The Text of A Man from the Future

Written and composed by Tennant/Lowe/Hodges (music by Tennant/Lowe; text by Tennant/Hodges)

Natural Wonders Every Child Should Know

Narrator Chorus

1926. A son of the British Empire,¹ Alan Turing was accepted by Sherborne, a moderately distinguished public school.² One could conform, rebel, or withdraw—and Alan withdrew.³

At the age of ten, he had been given a book called Natural Wonders Every Child Should Know. Alan told his mother later that this book had opened his eyes to science. But more than that, it opened the book of life, attempting to answer the questions "What have I in common with other living things, and how do I differ from them? And by what process of becoming did I myself finally appear in this world?" It was an introduction to science and sex, and conveyed the idea that there had to be a reason for the way things are, and that the reason came not from God, but from science.⁴ For, of course, the body is a machine.⁵


  Natural wonders every child should know
Birds and bees, and how the flowers grow
Why the sky is blue and grass is green
What boys and girls are made of
And how the body is a machine

Alan liked chemistry experiments and inventing things.⁶ He was an independent boy, for although he had surely learned by now about the birds and the bees, his heart was to be elsewhere.⁷

He had been made aware by Sherborne of a secret that in the outside world was not even supposed to exist. And it was his secret: that he was drawn by love and desire to his own sex.⁸ There was a boy in another house. Alan had first noticed Christopher Morcom early in 1927 and had been very struck by him. He wanted to look again at his face, as he felt so attracted. Christopher shared with Alan a passion for science. Alan's utter loneliness was pierced at last. He wrote, "Chris was waiting outside the labs and took me out to see the stars."

 
  Natural wonders every child should know
Birds and bees, and how the flowers grow
Why the sky is dark and stars are seen
What boys and girls are made of
And how the body is a machine

A mental picture of the universe had expanded a millionfold. Alan and Christopher discussed ideas.

No one had told Alan that Christopher had contracted tuberculosis as a small boy, and his life had been constantly in danger. At noon on Thursday the 13th of February, 1930, Christopher died.

Alan wrote to Mrs. Morcom, "I know I must put as much energy, if not as much interest, in my work as if he were alive, because that is what he would like me to do."

Alan's brain, like a wireless set, resonated to a signal from the unseen world.

 
 

Natural wonders every child should know
Birds and bees, and how the flowers grow
Why the sky is blue and grass is green
What boys and girls are made of
And how the body is a machine

…and grass is green
What boys and girls are made of
And how the body is a machine

He Dreamed of Machines

Narrator Chorus

Cambridge 1935. It had become his habit to run long distances in the afternoon. At Grandchester, lying in a meadow, Alan Turing dreamed of machines.


 

He lay in a field
And dreamed of machines
He lay in a field
And dreamed of machines
Read, decode, execute
A logical extreme
For everything
A universal machine

He combined a mechanistic picture of the mind with the precise logic of pure mathematics, and discovered something miraculous: the idea of a universal machine that could take over the work of any machine.  
  An industrial solution
An intellectual scene
In Cambridge
He dreamed of machines
It had no obvious model in anything that existed. It was his own invention. There could be a single machine to perform the equivalent of human mental activity: an electric brain.  
  Read, decode, execute
A logical extreme
For everything
A universal machine
The idea had come out of his private loss. But between the idea and its embodiment had to come the sacrifice of millions.  
  He dreamed of machines
He dreamed of machines
He dreamed of machines
He dreamed of machines

The Enigma

Narrator Chorus

1938. The Enigma machine was a central problem that confronted British intelligence. They believed it was unsolvable. Alan Turing made his fateful decision to begin his long association with the British government. He had, for the first time, surrendered a part of his mind, with a promise to keep the government's secrets.

1939. He reported on the 4th of September to Bletchley Park. Something quite new was required. And this was where Alan Turing played his first crucial part, mechanizing a search for logical consistency.

Beautiful machines made a noise like that of a thousand knitting needles as the relay switches clicked their way through the proliferating implications.

Alan was allocated Hut 8, in which to head the work on the naval Enigma signals. In the British amateur tradition, he took out his pencil box and set to work.

They deciphered the innermost secrets of the U-boat operations. Alan Turing's work denied the ocean lanes to Germany and secured them for the United States.

The arbitrary dispensations of the German cryptographic system had brought something like this into being: a sense of dialogue with a machine. The line between the mechanical and the intelligent was very, very slightly blurred.

They were having a wonderful time—seeing the history of the future.

Those who knew transferred it to a sealed compartment of the mind. Winston Churchill used to refer to the Bletchley workers as "The geese who laid the golden eggs, and never cackled." Alan was the prize goose.


Other Ranks

Narrator Chorus

"Whenever I recall some past epoch," Alan once said, "I think of whoever I was in love with at the time."

1943. Alan gradually transferred himself to nearby Hanslope Park, devising a new speech encypherment process. It became known as the Delilah, the deceiver of men. Delilah turned Churchill's words into a white noise—an uninformative hiss.


  Oh, Delilah, deceiver of men
Turning secret words into white noise
Science and sex
Science and sex

Oh, Delilah, deceiver of men
Turning secret words into white noise
Science and sex
Science and sex
There was an occasion when he was invited to a drinking party organized by the other ranks. He was very pleased, partly at breaching social class barriers, but surely also because of the allure of that vast England of working-class men.

Alan suddenly dropped into the conversation with apparent casualness the fact that he was a homosexual. His young Midlands assistant was both amazed and profoundly upset. It was not only what Alan told him that he found repellant, but the unapologetic attitude. If sometimes he had seen his sexuality as a cross to bear, it was more and more a fact of life, one as much at the heart of what he was as that equally unasked-for, equally amoral love of natural science.
 
 

Oh, Delilah
Oh, Delilah
Science and sex

Science and sex—they had been the two things that allowed Alan Turing to jump out of the social system in which he was trained.  
  Science and sex
Science and sex

The Memory and the Control

Narrator Chorus

1944. As the European war ground to its end, it became clear that Alan's interest had turned to the brain.

In speaking of building a brain, he did not mean that the components of his machine should resemble the components of a brain or that their connections should imitate the manner in which the regions of the brain were connected. That the brain's stored words, pictures, skills in some definite way connected with input signals from the senses and output signals to the muscles was almost all he needed.

He described to his assistant his idea of the universal machine that could take over the work of any machine.

And thus it was that, working with one assistant in a small hut and thinking in his spare time, an English homosexual atheist mathematician had conceived of the computer. This threw all the emphasis onto a new place: the construction of a large, fast, effective, all-purpose electronic memory. He concentrated upon the two really important things: the Memory and the Control.


  The Memory and the Control
The Memory and the Control
The Memory and the Control
The Memory and the Control
He had created something quite original: the art of computer programming.  
  The Memory and the Control
The Memory and the Control
Alan said, "I do not see why the machine should not enter any one of the fields normally covered by the human intellect and eventually compete on equal terms."  
  The Memory and the Control
The Memory and the Control
The Memory and the Control
The Memory and the Control

The Trial

Narrator Chorus

1951. His fascination with computers had a complementary aspect. He was particularly self-conscious of things that other people accepted without thinking. Thinking and doing—the logical and the physical. It was the problem of his theory and the problem of his life.


 

Can you think what I feel?
Can you feel what I think?
Can we sleep together as lovers?
Can we think and feel the same thing?

As he walked along Oxford Road, Manchester, he caught the eye of a young man. Arnold Murray was nineteen, currently unemployed, and very hard-up. Alan invited him to lunch, explained that he worked on the electronic brain, and asked him to come to his home at the weekend. They did not have much in common to talk about, but found links. Besides current affairs, Alan also talked about astronomy, played a tune on the violin, and let Arnold have a try.

"Can you think what I feel? Can you feel what I think?" he said with terrific emphasis at one point.

Alan made it clear that he wanted them to sleep together as lovers. And this they did.

 
  Can you think what I feel?
Can you feel what I think?
Can we sleep together as lovers?
Can we think and feel the same thing?
Everything had changed. The Manchester bells were ringing for the death of King George VI. The new queen Elizabeth flew back from Kenya. And it was on that very evening that the detectives paid a call. It had not taken them long to detect Alan Turing's crime.

The case was heard on the 31st of March, 1952.
 
 

"Regina vs Turing –
Alan Mathison Turing, being a male person, was party to the commission of an act of gross indecency with Arnold Murray, a male person.
"

The verdict quivered between the old and the new dispensations, and came down for the new—the scientific alternative to prison.

He was placed on probation, with the condition that he submit for treatment by a duly qualified medical practitioner at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. It was chemical castration.

Never far below the surface lay the highly traditional equation between sodomy, heresy, and treachery. A government minister said, "A homosexual is now automatically considered a security risk."

Alan wrote, "Turing believes machines think. Turing lies with men. Therefore machines do not think."
 

Only in His Death

Narrator Chorus

1954. Monday, the 7th of June.


  "Each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard
Some do it with a bitter look
Some with a flattering word
The coward does it with a kiss
The brave man with a sword"

As Alan had quoted Oscar Wilde in 1941, it could be the brave man who did it with a sword.

The inquest established that it was suicide while the balance of his mind was disturbed.

He was in a corner. He had always been prepared to confine his fight to his own personal space—the space that others chose to allow him. But by now he was left no space at all. For him, not only had the personal become the political, but the political was the personal. He had been engaged in a profound conflict between innocence and experience.

There was a Shelley in him, but there was also a Frankenstein: a proud irresponsibility of pure science concentrated in a single person. He had a lack of reverence for everything—except the truth.

It had been his trouble all along—that although driven by the desire to do something, he wanted to remain ordinary, to be left alone, in peace. These were incompatible goals, and there was no consistency in them. Only in his death did he finally behave as he had begun: a supreme individualist, shaking off society.
 

A Man from the Future

Narrator Chorus

2009. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, issued a statement. It was the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II and, according to the Prime Minister, a year of deep reflection—a chance for Britain, as a nation, to commemorate the profound debts we owe to those who came before.

He continued by paying tribute to Alan Turing's unique contribution, which helped to turn the tide of war, and then referred to the horrifying fact that Alan was treated so inhumanely.

"While he was dealt with under the law of the time, and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair, and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was convicted, under homophobic laws, were treated terribly. Over the years, millions more lived in fear of conviction. I am proud that those days are gone…. So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work, I am very proud to say: we are sorry."


  Can you think what I feel?
Can you feel what I think?
Can we think and feel the same thing?
On Christmas Eve, 2013, the Queen granted a pardon.  
  "Now know ye that we, in consideration of circumstances humbly represented unto Us, are Graciously pleased to grant Our Grace and Mercy unto the said Alan Mathison Turing and to extend him Our Free Pardon posthumously in respect of the said convictions; And to pardon and remit unto him the sentence imposed upon him as aforesaid; And for so doing this shall be a sufficient Warrant. Given at Our Court of Sandringham the 24th day of December 2013; In the sixty-second Year of Our Reign."
An exception was made. The convictions for gross indecency for tens of thousands of other men, dead and alive, remain unpardoned.

A man from the future, Alan had imagined a world with intelligent computers where homosexual life is normal.
 
  Can you think what I feel?
Can you feel what I think?
Can we think and feel the same thing?
Can you think what I feel?
Can you feel what I think?
Can we think and feel the same thing?
Alan Turing preached the computable, but never lost natural wonder.

The law killed and the spirit gave life.
 
   

These notes are incomplete—very much a work in progress.

¹Hodges, Centenary Edition, p. 1

²p. 20

³p. 23

⁴pp. 11-12

⁵p. 13

⁶p. 13

⁷p. 28

⁸p. 29