Some notes in the margins of Locus Amoenus

LFBRCover.A former employee of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Peter Michael Ketcham, who worked at NIST from 1997 until 2011, wrote this letter (below) to the editor of Europhysics News last week.  NIST is the government agency tasked with investigating how the Twin Towers collapsed. Ketcham is calling NIST out for its failure to, well,  investigate.  I use the NIST report in Locus Amoenus,  where I say it is, “nothing but fermented blend of preconception and irrelevance.”  My hero Hamlet (whose father died on 9/11 and whose new stepfather worked for NIST) is furious when he discovers this, furious with himself, his stepfather and his mother, with everybody for being so easily hoodwinked.  Here is Ketcham’s reaction: Continue reading

Art and science, artificial intelligence and propaganda

The mission of New York Council for the Humanities (NYCH) is to reach general, diverse audiences, providing them with  engaging speakers on important humanities topics that everyone will find interesting or useful.  Any non-profit organization in New York state can request a NYCH Public Scholar to speak, at no cost to the host organization.  I am currently serving as a Public Scholar (2015-2017) and I offer three topics (below) which I can adapt to any audience, if desired. If you are interested in hosting one of these lectures, contact the Council. There is an application and a small application fee, but don’t let that  dissuade you. The fee can be waived if requested, and if you need help with the application you can contact me at alexander (at) dactyl (dot) org

deadleaf_mimic-jpg_credit_rahul_k_natuNabokov’s Unorthodox Theory of Insect Mimicry: why science needs more artists 
photo credit: Rahul K. Natu

It’s a commonplace to say that good science requires imagination, yet scientist aren’t really encouraged to read poetry or to take up painting.  Maybe they should.  This talk will present the example of Vladimir Nabokov, renown Russian-American novelist and butterfly scientist who used his artistic knowledge to understand how evolution can work. He went against the prevailing theories of his day and was attacked for being unscientific, but recently some of his work has been vindicated by DNA analysis, showing that his artistic guesses were amazingly accurate and precise. Continue reading

My Mimicry Research Translated into French: Papillons et feuilles mortes

fabulaimg-2“Butterflies and dead leaves: A Biosemiotic Approach to Nabokov’s Theory of Mimicry,” based on VN Alexander’s lecture at “Living Matter / Literary Forms”, organized at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in April 2013  by Liliane Campos, Yasna Bozhkova and Pierre-Louis Patoine. Text translated by Pierre–Louis Patoine.

Vladimir Nabokov n’a pas publié que des romans. On compte aussi à son actif plusieurs articles à propos des papillons, publiés par des journaux scientifiques. Au cours des années 1940, Nabokov est conservateur pour la section sur les papillons du Musée de zoologie comparée de l’université Harvard, et il développe une théorie – que peu prennent au sérieux à l’époque – à propos d’un groupe de papillons connu sous le nom d’Argus (Blues). Il croyait en effet que ceux‑ci avaient migré d’Europe aux Amériques via le détroit de Béring, en vagues successives, sur une période d’une dizaine de millions d’années. Cette théorie se révélera étonnamment juste, comme le démontrent en 2011 Roger Vila et son équipe, grâce au séquençage génétique. C’est cependant sans accès à l’information génétique que Nabokov formule son hypothèse. Il observe simplement le résultat de l’action des gènes et les variations structurelles différenciant un spécimen d’un autre. Ces observations lui donnent une compréhension intuitive de ce qui se passe au niveau des nucléotides (éléments de base de l’ADN), comme s’il avait pu visualiser l’image animée du développement de l’organisme et de l’évolution de l’espèce. Nabokov : une imagination magistrale, nourrie par une observation intensive. Nabokov comprenait bien les processus créatifs, le travail de cet « autre V. N., la visible nature ». Se reconnaissant dans la nature, et la reconnaissant en  More…

Locus Amoenus wins 2016 Literary Fiction Book Review award

LocusAmoenusLFBRI am very excited to announced that Locus Amoenus  has received the LFBR 2016 award for “excellence in literary fiction.”

Locus Amoenus by Victoria N. Alexander centers upon the bucolic county seat of Amenia in upstate New York where Gertrude and her son Hamlet make their home after the horror of 9/11 deprived them of husband and father respectively. Seeking a new start in the rural quiet, Gertrude purchases a sheep farm where they intend to live a sustainable lifestyle butchering their own livestock, growing vegetables, and eschewing the material trappings and celebrity-devotion of the modern world. The Webutuck school district, where Hamlet attends classes, greet Gertrude’s healthy food campaign with suspicion and distrust; populated by overweight teachers overseeing equally rotund students, they are all fed on processed, Continue reading