Philosophy colloquium: Max Cappuccio (online event)

Wax on, Wax Off! Skillful control and varieties of intentionality in sport performance

By Massimiliano L. Cappuccio (UNSW, School of Engineering and Information Technology) 

Date: Thursday October 8, 2020 

Time: 1330-1500 (GMT+3)

Zoom link: This is an online event. All are welcome. If you would like to listen to the talk please click on the following link when the event is due to begin:  

Abstract: I would like to introduce a thought experiment inspired by the iconic “wax-on-wax-off” Miyagi-sensei’s training routine, as portrayed in the original Karate Kid movie (1984). This experiment provides us with an occasion to revisit the Habitualism vs Intellectualism debate in philosophy of skill & expertise, critically discuss Anders Ericcson’s notion of Deliberate Practice, and appreciate the non-representational nature of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s notion of Motor Intentionality. The key philosophical question to be addressed through this thought experiment is the following: what role does habit formation play in the development of sport skills?

My analysis shows that motor habits are both necessary for and constitutive of sensorimotor skill as they support an automatic, yet inherently intelligent and flexible, form of action control. Intellectualists about skills generally assume that what makes action intelligent and flexible is its intentionality, and that intentionality must be necessarily cognitive in nature to allow for both deliberation and explicit goal-representation. There is some truth to the intellectualist claim that goal-oriented action involves intentionality and that some skilful activities involve cognitive effort, deliberate control, and self-awareness. However, habitual action in sport is too intricate a phenomenon to be accounted for by dichotomies that oppose controlled skillful sport performance (intelligent, deliberate, and controlled actions) and automatized mechanisms (unintelligent, inflexible, motor habits). In this presentation I offer a philosophical alternative that shows how flexibility, control, and intelligence can arise from automatized expert behavior. Against Intellectualism I argue that the habitual behaviours that compose skilful action are accompanied by their specific, non-cognitive form of intentionality: this is motor intentionality, which is purposive and adaptive while involving no explicit deliberation or goal representation.

My account of habit based on Motor Intentionality explains why the formation of motor habits can sometimes act as the sole basis of skill acquisition: Motor Intentionality is inherently purposeful because it is an embodied source of sensorimotor anticipation, pre-reflective motivation, and pragmatic know-how. Skill development through exercise always builds on a motor intentional component even when it is guided by Deliberate Practice to the point that, pace Intellectualism, Deliberate Practice is disclosed, not constrained, by habit formation. As suggested by the fact that repetitive exercises can play a major role in the development of flexible and intelligent sport skills, automatism is not a drawback for strategic control and improvisation but rather their pragmatic foundation.

About the speaker: Massimiliano (Max) Cappuccio is Deputy director of the Values in Defense and Security Technology group at University of New South Wales Canberra. He also holds a secondary affiliation with UAE University, the national university of the United Arab Emirates, where he had been Associate professor of Cognitive science and director of the Cog Sci Lab for several years (August 2011 – December 2018). His research is concerned with the ethical implications of AI and social robotics and the philosophical foundations of cognitive science. As a cognitive philosopher and a philosopher of technology, Max’s research on the processes underpinning embodied cognition, social intelligence, and skill acquisition & disruption aims to integrate phenomenological analyses, empirical experimentation, and synthetic modelling. He conducts an intense activity as organizer of academic events, including interdisciplinary workshops, research seminar series, and international conferences (like the TEMPER workshop on Training, Enhancement, and Military Performance at UNSW Canberra and the annual Joint UAE Symposium on Social Robotics in Abu Dhabi). He is the editor of the MIT Press Handbook of Embodied Cognition and Sport Psychology.


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