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Motor Skill Depends on Knowledge of Facts

Dr. Jason Stanley

Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

Rutgers University, Department of Philosophy

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Co-Authored with John W. Krakauer, Johns Hopkins University.

HM was a patient with intractable epilepsy who underwent bilateral temporal lobectomy and was subsequently found to have persistent and pervasive anterograde amnesia – he would rapidly forget events soon after they occurred. In a groundbreaking experiment, the psychologist Brenda Milner had HM perform a mirror drawing task in which he had to trace the outline of star with a pencil through a mirror with vision of his own arm obscured. HM showed improvement over 3 days on this task even though on each day he had no explicit memory for ever having encountered the task before nor even a feeling of familiarity with it. The case has been universally taken to show that motor skills can be acquired and retained, even when knowledge is not. We will argue that this rests upon a misinterpretation of the nature of skill. Anything that is a motor skill relies on knowledge of facts; if the knowledge is not obtainable in the situation, the agent does not retain the motor skill. Skill at an activity depends upon knowledge of facts about that activity.

Dr. Jason Stanley