George Spencer-Brown


Spencer-Brown, G, mathematician, consulting enginecr, psychologist, educational consultant and practitioner, consulting psychotherapist, author, and poet, born Grimsby, Lincolnshire, England, 2nd April 1923, elder son of John Brown, civil engineer, international chess player, writer, and painter in oils, and Margery Featherston.

Educated locally at St James's Choir School, then at Mill Hill 1936-41. Old Millhillian Scholar 1938. Physics Prize 1939. University of London First M B 1940. Walter Knox Prize for Chemistry 1941.

London Hospital Medical College 1941-43. Worked with J D Boyd in experiments in the special senses, and with D T Harris in medical uses of hypnosis. Hon Secretary to College Scientific Society and founder member of Medical Brains Trust Team 1942.

Royal Navy 1943-47. Ordinary Telegraphist (Wireless Mechanic) 1943. Radio Mechanic (W) 1944. Passed final examination for RM(W) with highest mark of all candidates in the practical examination. Leading Radio Mechanic 1944. Warrant Officer 1944. Undertook successful trials of hypnosis for dentistry at H M S Collingwood, and for retraining of wounded personnel at the Royal Naval Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Centre at Bromley. Lieutenant 1946.

Trinity College Cambridge 1947-52. Chess Half Blues 1948, 1949, 1950. College soccer and lawn tennis teams. Hon Assistant Secretary, Cambridge University Chess Club, 1948. President 1949. Captain of winning team versus Oxford 1950. Captain of Combined Universities 1950. Joined Cambridge University Gliding Club 18th May 1949. Qualified without dual instruction for Silver C Badge 4th August 1949. (This world-record of ab initio to Silver C in 78 days has never been equalled or surpassed.) Flying Instructor and Hon Secretary, Cambridge University Gliding Club, 1950. Pilot Officer, Royal Air Force . Volunteer Reserve, Cambridge University Air Squadron, 1949-52. First ab initio member of any university squadron to qualify for Instrument Rating, 22nd December 1950. Member of Air Ministry Selection Board 1951. Private Pilot's Licence 1952. Squadron Lecturer in Principles of Flight 1952. Leader of Formation Aerobatic Team, winners of Cambridge Squadrons Formation Flying Contest, 3rd May 1952. Learned and practiced racing driving with Gavin Maxwell 1949-50. Worked with Ludwig Wittgenstein in Foundations of Philosophy 1950-51. Played with the University Actors in public production of Shakespeare 1952. Honours (Class II) Moral Sciences Tripos Part 1 (Philosophy) 1949, Part 2 (General, Educational, and Clinical Psychology) 1950. Diploma in Education 1951. Perrott Student in Psychical Research 1951-52 with remit to study the effects of hypnosis in relation to the success and failure rate of experiments in the paranormal.

Christ Church Oxford 1952-58. Worked with Sir Alister Hardy in Oxford University Department of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy 1952-53. Contributor to Mathematics and Psychology Sections of the British Association meeting at Oxford 1953. First major scientific paper Statistical significance in psychical research published in Nature 172 (25th July 1953) 154 ff. It suggests that successful experiments in telepathy etc are evidence not of communication, but a gross effect of the principle of Heisenberg, and attracted world-wide interest. Elected to Research Lecturership of Christ Church 1953. Tutor in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. M A (Cantab) 1954. MA (Oxon) 1954. Worked with Lord Cherwell on Goldbach's conjecture and other advanced mathematical problems from 1954 until his death in 1957. Custodian of his unpublished mathematical papers and correspondence. Doctorate thesis on Probability published by Longmans in 1957. Bridge Correspondent to Parson's Pleasure. Oxford lectures on Statistical Methods 1956-57, and on Ethics and Doublthink 1957-58.

Chief Logic Designer, Mullard Equipment Ltd, 1959-61. Consultant from 1961. Adviser to British Rail 1963-64. Inventor of the first modular lift and elevator control units, British Patent Specifications 1006018 and 1006019 (1965), now in general use in simplex and multiplex elevator systems constructed by Marryat and Scott. Joint inventor (with D J Spencer-Brown) of the first transistor counting-module to employ complex formal arithmetic signals, now in use by British Rail. Undertook further work in the design and construction of time-locks and other electronic security systems.

Life Governor of Mill Hill School. Member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists since 1962. Soccer Correspondent to the Daily Express 1964. Consultant with Sigma Ltd 1965. Work in military Communications for U K Government 1965-66. Manager, Development Division International Publishing Corporation Ltd, 1966-68.

Worked with Bertrand Russell in Foundations of Mathematics from 1960 onwards. Part-editor of material for his Autobiography. Senior Lecturer in Formal Mathematics, University of London Department of Extramural Studies, 1963-68.

Practised full-time as a professional psychotherapist 1968-69. Successfully implemented hypnosis and sleep-learning techniques to enhance performance in sporting and other competetive activities. Specialist in the training and education of gifted and superintelligent children. Continues to practice world-wide on a part-time basis.

Worked in Computer Science and Number Theory with J C P Miller 1963 onwards. In collaboration with him and with D J Spencer-Brown discovered new primality tests and factoring methods. Member of the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics in the University of Cambridge since 1969. Chairman and Managing Director, Spencer Brown & Co Ltd, 1972-79. Founder of publishing imprints Cat Books (1970), Spencer Brown & Co (1972), and Universal College Press (1982). Life Fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society.

Married 1977 by special contract Katherine Lynn Parker of Denver Colorado. Separated.

Visiting Professor of Mathematics in the University of Western Australia 1976. Visiting Professor, Department of Computer Science, Stanford University, 1977. Consultant to Xerox Palo Alto Research Corporation 1977-78. Stanford and Palo Alto lectures The Four-color Map Theorem as a Problem in Formal Quaternions 1977-78. Visiting Professor of Pure Mathematics in the Department of Computer Science, University of Maryland, 1980-81. Seconded to Federal Naval Research Laboratory, Washington D C, as adviser in Military Communications. Contributions include new discoveries in optics, and in coding and code-breaking.

Washington lectures 1980-81: What is Mathematics, Formal Arithmetics of the Second Order, and Cast and Formation Properties of Maps.

Publications: Probability and Scientific Inference, London 1957, 1058; Laws of Form, London 1969, 1971, New York 1972, 1973, 1977, 1979 (writing as G Spencer-Brown); Twenty-Three Degrees of Paradise (verse), Cambridge, 1970; Only Two Can Play This Game (a comparison of western and eastern modes of thought and methods in the arts, philosophy, religion, and the sciences), Cambridge 1971, New York 1972, 1973, 1974 (writing as James Keys); The Falkland Papers, Cambridge 1982,

Recreations include shooting, tennis, cricket, soccer, chess, piloting anything that will fly, exploring, photography, maps and map-making, listening to Mozart, cooking in commercial breaks, composing and performing songs and ballads, constructing ingenious machines that actually work, and inventing astonishing games that can actually be played.