person who bore out this cycle of predict, be wrong, grow influence.
Credonia Mwerinde predicted the end of the world on December 31, 1999. When it didn’t happen, her followers stuck around because Mwerinde changed the date to May 17, 2000. On that day the world did end for many of them when, at the gathering a bomb exploded in their church. The resulting investigations found over 300 previously murdered bodies under the church, bringing the death total to around 3000 people.
Lee Jang Rim
Lee Jang Rim predicted the end to 20,000 people in his South Korean church called Dami Mission. The date was to be October 28, 1992. But Rim was in prison on that date for fraud. Even still followers gave up their worldly possessions, children and even committed suicide in preparation for the event. Even though October 29, 1992 showed up as scheduled, Rim still has a following today under his new name Lee-Dap-gye.
Robert Miller founded Elohim City, which has been linked to alt-right hate groups such as the KKK and Neo-Nazis. Miller predicted the beginning of the end would be August of 1999 during a heated, international race war. Despite being incredibly wrong the church not only survived, but currently operates under the leadership of Miller’s son.
What causes such illogical actions from seemingly smart people? (Remember, a large part of Camping’s audience were extremely well educated.)
The answer in layman’s terms is arrogance. Scientifically it’s called cognitive dissonance. These irrational followers were so sure they hadn’t donated their life savings to a fraud, they talked themselves into believing the unbelievable. It was easier for them to tell themselves and the world, “I wasn’t wrong when I sold my house and gave the money to Camping,” than it was to say, “I blew it.” They were much too arrogant to admit their mistake.
Cognitive dissonance takes many forms.
Imagine the person who wants to be environmentally friendly. They recycle, grow their own vegetables, clean with green chemicals and drive a huge, gas-guzzling SUV. Yes, they drive a vehicle proven to put out more carbon and use more fuel than most. How can that be? That should be a complete contradiction to what they believe.
The market has offered these people the perfect out for their cognitive dissonance. They can buy carbon offsets to ease the mental burden they have from buying the SUV. Because they can’t live with the thought of hurting the environment, they believe that buying carbon credits, which go to fund environmentally friendly projects, offsets their own environmentally harmful actions.
But this isn’t true.
Yes, buying carbon credits often goes to fund positive environmental projects. But does it really offset their SUV, or private jet emissions or massive homes?
It is the equivalent of eating doughnuts today because you are going to work out extra hard tomorrow. The fact is that you can work out extra hard tomorrow without eating the doughnuts today. The doughnuts are fattening, and the SUV burns a lot of fuel, period.
You can’t buy back environmental damage with carbon offsets. The damage still occurs. Buying carbon offsets is a tax on the conscious of progressives who can’t live the lifestyle they preach. It is well-funded cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is nothing more that our natural ability to tell ourselves, “the rules don’t apply to me.” We rationalize our decisions in the face of mounting evidence and if unchecked, develop arrogant behaviors as a result. It is very natural, hard to overcome and common to most people. But there are a few (I’m sure you can imagine who they are) who don’t fall into the cognitive dissonance trap.
The Enigma Code
Enigma was the most complex encryption machine of its time. It was how the German military coded their communication during WWII. It looked like a larger version of a typewriter. With a set of keys on the bottom and corresponding letters on a board above the keys. Except the upper set of letters weren’t keys, they were lights. As the typist wrote the message, each letter pushed triggered a different letter to be typed. That letter lit up on the board as each key was pushed.
After each letter was pressed, a rotor turned one click, changing the encryption for the next letter. This was amazingly ingenious and made the code nearly impossible to break, unlike basic encryptions.
For instance if I were to use a simple encryption to code the word book, it might look something like this.
The cipher for this code is that each letter of the word is written using the following letter in the alphabet. So b becomes c, o becomes p and k becomes l.
Making The Obvious Difficult
This type of encryption is simple to decode. You can plainly see there is a double letter in the middle of the word. Pair that with the fact that it is a four letter word, with the first and last letters being different from each other and it becomes fairly easy to understand the code.
But the ever-changing style of the Enigma code made that type of translation impossible. The word book would not have a double letter corresponding to the double o in the word. But the word type could have a double letter. It was pure gibberish.
And it was a huge pile of gibberish.
The rotor had 26 different positions. But that’s not all. After the first rotor completed a full, 26 position rotation, it triggered another rotor to move one click, and the cycle was repeated 26 more times, with 26 more encryptions. Then, click, another set, then another until the second rotor completed 26 different positions. Then began the third rotor.
All said, there were 17,000 different encryptions before the process repeated itself. But that is only if you start the machine at the beginning of the rotor cycles, which the Germans did not do. Each day they would start by setting the rotors at different positions. Those settings were key. The Allies had Enigma machines, but without knowing what rotor positions to set the machine at for any given code, they were useless. And because the code was regulated by different rotor positions at the beginning of each day, there was a possible 159 million, million, million encryptions just in one day.
Then, at midnight, the Germans would change the original settings for each Enigma machine. The Allies then started the process of decoding 159 million, million, million possibilities all over again. It was an exercise in futility. In a word, it was hopeless.
Enter a man named Alan Turing.
Alan did not fit in. In the incredible movie, The Imitation Game which follows the story of breaking the code of Enigma, a saying comes up again and again.
“Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
Alan Turing was a person who, for a time, no one imagined anything of.
From an early age, Alan did not fit the image of a young, male child in England at the time. He was slight, quiet and obsessed with learning, especially math and science. So much that when he was 13 he was scheduled to start at the Sherborne School. It was a high level boarding school in Sherborne, 60 miles from his home in Southampton.
But the 1926 General Strike in Britain killed business and travel, including Turing’s ride to his new school. Fully encompassed in his passion for learning, Alan rode a bicycle the 60 miles and stayed overnight for the opportunity to attend Sherborne. Knowledge was his best friend, as long as that knowledge came in the form of math or science.
But he struggled with the classics, such as Latin. In one report his Latin teacher explained why Allan was second to last in his class this way. “He ought not to be in this form of course as far as form subjects go. He is ludicrously behind.”
The headmaster of the school explained that Allan was, “the sort of boy who is bound to be a problem for any school or community.”
Allan did not fit in.
Outside The Box
During his tumultuous young adulthood he studied the work of John von Neumann and Einstein to name a few. It was work from brilliant men like these who inspired Turing to imagine greater things and to solve unsolvable problems. In his torrent of ideas he came up with the idea that would save well over 20 million lives and revolutionize the world.
The Universal Turing Machine was a large piece of hardware that could compute multiple calculations or problems that were fed into it. It was a revolution in machinery. To think that a machine could be made for the purpose of solving virtually any problem was unthinkable.
But WWII provided the opportunity for Turing to prove his machine with the onset of Enigma.
It was mathematically impossible for people, regardless of their intelligence, to solve a riddle with 159 million, million, million solutions every day. There simply were not enough people or time to make that happen. Turing knew that it would take a machine, with a massive computing ability to break Enigma.
Fighting And Losing
England was suffering the burden of war. All practical commodities were being used to support the war effort. To ease the burden, the US was sending provisions across the Atlantic to replace the deviated supply. But most of those provisions, along with the crew of the boats they were on, landed not in the UK, but in the bottom of the cold, deep ocean. German u-boats plagued the supply efforts relentlessly, and the messages directing those u-boats were floating through the air, for anyone with basic radio knowledge to intercept. But they were written in German, and coded with Enigma.
The Allies had Enigma machines. They had German translators. All they needed was the cipher, and Allan Turing built the machine (the Turing Universal Machine) that could do it. His idea, along with the help of a few brilliant assistants, built the answer at Bletchley Park. The machine and Turing are credited with ending the war two years sooner that thought possible, and saving 20 million lives.
Allan Turing Had A Secret
But Allan had a problem. He habitually broke one of England’s most stringent laws. The Labouchere Amendment outlawed homosexuality.
From his youth, Allan identified as a homosexual. There are multiple accounts of his attraction to Christopher Morcom, a childhood friend who died as a teenager, affecting Allan deeply. It is also speculated that he attended Kings College in Cambridge because of their well-known leniency towards homosexual behavior.
But on March 31, 1954, Judge J. Fraser Harrison found Allan Turing guilty of indecency. His sentence was the option of prison, or chemical castration and probation. At this moment in time Allan Turing would have been well within his rights to choose prison, over admitting there was something wrong with him that needed treatment. In fact, in most court cases the defendant has a sense of cognitive dissonance, explaining away why their circumstances don’t warrant punishment.
Allan did not.
He accepted the “cure” set forth by the courts. He took his court ordered prescriptions without fail. By all accounts he was a model criminal, acting in accordance to the government attempting to fix his homosexuality.
But on June 7th, 1954, just two short months later, Allan Turing was dead.
He had died from eating a poisoned apple. Allan often ate an apple before bed. It was in his routine. He also was fond of Snow White and the idea of the poisoned apple in that story. His death has been officially ruled a suicide. Many have speculated he was poisoned. Neither is a fitting end to the 41 year old man, who didn’t fit in, saved millions of lives and changed the world.
Chemical castration is not something we, as a society would consider a “cure” for homosexuality.
But, in classrooms and laboratories all over the world, countless people are searching for a “cure” for autism. But whom would we cure? Autism is a spectrum. There are those on the spectrum who suffer physically, but there are also those who only suffer socially. Do they need cured because of how we feel about them?
Of course there are those on the spectrum who would benefit greatly from this cure, but there are those who would simply lose some odd social quirks along with the amazing gifts that come with their specific brand of autism. They would become slaves to the interpretations of others emotions, intoxicated with fake trust from oxytocin triggered by ill meaning culprits and victims of cognitive dissonance. Would their lives be better if they were cured?
Just Like Us
Maybe they would have the opportunity to be just as arrogant as the rest of us. “Curing” autism would perhaps infect the patients with the same cognitive dissonance, which was missing in Alan Turing, that the cult members had. Perhaps they would lose their influence and intelligence along with their social tick, or shy demeanor that makes neurotypicals uncomfortable.
Allan Turing had severe impairment of social interactions, he was completely obsessed with his work, he lived by a set of routines, had many non-verbal communication problems and had some trouble with motor skills. All of which would classify someone today with Aspergers syndrome. But in 1954, the world wasn’t out to cure social awkwardness, they set out to cure homosexuality.
In 2017 a law was established, retroactively pardoned men convicted and “cured” of homosexuality in the UK.
It is called the Alan Turing law.