Author Archives: bgmontero

Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the College of Staten Island

Commencement Address for the CSI Class of 2017

Thank you Provost Reichard and President Fritz and congratulations to the class of 2017!

There’s a classic film from the 60’s called The Graduate, and in it, the central character is given a one-word piece of advice: Plastics. I’m not going to tell you about plastics. Instead, I’m going to tell you about something much more important, and that is neural plasticity, which is your brain’s ability to adapt to and grow stronger in response to challenges. Until recently, neuroscientists generally thought that after childhood, you never grow new brain cells; although the hardware may be reprogrammed, you don’t get any new parts. We now know this is wrong. Even as an adult, your brain, like your muscles, can get stronger.

How do we know this? London Taxi cab drivers go through the most onerous training of any cabbies in the world. When they are done, they don’t need a GPS as they have committed the complexity of London’s highways, byways, landmarks and optimal routes to memory. FMRIs show that this training enlarges the spatial-memory areas in their brains. Increasing your brain power doesn’t have to stop at graduation. It’s more than simply living up to your potential; you can, in a very good sense of the word, increase your potential.

But it takes work. It’s tempting to look at successful individuals and think, well, sure, it was easy for them. But as Anders Ericssen points out in his book PEAK, extensive research into the lives of great athletes, scholars, artists, politicians and others, uncovers not one case of easy achievement. In the golfer Sam Snead’s words: “People always said I had a natural swing. But when I was young, I’d play and practice all day, then practice more at night by my car’s headlights. My hands bled. Nobody worked harder at golf than I did.”

And it’s never too late to start. One student this semester Daniel Wisnieski —Daniel, I hope you don’t mind me sharing your story—told me it took him seven years to finish his degree. He said that at the start, his head was in the wrong place; I won’t tell you where he said it was, but it definitely wasn’t where it should’ve been. However, by the time he was taking my class this past semester, his head was firmly planted in his books and his final paper on the nature of science attested to this. I asked him what he was planning to do after finally wrapping up his degree. He wasn’t quite sure, but. . .but he thought he’d like to go back to school.

Whether you’ve been on the fast track or, like Daniel, it’s taken you a while, it doesn’t matter: you live your life from this point on. So, graduating class of 2017, remember: Confetti_(5879576562)Neural plasticity and GO GET ‘EM.

Against Flow

Do you achieve a state of flow when performing at your best?

For my views on the matter, see my article in AEON: Against flow

Broken-chains

Allegory of the Cave: Echolocation and Flutter

After a sold out two night run of The Missing Shade of You: A Dance Dialog between L.A. Paul & Marcel Proust at the Tank, Greg and I are continuing to perform Allegory of the Cave:

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Echolocation and Flutter.  We were at Triskelion Arts in March and on Sunday April 30th, we will be performing with live accompaniment as part of the Brooklyn Bridge Dance Festival:

Dance Photography

What Experience Doesn’t Teach

It is often said, “experience is the best teacher.”  But is it?

Slides for my talk at the 2017 Pacific APA pre-conference on Transformative Experience:

What Experience Does not Teach

Thought in Action

My book Thought in Action: Expertise and the Conscious Mind is now available from Oxford University Press!

If you’re too busy to read it,  I’ve blogged about it at The Brains Blog

been interviewed about it on 3:AM Magazine

and it’s been reviewed by Josheph Mendola at NDPR and by Jason Holt at  Metapsychology.

And, of course, if you’re not too busy to read it, you can buy it at OUP

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Experience and Knowledge PHL 220

Have you ever wondered whether other people see colors the way you do?  Perhaps when you look at newly sprouted grass, it looks to you the way ripe tomatoes look to me. Yet if it does, how could I ever know that it does? We could both take tests that are used to identify color blindness and that would require us to do such things as identify numerals written in red on a background of green. However, this would not resolve the issue since it could be that when you see the red numeral two, you see the same color I see when I look at grass, the only difference being that you have learned to call that color “red.” If only I could jump into your skin and find out what your experience of the numeral was like, then I would know whether you see the color red the way I do. But since that is impossible and since there seems to be no test that could reveal an answer, it seems that we are left with an irresolvable mystery: I can never know what it is like to have your experiences.

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Reading 1:What Experience Doesn’t Teach

Reading 2: preface

Reading 3: Chapter 1

Reading 4: Chapter 2

Philosophy of Science

Steven Baumann and I are co-teaching the Philosophy of Science in the nursing doctoral program at the Graduate Center (NUR 700). In it, we investigate questions such as: What is Science?  How can we tell the difference between science and pseudo-science?  What is distinctive about scientific reasoning and explanation? How are we to understand scientific revolutions? What role does gender play in science?

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Aesthetics and the 4E mind Conference July 2016

Slides from my talk, Embodying Aesthetics through Proprioception

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Reflective and Prereflective Bodily Awareness in Skilled Action

Reflective and Prereflective Bodily Awareness in Skilled Action

John Toner, Barbara Gail Montero, and Aidan Moran

Published in Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research and Practice, Online First May 16, 2016.

Abstract. A number of influential theories of skill acquisition posit that the performing body is an absent presence during “habitualized” action. The current article counters this claim by drawing on a wide range of empirical and phenomenological evidence to argue that the body is never forgotten during skilled movement. We draw on Colombetti’s (2011) taxonomy of the bodily self to show how skilled performers may experience either a reflective or prereflective mode of bodily awareness depending on the foci of attention adopted during online skill execution. We argue that it is the dynamic interplay of these latter forms of bodily awareness that facilitates optimal performance and allows skilled performers to confront the challenges (e.g., injury, performance slumps) that are a ubiquitous feature of competitive environments.

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Static/Sensation

tumblr_inline_o4t5k1L8Td1qenqjs_500Dancer Greg Kollarus and I were paired with the choreographer Brandon Powers for an xyz nyc performance on March 24th. The motto of xyz is experiment, collaborate, and compete. Teams are allowed only one week of rehearsal and and given a challenge.  This time it was that each piece must include a costume change.

 

What is Matter?

What is Matter?

BARBARA GAIL MONTERO • Associate Professor of Philosophy, City University of New York

NOVEMBER 16 @ 6 P.M. | Daniel Family Commons, Usdan University Center,  Wesleyan University

What is Matter? The seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher René Descartes had an elegant answer to this question: the essence of matter, or of body, is extension-extension in length, breadth, and depth. And since Descartes also held that the mind is indivisible while everything extended is divisible, the classic mind-body problem was born: How are we to find a place for the mind in a material world. But the material world has undergone quite a few changes since the seventeenth century, or at least our conception of it has, and we no longer have an elegant answer to the question of what is matter, if we have an answer to it at all. In my talk, I shall grapple with some of the difficulties of understanding the concept of matter and ponder the question of what implications “the thinning of matter” might have for our philosophical theorizing about the mind-body problem

As part of the Wesleyan Center for the Humanities Lecture Series, Matters that Matter, I gave a talk on what else but, What is Matter? Slides and video  for those who don’t mind some rough edges. As I’d like to smooth things out eventually, comments are very welcome.

 

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Infinite Value and True Paralysis

 Slides from my talk at the Princeton Workshop on Infinite Value.

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XYZ NYC: Lost in Translation, October 29th, 7:00 pm at The Tank

I danced with Erin Carlisle Norton, who also choreographed the piece, entitled Alright. We had only 4 hours to put it all together.

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Photo and Video: Patrick T. Rousseau

Michael Burke was the guest judge (that’s right: experiment, collaborate, compete is xyz nyc’s motto)

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Thinking in the Zone: The Expert Mind in Action

Thinking in the Zone: The Expert Mind in Action, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, September 2015

Barbara Gail Montero

Abstract. Athletes sometimes describe “being in the zone,” as a time when their actions flow effortlessly and flawlessly without the guidance of thought. But is it true that athletes don’t think when performing at their best? Numerous studies (such as Beilock et al. 2004, 2007 Ford et al 2005, Baumeister 1984, Masters 1992, Wulf & Prinz 2001, Beilock & DeCaro, 2007). However, I aim to argue that because even highly-practiced skills can remain in part under an expert athlete’s conscious control, thinking does not hinder expert performance.Bullseye1

The Perils of Automaticity

The Online First version of my paper with John Toner and Aidan Moran, The Perils of Automaticity (Toner, Montero, and Moran) just came out in the Review of General Psychology.

Here’s the abstract:

Classical theories of skill acquisition propose that automatization (i.e., performance requires progressively less attention as experience is acquired) is a defining characteristic of expertise in a variety of domains (e.g., Fitts & Posner, 1967). Automaticity is believed to enhance smooth and efficient skill execution by allowing performers to focus on strategic elements of performance rather than on the mechanical details that govern task implementation (Williams & Ford, 2008). By contrast, conscious processing (i.e., paying conscious attention to one’s action during motor execution) has been found to disrupt skilled movement and performance proficiency (e.g., Beilock & Carr, 2001). On the basis of this evidence, researchers have tended to extol the virtues of automaticity. However, few researchers have considered the wide range of empirical evidence which indicates that highly automated behaviors can, on occasion, lead to a series of errors that may prove deleterious to skilled performance. Therefore, the purpose of the current paper is to highlight the perils, rather than the virtues, of automaticity. We draw on Reason’s (1990) classification scheme of everyday errors to show how an overreliance on automated procedures may lead to 3 specific performance errors (i.e., mistakes, slips, and lapses) in a variety of skill domains (e.g., sport, dance, music). We conclude by arguing that skilled performance requires the dynamic interplay of automatic processing and conscious processing in order to avoid performance errors and to meet the contextually contingent demands that characterize competitive environments in a range of skill domains.Changing_the_horizon (1)

Improvisation: Deliberate or Spontaneous?

I spoke this past weekend at the Cognition, Consciousness, and Behavior Workshop at the University of Louisville. My talk on improvisation in music and dance is definitely in workshop form, and any comments would be appreciated.

Dancing in the Dark

I’m dancing in this xyz nyc performance for the dark fest.
8ab24c0b69f1412b5fb65ad84ac6b1e4 I liked the idea of no lights. Aimee Plauche is the choreographer.

Come check out xyz nyc Dark Fest Edition! Thu, 7/23 at 7pm. $10. @thetanknyc

A post shared by Marc Andrew Nuñez (@marcandrewnunez) on

Philosophy as an Art of Living

Shusterman

Forthcoming in Mind, a review of two of Richard Shusterman’s books:

For philosophy to be fully relevant to our lives—as you will come to believe after reading Richard Shusterman’s books, Body Consciousness and Thinking Through the Body—it must speak to the flesh and blood, moving, breathing, feeling, thinking beings that we are. Philosophy, as Shusterman points out, often ignores the role of the body in our lives, yet, as he argues, since our bodies are “the fundamental, indispensable instrument or medium through which we perceive, act and live this life on earth,” it follows that “[i]f we wish to improve our lives…then one important way to do so would bShusterman thinking throughe to improve our understanding and mastery of our bodies” (2012 x). Because of this, philosophy as Shusterman practices it, is “an art of living” (2012, ix). (→ Philosophy as an Art of Living)

Night of Philosophy

If you can’t sleep this Friday night, perhaps you’d enjoy coming to this:

A Night of Philosophy

I’ll be speaking at… 4:50 AM!

Night of Philosophy

Considering the Role of Cognitive Control in Expert Performance

Recently I have been collaborating with the sport psychologists John Toner and Aidan Moran.

Toner, Montero, and Moran, Considering the Role of Cognitive Control in Expert Performance (December 2014, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences  DOI:10.1007/s11097-014-9407-6):
Abstract: Dreyfus and Dreyfus’ (1986) influential phenomenological analysis of skill acquisition proposes that expert performance is guided by non-cognitive responses which are fast, effortless and apparently intuitive in nature. Although this model has been criticized (by, for example, Breivik 2007, 2013;  Eriksen 2010; Montero 2010; Montero and Evans 2011) for over-emphasizing the role that intuition plays in facilitating skilled performance, it does recognize that on occasions, such as when performance goes awry, a form of ‘detached deliberative rationality’ may be used by experts to improve their performance. That said, Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986) see no role for calculative problem solving or deliberation (which involves drawing on rules or mental representations) when performance is going well. In the current paper, we draw on empirical evidence, insights from athletes, and phenomenological description to argue that ‘continuous improvement’ (that is, the phenomenon whereby certain skilled performers appear to be capable of increasing their proficiency even though they are already experts; Toner and Moran 2014) among experts is mediated by cognitive (or executive) control in three distinct sporting situations, namely, in training, during pre-performance routines, and while engaged in on-line skill execution. We conclude by arguing that Sutton et al. (2011) ‘applying intelligence to the reflexes’ (AIR) approach may help to elucidate the process by which expert performers achieve continuous improvement through analytical/mindful behavior during training and competition.

Considering the Role of Cognitive Control in Expert Performance