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What do we mean by skills?

I use a narrow definition of skill, where the skill is separate from perception and action. Perception takes input from the outside world through eyes and ears and processes that information in the brain. Action produces output to the world through muscles and the skeleton, based on input from the brain. Skills connect perception and action through information processing in the brain.

In common usage we often refer to skills in trades and professions, where there has been learning from schooling or experience, so one cannot easily exchange people such as asking a motorcycle mechanic to do surgery. My definition is somewhat broader in that I include innate skills.

Why is it worth understanding the mechanisms underlying skills?

Most humans spend between one quarter and one third of their lives acquiring skills through schooling. While skills have changed a lot with technology, the methods of infusing skills into the brain have not changed substantially over millenia. We also have problems repairing skills, and modifying them as technology and the work and home environment changes. For manufacturing complex devices we have process control, a lot of automation, precise measurements, and quality control. For manufacturing skilled humans we use methods the Romans would have understood.

There are some who see skills as mental functions that can be understood and managed with language. I see language use as a skill that has to be understood in terms of information-processing by the brain. I am not a dualist, and also believe that there is no discontinuity in the evolutionary chain of skills leading to language.

Separating skills from perception and action

Athlete take performance-enhancing drugs such as stereoids to improve the muscles. Taking such drugs is intended to enhance the action, but not the skill in the brain. Gourmet chefs verify that the food has a good taste. Musicians and music critics evaluate the sound of the instruments. These are examples of utilizing perception.

Business managers, lawyers, engineers and computer programmers illustrate the use of skills without requiring special capabilities in action or in perception.