Meet a Pitzer Professor: Brian Keeley

Brian Keeley, Professor of Philosophy, teaches in the Philosophy, Neuroscience, and Science, Technology and Society programs at Pitzer College. His research interests include the epistemology of conspiracy theories, the philosophy of artificial life and artificial intelligence, and the sciences of sensory perception.

Transcript:

Obviously, the academy, the way things tend to be taught in colleges, tend to be broken into disciplines. We have anthropology, we have philosophy, we have cognitive science, we have all these different kinds of disciplines, and that’s kind of the way academics has always organized things. But the world itself isn’t split up into these nice little categories. These are human ways of dividing up the job of learning about the world and learning about people. I’m Brian Keeley and I am Professor of Philosophy here at Pitzer College. I’m in the Philosophy Field Group but I also participate in a number of other programs. I teach in the neuroscience program, I’m also a member of the Science, Technology and Society program, and also we’ve just started a brand new Cognitive Science field group and I’m one of the founding members of that program.

One thing that characterizes philosophy is that it deals with of what you might thing of as perennial questions, I mean questions that have been bothering humans from the very beginning: Who am I? Why am I here? What is here? What is this world? And these are questions that have been questions forever, but we also have modern versions of them. We’re still dealing with the same questions that Aristotle and Plato and Confucius and that people a long, long time ago were dealing with. Doesn’t that show that philosophy hasn’t made any progress? We haven’t answered any of the questions.

One way of thinking about philosophy is that it’s not really about the answers. It’s more about coming up with better questions. Because if you engage with really, really difficult questions, then when you’re confronted with much easier questions, you’ll be in a much better position to answer them. The metaphor I use is, when you go to the gym, you’re lifting really heavy weights, and you’re running really, really fast, and you’re doing lots of stuff where you’re pushing your body to it’s extremes. But do you lift up 150 pounds on a barbell because you’re going to be doing that on a daily basis? No, you do that really extreme thing so that when you pick up your laundry and take it up two flights of stairs, you’re not completely winded. Well, I think of philosophy as kind of the gym for the mind. In philosophy, you’re going to deal with questions like, “Is there a God?” or “Do we have free will?” Is that because we want to be able to answer those questions on a day-to-day basis? No, because typically, we’re not really worried about those sorts of things. Instead, we’re trying to figure out, “Should I buy an electric car, or should I buy a hybrid, or should I buy an old-fashioned gas car?” There are decisions there to be made, and if you bang your head against really difficult philosophical qualms in a philosophy class, you’re better at thinking through the mundane questions that we have on a day-to-day basis.

To me, one of the great things about Pitzer is the freedom that I have to teach on all sorts of different topics. I’m one of those people who likes to learn, I like to engage with lots of different kinds of interesting ideas. Philosophy in general allows me to do that, but particularly, teaching philosophy at Pitzer allows me to do that to the nth degree.
I’m Brian Keeley and I’m a Pitzer professor.

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.