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
Nabokov’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
“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…
WEDNESDAY, MAY 11 7 PM FREE
“Vladimir Nabokov and Insect Mimicry: The Artist as Scientist”
Victoria N Alexander
Public Scholars, NY Council for the Humanities: In collaboration with the NY Council for the Humanities, the Rosendale Public Library presents a slide/lecture on the controversial novelist and lepidopterist, Vladimir Nabokov, that reveals his insights into the mysteries of mimicry and how the scientific community responded to his studies. Fantastic images of insect mimicry will be used as examples of how important art is to good science. This event is made possible through the Public Scholars program with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“….I also enjoyed Victoria Alexander’s Chance, Nature’s Practical Jokes, and the ‘Non-Utilitarian Delights’ of Butterfly Mimicry… While some of the science is quite technical, her writing is clear and also lyrical.” Continue reading
WYBCX The Art World Demystified, Hosted by Brainard Carey
In this 45 min interview, VN Alexander’s talks with Brainard about why art is so important to learning, about the little-known “artistic” evolutionary mechanisms (other than mutation/gradual selection) that help create new species, about what the term “intelligence” in “artificial intelligence” means, about the difference between computer algorithms and poetic thinking –and lots more.
Artificial intelligence is all the rage these days. Case in point: while I was watching football this past weekend, there were two television commercials in heavy circulation during the games that featured AI avatars—Siri and Watson—having life-like conversations with actors.
As you may know, I have a few opinions about the prospects and limitations of AI. Recently, I had an email chat with novelist and philosopher of science Victoria Alexander about AI, art, and chance. Alexander’s work focuses on the uses of chance in nature and in fiction and the changing conceptions of chance in science, religion, and art. What follows has been lightly edited for clarity. Continue reading