Alan Turing: a short biography by Andrew Hodges

This short on-line biography of Alan Turing is based on the entry I wrote for the British Dictionary of National Biography in 1995. The eight parts correspond roughly to the eight sections of my full biography Alan Turing: the enigma.

There are no hyperlinks in the text. For links and for more images, go to the corresponding page of the Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook.


Part 8 — Alan Turing's Crisis


Alan Turing was arrested and came to trial on 31 March 1952, after the police learned of his sexual relationship with a young Manchester man. He made no serious denial or defence, instead telling everyone that he saw no wrong with his actions. He was particularly concerned to be open about his sexuality even in the hard and unsympathetic atmosphere of Manchester engineering. Rather than go to prison he accepted, for the period of a year, injections of oestrogen intended to neutralise his libido.
His work on the morphogenetic theory continued. He developed his theory of pattern formation out of instability into the realm of spherical objects, such as the Radiolaria, and also on the cylinder, as a model of plant stems. He set as a particular goal the explanation for the appearance of the Fibonacci numbers in the leaf patterns of plants — most noticeable in the close-packed spirals of sunflower heads and fir cones.
Alan Turing (right) at the
console of the Manchester computer
Besides this he refreshed his youthful interest in quantum physics, studying the problem of wave-function reduction in quantum mechanics, with a hint that he was considering a non-linear mechanism for it. He took a new interest in the representation of elementary particles by spinors, and in relativity theory.

A factor in his life unknown to most around him was that he had also continued to work for GCHQ, the post-war successor to Bletchley Park, on the basis of a personal connection with Alexander, now its director. But since 1948, the conditions of the Cold War, and the alliance with the United States, meant that known homosexuals had become ineligible for security clearance. Turing, now therefore excluded, spoke bitterly of this to his onetime wartime colleague, now MI6 engineer Donald Bayley, but to no other personal friends. State security also seems the likely cause of what he described as another intense crisis in March 1953, involving police searching for a visiting Norwegian who had come to see him. Concern over the foreign contacts of one acquainted with state secrets was understandable, and his holiday in Greece in 1953 could not have been calculated to calm the nerves of security officers.

Although unable to tell his friends about questions of official secrecy, in other ways he actively sought much greater intimacy of expression with them and with a Jungian therapist. Eccentric, solitary, gloomy, vivacious, resigned, angry, eager, dissatisfied — these had always been his ever-varying characteristics, and despite the strength that he showed the world in coping with outrageous fortune, no-one could safely have predicted his future course.

He was found by his cleaner when she came in on 8 June 1954. He had died the day before of cyanide poisoning, a half-eaten apple beside his bed. His mother believed he had accidentally ingested cyanide from his fingers after an amateur chemistry experiment, but it is more credible that he had successfully contrived his death to allow her alone to believe this. The coroner's verdict was suicide.

Continue to the Oration

For links and more pictures go to the corresponding
Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook page.

© Andrew Hodges 1995



 

Index

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Oration


Alan Turing
Home Page

Scrapbook

Alan Turing: the enigma

Sources

Publications
The background for this Page was generated by Roy Williams and Bruce Sears from a non-linear equation of the kind Alan Turing first studied.