“…The book also shed light on Nabokov’s confusing legacy with regard to mimicry…Seasoned experts on various aspects of Nabokov’s legacy weigh in on the tricky questions about his dual pursuits in science and arts. Victoria Alexander of the Dactyl Foundation addresses Nabokov’s understanding of nature in light of more current ‘post-Darwinian’ views of evolutionary processes….”
“….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 →
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 →
Teleology is the study of the purposes of action, development and existence. Its practitioners believe nature is purposeful. An ancient and enduring form of inquiry that has been out-of-fashion among educated people for centuries, teleology’s slow, steady decline as a scientific discipline began in the 17th century with the birth of modern empiricism and continued to plummet apace with the rise of the Enlightenment, Darwinism, and quantum mechanics. Nature is not purposeful, it was said, and those who continued to think it was were primarily spiritualists, artists, or madmen, who credited the guidance of gods, muses, or fate. Continue reading →
As the new millennium began, I, bravely or naïvely, committed myself to this discredited branch of philosophy, officially submitting “teleological narratives” as my dissertation topic. Although I was working on a doctorate in English at City University New York (CUNY) Graduate School, I needed a scientific advisor on my dissertation committee because teleology and biological self-organization are so entwined. Continue reading →
Telos is Greek for an “end” or function, which helps explain why something exists or why its previous actions occurred: in order to serve that function. Telic action requires some kind representation of the goal that helps achieve it. In short, teleologists argue that ideas, or something like mental concepts or thoughts, cause events in a way wholly different from the way that objects cause events (atoms, molecules or larger bodies hitting each other and/or reacting). Continue reading →
Telos is otherwise known as final cause, one of four causes identified by Aristotle’s natural philosophy: Material cause describes how the physical properties of matter determine what a thing is and how it will react with other things. For example, an ivory ball will roll differently than a wooden ball, as the density and weight of the material determines how much resistance it has. Efficient cause describes how the agent (person, animal, or even a moving object like a billiard ball) acting on something determines what happens. For example, the pool player, the cue stick or ball hitting another ball at rest is the efficient cause of the latter’s moving. Formal cause describes how the “blueprint” or the natural laws of form determine what can be. Some forms are physically impossible; others are very probable. Experienced pool players have learned that certain types of moves can be expected to result in certain types of outcomes, and they may apply their knowledge of geometry to their game. Final cause describes how the “end,” or the function something ultimately serves, determines what happens or how something develops. The ball was struck so that the pool player might win the game and further develop his abilities and reputation. Continue reading →