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Ignorance, Failure, Uncertainty, and the Optimism of Science

Nottingham School of Art and Design Research Lectures 2022

Prof Stuart Firestein

NTU Artistic Research Centre is delighted to welcome neuroscientist Stuart Firestein who is visiting in person from Columbia University and will be giving a talk as part of the Nottingham School of Art and Design Research Lectures 2022. Stuart is involved in a series of events during his visit [23 – 24 June 2022], as part of a wider season of activity marking the launch of the ARC research thematic PERFORMING PROCESS.

  • From: Thursday 23 June 2022, 12.45 pm
  • To: Thursday 23 June 2022, 2 pm
  • Location: Room B122, Nottingham School of Art & Design, Nottingham Trent University, Dryden Street, Nottingham, NG1 4GG
  • Download this event to your calendar

Past event

Event details

Prof Stuart Firestein

Title: Ignorance, Failure, Uncertainty, and the Optimism of Science


Science is a fundamentally optimistic enterprise - it reliably produces fundamental and actionable knowledge about the world. Yet, the engines behind science, surprisingly, are ignorance, the unknown, failure, and, perhaps most vexingly, uncertainty. In recent decades, science has undergone a change in perspective and practice - from viewing the universe like a clockwork regimented by laws and formulas to recognizing it as irreducibly complex and uncertain. Perhaps counter intuitively this has freed science to exploit previously unimaginable possibilities and opportunities.  It has led to a deeper understanding of the nature of things and to the production of technologies such as lasers, microchips, the internet, genetics, and many more. And yet socially and societally we remain mired in a 19th century view of deterministic science. We might instead learn to revel in the adventure of navigable uncertainty and take advantage of the creative opportunities of a world where we can confidently say ‘it could be otherwise’. Possibility of this sort is the rarest and purest form of optimism.


Stuart Firestein is a neuroscientist and the former Chair of Columbia University’s Department of Biological Sciences, where he researches the vertebrate olfactory system. He is also a member of (SFI) Santa Fe Institute’s Fractal Faculty. He is author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science (2012) and Failure: Why Science Is So Successful (2015).



BEAM, Primary Studios, 33 Seely Road, Nottingham

Thursday 23 June

18.00 – 22.30

Marking the launch of the research thematic PERFORMING PROCESS, an evening of activities including an ‘in-conversation’ between writer-artist Emma Cocker and neuroscientist Stuart Firestein exploring ‘embracing uncertainty’, alongside the UK launch of the publication No Telos! with readings and projections.

With food and drink

The event is free but booking required.

Contact and to book.

PERFORMING PROCESS is a research group within the Artistic Research Centre at Nottingham Trent University, co-led by Emma Cocker and Danica Maier, both Associate Professors in Fine Art. PERFORMING PROCESS explores what is at stake in focusing on the process of practice — the embodied, experiential, relational and material dimensions of artistic making, thinking and knowing. How might a process-focused exploration intervene in and offer new perspectives on artistic practice and research, perhaps even on the uncertain conditions of contemporary life?

Location details


Room B122, Nottingham School of Art & Design


Nottingham Trent University
Dryden Street

Past event

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