About

I am an associate professor of philosophy at the City University of New York (CUNY), where I have been a member of the doctoral faculty of the philosophy program of the Graduate Center since 2004 and a member of the philosophy faculty at the college of Staten Island since 2003. Before coming to the City University of New York, I was an assistant professor at Georgia State University (2001-2003), and prior to that I spent a year as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh (2000-2001). Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to have received a number of national research awards, including two National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Research Fellowships, an NEH Summer Stipend, and an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Ryskamp Research Fellowship.

Most of my research focuses on two very different notions of body: body as the physical or material basis of the mind, and body as the moving, breathing, flesh and blood instrument we use when we run, walk, or dance. The first line of research has led me to question whether physicalism is best thought of as the theory that everything, including consciousness, is ultimately accounted for by physics. This was the topic of my dissertation and has been an ongoing interest of mine. I was struck, as a graduate student, by how many philosophers had strong views as to the truth of physicalism, yet rarely was it made clear just how we were supposed to understand what it means to be physical.  This was not always the case. Descartes, for example, had a beautiful answer to this question: the essence of the physical, or of body, is extension—extension in length, breadth, and depth. Today, however since physics has revealed that matter, as Bertrand Russell put, it is “as ghostly as anything in a spiritualist séance” we cannot accept Descartes’ definition. My research on the “body side” of the mind-body problem has thus investigated what, if not physics, grounds our understanding of the physical. And in the papers I have written on the mind-body problem since my dissertation I have endeavored to illustrate just what philosophy of mind looks like in a “post-physical” world.

The second line of research—on the body as that moving, breathing, flesh and blood instrument we use when we run, walk, or dance—has led me to investigate the nature of various mental processes such as awareness, rationality, thought and deliberation via the study of expert action and proprioception (the sense by which we acquire information about the positions and movements of our own bodies, via receptors in the joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin). This research includes a book on the role of thought and effort in expert action (under contract with Oxford University Press) that aims to counter what I see as the mythical idea that when one has attained a very high level of skill (such as that of the professional athlete, musician, or dancer), action proceeds automatically and effortlessly. This myth resonates with what is called, in psychology, “the explicit-monitoring theory” of choking under pressure, according which expert actions are generally proceduralized (that is, they run offline, without conscious control); according to this theory, choking occurs when extreme nervousness causes one to consciously think about and control actions which ought to be automatic. This is the predominant theory of choking in psychology, and my book aims to challenge it.

As for my educational background, I received my PhD in philosophy at the University of Chicago in 2000, working under the supervision of William Wimsatt. During my time as a graduate student, I spend a year as a visiting exchange scholar at Princeton University, where I was fortunate to work closely with David Lewis. I completed my BA in philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley in 1993, where I was the philosophy department’s co-valedictorian. Before this (and after graduating from high school at age fifteen) I spent several years as a professional ballet dancer.

My favorite food is Shojin-ryori.

CAREER NARRATIVE 2015 (excuse the swagger; it was written for a grant application.)

Barbara Gail Montero at the Graduate Center