Author Archives: bgmontero

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

Should Physicalists Fear Abstracta? Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 24, Numbers 9-10, 2017, pp. 40-49(10)

Everyone has their daemons. For some, it’s addictions. For others, it’s the failure to live up to parental expectations. For me, it’s my thighs: why are they so big? But perhaps I digress. Already. Physicalists have their daemons too; for them, it’s abstract entities, in particular, the abstract, mathematical relations that, as some have argued, are an inextricable part of the physical base, that is to say, an inextricable part of the fundamental properties and entities upon which the rest of the world is built. Physicalists may have other daemons too; if they’re like the rest of us, they’ve got to. But at least this much is clear: physicalism is true only if the things we know and love—our tables, our chairs, our minds, our bodies, and most ardently our phones—are somehow all ultimately built out of or dependent on entirely concrete aspects of the world. The intrusion of abstracta ravages everything.

Or at least, this is the view espoused by Susan Schneider in her paper, “The Problem of the Physical Base,” in which she argues that physicalism must be false if abstracta are part of the dependence base of chairs, tables, phones and so forth. Here, in my own divagating way, I beg to differ: one can be a veritable physicalist, I shall argue, and countenance abstracta too. Or at least I’d like to set out some reasons to think that abstracta in general, as well as the abstracta woven into the dependence base (base-abstracta), are something physicalists can accept with consistency.

 

CURVED SPACETIMES: WHERE FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE MEETS VIRGINIA WOOLF

Through movement, music and the spoken word, Curved Spacetimes: Where Friedrich Nietzsche Meets Virginia Woolf aims to make public the private experience of the flow of time and to make visible the invisible nature of time itself. Let Zarathustra and Mrs. Dalloway guide you through the eternal return while you contemplate whether to live your life all over again. Come experience past, present, future, time reversal and general relativity in action, as dancers’ bodies tell spacetime how to curve and curved spacetime tells dancers’ bodies how to move.

A Logos Dance Collective production

September 21-22, 8PM at the Green Space Theater
Choreography: Theresa Duhon, Patra Jongjitirat, Gregory Kollarus, Barbara Montero
Music: Selections from Bach’s Cello Suites, performed live by Ivan Luza
Text: Excerpts from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Gay Science, Mrs. Dalloway and The Diary of Virginia Woolf, compiled and adapted by Patra Jongjitirat and Barbara Montero
Spoken Word: Nick Pappas as Nietzsche and Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes as Virginia Woolf

TICKETS: Advance $15, at the door $20
TO PURCHASE: https://www.greenspacestudio.org/september-1

 Photo by Allison Armfield

EXPERIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE, PHL 220

Step on a tack with bare feet and it will hurt. Why? Pain receptors at the site of the injury will send electrical signals via nerve fibres to your spinal cord and ultimately to your brain where they will pass into areas responsible for physical sensation, thought and emotion. The end result is that unpleasant feeling we call “pain.” But is the neurophysiology of pain, all there is to pain?    Granny Smith apples look green to me. And if you have normal colour vision, they look green to you too. Or at least, both you and I will describe Granny Smith apples as green. But how do I know that when you look at a Granny Smith, you experience the same colour as I do? Computers are becoming increasingly better at performing cognitive tasks once thought of as distinctively human. Not only do computers excel at chess, they can recognize faces, engage in conversations, and much more. Do computers, then, think? And even if they do, could there ever be computer consciousness? These are some of the philosophical puzzles that we’ll be tackling this semester in PHL 220.

 

PREFACE VSI

Chapter 1

chapter 2 behaviorism second draft

Chapter 3 PHYSICALISM second draft

Chapter 4 Intentionality second draft

Chapter 5 a science of consciousness

Chapter 6 emotions

Chapter 7 Digital Minds

 

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The Myth of Sudden Insight

The Myth of Sudden Insight  –a talk I gave as part of the 2017-2018 Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program Distinguished Speaker Series.

Leaps of insight—wherein a significant idea or answer to a problem appears to materialize in a flash—are often prized more than the plodding effort that is part and parcel of bringing such ideas to fruition. But why is this? That we sometimes experience “aha!” moments is undeniable. However, in this talk I question the claim that these apparent epiphanies bound over intermediate here steps of reasoning as well as the sentiment that they are more important than the comparatively slow, arduous, conscious thought processes that invariably accompany them.

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What Experience Doesn’t Teach: my submission for the Sanders Prize in Public Philosophy

Turns out, no one won. Mine is not to reason why, but to merely redouble my efforts. Thus, any suggestions—and I’m not at all committed to maintaining the “public philosophy” aspect (if there ever was one)—would be greatly appreciated. Here’s the start:

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You aren’t supposed to talk about it. Not really. And certainly not in front of the kids. But that isn’t why you don’t remember it. That isn’t why you don’t remember the way it feels. You don’t remember the way it feels because it doesn’t leave a memory trace to begin with. The facts are retained, but the feeling disappears.

What I’m alluding to is . . . (read on to find out:  WHAT EXPERIENCE DOESN’T TEACH )

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

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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:

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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 in paperback 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, Jason Holt at  Metapsychology, Thomas Leddy at Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Wyne Wu at Australasian Journal of Philosophy, and Anton Killin at the British Journal of Aesthetics

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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.