Professor of Computer Science
Honors Program, Philosophy, Religion
Motorcycling the Hills of Tennessee
My father’s family comes from the Appalachian area and includes some Cherokee ancestry. If my grandfather had enough Tennessee moonshine, in fact, he was certain we had Davy Crockett as an ancestor. Tennessee culture, history and, of course, bluegrass 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. 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 local lore. Rides have taken me to Jonesborough, TN, home of the International Storytelling Conference which draws thousands each year; south to Oxford, MS, where federal troops burned Ole Miss in 1864; and down the irenic, pastoral lanes of the famed Natchez Trace, which runs from Nashville nearly to New Orleans. Of course, the South has a difficult history, but I am fascinated by the great writers, outstanding architecture, and world-renowned music it has produced. 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. Additionally, I have a Master of Divinity degree and served an Episcopal Church parish for ten years. When I tell people I teach computer science, philosophy and religion, it usually produces a pained facial expression, then, after a moment, a hearty laugh, and finally an engaging conversation about artificial boundaries.
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 not easy since I love technology, 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 about ten 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 will present a paper in Berlin, October, 2014, which spells out some of the relation of computer gaming to simulation in science.
Another area of research is science and religion, from a computer science perspective, which is unusual since scientists who go into this area usually do so from physics or biology. More specifically, I am interested in the interplay between computer science, religion, the American philosophical tradition of pragmatism, and narrative.
Honors Program and Outside Grants
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 an “Honored Faculty Award” three times by the senior class at Augsburg. I received 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, and a Templeton Teaching Prize in Science and Religion (with Bruce Reichenbach). Early in my career, I received a Rockefeller Fellowship for graduate training and did some work at Princeton.
- 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
Honors 120, Scholar Citizen, Honors 220, Formal Systems (Honors Program); CSC 160, 170, 210 and, notably, 495, 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 teach a Keystone 490 with Russell Kleckley, Religion, oriented to science, business and religion.
Selected Publications and Conference Presentations
- “My Buttoned-Down Students,” Newsweek, Nov. 24, 1984.
- Universal Assembly Language (TAB, McGraw-Hill, 1986). ISBN: 978-0830627301.
- “Universal Assembly Language,” Computer Language, October, 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). 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). 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.
- “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, forthcoming in Proceedings, Oct., 2014.