Slime Mold is Smarter than AI

The Next Rembrandt is a multi-million dollar project, funded in part by a Big Bank and Microsoft, which trained AI to mimic the style of the great master in order to paint a mediocre original painting (left). In this article,  J. Augustus Bacigalupi, Òscar Castro Garcia and I show how complex and sophisticated even the most primitive forms of life are as they sense and respond to their worlds.  Artificial Intelligence, in comparison, is slow-witted, boring, and completely unable to get puns or jokes, much less to make art. We caution against anyone who might argue that current AI can begin to replace human judgement in, for instance, medicine or education.  We also offer a means by which machine sensors might be designed so that they are a little bit closer the abilities of slime mold. Enjoy the article. You can download it from BioSystems for free for the next 50 days.

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Hudson Valley Currents

I have long been interested in monetary policy in general and local alternative currencies in particular.   In Locus Amoenus (2015) I wrote about an imaginary community in upstate New York that created an alternative economic system.  As I begin to write part 2 of the Locus Amoenus narrative, I note with pleasure how life imitates art: such a community now has started in the Hudson Valley. Continue reading

Hudson Valley News

It’s news in Amenia when a local novelist starts thinking about writing.  Over salads at Four Brothers Pizza in Amenia, I chatted with fellow novelist, Steve Hopkins, about my plans to continue the story line of my 2015 novel, Locus Amoenus. That book is a satire about a 9/11 widow who remarries and her son Hamlet becomes depressed.  You get the idea.  I think of the new work as a Hamlet Part 2, or possibly Covid-1984, or Covid 9/11, or some other such satire in the posthumous style. Continue reading

Strange Recital podcast features Chapter One of Locus Amoenus

This month the Strange Recital features Ben Jorgensen reading Chapter One of Locus Amoenus. Following the reading, the show hosts, Tom and Brent, interview Victoria Alexander about writing that novel and working on the sequel.

“As you drive northeast through Dutchess County in upstate New York, farm scenes strike calendar poses: leaning barns, well-tended white Victorians, winding roads tunneling through overhanging maples.”

A pastoral paradise… but is there something dark under the surface? Troubles in America manifest in the personal. Let Hamlet tell you about it.

Hamlet Blues by Ben Jörgensen

Goodbye to my dear friend, brilliant actor, crazy good memoirist. He said it was dangerous to play the part of Hamlet, but he had to.

I posted yesterday about my friend Ben’s death and deleted it later because it was up for awhile and didn’t get any likes. So goes our virtual existence now. The shredded fabric of society hangs in tatters. We don’t see or hear from a friend from months but we don’t notice because we don’t hear from a lot of friends who have succumbed to the isolation and fear.

I forget the timeline, but it was probably 2015 when Ben went to Australia to his family home Montsalvat to try to recover from an Adderall addiction and deal with his depression. He played piano regularly in the Elsinore-like stone halls. If I believed in ghosts, I’d say that’s where he is now singing the Hamlet Blues. He went into hospital to heal his body, but to heal his mind he later went into a studio where he recorded this song at night and my novel Locus Amoenus, playing the part of my 21st century Hamlet as a kind of therapy. He said it saved him, doing that. He said he knew that actors who played Hamlet had an uncanny tendency to end up dying by self-slaughter. But, as you can hear in the sung rendition of the famous soliloquy, Ben had worked through the depression and he was very much alive. Continue reading

Chance the Mimics Choice published in Pangyus

I’ve working on a collection of short stories and essays about artistic creation entitled after a line from Nabokov, “chance that mimics choice, the flaw that looks like a flower.” The introduction to the collection describes my work as a philosopher of science and literary fiction author and how these two parts of my life are seamlessly interwoven.  This month the online and print journal Pangyus offers the introduction in their science section.

My work in science and art has been inspired by Nabokov and the volume will include several Nabokovian stories and essays about Nabokov’s work in lepidoptery. My science is also inspired by Alan Turing, who provided some theories about butterfly wing pattern development that I’ve used in my work on Nabokov’s theory of the evolution of mimicry, and I also need to mention Goethe, who, as the quintessential artist-scientist, plays an important role in all this too. The last story in the volume is a Faustian tale about Turing with Nabokov making a cameo appearance.

I hope you enjoy this piece.

Meno’s Stories on the Strange Recital Podcast


The Strange Recital, Episode 20021
A podcast about fiction that questions the nature of reality.

VNA reads two short stories from her collection, Chance that Mimics Choice. Stay tuned for the interview that follows the stories.

Meno’s Stories is a series of four about a paradoxical scientist who stumbles his way to discovery. This program features “Winter Flies”* and “The Walk.”

*Reproduced by permission from the Antioch Review, Vol. 77, No. 2 (Spring, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by V. N. Alexander.

Fine Lines wins Nabokov Society Brian Boyd Prize

The Brian Boyd Prize, for the best book of 2016 – 2018 by someone who has previously published a book predominantly on Nabokov.

Awarded to Professor Stephen Blackwell (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) and Kurt Johnson for Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art (Yale University Press, 2016).

The judges write: ‘The judges for this Prize carefully considered five impressive books on Nabokov published in the last three years by established Nabokov scholars. Each would have made a worthy recipient, but ultimately they chose Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art, edited by Stephen Blackwell and Kurt Johnson (Yale University Press, 2016). Being a distinguished lepidopterist as well as one of the twentieth-century’s great novelists, Nabokov is a writer of outstanding interest to all those who care about the complex relationships between science and art. Fine Lines carries the existing work on this subject forward by presenting us with no fewer than 148 of Nabokov butterfly drawings, beautifully reproduced. The elegantly written and intellectually sophisticated introduction, drawing meticulously on a range of sources, sheds new light onto Nabokov’s thought and writing by focusing in particular on the fundamental questions of taxonomy and systematics. The annotations to each drawing are exceptional, providing every context that future students will need to understand what Nabokov was thinking about as he drew his butterflies. Although the Prize is awarded for the quality of the introduction, editorial work, and annotations, the judges note that the volume is enriched by ten excellent essays (by V. N. Alexander, Stephen Blackwell, Brian Boyd, Robert Dirig, Victor Fet, Lauren Lucas et al., James Mallet, Naomi Pierce et al., Robert Michael Pyle, and Dorion Sagan) and a valuable bibliography. Yale University Press also deserve the praise and gratitude of Nabokovians, and of the literary and scientific community more broadly, for having made this beautiful book.