Alan Turing: a short biography - 1
remote relative, the Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney (1826-1911), today best known for his identification of the natural units of physical quantities. Possibly the engineering base of his mother'sfamily, with its respect for applied science, had some influence, but if so it was subordinated to the demands of class, church and Empire.Certainly the elder brother John F. Turing, who became a Londonsolicitor, showed no sign of it. Alan Turing's story was not one of family or tradition but of an isolated and autonomous mind.Alan Turing shared with his brother a childhood rigidly determinedby the demands of class and the exile in India of his parents. Until hisfather's retirement from India in 1926, Alan Turing and his elderbrother John were fostered in various English homes where nothingencouraged expression, originality, or discovery. Science for him wasan extra-curricular passion, first shown in primitive chemistryexperiments. But he was given, and read, later commenting on itsseminal influence, a popular book called
Natural Wonders EveryChild Should Know.
Alan Turing with his mother
His boyhood scientific interests were a trial tohis mother whose perpetual terror was that hewould not be acceptable to the English PublicSchool. At twelve he expressed his consciousfascination with using 'the thing that iscommonest in nature and with the least wasteof energy,' presentiment of a life seekingfreshly minted answers to fundamentalquestions. Despite this, he was successfullyentered for Sherborne School. The headmastersoon reported: "If he is to be solely aScientific Specialist, he is wasting his time ata Public School." The assessment of hisestablishment was almost correct.
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