April 20, 2016
By Hayley Zablotsky / John V. Roach Honors College
He is a philosopher of science. A man who can – in his own words – “nerd out” about nearly anything. A connoisseur of Scottish whiskey. A native Ohioan. An ex-a cappella singer. A constant learner.
He is the John V. Roach Honors College’s newest faculty member: Dr. Mikio Akagi.
Dr. Akagi, who will be the Honors College’s first tenure-track assistant professor, recently completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. His research surrounded how cognitive scientists think about cognition and understanding scientific disagreement. Before that, Akagi received his Master of Science in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh, specializing in the philosophy of mind, language and embodied cognition. For undergrad, Akagi studied philosophy and psychology at Swarthmore College in the Honors Program, where he worked in a perceptual psychology lab running experiments.
Akagi said his peers in undergrad were “intensely curious, deeply motivated and they pushed themselves and each other to get the most out of their education.” He already sees these similarities in TCU Honors students and looks forward to the challenge of engaging with such “intense, curious and demanding” students. In other words, bring it on.
“I am so excited to be coming to TCU,” he said. “My new colleagues in the Honors College and elsewhere have made me feel very welcome.”
He is most looking forward to being back in the classroom teaching subjects he is passionate about. In short, Akagi describes his new post with the Honors College as a “dream job.”
One aspect that Akagi looks forward to is the mix of students with different interests and backgrounds that he will teach. His courses are meant for students of all fields of study and knowledge levels on the topics.
And what are those courses?
In general, Akagi’s dream course is a “weird, interdisciplinary mash-up on non-traditional topics, with philosophical and scientific perspectives mixed together.” As it turns out, that is exactly the kind of course the Honors College wants him to teach.
One course Akagi will teach next fall is titled “Nature of the Universe: Disease, Disorder, and Disability.” The course will discuss the idea of “biological normality” and how social factors influence our perception of diseases. There will be special attention paid to mental health and problems in the philosophy and history of biology, psychology and medicine.
Other course ideas in the works include advanced philosophy of science courses about sensation and perception, the nature of human and animal rationality, and public conceptions of science and its methods. Scientific methodology also fascinates Akagi, and he plans courses with various angles on the topic. More specific themes for that class might include “operationalization” in psychology, in which psychologists decide how to measure abstract psychological features (i.e. happiness) through experiments; a case study of the biology of innate gender differences; a case study of contemporary scientific treatments of race; and the recent methodological crisis in science.
Interdisciplinary work speaks to Akagi because he enjoys synthesizing knowledge from several disciplines. This is reflected strongly in his philosophy background as Akagi draws from a variety of subfields such as the philosophy of science, philosophy of language and political philosophy.
“I’m an academic, but many of my students aren’t preparing for that life,” Akagi said. “So I really like to teach topics in ways that can lead to more nuanced understandings of everyday life.” That is, Akagi seeks to make his courses applicable and to promote a “helpful kind of liberal arts savvy about science.”
Akagi’s lofty goals move out of the classroom, too, and apply to his purpose and aspirations at large.
“I suffer from the grand delusions of a young academic,” he said. “I want to excel at everything. The three-legged stool of academic life are teaching, research and service.” In this spirit, Akagi says he already has research and teaching plans. As for service, Akagi looks forward to becoming more familiar with the university in order to find a need to fill.
In general, Akagi comes to TCU with an open mind: “I hope to learn a lot about what students and faculty members are up to at TCU, whether they’re in liberal arts, the sciences, or journalism or business or speech pathology. And over time I hope to find interesting ways to draw people together across disciplinary boundaries.”
And what about Texas in general?
Akagi has never lived in Texas but said he already knows he is going to like Fort Worth a lot. He is looking forward to discovering Fort Worth’s “mysteries.”
“I’m going to have to learn to say ‘y’all’ now,” he said.
In the meanwhile, y’all who are already Texans can extend Akagi a warm welcome.