A few months ago, the movie ‘The Imitation Game‘ was released with some good reviews and some bad historical references. But mathematician extraordinaire and computer science pioneer Alan Turing’s legacy still holds its head high, as is evident from a recently concluded Bonhams auction in New York. A handwritten manuscript of Turing with scribbled notes of symbolic logic and mathematics, went under the hammer – and it fetched a whopping $1.025 million. The really interesting part is: this 56-page notebook was written within the very same time-frame (Second World War) during which Turing and his team of cryptanalysts helped in breaking the German Enigma code. This crucial phase is considered as a definitive period in human history which might have saved the lives of over 14 million people from the disastrous global war.
To that end, the manuscript in question here dates from after 1942 – which coincides with the time spent by the ‘cyphers’ in Bletchley Park. And oddly enough, the notebook’s initially blank middle pages were also used by British mathematician and logician Robin Oliver Gandy for writing up his own dream journal. In spite of this ‘intrusion’ by another author, the find (originally purchased from a Cambridge stationer’s shop) remains the only extensive manuscript of Alan Turing that has survived.
As for content of the notebook, this is what Cassandra Hatton, a specialist in fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams, told Vice –
He looks at the work of several other mathematicians and logicians, including Peano, who was a 19th century Italian logician, Descartes, Leibniz, Lagrange, Arbogast, etc, and they were all people who were trying to work on building a universal language. Turing is looking at their notation, how they write these things down, and analysing the problems with it, because he too was concerned with coming up with a universal language.
And, in case you are interested, part of the proceeds generated by this particular auction has gone to charity.