Kendo Performance

Understanding and explaining skilled performance: Looking across traditions

  • - All Day
  • Wollongong Campus
    LHA Research Hub, Building 19, Room 2072

The School of Liberal Arts are proud to host a 2-day, Australian Research Council (ARC) supported conference: Understanding and Explaining Skilled Performance: Looking Across Traditions.

The conference will focus on evaluating explanatory proposals about the cognitive basis of skilled performance, as well as considering what non-analytic philosophical traditions of thought and practice – phenomenology, pragmatism and Japanese Dō – can contribute to our understanding of the phenomenon under investigation.

We anticipate this event will be an excellent opportunity to develop and disseminate research that will be published in the Synthese special issue connected to our project.

Event Venue: LHA Research Hub, Building 19, Room 2072

Confirmed speakers:

  • Shaun Gallagher (University of Memphis/University of Wollongong)
  • Dennis Hemphill - (Victoria University/La Trobe University)
  • Daniel D. Hutto (University of Wollongong)
  • Jesús Ilundain-Agurruza (Linfield College)
  • Yuko Ishihara (Ritsumeikan University)
  • Michael Kirchhoff (University of Wollongong)
  • Tetsuya Kono (Rikkyo University)
  • Katsunori Miyahara (University of Wollongong)
  • Carlotta Pavese (Cornell University)
  • Sarah Pini (Macquarie University)
  • Ian Robertson (University of Wollongong)
  • Miguel Segundo-Ortin (University of Wollongong)
  • Phillip Slater (Sydney Conservatorium of Music)
  • John Sutton (Macquarie University)

View confererence scheduLE (PDF)

Tetsuya Kono (Rikkyo University): Skilled performance of distancing (Ma’ai) and the Philosophy of Kendo and Noh Play

In this presentation, I shall to try to clarify from the standpoint of contemporary phenomenology, the essential features of the skills of distancing (ma’ai, 間合い) in Kendo and Noh play. “Ma” is the physical/mental distance. “Ai” is a kind of suffix conjugated from the verb ‘Au (合う)’ that means ‘fit’, ‘go with’, ‘match’, ‘suit’, ‘agree’, and ‘correspond’. Ma’ai is adequate spatial/temporal distance between oneself and the other. I shall explain the technique of how to take ma’ai in contemporary Kendo by showing some video clips as well as by referring to the classical text of swordsmanship by Munenori Yagyu (1571-1646), a legendry swordsman and one of the founders of the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu style of sword in the early era Edo. I shall also show the important role of the idea of ma and ma’ai not only for Kendo but also for Japanese culture such as the performance of Noh play. Both Motokiyo Zeami (1363-1443?), a founder of Noh play and Munenori Yagyu pointed out that there are three musical momenta relating to ma: one is duration or indivisible movement, another is beat, and third is rhythm. Ma is the musical distance that prepares the advent of the future. It is a phenomenon which cannot grasped by a dualistic conceptualization of object and subject; it is a phenomenon of temporalization which brings a future event and makes the present the past. I will conclude that ma is the empty time–space bearing a new thing or event. Ma’ai is the encounter to create a new relation between two lives.

Yuko Ishihara (Ritsumeikan University): Skilled performance qua skilled being: Ueda Shizuteru on Renku and dialogue.

Recently, scholars have turned to the East Asian traditions to better understand the nature of skilled performance and to seek alternative models to current ones that are largely based on traditional Western philosophy. This presentation is an attempt to further this path but from a slightly different angle, namely that of the Kyoto School philosophy. Kyoto School philosophy is a good dialogue partner for this discussion, not only because of their indebtedness to Zen Buddhism, but also, and more importantly, because of their unique attempts to philosophically develop various insights based on Zen Buddhism in conversation with Western philosophy. In this presentation, I focus on the third generation Kyoto School philosopher, Ueda Shizuteru’s analysis of skilled performance in renku (a traditional Japanese form of poetry of linking verses, collaboratively composed by two or more poets) and dialogue. I first argue that for Ueda, skillful fluency in these activities entail skilled being insofar as they involve the realization of what Ueda calls the twofoldness of our being-in and being-in-with-others. I then argue that for Ueda, skilled being is not just about realizing no-self or the delusion of the ego, but rather, it is about realizing the dynamic movement of the self as both self-negating and self-affirming. By clarifying the exact nature of this dynamic movement, and the importance of “absolute nothingness” or “absolute negation” in this movement, I hope to bring out some of the uniqueness of Ueda’s idea of skilled performance qua skilled being.

Katsunori Miyahara (University of Wollongong): Skilled agency and no-mind

This talk develops a non-rationalist approach to skilled agency by looking into theories of skilled performance in the Japanese tradition of ideas. It first reviews how skilled performance poses a challenge to rationalist approaches to agency prominent in Analytic philosophy of mind. It then identifies a comparable problem of skilled agency in the classical dramatist Zeami Motokiyo’s account of expert acting in Noh drama. The problem derives from an apparent tension between two features he attributes to expert actors: On the one hand, he characterizes experts as those equipped with agency over their performance; on the other hand, he notes that experts are those who act from states of mushin (無心) or no-mind; but how can one regulate one’s performance as an agent in states of no-mind? The talk proceeds to articulate a non-rationalist answer to this question based on Zeami’s psychological accounts of skilled performance. For him, no-mind is not the absence of the mind. Rather, the concept denotes a state in which mind and body form a harmonious functional unity. To unpack this idea, I attempt a close reading of a key concept Zeami proposes to account for a distinct mode of seeing that enables expert performance: namely, riken no ken (離見の見) or seeing apart from vision. All in all, I argue that Zeami’s psychological account of expert performance offers a fruitful corrective to the rationalist tendency in theories of skilled agency in modern philosophy of mind.

Jesús Ilundain-Agurruza (Linfield College): Exquisite enculturation meets excellent execution – A virtuosic tour the force

Ethics in the Asian wisdom traditions played a pivotal role in Varela’s pioneering work in embodied cognition. With few exceptions contemporary research has paid little mind to the normative facet of cognition-in-action. Indeed, the received view is that skills and virtues do not mix just as there is an insurmountable is/ought gap. Adopting a holistic East-West comparative perspective in relation to situated and enactive views, the discussion examines the normative facet of virtuosic skills and intelligent habits. Of particular interest is the kind of highly skilled, ritualized performance that improvisational virtuosity (Sansk. upāya; Jap. Hōben) generates. Mushin, conceptualized as committed, awakened, virtuosic, and engaged presence modulates such performances. Pertinently illustrative are complex performative practices –martial (Japanese swordsmanship), artistic (Nō theater), religious (Zen Buddhist meditation), literary (renku poetry), and sporting (risky pursuits such as freediving or free soloing) – that permeate skills with a normatively rich palette. Crucially, it is argued first, that virtuosity rather than virtue is the explanatorily superior concept, second, that praxis foundationally vertebrates theory, and third, that this is a mutually reinforcing recursive process. That is, virtuosic, rather than virtuous, practice guides achievement, transformation, and flourishing through a scaffolded recursive process in which exquisite cultural practices, through their refined and ritualized ways, result in excellent execution. And, this is a tour de force.

Carlotta Pavese (Cornell University): Might there be practical concepts?

Can we think of a task in a distinctively practical way? Or, equivalently, can there be practical concepts ? In the literature on know-how and in action theory, philosophers have introduced talk of practical concepts as distinctively practical ways of thinking or conceiving actions and tasks. For example, Peacocke (1986: 49–50) talks of “action-based ways of thinking.” Bengson & Moffett (2007) talk of “ability-entailing concepts”. Stanley (2011: 98–110) identifies practical modes of presentations with practical ways of thinking. Pacherie (2011) talk of “executable concepts.” Pavese (2015a) talks of “practical concepts.” Pavese (2015b) talks about practical senses and Fregean senses are typically assimilated to concepts. Although there is no consensus about how to think of practical concepts, certain features of practical concepts are generally assumed. First, it is generally assumed that one might understand what a task amounts to and even understand the meaning of a command to execute it (and so possess the semantic concept for that task) and yet lack the practical concept for that task. In this sense, the semantic concept of a task and the practical concept of a task can dissociate: one might possess a semantic concept of a task, without possessing the practical concept for it. Second, although practical concepts and semantic concepts dissociate, practical concepts are still concepts: they are personal-level representations, available to central cognition, as opposed to being representations only available to subpersonal systems (perceptual, motor, etc.); they are combinatorial and can occur in personal-level reasoning and enter in propositional attitudes. Although talk of practical concepts with these features is quite widespread, the arguments for positing them have for the most part drawn on a priori considerations about the relation between thoughts, intentional, and skillful action. In this talk, I first clarify what it would mean for a subject to think practically in the relevant sense and then mount a sustained argument for the existence of practical concepts by looking at some empirical evidence that, as I argue, is best explained by positing practical concepts and practical thinking.

Ian Robertson (University of Wollongong): Between Skills and Saviour-Faire

Intellectualism about knowledge-how claims that an agent knows how to skilfully execute some action φ entirely in virtue of her possessing an appropriate body of  propositional knowledge regarding φ-ing. Since intellectualists tend to embrace the philosophically commonplace view that an action is skilled only when the agent performing said action knows how to perform it, this means they are committed to ascribing propositional attitudes to the skilled actions of non-human animals. In this talk I question whether intellectualists and anti-intellectualists alike should dispense with the notion that skilled action must implicate know-how. I draw on resources from enactivist theories of cognition to support the contention that--although enactivists tend to claim that know-how is non-propositional--philosophers of mind and epistemologists might do well to allow that certain forms of skilled action do not involve know-how at all. Skill, if my suggestion is taken seriously, is in a very real sense more basic that know-how.

Michael Kirchhoff (University of Wollongong): Skilful Activity and Predictive Processing: A Formal Argument for Non-representationalism

There is a flurry of research suggesting that the brain/mind is a predictive organ, and therefore, by extension, that the explanatory basis of skilful activity is predictive. In the field there is however much discussion about whether the predictive brain/mind is representational. In this talk, I start by considering an argument for thinking that predictive processing (in computational neuroscience and philosophy of cognitive science) is always and necessarily representational. This argument suggests that the Kullback-Leibler (KL) divergence provides an accessible measure of misrepresentation, and therefore, a measure of representational content in hierarchical Bayesian inference. I proceed to argue that while the KL-divergence is a measure of information, it does not establish a sufficient measure of representational content. I shall argue that this follows from the fact that the KL-divergence is a measure of relative entropy, which can be shown to be the same as covariance (through a set of additional steps). It is well-known that facts about covariance do not entail facts about representational content. So there is no reason to think that the KL-divergence is a measure of (mis-)representational content. Unlike other attempts to establish that the predictive brain/mind need not always be representational - typically argued by attempts to fit predictive processing with notions such as affordance or attunement - I show that a non-representational account of predictive processing is possible by working through the information-theoretic formalisms upon which predictive processing is based. If correct, this provides a rationale for thinking that the explanatory basis of skilful activity can be both predictive and non-representational.

Miguel Segundo-Ortin (University of Wollongong): Neither mindful nor mindless: Ecological psychology and skilled performance

Debates on skilled performance revolve around the following dilemma: Is skilled performance a sort of mindful activity or is it, instead, mechanized and automatic (mindless)? Sutton et al. (2011) argue that this dilemma is based on the false assumption that all intelligent or mindful actions require intellectual processes such as effortful ratiocination and calculation and hold that in order to explain skilled performance we must develop a notion of intelligence that is in between both extremes. In this talk, I will explore the possibility that ecological psychology can provide this position in between mindful and mindless Sutton et al. request. My hypothesis is that skilled actions are intelligent because they involve the continuous monitoring and adaptation to the on-going environmental information generated by the individual’s own relationship with the environment. Skilled performance is thus intelligent in that it is highly context-sensitive, but it does not require planning and computation.

Shaun Gallagher (University of Memphis/University of Wollongong): Cleaning up the mesh: Integrating multiple factors in skilled performance

In this paper I expand on the notion of a meshed architecture introduced by Christensen, Sutton, and McIlwain (2016) to explain skilled performance. On some interpretations (e.g., Tribble 2015) the integration at stake is one between higher-order cognitive control processes and lower-order, automatic perceptual-motor processes. In many accounts of performance emphasis tends to fall on this vertical, hierarchical integration. I’ll suggest that the meshed architecture is further complicated by a horizontal integration of environmental, social and normative factors, and then address the challenge of explaining how such a motley collection of factors comes to be integrated.
John Sutton (Macquarie University): Commentary on Shaun Gallagher’s presentation

Daniel D. Hutto (University of Wollongong): The habitual basis of skilled performance

How can training prepare someone to act skilfully and effectively when faced with novel, unexpected situations? What form should such training take in order to prepare one for situations in which there is no time to think and “your reactions must be second nature” (Goldsworthy 2014)? Any adequate answer these questions raises further questions about the kind of intelligence exhibited in such skilled performances. This presentation makes the case for thinking that – when suitably characterised – we can understand the cognitive basis of skilled performance in terms of open-ended and adjustable habitual doings. In doing so, it defends an enactivist account of habitual doings which, at its core, depicts habits not as blind or mindless but as flexible and adjustable modes of response that are world-directed and context-sensitive. Reasons are given for rejecting the default tendency to think that the mark of intelligence must always be understood terms of classic reasoning processes involving propositions (Sutton et al. 2011, Sutton & McIlwain 2015). Even assuming that reasoning may be quick and tacit, there are reasons to think making inferences over contentful representations depicting the relevant possibilities does not properly account for the dynamic character of on-the-fly, in situ, intelligent skilled performances. By understanding habits afresh, under the auspices of enactivism, it is possible to understand how skilful performance is not simply automatic but context-sensitive in ways that reveal it to be a kind of “highly disciplined mental activity” (Sutton et al. 2011, p. 78).

Theory meets practice panel: Dennis Hemphill (Victoria University/La Trobe University), Sarah Pini (Macquarie University), and Phillip Slater (Sydney Conservatorium of Music) will discuss and explore how the ideas presented in the previous talks can be applied in a more practical way, seeking links between theory and practice with an eye on potential applications. The panel session will have the following format: 5-10 minutes introduction each invited speaker, followed by an open Q&A and discussion from the floor.