a skilled introduction

I have given 4 or 5 talks during my first year of graduate school. I've learned that one of the hardest questions you can get after the talk is, basically, "What's the point?" Man, I hate that question. The point is that I'm doing it, so it must be cool.

This may not be a hard question for some people who happen to have a clearly articulated result in mind every time they begin a study. But for me people like me -- people who have to find out what they're trying to do by looking at what they've been doing for the past five years -- it is a taxing question.

One of the benefits of (and, indeed, one of my motivations for having) this blog is that it gives me a good reason to engage in this kind of teleological retrospective. I think (and I hope) this blog will be as formative as much as it is informative. For now, I think it's safe to say that my interests have lately converged on the general topic of skills, broadly construed.

I became interested in skills while studying phenomenology with Mark Wrathall (a "California" phenomenologist who studied with Dreyfus and Davidson at Berkeley, spent some time teaching at BYU, and recently moved to the Phil department at UC Riverside). Mark introduced me to Mel Goodale, a neuroscientist (and a darn good one, too) who studies the visual and motor systems of the brain. I ended up in Mel's lab, and now I find myself doing a study that explores how the brain helps us choose between grip postures when we are faced with an ambiguous object (or with an object at an awkward orientation). I started looking at this because I was interested in tool-use; I wanted to explore the brain areas that are responsible for developing "tool" skills and their related grip postures. (The phenomenologist in me is curious about the role of these brain areas in the perception of the tool itself -- i.e., how much does the content of our perceptual experience of a pair of scissors depend upon skills that we have developed with scissors?).

Sometimes I have crazy ideas about skills, even to the point of constructing rough sketches of a theory of perception that is entirely based on skills. Luckily, I've developed the skill of knowing when to shut up.

So, what's the point? Skills. That's the point.

I want this blog to cover a wide range of topics in philosophy and neuroscience, but be warned -- it's possible that, for the time being, the majority of posts will be part of an attempt to convey my passion for the topic of skill.

1 comment:

Kris said...

allz I know iz you gots skillz to pay the billz