Computer Science, Philosophy, Honors Program
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.
K-12 school years took me abroad to Pordenone Italy, Frankfort Germany, Ponta Delgada Portugal, Tripoli Libya, Tachikawa Japan, and Honolulu Hawaii. I learned to love motorcycling in Japan. Quite illegally, since I was only 15, I motorcycled much of Honshu. As long as I could see Mt. Fuji, I knew how to navigate back to Tachikawa. My most memorable experience was listening to a Japanese shopkeeper tell me, with haunted eyes and pursed lips, of the “light.” It took me a while to understand, as his daughter struggled to translate, that he meant Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In his drawn, unforgettable face, history became incarnate.
As an avid motorcyclist, I love to ride wherever I can but most love the verdant lands of Appalachian Tennessee, rich in history, music, 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. My perennial computer science question is “What problems are computable?” while my principal philosophical question is “Does computing push our understanding of the academic enterprise in the direction of American pragmatism?” 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 teaching in and directing 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. Life in human community shaped by religious tradition is immensely rewarding but also academically limitative–namely, can we claim we have academic answers to serious life questions? When I tell people I teach computer science, philosophy and religion, it usually produces a pained facial expression, then, after a moment, a puzzled laugh, and finally an engaging conversation about artificial boundaries.
My wife Cheryl is an Auggie, professionally an editor who has edited many books and articles, and a volunteer for Augsburg. She rides behind me on my hot-rod Gold Wing F6B, 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. Much of my publishing success, in fact, I owe to her.
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, computer games that simulate virtual worlds, building beguiling web pages, and philosophical discussions of artificial intelligence. But such trendy topics provide an accessible gateway into classical philosophical problems, such as how we know, how we should live, and whether human life is finally significant in a vast universe.
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 and Simulation, Science and Religion, American Pragmatism
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. TTFP’s subtitle, “AI’s Mistaken Understanding of Intelligence,” implies that artificial intelligence, for all its recent success, simply shows that tasks we previously imagined require intelligence in fact sometimes yield to clever computational techniques. In short, the book is a philosophical critique of classical AI’s view of intelligence.
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 whether 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 (ECGBL), 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. In fact, I have been on the Program Committee of ECGBL for several years now. The ECGBL draws hundreds of participants from around the world.
At the 2015 ECGBL, 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. The paper was published in the conference Proceedings, but was also published more recently in Case Studies in Games- Based Learning-Volume 1, edited by Robin Munkvols and published by ACPI Press, Reading, United Kingdom.
Summer 2016 saw me present a new paper, “‘In Science There Are No Depths; There Is Surface Everywhere’: Surprising Parallels Between Rorty’s Descriptions and Wolfram’s Simulations,” at the Pragmatism and the Brain Conference, University of North Carolina, Asheville, June 2-4, 2016. I am a philosophical pragmatist, more specifically a Rortyan liberal ironist, convinced that all human academic quests are human constructs that involve invention more than discovery. In a word, we recognize that “Columbus discovered America” is problematical, but “Newton discovered laws of nature” is just as problematical, even if for different reasons. The thesis of the paper is that computing and complexity studies reinforce Rorty’s views in ways he could never have anticipated. I am preparing it for submission to the journal Contemporary Pragmatism.
Fall of 2016 took Cheryl and me to the University of the West of Scotland, South Lanarkshire, UK, for ECGBL’s 2016 Conference, where I presented, “‘Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master”: Accessible Front-Ends to Challenging Science Assignments.” The paper takes on the celebrated game-program Eterna, which enables non-science gamers to assist with researching the RNA of tuberculosis, which is becoming resistant to treatment. It is therefore a critically important research game simulation, my paper argues, but its inaccessible front end makes it needlessly difficult to learn. It was published in the conference Proceedings.
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, pragmatism, and narrative. Consequently, I have written and refereed for Zygon, the world’s leading religion-and-science journal. The paper was entitled,“The Serpent’s Trail: William James, Object-Oriented Programming, and Critical Realism.” 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. I believe science is a human construct, designed primarily to solve problems we find pressing, but so is religion. Once we entertain this alternate way of understanding them, our conversations can be more productive.
Grants, Awards and the Honors Program
Early in my career, I received a Rockefeller Fellowship for a year of graduate training at Princeton. 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 two Innovation Fund grants from Augsburg.
I had the pleasure of directing the Honors Program at Augsburg for 16 years and I continue to teach three courses in the program each year. HON 220, “The Scholar Scientist,” dates to the NSF Grant received while I was Honors director.
- 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, Data Structures, and, notably, CSC 250, Game Programming on the Web (Computer Science); PHI 344, Modern Philosophy, PHI 410, Seminar (Philosophy); REL 220, Religion and Science in Popular Culture (Religion). I occasionally teach a seminar on pragmatism with Lars Christiansen in Sociology. I also team teach a custom version of Keystone 490 with Russell Kleckley, Religion, oriented to science, business and religion, and, of course, Augsburg’s Center for Science, Business and Religion, currently under construction.
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, NCHC, 2000, 128 pages. http://digitialcommunications.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,” in Munkvold, Robin, ed., Case Studies in Games-Based Learning-Volume 1, ACPI Press, Reading, United Kingdom, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-9112218-12-8. Originally published in Proceedings of the 9th Annual European Conference on Games Based Learning, Nord-Trondelag University College, Steinkjer, Norway, Oct 8-10, 2015. 10 pages. http://academic-conferences.org/ecgbl/ecgbl2015/ecgbl15-proceedings.htm.
“‘In Science There Are No Depths; There Is Surface Everywhere’: Surprising Parallels Between Rorty’s Descriptions and Wolfram’s Simulations,” Pragmatism and the Brain Conference, University of North Carolina, Asheville, June 2-4, 2016.
- “‘Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master’: Accessible Front-Ends to Challenging Science Assignments,” 10th Annual European Conference on Games Based Learning, University of the West of Scotland, South Lanarkshire, UK, Oct 5-7, 2016. published in Proceedings. 10 pages. http://academic-conferences.org/ecgbl/ecgbl2016/ecgbl16-proceedings.htm.