February 17, 2015
We don't see things the way they are. We see things the way we are.
Alan Turing was a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and the patriarch of Theoretical Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. He was also persecuted for his antisocial, eccentric behavior and alternative lifestyle. Turing is the subject of the smashing hit movie Imitation Game, the story of Turing's miracle cracking of Nazi Germany's "Enigma" coding, against odds of billions-to-one. The film has been nominated for so many awards it would require a separate column. Turing's character, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, will likely achieve several "Best Actor" awards. The film has already grossed $123 million worldwide.
Ironically, Turing was an historical standout only because his narrow-minded crusade to build a "computer" against the wishes of British intelligence and singularly supported by Winston Churchill, miraculously cracked the impossible German "Enigma" coding, giving the allies incalculable advantage in knowing Nazi plans in advance. You can still see Turing's original machine kept at Bletchley Park's museum.
But in a sense, Turing was an outlier measured against legions of people who today are routinely and disrespectfully joked about as "Aspy," "on the spectrum," or "short-bus riders." This is the real "enigma" and the real injustice to society. Since the late '90s, Jonathan Mooney has been on a one-man crusade to change minds and repair the damage done to kids seen as different, out of the mainstream, not "educationally suited." Mooney didn't learn to read until age 12. As an elementary student, he was repeatedly insulted in classrooms: "Jonathan ... what IS your problem?" Once told by a polemic guidance counselor, "People like you aren't college material; you'll end up flipping burgers." Well, Mooney earned an Honors degree in Literature from the Ivy League's Brown University and has since done much to change the way we see "different."
Those who lack courage will always find a concept to justify it. This includes managers, CEOs, school superintendants, coaches and classroom bullies (who often later become conference room bullies). When an A.D.D. kid turns to face the opposite wall from whence the teacher speaks, only to be sanctioned with "turn around and face me!," it leads us to ask: Does it ever occur to that teacher the kid is facing the opposite wall so that he or she CAN pay attention to what that teacher is saying? The world's view of "normal" is only that -- a mirage of a concept necessary to glue normalcy into our everyday life. How many kids and adults slip through the cracks because they're just not what someone expects them to be within the boundaries of normal?
Carl Jung had the right idea: "Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you." We may never get beyond the destructive practice of stereotyping people who "aren't like us." Howard Stern, Vince Lombardi, Winston Churchill, Einstein, Neil Young, Margaret Thatcher and for that matter, Abraham Lincoln would never had made the cut as "normal like us." Each overcame adversity, pigeonholing, peer rejection and temporary failures ultimately to make history.
What of Alan Turing's achievement? Historians say his miracle breakthrough shortened World War II by two years and saved eight million lives. Turing once said, "Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."
In the 1950s, Turing was convicted of indecency and chemically castrated in lieu of a sentence so as to continue his scientific work. He later committed suicide; his miracle computer code breaking kept a secret until 1990.