The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action preface

Formulating the Just-do-it Principle

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Formulating the Just-do-it Principle

Although there are a number of different yet overlapping positions that I categorize as “just do it” views, I take the following to capture the more extreme versions:

The just-do-it principle: For experts, when all is going well, optimal or near-optimal performance proceeds without any of the following mental processes: self-reflective thinking, planning, predicting, deliberation, attention to or monitoring of their own bodily movements, conceptualizing their actions, conscious control, trying, effort, having a sense of the self or acting for a reason. Moreover, when all is going well, such processes interfere with expert performance and should be avoided.

Those who see the phenomenal feats of experts as being pulled out of them hold this type of extreme view. Indeed, on the most extreme view, when we are awestruck at LeBron James’ spectacular dunk or by Magnus Carlsen’s surprising chess capture, we are witnessing an action that proceeds and should proceed without any mental intervention at all. Dreyfus’s view seems to fit this description: high-level expert action, on his view, is “direct and unreflective,” which he takes to be the same as “nonconceptual and nonminded” (2007a: p. 355). Expert action at its best, on his view, seems to be entirely bereft of mental processing: not just conscious mental processing, but any mental processing whatsoever.

My extreme just-do-it principle is somewhat more reserved, since it does not exclude all mental processes. Nonetheless, it covers a wide swath of them, and, unless I am speaking of it in a restricted sense (more about which later), I intend it to cover not just conscious mental processes, but unconscious ones as well. Those who uphold this extreme view, or Dreyfus’s ultra-extreme view, still, of course, claim that the brain is involved in expert action. But not everything that goes on in the brain is correlated with something that goes on in the mind, and on the extreme just-do-it view, the expert’s brain may be hard at work, save for those parts of the brain that subserve the mind (or the mental processes mentioned). Moreover, as I pointed out earlier, the just-do-it extremist will admit that experts in action may have thoughts in action, both conscious and unconscious. However, for these extreme apostles of just-do-it principle—or what might be better called, in their case, the “just-let-it happen” principle—once in action, the actions that are deserving most of our admiration are, as I said, in a sense not even performed by the expert herself. Rather, they are drawn out of the expert by external forces, at times without her even being able to recall what occurred.

In order to refute the extreme principle, it would, of course, suffice to show that when an expert is performing well she employs merely one of these cognitive processes. However, I shall also argue against weaker forms of the principle that proscribe one or some proper subset of such mental processes. For example, I shall at times argue against just-do-it with respect to monitoring, which says:

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