Agora Speaker Series 2023 - Professor Simon Penny

Skill: know-how, artisanal practices and ‘higher’ cognition 

This talk will focus on the question of Skill. In particular, on proprioception, skilled tool-use, cognitive ecologies and ecologial validity. In this work, I draw on a lifetime of practice, both artisanal and technological. To help situate my audience, I will begin with a short autobiographical summary - how I moved from sculpture to robotics and VR and robotics (with showing in images and videos) to a critique of computing and computationalism, to increasing focus on 4E discourses. From a philosophical perspective my purpose is to interrogate the (presumed) distinction between ‘intelligence’ and ’skill’, and argue that such dualisms stand in the way of a fuller comprehension of ‘skill’. Many practitioners feel that a mentalist explanation of the nature of skilled embodied practices fails to be adequately explanatory of lived experience. I hope to develop understandings of such practices that are explanatory and useful to practitioners. I’ll move on to a critique of discourses of the senses and expound on the idea that 'proprioception is the sense that make the other senses make sense’. I’ll provide ethnographic and autoethnographic examples of skilled practices and how they might contribute to the development of more ‘abstract’ cognitive practices. I’ll connect this with question of the role of skill in pedadogy generally, and the observed denigration of skill in (most quarters of) the contemporary academy - especially during the pandemic.