We all have certain things we know about. We know about what we do for work, what we’re interested in, what we see on the news, what we read about, whatever seeps into our memory over time. Let’s call all our accumulated knowledge a sphere of awareness.
Once years ago I read a review of a movie called “The Star Chamber,” which was about a group of judges and police who decided whether to unofficially execute criminals who managed to avoid conviction. The reviewer wondered why the science-fictiony name “Star Chamber” was used. I was surprised that she had never heard of the original Star Chamber, which was a royal court of last resort in England where the king could right what he considered to be mistakes in the regular court system. The Star Chamber was in my sphere of awareness, but not hers.
I routinely call out BS in movies involving the military, usually because of hair that’s too long, but sometimes because apparently the writers don’t know how low-ranking personnel treat high-ranking personnel. I worked for nearly 30 years in missile defense, and I had lots of contact with soldiers, so lots of military things are in my sphere of awareness.
Leah and I usually watch the Today Show as we eat breakfast (or at least we have it on while we eat). On Thursday, there was a great example of things out of my sphere of awareness, and things out of the hosts’ spheres of awareness. The first thing was a segment about “one of the most popular boy bands in the world” called One Direction. There is an upcoming movie about their “epic tour”. The entertainment reporter for USA Today said that One Direction is “just huge right now, they’re humongous.”
I know what One Direction is because I think I saw them once on the Today Show or the Tonight Show or somewhere, but I am totally oblivious to what they are doing right now, probably because I’m one of those people who never read People magazine outside the dentist’s office. One Direction is within my sphere of awareness, but just at the margins.
And then the reporter started talking about another new movie called “The Imitation Game.” It’s about a “Nazi code breaker”, a “mathematician who figures out how to break this Nazi code.”
As soon as she said “Nazi code breaker” I knew she meant someone who broke the Nazi code rather than a Nazi who broke a code, and I knew she was talking about Alan Turing.
They mentioned Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Turing, and Keira Knightly, who plays one of his assistants, but they never mentioned Turning’s name. My impression was that they did not know who this person was. From this I assume that Alan Turing is not in the hosts’ spheres of awareness.
Alan Turing is one of the most famous computer scientists in history. His Turing machine developed the very concept of computing and computer algorithms we use today. The Turing test is one of the foundational concepts of artificial intelligence. And aside from all that, some people consider Alan Turing to have made perhaps the largest contribution to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany of any single individual when he and his team broke the Nazi military code*.
Since his death he has received widespread recognition. According to Wikipedia, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century.
Given all that, I was a little surprised that Alan Turing was apparently outside these peoples’ spheres of awareness. But different people know different things. They would probably consider me hopelessly ignorant of current culture because I don’t follow One Direction.
* Despite his contributions, the British government prosecuted Turing in 1952 for homosexuality. He pleaded guilty and was given probation with the condition that he take a female hormone that rendered him impotent and caused other physical changes. He lost his security clearance and could no longer work as a government cryptanalyst. He died two years later, apparently of cyanide poisoning, either by suicide or by accident. In 2009 the British government apologized for their persecution of Turing.