In Science writer defends Nabokov from the suggestion that he was not a Darwinist the UD News Desk noticed Victoria N. Alexander’s paper defending Nabokov’s Darwinian bona fides. Dr. Alexander has responded with this comment:
Thanks for bring attention to my paper. Nabokov is a complex thinker. That’s one of the reasons why you’re having a hard time resolving what appear to be contradictions in some of the things I’ve written about. His views are neither completely like your own nor completely like mine, and it takes a bit of distancing to be able to appreciate his views on their own terms.
One of the issues noted above is whether or not Nabokov critiqued Darwin. In Nabokov’s day the neoDarwinists were coming into vogue and there are considerable differences between neoDarwinists and Darwin. Nabokov liked Darwin better than these newcomers, many of whose theory have since been proven wrong. But Nabokov did not think Darwinism (without the neo) explains mimicry, for many good reasons. In fact, the most famous case of mimic butterflies has since been found to be a hyrbrid. They’ve interbred: that’s why they look alike!
Since writing the paper that you cite above, I’ve done more research on Nabokov and more findings have come out that support my thesis. I have a new paper coming out in a book called Fine Lines: Nabokov’s Science and Art by Yale UP in a few months, which takes the argument a bit further, into the area of Biosemiotics, which is my field within the Philosophy of Science.
Here is a snippet:
“In one of Nabokov’s most poetic passages on mimicry in “Father’s Butterflies,” his fictional scientist proposes the existence of an “even force” that “animates” the universe, a “thought-engendering rotation” which
‘gave rise in nature to the lawlike regularity of repetition, of recognition, and of logical responsibility to which the apparatus of human ratiocination, the fruit of the same agitated woodlands, is subordinate.’ (Nabokov’s Butterflies 226)
Biosemioticians likewise argue that proto-semiotic relations in nature, relations of similarity (icons) and contiguity (indices), create law-like regularities, and eventually relations of arbitrarity (symbols), from which human language emerged. …It may be that Nabokov saw a primitive kind of semiotic intelligence in nature … He seems to say … that intelligence emerges from significant coincidences” and relations. And this is why reductive Newtonian science alone cannot explain it.
Teleology has always been tied up with notions of chance. I call myself a teleologist, although I don’t think that you and I use that term in the same way. I’m more of an Aristotelian. Throughout history, Teleologies have changed and adapted to science, religions, philosophies and prevailing beliefs. There is not one theory of teleology. In my book The Biologist’s Mistress: Rethinking Self-Organization in Art, Literature and Nature, I present a history of the relationship between purpose and chance. I am not a believer in a God, but I do believe in poetry or poiesis, maybe even Poiesis. Some well known theologians appreciate my argument: they interpret my “semiotic causality” to be a variation on the idea that the word was God and etc. This does not displease me. There is a lot of fruitful intuition in religion and in poetry from which scientists can learn.