Against a “mindless” account of perceptual expertise


According to Hubert Dreyfus’s famous claim that expertise is fundamentally “mindless,” experts in any domain perform most effectively when their activity is automatic and unmediated by concepts or cognitive processes like attention and memory. While several scholars have recently challenged the plausibility of Dreyfus’s “mindless” account of expertise for explaining a wide range of expert activities, there has been little consideration of the one form of expertise which might be most amenable to Dreyfus’s account – namely, perceptual expertise. Indeed, Dreyfus’s account of expert coping is ultimately an account of perceptual expertise, in that an expert’s intuitive situational responses are thought to rely on a sophisticated repertoire of perceptual skills. In this paper, I examine the feedforward model of sensory processing that Dreyfus uses to illustrate the perceptual underpinnings of expert action, and consider its resonance with psychological research that characterizes perceptual expertise as being automatic, holistic, pre-attentive, and non-cognitive in nature. However, citing competing empirical research, I argue instead that Dreyfus’s model of perceptual expertise cannot adequately explain the integral roles of attention, memory, and conceptual knowledge in expert object recognition. I conclude that the Dreyfusian model of perceptual expertise fails – the perceptual repertoire of skills that grounds expert object recognition is not operative in isolation from the expert’s conceptual repertoire.

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