Thoughts & Insights
Extraordinary Ways Of Thinking Have a Tough Going Because Their Very Nature Always Sets Them Apart
Exceptional thought can’t be measured by the benchmarks of fame, power or money. It’s driven from the inside and sweeps aside everything prescriptive that stands in the way.
Exceptionally gifted thinkers and extraordinarily creative artists and inventors can be found in all ages but many of them whose names are household words today had a very difficult time of it when they were alive. Think of Socrates finally condemned to drink a cup of poison or Galileo persecuted by the Inquisition and forced to renounce his own discoveries.
One of the most drastic stories of a man truly gifted with extraordinary powers of mind has only recently come to public attention, long after his still mysterious death in 1954. It’s a story that is drastic, dramatic and extraordinary in quite a number of ways. It unfolds in the most existential war of the 20th century, the Second World War. And it’s doubly shrouded in secrecy. Firstly because it plays out under the seal of the Official Secrets Act to which the military counter-intelligence services of the British Army were sworn. And then because it took place at a time when homosexuality was still a crime, something best kept under wraps if you didn’t want to do time in jail.
An English mathematician, whose own mother called him an “odd fish”, had been fascinated by codes and cryptanalysis since earliest boyhood. Later on he possessed the uncanny ability to imagine a machine that could decipher codes previously deemed undecipherable. The machine he built really did crack the formidable Enigma Code of the National Socialists and by so doing played a decisive role in securing an Allied victory and bringing the Second World War to an early close. The Turing Machine was also the very first real computer in history, a device without which modern life as we know it would be simply inconceivable.
Nothing of what Alan Turing had achieved was allowed to survive its time. All of the documents and the machine itself were destroyed at the end of the war. What did remain, however, was Turing´s homosexuality. For which he was later prosecuted and confronted with the choice of either a prison sentence or hormonal therapy (commonly known as chemical castration) because at that time homosexuality was a criminal offense. His early death aged 41 in the year 1954 seems to point to suicide but still has not been satisfactorily explained. More than fifty years later, just under two years ago in 2013 Turing was granted a posthumous royal pardon by Queen Elizabeth II for something that was largely decriminalized in England already in 1967. And Turing’s great achievements have still to receive official recognition.
This story speaks for itself. I find it deeply moving but I knew nothing about it until I heard of “The Imitation Game”, the film about Alan Turing, which is right now in the cinemas. He was a man to whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude yet whose work has been largely neglected and almost forgotten over the years. Even worse, he was a man branded criminal for being different in a way that harmed nobody. Such is the ferocity with which conformity deals with those who don’t conform, sweeping them ruthlessly aside when living – and celebrating them when they’re safely dead.
It is also thanks to the computer that another of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking, can continue to communicate his brilliant thoughts in a way that would have been impossible for him before this invention came along. How strange that the films about him and Alan Turing have been released almost simultaneously! And how strange too that Stephen Hawking of all people through his mouthpiece of an intelligent machine is now issuing warnings against the further development of intelligent machines.
The stories of these two pioneers of genius have become a talking point at a time when whole hordes of marketing specialists across the world are doing their level best to create strategies that strongly suggest the extra-ordinary. We’re surrounded by countless unreal constructions of reality in which something quite ordinary and mundane is packaged so professionally that it seems quite extraordinary and unique. And whether intentionally or not, psychology and brain research also lend a hand in furthering this game. Some of it indeed might be special or even unique. Most of it however is anything but. It’s flashy, crowd-pleasing and short lived. It’s attention-grabbing but more shallow than truly exceptional. We’ll see how much remains.
In case you are wondering what all this has to do with OUBEY and the MINDKISS Project, I might touch on it again later in another place.