Alan Kay talk at DePaul University (2012)

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great honor is especially  meaningful to me because
no one knows  more to his research
community than i do  and i feel
the same spirit of family and  community in
the wonderful deep all  commitments to
access to everyone and it  takes a
village to help all of us  succeed in
our dreams when i asked
about  graduation speeches i was
told it is  tradition to give advice and
to be darn  quick about it
since we're all  manifestly diverse
everyone needs  somewhat
different advice and after all  of
these years I'm still working on my  own process so
I don't have any lofty  pronouncements from my
own experience  this is probably a relief
on the other  hand
we are all the members of the same  species and
part of what education with
  the capital e should mean is for
us to  gain some understanding and perspective  on
ourselves so after
acquiring a real  education in college
shouldn't we be  able to give
the human race at least one  piece of useful advice
what of
many  perspectives on humanity
would you  choose and what advice would you give
there's a lot of scientific evidence  that
says our species has been on the  planet
for at least 200,000 years an
  anthropologists who
have studied  thousands of societies around the world  and
found that all have language
stories  culture
religion music
dance art several
  hundred categories of behaviors
at all a  child born
into one culture and moved at  birth to another will
grow up as a  member  of the receiving
culture we have to be  very similar
for this to be possible so
  despite all of our manifest differences
  down deep we were also very similar and
what seems to differ from culture to  culture are
not our categories but how  each culture
fills them out for
we don't fight over whether we have  beliefs about
the world but over what  beliefs
so here's what strikes me about  us even
though for hundreds of thousands  of years we've
cared so much about our  beliefs to fight for them
until very  recently we humans
have just taken the  world of our senses and of
our cultures  as they seem with
almost no attempts to  invent ways to
check if our perceptions  and beliefs actually
hold water in
other  words we humans live inside of our heads
  to an astonishing degree so
much so that  we resemble a creature in
a dream that  only occasionally matches
up with the  world that lives in we
live in a kind of  a hallucination of our own devising
  Francis Bacon pointed
this out in 1610  when
he called for methods to be  developed to get around the
blindness  caused by our genetics
how our  individual brains
develop how we use  language and how
we assimilate the  beliefs of our culture's
this was part  of the already started
invention of  science which produced
example after  example we're careful investigations
and  new kinds of thinking's revealed
that  many of our beliefs about the world did  not hold
up we have been fooling  ourselves
so the perspective on humanity  I
would choose is that we are the  species
that fools itself in fact
we  even pay good money to be fooled and
we  have been fooling ourselves for
our  entire 200,000 years and
part of the  nature of this foolery is that
we can see  and that
what we think is there is what  is there a
wonderful line and the Talmud
  says we things not as they are
but as we  are I've often wondered
what happened to  that person Marshall
McLuhan the great  canadian philosopher
said until I  believe it I can't see it
but we need  dreams
and imagination one
of my  greatest heroes was Helen Keller
who was  rendered blind and deaf
before she was  two years old yet
became the first  deafblind person to earn a college
  degree at Radcliffe in
1904 in 1932
  shortly after the empire state building  was
built at the dawn of the depression
  in amazingly less than a year as a
  statement by its contractors about
what  humans can do with purpose and will
  Helen Keller who knew a lot about
  purpose and will took a trip to the top
  she was asked afterwards by
dr. John  Finley what did you think of
the site  when you're on top of
the empire  building here are
a few extracts from  the letter she wrote to Finley
I quote
  frankly I was so entranced seeing
that I  did not think
about the site if
there  was a subconscious thought of it it
was  in the nature of gratitude
to God for  having given
the blind seeing minds as I
  now recall the view i had from the  Empire tower
I'm convinced that until
we  have looked into darkness we cannot
know  what a divine thing vision is I
will  concede that my guide
saw a thousand  things that escaped me from
the top of  the empire building but
i am not envious  for imagination
creates distances and  horizons
  that reach to the end of the world it
is  as easy for the mind to think in stars  as
in cobblestones it
was a thrilling  experience to be whizzed in a
lift a  quarter of a mile heavenward and to
see  New York spread out like a marvelous  tapestry
beneath us there was the Hudson
  more like the flash of a sword blade  than
a noble River the little island
of  Manhattan set like a jewel in its nest  of
rainbow waters stared up into
my face  and the solar system circled
about my  head why I thought
the Sun and stars are  suburbs
of New York and I never knew it  I see
in the Empire State Building  something else
passionate skill arduous  and
fearless idealism the tallest
building is a victory of imagination  instead
of crouching close to the earth  like a beast the
spirit of man soars to  higher regions and
from this new point  of Vantage he
looks upon the impossible  with fortified
courage and dreams yet  more significant enterprises
what did I  see in here from the Empire
tower as I  stood there are twinks to earth
and sky  I saw a romantic structure
wrought by  human brains and hands
that is to the  burning I of the Sun
arrival luminary I  saw it stand erect
and serene in the  midst of storm and the
tumult of n  elemental commotion
I heard the hammer  of Thor ring when the shaft
began to  rise upward I saw the unconquerable
  steal the flash of testing
flames the  sword like rivets I heard
the stream  steam drills and pandemonium I
saw  countless skilled workers welding
  together that mighty symmetry I looked
up on the Marvel of frail yet  indomitable hands
that lifted the tower  to
its dominating height
when I first  read that i said wow
  I say it now every
human being is born  with it potential
to learn to see as  Helen Keller learned to
see with their  hearts body spirits and
minds and to  learn to be as vividly alive
and human  as Helen Keller learned to be
our great  gift is that
though we are the stuff  that dreams are made of we
can invest  those dreams with the clearer knowledge
  brought by careful study beyond our  simple
prejudices there's nothing more  powerful and
imagination coupled with  investigation
imagination allows us to  dream
and conceive of better futures for  us all
investigation finds the powers  and knowledge to
make better futures  happen so
I think my advice to our  species would be we can't learn
to see  until we admit we are blind in
other  words let us learn
how to wake up from  the slumbers of our nervous system  culture
and beliefs try to find out what  is going on
and what is really needed  thank you