Now that my Fulbright grant is completed, ITMO University asked me to make a short video about my Digital Humanities research in poetics, butterflies, Nabokov, Turing and reaction diffusion processes to show prospective students what kind of creative learning they might expect to undertake in this interdisciplinary field.
Author Archives: VN Alexander
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.
On St Petersburg, isolation and connection
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.
Who Owns the World? Co-operative Book Publishing
The state of platform cooperativism November 7-9, 2019 at the New School in NYC. Victoria Alexander, director at the Dactyl Foundation and editor of Dactyl Review, will speak on Saturday, Nov 9th about efforts to transform literary fiction publishing using a co-operative platform model. 2:45-4:15PM
The New School, The University Center, Room U304, 3rd Floor, 63 Fifth Avenue, NYC
Around the globe, we are starting to build an alternative economy that benefits the many, not just the few. Our passions, research, and projects challenge platform capitalism and chart a more democratic future. We show that an inclusive economy is not only necessary but already growing among us.
When starting a platform co-op, we have a much better chance at success if we rely on the support of our communities, established co-ops, incubators, co-op banks, unions, foundations, researchers, lawyers, technologists, and policymakers. “Who Owns the World?” is about building connections between these groups, finding the much-needed support, and learning from each other. For the first time, this event will bring together many of the most active players in this movement worldwide to share updates and insights, instigate initiatives, make new friends, lift each other up, plan next steps, and find new business partners as well as funders.
Celebrating 10 years of digital labor conferences at The New School, “Who Owns the World?” will feel the pulse of platform cooperativism, worldwide.
What is Biosemiotics?
At #8 in my Biosemiotics Series, this video is a little belated, but worth the wait.
Why do biologists refer to a something excreted by one cell and taken up by another as a signal? Doesn’t this invest the cell with intentionality that it doesn’t really have? Why don’t biologists just refer to the process of chemical exchange as simply a chemical reaction?
A molecule passed between cells is called a “signal,” if it sets off a response that is ultimately good for both cells and/or the body they’re part of. So a signal has a function for survival and maintenance, and the cells have been evoloved by natural selection to process signals. A chemical in the body that does not have this kind of effect is not a signal.
Biosemiosis offers real explanatory power for science. It explains why people believe things that aren’t true. It explains why we can have allergic reactions to neutral things. It explains how life first emerged. It explains how meaningless things can acquire new meanings. It explains how creativity is possible. It explains why AI fails compared to Biological intelligence when it comes to adapting to contexts.
This video is based on the preface to a talk by V.N. Alexander at Moscow State University, Department of Philosophy, entitled, “Group Think: The Diffusion of Signals” at the 19th annual gathering of biosemiotics, on July 3rd 2019, Moscow, Russian Federation.
Terrordise, a finalist Filmmatic Comedy Screenplay competition
My political comedy screenplay Terrordise, about a high-security gated community in Dallas, has won yet another award. I am proud to be a finalist in Filmmatic Comedy Screenplay Awards.
Somebody make the damn movie already! It’s hysterical fiction. And too likely to become true if we don’t learn how to laught at our current stupidity. Read more about Terrordise.
Should we let Artificial Intelligence decide for us?
“AI, Stereotyping on Steroids and Alan Turing’s Biological Turn,” by V. N. Alexander, in The Democratization of Artificial Intelligence
The fact that AI has not yet passed a Turing Test has not prevented it from being sold to the public as a superior kind of intelligence capable of handling vast amounts of data and therefore capable of making “evidence-based” decisions about human behavior. There is no basis for this claim. AI uses advanced statistics to fine-tune generalizations; it is a glorified actuary table, not an intelligent agent. At the time of his death in 1952, Alan Turing was exploring the differences between biological intelligence and his initial conception of AI. This paper focuses on those differences and sets limits on the uses to which current AI can legitimately be put.
“Winter Flies” Published in the Antioch Review
What makes a story a story? What makes narrated events meaningful?
I’ve been working on a collection of short stories called Chance that Mimics Choice. This first story written for the collection, “Winter Flies” is included in the latest issue of the Antioch Review. This story is one of four about a scientist named Meno whose mind gives things and events meanings, sometimes just by putting them side by side or noting a coincidental similarity between two things, and this is how he stumbles on new discoveries and becomes successful, despite his rather sloppy approach to thinking. In short, he overcomes what in Plato is described as “Meno’s Paradox”: Continue reading