Randy Pausch

CS prof. Randy Pausch’s famous Last Lecture quickly became widely watched inspiration story, especially for young people and CS students. Simple rules of thumb, worked on and implemented in one’s life can lead to improved quality of life and motivate people to work harder on achieving their targets and dreams. Notes: brick walls, people, enabling dreams of others, “experience is what we get if we do not get what we want”, head-fake learning, fun-orientation, honesty, love.

ABC has organised Randy to play a pro football game in NFL after it was clear that he is terminally ill. It reminded me of Kasia and what the organisation she works with do. Although Randy is not a kid, he had his child’s dream fulfilled because of his terminal illness (Kasia works for non-profit organisation that makes seriously sick children’s dream fulfilled).

Randy talked about everyone of us as terminally ill though. From the ABC News article: “His fate is, is our fate, but it’s just sped up,” said co-author Jeff Zaslow. “He’s, you know, 47, and, and we don’t know when we’re gonna go, but we all have the same fate. We’re all dying, just like Randy is … when we can see him, how he’s, how he’s traveling, it makes us think about how we’re going to travel.”

It is difficult to keep that perspective in mind without having a more or less clear “deadline”. Thinking about “the end” gets in a way of our daily routines and we are used to put things up for later. There is nothing really that unusual, that this “later” is ultimately a really limited resource. Aligning one’s life with this, and keeping one’s priorities sorted out seems obvious and common sense, yet prohibitively difficult to achieve for most people. Again, simple rules of thumb and guidance seem to be the best we can think of. Those and other rules of thumb have been developed 1000s years ago, and seem as valid back then as they are valid now.

Is religion a form of “head fake” to get people into a better place that they could get themselves otherwise? I am getting more convinced that it is indeed the case. Yet people do not see it this way. I think this is quite unfortunate – both religious and non-religious people seem to be missing the point.

The point are the rules of thumb – everything else is a form of fake head play, yet people seem to be focusing on the fake, rather than on the core of the issue. Both extreme positions are missing out what the real core of the issue is. Let’s use Randy’s Alice system as a fake head approach to teach kids Programming. On one hand a constant fight with equivalent of “Alice” is getting in a way of people understanding the equivalent of “Programming” (see Dawkins for examlpe), and on the other hand religious fundamentalists stressing the “Alice” are missing out the core, which is the concept of “programming”. Alice is irrelevant – what is relevant is what that fake head is used for. And in each single religion, it was at its core used to improve the quality of one’s life. An optimistic affirmation of life, of love, of friendships. An inspiration, and a set of simple rules of thumb to follow. Once this was institutionalised, it led to abuse and misuse, but that’s a completely different issue. 

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