Talk by Simon Penny: Skill: Know-how, artisanal practices and ‘higher’ cognition

23.10.2023 18:30 - 20:00

On Monday, October 23rd, 18:30 Simon Penny will give a talk about Skill: Know-how, artisanal practices and ‘higher’ cognition at OFAI

In cooperation with OFAI, The Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence, we cordially invite you to a lecture by Simon Penny on Skill: Know-how, artisanal practices and 'higher' cognition.

Date and Time: Monday, October 23rd, 18:30

Location: OFAI, Freyung 6/VI, 1010 Vienna

To join the talk online use:

Meeting ID: 842 8244 2460
Passcode: 678868


Skilled practitioners attest that in their experience of skilled practice, intelligence feels like it is happening in peripersonal space, at the fingertips, on the workbench. This paper begins from the premise that skilled embodied practices are intelligence - as much improvisation as hylomorphism (Ingold) - enacted amongst tools, materials and cognitive ecologies. As a lifelong practitioner, I seek to remain grounded in practice, while pursuing an interdisciplinary inquiry into the concept of skill, engaging philosophy, psychology, anthropology, cognitive science and neuroscience. The experience of skilled practices destabilises the (received) skill-intelligence binary, which is seen as a corollary of the mind-body binary. A dualist framework that distinguishes ‘higher' and ‘lower’ cognition and valorises abstraction, is not conducive to optimal discussion of skill. I will discuss the historical construction of this privileging of abstraction in philosophy and theorisation of cognition. A different framework will be suggested, drawing upon concepts of know-how (Ryle), the ‘performative idiom’ (Pickering), enactivism (Varela, Thompson, DiPaolo), pre-reflective awareness (Legrand), epistemic action (Kirsh), cognitive ecologies (Hutchins, Sutton). Arguments from neuroscience are then marshalled, focusing on phylogenetics and on proprioception, in order to build a non-dualist approach to neurophysiology, that provides a more balanced theoretical framework within which to discuss skill and/as cognition. If embodied practices are taken to constitute intelligence, this has ramifications for general conceptualisations of intelligence, and in turn, for rhetorics validating artificial intelligence, and claims made for interactive screen-based pedagogies.

The event takes place as part of OFAI's 2023 Fall Lecture Series: You can sign up to the OFAI newsletter here:



Vienna CogSciHub x OFAI
OFAI, Freyung 6/VI, 1010 Vienna

Simon Penny is an artist and theorist with a longstanding focus on emerging technologies, embodied and situated aspects of artistic practices, and critical analysis of computer culture. Much of his career has been at the intersection of engineering and art – he has developed custom immersive, sensor-based systems for embodied interaction. He published Making Sense: Cognition, Computing, Art and Embodiment in 2017 (MIT press) and directed A Body of Knowledge: Embodied Cognition and the Arts conference (2016). As part of his current book project Skill, he is working to build a non-dualistic approach to neurophysiology as a basis for a discussion of skill vis-a-vis intelligence. A current preoccupation is with ways emerging technologies constrain scientific and applied research.


Originally from Australia, Penny was Professor of Art and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon (1993-2000). He founded the Arts Computation Engineering (ACE) graduate program at the University of California Irvine, 2001-2012. He was Labex International Professor, University Paris8 and ENSAD in 2014, and visiting professor at Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media masters, University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, 2006-2013. Penny is professor of Electronic Art and Design (Dept of Art) at University of California, Irvine, with appointments in the dept of Music and in Informatics.


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