Category Archives: Talks

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.

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

Aesthetics and the 4E mind Conference July 2016

Slides from my talk, Embodying Aesthetics through Proprioception

120px-Op-art-4-sided-spiral-tunnel.svg

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.

 

CFH_montero_lecture

Infinite Value and True Paralysis

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

120px-USVAInfinity

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.

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

Talk on the Concept of Expertise

I’m giving a talk in Münster, Germany at an interdisciplinary conference on the Philosophy of Expertise: What is expertise?

Here are my slides; any comments, especially before tomorrow morning, are very welcome.  Although the conference is interdisciplinary, my talk, as the poster illustrates, is primarily armchair philosophy.

poster for expertise

Just do it? Radio Interviews

I’ve recently been interviewed by Joe Gelonesi for the Philosopher’s Zone program, “Just do it?” and by David Brendel for the VoiceAmerica program, “How to hit and think at the same time.”

Just as when I was a ballet dancer and I couldn’t bear to watch myself on video, I can’t bring myself to listen to these.  (I’m willing to suffer for my craft, but I do draw a line.) Nonetheless, because this is how one measures out one’s life these days, I post them below.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/philosopherszone/just-do-it3f/5051702

http://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/72845/how-to-hit-and-think-at-the-same-time

Northwestern Philosophy Workshop: “Nineteenth-Century German Philosophy Of Mind”

Philosophers at Northwestern University helped me with my paper on nineteenth-century German philosophy of mind. While I was there, I also had a lively discussion about expertise and Plato’s Ion, as a guest in Rachel Zuckert’s aesthetics course.   Here are some photos; the first few are from the class; the last couple, from the workshop.

IMG_0622 German Philosophy Northwestern

“For by his face, straight shall you know his heart”

On Friday, May 3rd I shall serve on an Epic Theater’s post-performance pannel on empathy in Shakespeare’s Richard III: http://epictheatreensemble.org/r3

Is Richard III incapable of feeling empathy? How much of his ruthlessness is in his nature?  What is the relationship between the machinations of his mind and his deformed body? And does he have accurate insight into his emotions only when his body is in its natural state?

Must Physicalism Imply the Supervenience of the Mental on the Physical, New York City, 2012

This is a talk I gave for the CUNY Philosophy Colloquium on February 22, 2012, which was included as a presentation for the Online Consciousness Conference, with commentary by Robert Howell, Gene Witmer and Frank Jackson.  Please visit the conference site for further information, including links to the commentaries, my responses and discussion.