Category Archives: Publications

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.



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

 Photo by Allison Armfield

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.


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:


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 )

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


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


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.






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)

Philosophy as an Art of Living


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)

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

One notable exception…

I have to admit, I sort of liked both of these Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

Wayne Christensen writes, “Of all the contributors, only Barbara Montero directly challenges Dreyfus’s empirical claims about expertise…” (→ Wayne Christensen’s review). The paper he’s talking about: A Dancer Reflects

Amy Kind, in her review, writes, “One notable exception is Barbara Montero’s excellent chapter on physicalism…” (→ Amy Kind’s review)  And here’s the paper: Physicalism

book reviews of me



Is Monitoring one’s Movements Causally Relevant to Choking Under Pressure?


Is monitoring one’s movements causally relevant to choking under pressure?Forthcoming in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

Barbara Gail Montero

I have a painfully vivid memory of performing the Venezuelan choreographer Vincente Nebrada’s ballet Pentimento.  I was a new member of North Carolina Dance Theatre, and although I had already performed the piece on a number of occasions, this was the first time the director was watching from the audience rather than the wings. In the middle of a pas de deux, I choked big time and blanked out on the choreography; try as I may, I could not remember a single step. My partner, who had been with the company for years, knew what was going on and manipulated my limbs until (after what seemed like eons) something clicked and I was able to find the choreography again. . . Various factors likely precipitated this mishap: my relative inexperience probably had something to do with it, and the choreography was such that it was not always closely related to the music, making musical cues few and far between. ..However, it also seems likely that my heightened state of anxiety over being observed for the first time by the company’s director played a role. But how does anxiety cause a choke? How did anxiety cause me to perform far, far worse than I have ever done before? (→ to Is Monitoring one’s Movements Causally Relevant to Choking Under Pressure)

pentimento 012

Russellian Physicalism

Russellian Physicalism, forthcoming  in Russellian Monism, edited by Torin Alter and Yujin Nagasawa:

According to David Chalmers, the conceivability of worlds that duplicate our physics yet lack consciousness refutes physicalism. Or rather, it almost refutes it. This qualification arises because “Russellian monism,” characterized roughly as the view that consciousness is determined by the intrinsic properties of fundamental physical entities, escapes this sort of antiphysicalist conceivability argument. One might think this is good news for the physicalist, but not so Chalmers. Although he takes Russellian monism to be a highly appealing view, he claims that many physicalists will reject it as it “shares the spirit of antimaterialism.”  I think that the loophole in the conceivability argument is more significant than Chalmers has made it out to be, for, as I shall argue, Chalmers fails to take into account a version of Russellian monism, what I refer to as “Russellian physicalism,” that escapes the conceivability argument yet is fully physicalistic.  (→ to Russellian Physicalism)


Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, and the Meaning of Life

From Chapter 12 of my forthcoming book, The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action:

…There are a few lingering concerns I would like now to address. For example, I claim to take the words of experts seriously, but experts at times say things that suggest [that they do not engage their minds while performing]… Dave Hill, we ought not to forget, quipped that a golf swing is like sex because you can’t be thinking about the mechanics of the act while doing it. How do I explain this? I should point out that not all of the loose ends I shall take up fall under the heading of “sex, drugs, rock and roll, and the meaning of life.” Though some do; be patient…

Chapter 12

Intuition, Rationality and Chess Expertise

From Chapter 11 of my forthcoming book, The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action:

Hubert Dreyfus argues that although analysis and deliberation play a role in chess in sub-optimal situations, the best moves made by chess players at the international master level or grandmaster level involve neither analysis nor deliberation nor even conceptualizing the board. Rather, Dreyfus tells us that “after much experience, the chess master is directly drawn by the forces on the board to make a masterful move.” High-level chess, on Dreyfus’s view,is bred neither in the heart nor in the head, but out there on the sixty-four squares. Is this right?


The Aesthetic Experience of Expert Movement

From Chapter 10 of my forthcoming book, The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action:

The idea for writing a book on the role of thought, effort and self-focus in expert action was prompted by an objection the philosopher and avid golfer Bob Child made after a talk I had given on the idea of proprioceiving aesthetic properties. I was arguing that 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—is an aesthetic sense, that is, a sense by means of which we experience  beauty, grace, and other aesthetic properties. Child wanted to know how a dancer on stage could have the aesthetic experience of her own movement, since  focusing on highly-skilled movements trammels their performance. If experts are to perform at their best, he averred, they can’t focus on what they are doing, and thus they cannot have the sorts of aesthetic experiences I attribute to them. This chapter, at long last, is my response.


The Pleasure of Movement and the Awareness of the Self

From Chapter 9 of my forthcoming book, The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action:


In a paper entitled “The Way of the Wanton” (2008),  David Velleman suggests that we achieve excellence only after we have moved beyond reflective agency. What he means by this is that although reflective agency—that is, thinking about and deliberating over our occurrent actions—is a stepping-stone to developing expertise, we perform at our best when we attain what he refers to as “self-forgetful spontaneity,” or “flow.” Expressing a version of the view I have been referring to as the just-do-it principle, he tells us that in highly-skilled actions, “the capacity to monitor…performance, to consider how it falls short of an ideal, and to correct it accordingly…is no longer exercised” (p. 188). Rather, after the requisite training, according to Velleman, “evaluative judgment is suspended” and experts act “without deliberate intention or effort” (p. 185). In previous chapters, I have argued for the importance of monitoring, evaluation and effort in expert action. In this chapter, I want to explore the role of self-awareness and discuss whether the pleasure of movement due in part to losing the self.



Effortlessness with Effort

From  Chapter 8 of my forthcoming book,  The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action:


What  is it for an action to be effortless?  What are we appreciating when we admire Castiglione’s effortless courtier, a dancer’s effortless leaps, or a seagull’s effortless soar?  For Castiglione as well as for the ancient Chinese thinkers, effortlessness was primarily a social value.  According to Castiglione, effortlessness, or at least the façade of effortlessness enabled individuals to gain recognition, approval and promotion to higher political positions in the Royal Court, and according to the Daoist tradition it engendered, de, a type of charisma that allows rulers to persuade neither by force nor decree but merely in virtue of their magnetism.  Though no less relevant to politics now than it was in the past, my focus is more on aesthetic rather than social value, and specifically with the aesthetic value of effortlessness in works of art. Raimondi_Lucretia's_suicide

You can’t Try too Hard

From  Chapter 7 of my forthcoming book,  The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action:  

We’ve all experienced times where our seemingly best efforts lead to suboptimal or even disastrous results. You are cooking dinner for your in-laws for the first time and the pie crust falls apart, the sauce doesn’t thicken, and the kale comes out of the oven burnt. Or consider the business executive on his way to clinch that all-important deal. Why, on this morning alone, does he appear with a shred of toilet paper on his chin sopping up the blood? Could it be that trying is interfering with doing? Somerset Maugham said that “in each shave, lies a philosophy.” What can philosophy tell us about the relationship between making and effort to do something and doing it?   

You can't try too hard