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.
“In biosemiotics, we say that the human ability to interpret signs—which is the ability to think really, to think creatively and adaptively and learn new things—didn’t just emerge with animals; rudimentary sign reading emerged in the simplest forms of life with single-celled organisms,” says Victoria Alexander, biosemiotician, Director of Dactyl Foundation, Fulbright specialist, and author of The Biologist’s Mistress: Rethinking Self-Organization in Art, Literature, and Nature. Continue reading
We have been hearing a lot about “fake news” and “propaganda” lately, and it is as important as ever to use our critical thinking skills. But we also need to understand how propaganda works and why it is so difficult to counteract with logic. Propaganda takes advantage of the way our brains function when we are not paying attention. When we are paying attention our analytical skills are engaged. When we are not, our brains go on processing information in a non-analytical way, using what might be called a poetic logic, based mainly upon similarities, coincidental patterns, associations, repetition, and emotion. There are sound biological reasons for this mindless type of processing, which actually helps us learn faster, retain memories longer, and make appropriate decisions without really thinking. In this presentation, we will explore how and why art and poetry may actually be more helpful in developing critical thinking skills. Art also works with the poetic logic of subconscious processing, but does so in a way that is not manipulative, deceptive or dishonest.
[This is a version of a talk I originally presented at the 2018 Biosemiotics conference in Berkeley last June, re-presented on Dec 9th to a Biosemiotic study group online organized by Pille Bunnell. The video is a little rough. The brilliant Qs that sparked some of my As were cut because I neglected to get permissions from all the participants beforehand. Thank you, Pille, for organizing the session.]
Synopsis Representative Democracy, Capitalism, Communism, Socialism or Anarchy? No matter what philosophy you begin with, over time political systems tend to concentrate wealth and power. Government and individual freedom should really be co-creative of one another. Why is it that we can’t seem to achieve this? As a biosemiotician, I have learned that creative and intelligent behavior emerge in complex systems when individuals have semiotic freedom and enabling constraints. Government/culture should provide the enabling constraints (language, tradition, borders, laws, courts, currency, public buildings, hospitals, schools, mass transportation, energy and communication networks) but the people making use of those constraints should have the semiotic freedom (i.e., the ability to interpret rules and even misinterpret rules) to make their own decisions, set their own goals, and enjoy/suffer the consequences.
“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