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She answered:. Reports of this phenomenon — which the cognitive scientists Sian Beilock and Thomas Carr in called expertise-induced amnesia — are widespread. So often, athletes, artists and musicians are fluid in their field of practice but inarticulate in interviews.

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There is also experimental evidence that certain kinds of thinking can undermine performance: a study from found that asking runners on a treadmill to focus on their form or breathing lead them to burn more oxygen, and be less efficient. They are suffused with the Daoist ideal of wu-wei that sees effortlessness as the epitome of human action. Descriptions of skilled action at its best often contain the seeds of the just-do-it theory. We find a similar description in the ancient Chinese text the Zhuangzi. In both passages, skilled action is described as an immediate response to the openings and invitations of the situation.

Skilful responses do not flow from deliberate intentions. The people in these examples barely seem to act. These descriptions are suffused with the Daoist ideal of wu-wei — non-action, or non-trying — that sees effortlessness as the epitome of human action.

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T o develop an alternative to the just-do-it account, I want to turn to the English philosopher Gilbert Ryle. In The Concept of Mind , Ryle distinguished between two kinds of knowledge: knowledge- how and knowledge- that. Knowledge-that is the kind of knowledge we refer to when we talk about someone knowing that something is the case, or whether it is the case; this has been the primary focus of philosophical concern for quite some time. Knowledge-how is the kind of knowledge we refer to when we talk about someone knowing how to do something, or being skilled at doing something.

His dualist opponent offers a picture of mental states as non-physical internal states that are logically independent of bodily states. Ryle argues that this picture renders the mind mysterious — branding it the myth of the ghost in the machine — and in response develops dispositional accounts of various mental states and activities.

When applied to knowledge-how, the Cartesian view of the mind yields what Ryle calls intellectualism. Intellectualism tries to explain the intelligence of skilful actions in terms of inner acts of contemplation. According to this view, when a middle-distance runner kicks at the right time in order to out-sprint her competitors, it must be because she considered relevant facts about the right time to kick before kicking.

For the intellectualist, any piece of knowledge-how can be reduced to a bundle of knowledge-that. Given his wider project and his attack on intellectualism, we might expect Ryle to have been a proponent of the just-do-it view. In fact, he is the exact opposite. When he introduces the concept of knowledge-that, Ryle takes the connection between thinking and intelligent action for granted.

He claims that ordinary language supports the idea that:. The walker is both walking and teaching himself how to walk at the same time. For Ryle, thinking is something that we do in our actions. Each action is an experiment, with the results closely monitored and feeding into future actions. The mountaineer tries out different ways to negotiate the environment and exercises his judgment, all the time being aware of his movements: alert to the possibility of slipping or losing his balance.

His actions are both deliberate and deliberative. In later work, Ryle calls this activity self-teaching, and gives it a central role in his account of skill. He makes two distinctive claims: that self-teaching is a general feature of skill, and that self-teaching is a kind of thinking. The importance of self-teaching to skill arises because of the complexity of skilled action.


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Every practical situation has some amount of novelty, and in order to succeed we need to take these contingencies into account. When I take my habitual walk to the office every day, I might walk the same streets, but I am confronted with different tasks: puddles to avoid, people to get around, different gaps in the traffic.

In order to respond properly to these everyday demands, we need to vary our performances, working out how to deal with each situation as it unfolds before us. Self-teaching is an unusual kind of teaching. We are used to thinking about teaching on the so-called banking model, first described by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed On this model, teaching is transactional: the teacher makes a deposit, and the student gets a credit in her account. By contrast, Ryle thinks of self-teaching as a kind of creative problem solving, involving the application of general problem-solving techniques.

To get a grip on this idea, think about logic puzzles. With logic puzzles, it would be extremely natural to think about the solver as self-teaching by thinking her way through. Given that it is natural to think about self-teaching in relation to logic puzzles as a kind of thinking, and that we find the same kind of problem solving in practical skills, we should also think about skilled agents as people who think about what they are doing.

Intellectualism claims that skilled action requires thought, and gives a picture of thought as deliberate, conscious internal activity. The just-do-it view observes that it is not plausible that skill requires this kind of conscious thinking, and concludes that thought is the enemy of skill. Ryle agrees with the just-do-it view that conscious thought is not a requirement of skill, but offers an alternative view of thinking as engaged problem solving, claiming that this kind of thought is a requirement of skilled action. Endurance runners are meticulous planners, running to carefully constructed training plans.

Constructing a plan requires both knowledge of physiology and experience of a range of possible failures. The work of constructing such a schedule is typically outsourced to a coach or a website, so this might seem like a strange place to look for self-teaching. Although training can seem like the epitome of mindlessness — blindly following a plan, and trusting that the results will come in the long term — there is a good deal of complexity involved. Niggles, illness and injury all require shifting a training schedule: postponing or cancelling a session, taking some easier runs or restarting a plan after injury.

For any other runner, this would be a recipe for burnout and injury, but Kawauchi seems to thrive on this punishing schedule, consistently running miraculously quick times. Through years of experience, he has taught himself how to train, given his physical quirks and unusual work situation. A second place where self-teaching becomes important is in race strategy. In contrast to the Zen-like bliss that we sometimes see in popular depictions of racing, my own experience has been that properly committing to a race is as exhausting mentally as it is physically. Think of a dancer attending to a hand movement, a climber focusing on the position of her hips.

As the philosopher Paul Faulkner at the University of Sheffield points out , the sheer difficulty of maintaining the pace of a personal-best effort means that, to run for time successfully, one must carefully mete out effort. In each race these problems come up again in slightly different ways, depending on a huge range of factors: how well training has gone, weather conditions, and even how well one has slept. Because each race is different, runners need to think hard on their feet literally to work out how to run to the best of their ability.

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