Podcast: Noumenal Contouring; The Secret Of Science, The Secret Of Skill by Ciaran Healy

On the 7th of November 2013, Ciaran Healy gave a talk on ‘Noumenal Contouring; The Secret Of Science, The Secret Of Skill’.  This is a summary and podcast of the event when Ciaran was kind enough to take the time to share his thinking and inspiration with everyone:

The Philosophy Of Science is best understood as a kind of unsolved crime, but instead of a crime you have the most incredible and unprecedented advanced in understanding. But like an unsolved crime, nobody has yet accounted for why it happened, or how it happened. The philosophy of science means you undertake that investigation.

philosophy of science

Some real advances have been made – Karl Popper made the biggest breakthroughs, which are simple enough at heart. Simple – but insufficient. Popper’s mechanism does not account for the finely detailed accuracy that science generates. We’re looking for something else, something contained inside falsification that Popper didn’t see.
So let’s look at accuracy in a different domain – skill. Juggling and juggling chainsaws. The process of developing that finesse, that accuracy, is the process of non-random failure, and this is what Popper missed. When you try something new and fail, the way in which you fail cannot be predicted by you, and is not random. The way in which something fails literally is a contour of reality. It literally reveals something of the shape of the underlying reality, which you could call noumenal contouring.
Factoring this new calibrations into your actions allows them to become different, and fail differently, thus revealing more. This is how skill is generated. Arrogance – as in the refusal to face the reality of your own failure, kills this process dead. Humility speeds it up. Science literally is this process. It’s not an analogue to it, it’s not a metaphor for it. It literally is this actual process, moved out of the arena of action and into the arena of understanding.
There are a number of consequences to this. One of them, regarding philosophy specifically, is that the analytical rut into which philosophy has been embedded for the past century can be safely ignored. There is another way, equally as rigorous, but massively more engaged with reality, and with vastly more potential than logic.

Ciaran Healy talks about the philosophy of science by Raggeduniversity on Mixcloud


 What follows is a transcript of the introduction to the night and the poem which was read to both explain and open the evening:

Welcome to Ragged University,

This project is inspired by the Ragged Schools movement of the Victorian times, where communities across the country got together to share knowledge and improve each others lives. These communities brought about the universal provision of education when the government of the time, absorbed the infrastructure they built and passed the 1870 Forster Education Act.
Today, Ragged University is about doing the same by using available infrastructure and common technology. We come together to break bread, and share our knowledge and experience in friendly circumstances.  This space is owned by all of us, and sacred to all of you.
It is a space for conversation and discussion where we hear people out and take pleasure in what we have learned, and stimulated to think.  The Ragged spaces are not about pugilism and argument, but valuing each and every person for the shared and different perspectives brought about by a million lived stories.

Tonight, we have two talks, and have some music:

First we have Ciaran Healy talking on the philosophy of science in “Noumenal Contouring – The Secret Of Science, The Secret Of Skill”

Then, during the break, where there is plenty of food, brought in to be shared.

After the break, we hear Prof. Ray Miller talking about the psychology of sleep in “To sleep, perchance to dream: 30 years in the land of Morpheus”…

Now before we start, please take one of the cards around the room home, and have a look at the website.  This has been donated to the project to highlight knowledge resources, provide a publishing platform and publicise lots of open and free events in the Edinburgh area.

If there is something which you would like to share via the website, please email me. I am also keen to hear from people who would like to get involved in helping out as the Ragged University project is getting more and more popular, which makes me very happy.

To open the night, this evening I am going to read you a poem which struck me.  Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko is a Soviet and Russian poet. He is also a novelist, essayist, dramatist, screenwriter, actor, editor, and a director of several films…The poem is called People and echoes so much of what I see in the concept of the Ragged University:


         “Everyone is a Ragged university, everyone is a unique and distinct body of knowledge accredited with their life experience, and with a membership of one.”


No people are uninteresting.

Their destinies are like histories of planets.

Nothing in them is not particular,

and no planet is like another.

And if someone lives in obscurity,

befriending that obscurity,

he is interesting to people

by his very obscurity.

Everyone has his own secret, private world.

In that world is a finest moment.

In that world is a tragic hour,

but it is all unknown to us.

And if someone dies

there dies with him his first snow,

and first kiss, and first fight.

He takes it all with him.

Yes, books and bridges remain,

and painted canvas and machinery,

yes, much is sentenced to remain,

but something really departs all the same!

Such is the law of the pitiless game.

It’s not people who die, but worlds.

We remember people, sinful and earthly.

But what did we know, in essence, about them?

What do we know of brothers, of friends?

What do we know of our one and only?

And about our own fathers,

knowing everything, we know nothing.

They perish. They cannot be brought back.

Their secret worlds are not regenerated.

And every time I want again

to cry out against the unretrievableness.

Now without further waiting, I invite you warmly to draw up your chairs and listen to the first of our talks from Ciaran Healy…
Thank you all for coming to the event tonight and I hope you have enjoyed the evening.
Thanks everyone who made it possible, sharing knowledge, food and company – that is what it is all about.
I would like you to put the next event in your diary on the 5th of December where all are welcome, the events are always free; please help by telling other people about it and inviting them along to this special evening where a charitable auction will be held after the talks in aid of EWRASAC crisis centre !
Meantime, please do check out the What’s On page on the Ragged website, where you can find details of lots of free events – educational and otherwise…

Thank you all again, and safe home