Photo: Brian Glenney with googles and skateboard

"I'm interested in finding out what it is to be human as partially defined by the ways in which we are aware of the world around us."

BY SEAN MARKEY | NU Office of Communications

February 6, 2018

Associate Professor of Philosophy Brian Glenney mixes street cred with academic chops. The skater and graffiti artist holds graduate degrees from St. Andrews and USC and has spoken about his work at Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford. At Norwich, Glenney teaches courses on ethics and philosophy and has received research funding from the Vermont Genetics Network. Below, Glenney shares the inspiration behind his teaching and research:

1. Why do you teach?

If I'm honest, I teach because that's how I learn. I'm not [even] sure if I'm the one doing the teaching in the classroom. I'll present a set of ideas and arguments from assigned readings of my choice. (This is one common definition of "teaching.") But during my presentations, my brilliant students launch into reflective, open, and honest criticisms that upend these tidy ways of thinking. It forces us all to work through these ideas with new and fresh thoughts. Thanks students!

2. What drives your passion for your field?

I find humans to be quite strange. We can act in ways that are contrary to our beliefs. We can see, and in fact enjoy, looking at sensory illusions that do not match up with reality. And though we are social beings, we can have very anti-social behaviors. Trying to both resolve and sometimes provoke these human oddities drives my study of human nature. I also find it strange how interested I am by these strange human capacities.

3. What does your scholarship explore and what do you hope to answer?

I study how we perceive the world around us both as sensory and social beings. I'm interested in finding out what it is to be human as partially defined by the ways in which we are aware of the world around us. Awareness that is mitigated by our own sensory modalities, like eyes and ears, and the symbols and terms we use to conceive of others, like the "wheelchair" symbol, and the social pressures we experience amongst our peer groups, such as skateboard and graffiti subcultures. On this later point, I just began a project with several colleagues from UVM Medical school to investigate why skateboarders refuse to wear helmets (including myself) while also acknowledging the real possibility of permanent traumatic brain injury.

Read more about Brian Glenney in "Norwich Labs: The Future Lab"

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