Philosophy of Mathematics Seminar


Philosophy of Mathematics seminar


Máté Szabo, Oxford

Max Newman’s Influence on Turing’s Early Work


While Turing’s “On Computable Numbers…” from 1936 and its impact is well studied, much less is known about Turing’s early influences. The aim of this talk is to show how Max Newman, who taught Turing in Cambridge and was later his boss in Bletchley Park and at the University of Manchester, influenced his early work. Indeed, Turing’s interest in the “Entscheidungsproblem” stemmed from Newman’s lectures on the foundations of mathematics he attended in 1935. I will take a look at the transcripts of the lectures from one year earlier (taken by Frank Smithies in 1934) to get a sense of Turing’s background knowledge at the time. However, the focus will be on Newman’s unpublished dissertation, “The Foundation of Mathematics from the Standpoint of Physics” (1923). After a careful look at the dissertation I will bring out the surprisingly strong resemblances (as well as the important differences) between Newman’s treatment of mathematical activities and Turing’s analysis of the human “computor”.