Are Jocks and Nerds so Different?

In a recent post in NYT’s “The Stone”, JASON STANLEY and JOHN W. KRAKAUER argues that recent collaborative studies in neuroscience and philosophy debunk the assumption that knowledge and skill are cognitively distinct processes of the mind.  Jocks and Nerds unite!

Here at North Park University, we have begun offering courses in the “Philosophy of Action” wherein we engage student’s ability to both think and learn an embodied skill – e.g. archery, wilderness survival skills, etc.  Taking our cues from philosophers as diverse as Martin Heidegger, Pierre Hadot, Peter Sloterdijk, and Alasdair MacIntyre, we see philosophy as a practice that thinks about human practices.  In trying to overcome the theoretical/practical wisdom and mind/body dichotomies, we hope to cultivate a more integrated intellect in our students – one that brings multiple epistemologies together to gain wisdom about human experience.

What has been argued for philosophically, is now gaining some merit scientifically as neuroscience explores the complex nature of the mind. A few highlighted paragraphs from the NYT article.

“In the frequent debates over the merits of science and philosophy, or the humanities in general, it is often assumed that the factual grounding and systematic methodology of the sciences serve as a corrective to the less rigorous wanderings of the humanities. And while many take the position that the humanities can provide their own important path to enlightenment, few argue that considerations from philosophy can or should correct the considered judgment of scientists. Even most defenders of the humanities hold that the sciences are directed at truth, whereas the humanities have an alternate goal, perhaps the molding of ideal citizens.

Neuroscience has not vindicated the cultural distinction between practical and theoretical activities.

We believe that in the enterprise of uncovering truth, the paths of the scientist and the humanist must often intersect. Rather than argue in generalities, we will develop a specific example, though we assume that there are many others like it. . . .

In a recent paper, we argue that [a specific “classic” experiments that show a dichotomy between theoretical knowledge and practical know-how] has been misinterpreted. First, there are mistaken assumptions about the nature of knowledge and the nature of skill. Secondly, the importation of a merely cultural dichotomy between practical and theoretical pursuits has distorted the interpretation of experiments about motor skill. Neuroscience has not vindicated the cultural distinction between practical and theoretical activities. Rather, fueled by misconceptions about knowledge and skill, a merely cultural distinction has skewed the interpretation of scientific results.

[CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH]  “Constructing an argument in mathematics or history is one kind of human activity. Football and cabinetmaking are others. We argue that skilled human activity generally requires the acquisition and manipulation of knowledge, as well as implicit processes that do not depend on propositional knowledge (for example, increased dexterity). It is hard, and perhaps not possible, to forge a theoretically significant distinction between working with one’s hands and working with one’s mind.”

The full article is here.

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