"The thing that really stands out about the education department is how knowledgeable and focused the professors are."
For Professor Douglas Keaton, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, tough questions come easy: How does science generate knowledge? How is it possible that a purely physical body can create a mind? What does it say about our culture when we assume computers are capable of consciousness? And while the queries may come naturally to this big thinker, it’s the challenge of finding the answers and exploring research with his students that makes him truly passionate about his work.
Keaton, a native of a small town near Columbus, Ohio, studied English at Ohio University before going on to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Cincinnati. During his doctoral studies, he began to develop the thesis that a popular philosophical answer to a critical question of consciousness was faulty. “When we ask about the origin of consciousness,” he said, “there is often an assumption that the reason the brain creates a mind is because the brain behaves like a computer—that it applies intelligence and thus makes a short leap to consciousness. The technical term for this is the ‘realization relation.’ I think this is a mistake, but what fascinates me more are the assumptions – the things that we think are too obvious to mention – that go into this analysis of mind/body relationships.”
The concepts are challenging, and Keaton enjoys bringing his students into the deeply analytical ideas of his chosen field. But it’s not all Descartes and Plato in Keaton’s courses. He also enjoys exploring the philosophy of contemporary video games and discussing the ways a user’s engagement in a video game is very different from other fictional mediums—say a novel or film.
“Any horror movie you see is not half as scary as immersion in some contemporary video games,” he said. “Silent Hill is a great example. In video games, the demands of storytelling fight against the demands of fun game play; in other words, if you are the creator of a game and you want it to be fun, you have to leave it up to the player to make many of the narrative choices in the text. What comes next? That’s up to the player. This creates a level of engagement that has the potential to be much more emotional—frightening, or sad, or exhilarating. The philosophical issues raised by all of this are fascinating.”