Terry A Davis

Published in Mental Health / Computer Science - 2 mins to read

This afternoon I watched this intriguing documentary on TempleOS and its creator, Terry A Davis. Davis' story is remarkable; a genius programmer who single-handedly created a complex operating system, who was also plagued by crippling mental illness that left him further and further out of touch with the real world, all documented on the internet for anyone to see.

On one hand, Davis was a delusion narcissist, unrepentant racist and all round asshole, and it easy to be disgusted by him or to pity him as a victim of schizophrenia and dismiss him altogether. But his talent for software cannot be overstated, and despite the obvious and deep flaws in TempleOS - ie that he believed it allowed him to commune with God - in many ways it is a borderline miraculous achievement (see what I did there?). Had he been mentally healthy, who knows what innovations he may have been able to bring to the tech community - it seems reasonable to assume that he could’ve had a meaningful impact on the operating system landscape today as we know it, all on his own.

The video also offers some interesting reflections on the relationship between mental illness on the internet; both that it can enable those who are struggling, as well as leave them vulnerable to harrassment, but also that it can document their story, and give the world at large an insight into their lives that they might not otherwise have been afforded. In some ways, Davis deserved the following he had, and there was certainly some segment of it that was unironic and respectul in the interest they took in his life and work. I almost wish I had been aware of him before the fact, so that I could also have followed him, although I suspect I would’ve written him off too quickly as just another crazy person on the internet - the crystallisation of information presented in the documentary has made me think that perhaps I should reconsider not just Davis, but similar people in future situations.

My favourite piece of potentially accidental wisdom from Davis during the video:

That bird has no idea what he’s looking at, and yet, what does the bird do? Does he panic? No, he just does the best he can.