Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch's "last lecture"

He actually did give at least one more lecture after this at another university, but this was his last lecture at CMU, given on September 18, 2007 for a series originally titled "The Last Lecture." Pausch was born October 23, 1960 and died today, July 25, 2008. You can read his story at his CMU web page, at least once the traffic dies down.

This lecture is on achieving your childhood dreams, most of which he did, and on enabling the childhood dreams of others. Pausch was the founder of the Alice Project, which is a 3D programming environment for teaching students.

UPDATE (July 26, 2008): I'm getting lots of traffic to this post from people searching for Randy Pausch's name and the word "atheist," apparently from people trying to find out if he was an atheist. His CMU web page thanks his church, so he belonged to one, whatever his religious beliefs may have been. He didn't say anything in his lecture to indicate what they were. As an atheist, it doesn't matter to me so much what he believed, as opposed to how he lived. That is in sharp contrast to several Christian sites which have condemned him for being a nonbeliever (which they don't know to be the case) or for failing to evangelize. These people strike me as angry believers looking for reasons to criticize someone who led a good life. One Christian writer criticized Pausch's talk by attempting to paraphrase it as "I lived a meaningless life following meaningless rules, so should you." The same writer says, "Yes, he lived a nice and successful life, but so what? Who cares? He will be forgotten as were many people before and after him. His impact on the world would soon disappear. Whatever he achieved in research will soon become useless." What nonsense! So what? Those who knew him and worked with him disagree. He will eventually be forgotten, as we all will, but it will always be the case that he did live and he did make a mark on the people around him and his time was not wasted. And he will be no more harmed by his nonexistence after his death than he was by his nonexistence before he was born.

I question the motivation of those who argue critically of those who have lived happy and productive lives, arguing that so much better are the lives of those who live miserable, angry, critical, and destructive lives, just so long as they accept Jesus before they die. Surely the universe they want to believe in is an unjust and immoral one.

8 comments:

Invisible Pills said...

Good post, I had been keeping tabs on him after his lecture to find out his status. I found this line very interesting:

"And he will be no more harmed by his nonexistence after his death than he was by his nonexistence before he was born."

Not that this isn't true or is true, it is just asserted as a fact, which for some reason was odd to me, but nevertheless a good post.

Jim Lippard said...

Invisible Pills: I said it because I believe it is true.

It's a reference to very old arguments from the Epicureans about death not being a harm to those who are dead. This one is the "symmetry argument" from Lucretius (99 B.C.E.-55 B.C.E.).

The other common Epicurean argument is from Epicurus himself (341 B.C.E.-271 B.C.E.), which is the "no subject" argument--when you're dead, you've been annihilated and no longer exist, so there is no you to be harmed.

Both arguments have been discussed and argued about by philosophers to the present day. I just came across a Master's Thesis on the symmetry argument by a student at GSU, who defends the symmetry argument against Thomas Nagel's objections.

Invisible Pills said...

I am familiar with Epicurus essentially saying they do not touch each other, and I understand that you said it in that manner because you believe it to be true. That was the only thing I was confused about - that whether you believed it to be true because you perceive it to be a fact or that it is a known fact and you are stating it as such. You clarified for me, so I have my answer. Thanks for the reply.

Invisible Pills said...

Have you ever had conversations or debates with the gentleman who is dubbed the "Maverick Philosopher"? If so please share those materials with me. Thanks.

Jim Lippard said...

I've never met him or conversed with him (though he's here in Arizona, just east of Phoenix where I live), but I've occasionally read his blog. I don't believe I've debated him, unless we've exchanged comments at Victor Reppert's blog.

Invisible Pills said...

I will definitely have to peruse V.R.'s blog again to see the exchanges, I didn't even realize Bill comments on Victor's blog.

I read the paper from the student. It is well written, but I do like Nagel's asymmetry argument better as a whole in distinguishing between the two forms of non-existence even if the current state of self is the same, I do think it is rational to fear what is in front of you before it arrives, especially if it is known what it such an event would entail,(even if technically we are not a part of that event, the anticipation warrants fear), as opposed to what is behind you and already overcomed so to speak.

However, what do I know? I am an agnostic that hopes some form of survival dualism is true even if my left hemisphere of the brain says otherwise. However I would say this - if the survival hypothesis is true, then it is more rational to fear death in that circumstance than to fear non-existence.

Chris mankey said...

Randy Pausch was a unitarian.

http://www.uua.org/news/newssubmissions/117142.shtml

Jim Lippard said...

Chris:

Thanks!