Tag Archives: effortlessness

The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action

Selections from my upcoming book, The ‘Myth of just do it’: Though and Effort in Expert Action (preface, introduction, Ch. 1)

From the introduction:

Science, Richard Feynman once said, is the belief in the ignorance of experts. If so—though I wouldn’t put it in quite those words—then perhaps my project should be dubbed scientific, for it is my belief that a wide range of experts who have written about expertise have been mistaken. In particular, I believe that various psychologists, philosophers, neuroscientists, and other experts on high-level performance have erroneously concluded that expert action proceeds best when the mind is relatively less active, when action occurs automatically, and when bodily movements are effortless. These expertise-experts, I believe, are wrong…

(→ to the book )

Reflective Agency in Expert Action

How does thinking affect doing? 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.” Echoing a view that one finds in a number of diverse intellectual traditions, 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.” Rather, after the requisite training, according to Velleman, “evaluative judgment is suspended” and experts act “without deliberate intention or effort.” But is this true?

A research proposal: Reflective Agency

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

A Dancer Reflects: Deliberation in Action

Here is a draft of A Dancer Reflects Deliberation in Action which was published in Mind, Reason, and Being-in-the-World: The McDowell-Dreyfus Debate, 2013, Routledge, 303-319.

Abstract: The idea that performing a ballet typically involves tremendous effort is contrary to the widely touted view that great performances, in ballet and elsewhere, are natural and effortless. Although practice may be hard work, it is thought that when performing, an expert just lets the movement happen.  Indeed, thinking about what you are doing during a performance is, if anything, thought to interfere with expert skill. Here, I argue against such views.

 

Effortless Bodily Movement

Barbara Gail Montero, Effortless Bodily Movement

(2011) Philosophical Topics, 39:1, pp. 67-79

Abstract. According to the Renaissance theorist Baldassare Castiglione, perhaps the most important quality to cultivate in oneself is effortlessness, what he refers to as “sprezzatura.”  In his Book of the Courtier, he writes,

 I have discovered a universal rule which seems to apply more than any other in all  human  actions or  words: namely, to steer away from affectation at all costs, as if it were a rough and dangerous reef, and ….to practice in all things a certain nonchalance (sprezzatura) which conceals all artistry and makes  whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.

But just 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, a basketball player’s effortless shot, or even a seagull’s effortless soar?  For Castiglione, effortlessness was socially valuable; the façade of effortlessness enabled individuals to gain recognition, approval and promotion to higher positions in the Royal court.  Though perhaps no less relevant to politics now than it was in Castiglione’s day, my concern is more with aesthetic rather than social value, and it is with movements rather than manners.  Accordingly, the question I am to address is this: What does it means for bodily movements to be effortless and what makes such movements aesthetically valuable?

Intuitions Without Concepts Lose the Game: Mindedness in the Art of Chess

Barbara Montero & C. Evans (2011). Intuitions Without Concepts Lose the Game: Mindedness in the Art of Chess. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences10 (2):175-194.

Abstract. To gain insight into human nature philosophers often discuss the inferior performance that results from deficits such as blindsight or amnesia. Less often do they look at superior abilities. A notable exception is Herbert Dreyfus who has developed a theory of expertise according to which expert action generally proceeds automatically and unreflectively. We address one of Dreyfus’s primary examples of expertise: chess. At first glance, chess would seem an obvious counterexample to Dreyfus’s view since, clearly, chess experts are engaged in deep strategic thought. However, Dreyfus’s argument is subtle. He accepts that analysis and deliberation play a role in chess, yet he thinks that all such thought is predicated on intuitive, arational expert perception, and action. We argue that even the so-called intuitive aspect of chess is rational through and through.

Does Bodily Awareness Interfere with Highly Skilled Movement?

Barbara Montero (2010). Does Bodily Awareness Interfere with Highly Skilled Movement? Inquiry53 (2):105 – 122.

Draft of Does bodily awareness interfere with highly skilled movement

Abstract. It is widely thought that focusing on highly skilled movements while performing them hinders their execution. Once you have developed the ability to tee off in golf, play an arpeggio on the piano, or perform a pirouette in ballet, attention to what your body is doing is thought to lead to inaccuracies, blunders, and sometimes even utter paralysis. Here I re-examine this view and argue that it lacks support when taken as a general thesis. Although bodily awareness may often interfere (…) with well-developed rote skills, like climbing stairs, I suggest that it is typically not detrimental to the skills of expert athletes, performing artists, and other individuals who endeavor to achieve excellence. Along the way, I present a critical analysis of some philosophical theories and behavioral studies on the relationship between attention and bodily movement, an explanation of why attention may be beneficial at the highest level of performance and an error theory that explains why many have thought the contrary. Though tentative, I present my view as a challenge to the widespread starting assumption in research on highly skilled movement that at the pinnacle of skill attention to one’s movement is detrimental.