Professor of Computer Science
Honors Program, Philosophy, Religion
Motorcycling the History of American Ideas
My father’s family comes from the Appalachian hills of Tennessee and includes some Cherokee ancestry. If my grandfather had downed enough Tennessee moonshine, in fact, he was certain we had Davy Crockett, mythopoeic woodsman, Congressman, and Texas martyr, as an ancestor. Tennessee culture, history and, of course, bluegrass music are important to me as a descendent of the Irish, English and Cha-la-kee, “those who live in the mountains.” When we opened my great-grandfather’s Civil War chest some years ago (he was 57 when he fathered my grandmother who lived to be 102), we found a dark blue army uniform. Despite the “Trail of Tears” produced by the brutal Indian Removal Act of 1830, this mountain man fought to preserve the Union.
I am an avid motorcyclist and often ride the green hills of Tennessee, rich in history and mountain lore. Rides have taken me east to Jonesborough, TN, home of the International Storytelling Conference which draws thousands each year; south to Oxford, MS, where “Ole Miss” (what slaves used to call the plantation mistress) sponsors esteemed literary conferences; and much further south down the irenic, pastoral lanes of the famed Natchez Trace, an old Whiskey running trail traversing the 400 miles from Nashville nearly to New Orleans. Of course, the South has a rich, tragic history, which may account for its great writers, outstanding architecture, and world-renowned music. Think William Faulkner, Sewanee University, and Muddy Waters.
As a result, my heart belongs to the mountains of Tennessee even as my mind belongs to Minnesota, where I took my Ph.D. in a program split between philosophy of science and computer science. Since joining the Augsburg faculty in 1985, I have had the academic ride of my life, working across disciplines, getting to know many fine students, and being immersed in the Honors Program. Additionally, I have a Master of Divinity degree and served an Episcopal parish part-time for ten years, an experience I will long cherish. When I tell people I teach computer science, philosophy and religion, it usually produces a pained facial expression, then, after a moment, an uncertain laugh, and finally an engaging conversation about artificial boundaries.
My wife, Cheryl, is an Auggie, professionally an editor, and a volunteer for Augsburg. She rides behind me on the motorcycle, offering sage advice that keeps me from riding into the weeds, literally and metaphorically. Or, when we travel to conferences, she keeps me from boarding the wrong train and gets me to the places worth seeing, such as the Berlin Wall or the fjords of Norway.
Teaching Academic Jazz
Given my reluctance to settle into any narrow vantage point, I view the heart of the academic enterprise to involve ideas that matter rather than training in the currently fashionable. This is a challenge since I relish technology, building beguiling web pages, and philosophical discussions of virtual worlds. My hope is that students will learn how to be students for life and hence be better prepared to meet the daunting challenges we face. I like to think of myself as a teacher of skilled improvisation or, in more Mississippi Delta terms, “academic jazz.”
Research: Games, Simulation and American Philosophy
I have published two books, Universal Assembly Language (McGraw-Hill) and The Turing Test and the Frame Problem (Ablex), and was part of a committee which produced a third, Teaching and Learning in Honors, published by the National Collegiate Honors Council. I have been active in publishing papers in a variety of refereed journals, some of which are listed below. Much of the research I do is done with a group of Honors students each spring in a collaborative effort. Our 2014 paper is entitled, “Human Identity and Virtual Worlds: Genetics, User Illusions, and Avatars.”
A new area of research for me is the relationship of computer games, simulation in science, and education. It has become more difficult to replicate experimental results in empirical science, more expensive, and less clear how evidence can confirm theories. As a result, science is relying more on simulation. The academy has long dismissed computer games as a frivolity, but I believe research into games, how we construct them, and how we use them, is key to the academic enterprise in the future. I presented a paper in Berlin, October, 2014, at the 2014 European Conference on Games-Based Learning, which explored the relation of computer games to the computer science concept of user illusion, the psychological concept of flow, and the epistemology of user interfaces. At the 2015 European Conference on Games-Based Learning, I presented a new paper, “Failure’s Paradoxical Relation to Success: What Games Can Teach us that the Academy Misses,” in Steinkjer, Norway, Oct 8-10. It argues that coming to terms with failure is a critical part of collegiate education that colleges and universities badly misunderstand. I am now on the Program Committee of this conference.
Another area of research is science and religion, from a computer science perspective. More specifically, I am interested in the interplay between computer science, religion, the American philosophical tradition of pragmatism, and narrative. Consequently, I have written and refereed for Zygon, the world’s leading religion and science journal. As a philosophical pragmatist, I believe much of the alleged conflict between science and religion stems from a counterproductive realist interpretation of both science and religion.
Honors Program and Grants
Early in my career, I received a Rockefeller Fellowship for a year of graduate training at Princeton. For 16 years, I had the pleasure of directing the Honors Program at Augsburg and I continue to teach three courses in the program each year. I have been selected for an “Honored Faculty Award” three times by the senior class at Augsburg after receiving an Outstanding Teaching Award at an earlier institution. I have received two National Science Foundation Grants, one for a major upgrade to the Honors Program; a Templeton Teaching Prize in Science and Religion (with Bruce Reichenbach); an ELCA summer study grant, University of the South; and, in 2014, two Innovation Fund grants from Augsburg.
- B.A. Pacific Lutheran University
- M.A. Pacific Lutheran University
- Rockefeller Fellowship, Princeton University and Seminary
- M.Div. Luther Theological Seminary
- Ph.D. University of Minnesota
HON 120, Scholar Citizen, HON 220, Scholar Scientist (Honors Program); CSC 160, 170, 210 and, notably, CSC 250, Game Programming on the Web (Dept. of Computer Science); PHI 344, Modern Philosophy, (Dept. of Philosophy); REL 220, Religion and Science in Popular Culture (Dept. of Religion). I occasionally teach a seminar on pragmatism with Lars Christiansen in Sociology. I also team teach a Keystone 490 with Russell Kleckley, Religion, oriented to science, business and religion, and Augsburg’s Center for Science, Business and Religion.
Selected Refereed Publications and Conference Presentations
- “My Buttoned-Down Students,” Newsweek, Nov. 24, 1984.
- Universal Assembly Language, TAB, McGraw-Hill, 1986, with Robert Fitz, 401 pages. ISBN: 978-0830627301.
- “Universal Assembly Language,” Computer Language, with Robert Fitz, Oct., 1986.
- “The Information Age: Friend or Foe of the Liberal Arts?” in Augsburg College Faculty Lectures, Volume 6, edited by Myles C. Stenshoel, 1988. Also in Occasional Papers on the Christian Faith and Liberal Arts 1986-1986, Arthur L. Olsen, gen. ed., Division of College and University Services, American Lutheran Church, 1-14.
- “Using Cellular Automata and Complexity Theory,” in Grayson, Lawrence P., Frontiers in Education, American Society for Engineering Education Conference, Washington, D.C., April, 1993.
- The Turing Test and the Frame Problem: AI’s Mistaken Understanding of Intelligence, Ablex Series in Artificial Intelligence, Yorick Wilks, ed., 1994, 216 pages. ISBN: 978-1567500301.
- “Inductive Explorations with Class 2 Systems,” Computer Science Education, 5, 1994, 149-164.
- “Class Four Systems and Computer Simulation,” Computers and Philosophy Conference, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, July, 1996.
- “Cellular Automata and Computer Simulation,” Computers and Philosophy Conference, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, July, 1997.
- “The Oxford Movement and the 19th-Century Episcopal Church: Anglo-Catholic Ecclesiology and the American Experience,” Vol. 1, No. 5, Quodlibet Journal, August, 1999. http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/crockett-oxford.shtml.
- Teaching and Learning in Honors, National Collegiate Honors Council, 2000, 128 pages. http://digitial communications.unl.edu/nchcmono.
- “Virtual Cities and Possible Worlds,” MAAFSA National Convention, Indianapolis, IN, April 2001.
- “Fundamental Issues in Honors Teaching: Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom on the Wired Campus,” Teaching and Learning in Honors, NCHC, ed. Fuiks and Clark, 2002, 21-32. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nchcmono/9/.
- “Radical Heterodoxy in Science and Radical Orthodoxy in Christianity: The Implications of Wolfram’s Revolt in Science for Theology,” Metanexus Conference and Proceedings, Philadelphia, July, 2005. 14 pages. http://www.metanexus.net/archive/conference2005/pdf/crockett.pdf.
- “Online Education Doesn’t Measure Up,” StarTribune, August 23, 2011. http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/128281678.html.
- “The Serpent’s Trail: William James, Object-Oriented Programming, and Critical Realism,” Zygon, June, 2012, 388-414. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9744.2012.01262.x/abstract.
- “Appearance and Reality,” The Other Culture: Science and Mathematics Education in Honors, NCHC monograph series, Buckner and Garbutt, ed., fall 2012, 253-261. ISBN: 978-0-983-5457-3-6.
- “HTML5 Canvas, User Illusions, and Game Flow,” 8th Annual European Conference on Games-Based Learning, Berlin, Germany, Oct. 8-10, 2014. Published in conference Proceedings, 10 pages. http://academic-bookshop.com/ourshop/prod_3568889-ECGBL-2014-8th-European-Conference-on-Games-Based-Learning-ECGBL-2014-Berlin-Germany-PRINT-version.html.
- “Failure’s Paradoxical Relation to Success: What Games Can Teach Us that the Academy Misses,” 9th Annual European Conference on Games-Based Learning, Nord-Trondelag University College, Steinkjer, Norway, Oct 8-10, 2015. Published in conference Proceedings, 10 pages. http://academic-conferences.org/ecgbl/ecgbl2015/ecgbl15-proceedings.htm.