Motor skill depends on knowledge of facts

Jason Stanley, John Krakauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Those in 20th century philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience who have discussed the nature of skilled action have, for the most part, accepted the view that being skilled at an activity is independent of knowing facts about that activity, i.e., that skill is independent of knowledge of facts. In this paper we question this view of motor skill. We begin by situating the notion of skill in historical and philosophical context. We use the discussion to explain and motivate the view that motor skill depends upon knowledge of facts. This conclusion seemingly contradicts well-known results in cognitive science. It is natural, on the face of it, to take the case of H.M., the seminal case in cognitive neuroscience that led to the discovery of different memory systems, as providing powerful evidence for the independence of knowledge and skill acquisition. After all, H.M. seems to show that motor learning is retained even when previous knowledge about the activity has been lost. Improvements in skill generally require increased precision of selected actions, which we call motor acuity. Motor acuity may indeed not require propositional knowledge and has direct parallels with perceptual acuity. We argue, however, that reflection on the specifics of H.M.'s case, as well as other research on the nature of skill, indicates that learning to become skilled at a motor task, for example tennis, depends also on knowledge-based selection of the right actions. Thus skilled activity requires both acuity and knowledge, with both increasing with practice. The moral of our discussion ranges beyond debates about motor skill; we argue that it undermines any attempt to draw a distinction between practical and theoretical activities. While we will reject the independence of skill and knowledge, our discussion leaves open several different possible relations between knowledge and skill. Deciding between them is a task to be resolved by future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number503
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberAUG
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 29 2013

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Keywords

  • HM
  • Knowledge
  • Motor skill
  • Philosophy
  • Skill

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology

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