Alan Turing? Arthur Eddington? Andrew Hodges? Robin Gandy? John D. Barrow? Dermot Turing? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: Apparently, the pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing once compared scientific knowledge to a differential equation and suggested that religion specified a boundary condition for the equation. I have not seen a precise citation. Would you please explore this topic?
Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1983 British mathematician Andrew Hodges published a biography titled “Alan Turing: The Enigma”. Hodges stated that in March 1954 Alan Turing sent four postcards to his friend and colleague Robin Gandy. The second postcard (partially shown below) contained the following lines. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1984 (1983 Copyright), Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, Chapter 8: On the Beach, Time Period: To 7 June 1954, Quote Page 512 to 514, A Touchstone Book: Simon & Schuster, New York. … Continue reading
Messages from the Unseen World
III. The Universe is the interior of the Light Cone of the Creation
IV. Science is a Differential Equation. Religion is a Boundary Condition.
The postcard also contained the following line written sideways in the left margin:
? Does the gravitation constant decrease ?
Turing’s message presented a playful interpretation of contemporary cosmological theories. The line “Arthur Stanley” referred to English astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington, and the beginning line perhaps alluded to Eddington’s 1929 book “Science and the Unseen World”. Gandy stated that he and Turing had been discussing Eddington’s book titled “Fundamental Theory”.Website: The Turing Digital Archive, Images scanned from the collection of Turing papers held in the Archive Centre at King’s College, Cambridge, Website description: Website contains nearly … Continue reading
QI conjectures that Turing’s statement was an analogy. A differential equation may have many possible solutions. A boundary condition is an extra constraint that reduces the number of possible solutions and sometimes specifies a unique solution. The postcard statement suggested that there were many possible universes that were compatible with the latest scientific knowledge. Religious beliefs provided additional assumptions that further constrained the set of possible universes.
Additional detailed information is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available here.
Image Notes: A public domain mathematical figure from the 1877 book “A Treatise on Some New Geometrical Methods” by James Booth.
1984 (1983 Copyright), Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, Chapter 8: On the Beach, Time Period: To 7 June 1954, Quote Page 512 to 514, A Touchstone Book: Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)
Website: The Turing Digital Archive, Images scanned from the collection of Turing papers held in the Archive Centre at King’s College, Cambridge, Website description: Website contains nearly 3,000 images of letters, photographs, newspaper articles, and unpublished papers by or about Alan Turing. (Accessed turingarchive.kings.cam.ac.uk on January 5, 2023) link
Dear Quote Investigator: The best way to learn computer programming is by seeing examples, writing code, and executing programs. Trying to learn solely through a book is quite difficult. This viewpoint has been credited to the pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing.
I am uncertain about this attribution because Turing died in 1954, and early computer languages like Fortran and Cobol were created after this date. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: When Alan Turing was at the University of Manchester in England in 1951 he wrote the first manual for programmers which he titled “Programmers’ Handbook for Manchester Electronic Computer Mark II”. Digital scans of all the pages of the manual are available at the website of “The Turing Archive for the History of Computing”.Website: The Turing Archive for the History of Computing, Director of the Turing Archive: Jack Copeland (Professor in Arts at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand), Website description: Scans of … Continue reading
A section titled “Programming Principles” begins with the following statements. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:Website: The Turing Archive for the History of Computing, Document title: Programmers’ Handbook for Manchester Electronic Computer Mark II, Document author: Alan Turing, Date on document: undated, … Continue reading
Programming is a skill best acquired by practice and example rather than from books. The remarks given here are therefore quite inadequate.
If it is desired to give a definition of programming, one might say that it is an activity by which a digital computer is made to do a man’s will, by expressing this will suitably on punched tapes, or whatever other input medium is accepted by the machine. This is normally achieved by working up from relatively simple requirements to more complex ones.
In 1951 the computer at the University of Manchester was programmed directly using machine code. High-level programming languages like Fortran and Cobol were created later in the 1950s.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Website: The Turing Archive for the History of Computing, Director of the Turing Archive: Jack Copeland (Professor in Arts at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand), Website description: Scans of documents concerning U.K. computing pioneer Alan Turing. (Accessed alanturing.net on March 11, 2022) link
Website: The Turing Archive for the History of Computing, Document title: Programmers’ Handbook for Manchester Electronic Computer Mark II, Document author: Alan Turing, Date on document: undated, Website description: The Turing Archive for the History of Computing. (Accessed alanturing.net on March 11, 2022) link
Dear Quote Investigator: Code breaker Alan Turing was a major figure in computer science and a pioneer in artificial intelligence. In 2021 Turing’s portrait will appear on newly issued £50 notes from the Bank of England. Would you please explore the quotation that reportedly will be printed on the notes?
Quote Investigator: In June 1949 “The Times” of London published an article about a Manchester University project which built an electronic calculator referred to hyperbolically as a “mechanical mind”. This early computing device was able to perform a calculation that had heretofore been impossible because of its length and intricacy. Turing’s commentary was both exciting and ominous. Boldface is used to highlight the quotation that will appear on the upcoming bank note: 1949 June 11, The Times, The Mechanical Brain: Answer Found To 300 Year-Old Sum (From Our Special Correspondent), Quote Page 4, Column 5, London, England. (Gale Digital Archive of The Times of London)
Mr. Turing said yesterday: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be. We have to have some experience with the machine before we really know its capabilities. It may take years before we settle down to the new possibilities, but I do not see why it should not enter any one of the fields normally covered by the human intellect, and eventually compete on equal terms.”
Turing also outlined an important future objective of the project:
Their research would be directed to finding the degree of intellectual activity of which a machine was capable, and to what extent it could think for itself.
This short article ends with a citation, conclusion, image note, and acknowledgement.