NABOKV-L post 0026211, Wed, 3 Jun 2015 01:05:44 -0300

Re: Art and Wit: similarities and differences
Former Post by JM: "I recently read news about how the skin of the octopus
reacts to light like the eye; also how lizzards chemically respond to the
substances of the ground.These findings made me question V.Nabokov's ideas
about "intelligent design" and "the marvelous coincidence of imitative
aspect.far in excess of a predator's power of appreciation." (Speak,
Memory)* -

Jansy Mello: In VN's comments about mimicry in S,M (and elsewhere), he
doesn't refer to himself as a predator but rather as an "experimenter," one
that is attracted by "artistic perfection" exercising a "sublime
curiosity"**, nor does he mention the extreme dangers of beauty to its
bearer! Fortunately it seems that for mimicry to develop a living organism,
not a dead specimen, is fundamental.

Although I couldn't find the news I was looking for related to lizards and
mimetic behavior, namely how, independently from eye and brain input, their
skin uses biochemical information to blend in with the environment using
color responses to reproduce spotted, wet or grainy surroundings, I did find
the one related to cephalopods:

"Skulking around in the murky depths of the ocean means you need eyesight
that's as good as it possibly can be, and scientists have discovered that
the octopus has a great trick to visualise its surroundings. New research
indicates that the creature's skin contains the same pigment proteins found
in its eyes, so it responds to light and can help it 'see' what's
nearby.University of California evolutionary biologists Desmond Ramirez and
Todd Oakley have published their findings in the
<> Journal of
Experimental Biology, building on previous theories that had been put
forward but never properly verified.[.] These deep-sea cephalopods are well
known for changing colour to match their surroundings, thus evading
predators and sneaking up on food sources. What the new findings prove is
that the octopus' skin isn't just responding to instructions from the brain
and eyes - it's actually reacting to light and changing colour itself."
search-says . What interested me most was the information that emphasized
protective imitation as a result of automatic responses that are independent
from what the animal registers or perceives of the world.

These recent scientific studies suggest that most protective patterns in the
animals under investigation have arisen instantaneously, being unrelated to
any kind of "vision" or definite intrinsic patterns (more data about that is
still pending). It is impossible not to be surprised by VN's elaborations:
"the development of human ratiocination, in both the individual and historic
senses, is extraordinarily linked to nature, the spirit of nature considered
as the aggregate of all its manifestations, and all the modifications of
them conditioned by time. How is it conceivable, in fact, that amid the huge
jumble containing the embryos of countless organs[.], the magnificent chaos
of nature never included thought?[ .] Human intelligence, with all its
limitations and rights, inasmuch as it is a gift of nature, and a
perpetually repeated one, cannot fail to exist in the warehouse of the
bestower. It may, in that dark storehouse, differ from its species seen in
sunlight as a marble god is distinct from the convolutions of the sculptor's
brain - but still it exists. Certain whims of nature can be, if not
appreciated, at least merely noticed only by a brain that has developed in a
related manner, and the sense of these whims can only be that - like a code
or a family joke - they are accessible only to the illuminated, i.e., human,
mind, and have no other mission than to give it pleasure - we are speaking
of the fantastic refinement of "protective mimicry," which, in a world
lacking an appointed observer endowed with artistic sensitivity,
imagination, and humor, would simply be useless [.] This fact, even taken
alone, implies a silent, subtle, charmingly sly conspiracy between nature
and the one who alone can understand, who alone has at last achieved this
comprehension - a spiritual alliance concluded above and beyond all the
seething, the stirring, the darkness of roaming reveilles, behind the back
of all the world's organic life." [Father's Butterflies - "The Atlantic
Monthly" April 2000, Volume 285 No. 4], but the truly amazing considerations
relate to what I'd considered just a random process of protective disguise:
"Obviously one cannot number among such approximations the ability of a
certain caterpillar to assume, impromptu, the color of a plant or a net with
which the experimenter has surrounded it. Perfection of color tonality is
attained immediately. At the same time, this does not represent a "new"
manifestation of protective coloration occurring before our eyes, but rather
a play of the same nature-inspired possibilities inherent in the object
under investigation, and withholding its secret from forced demonstration.
Thus, not only the "aimlessness" of the accomplishment (the "aimlessness" of
pure art), but also the absence of transitional forms, the ultimate clarity
of observed phenomena, arouses strong doubts about the evolutionary
progressive character of their genesis. The impossibility of achieving false
similarities via a gradual accumulation of corresponding traits, whether by
chance or as a consequence of "natural selection," is proven by a simple
lack of time." Here VN sheds doubts about the progressive character of
evolution and the impossibility of false similarities as the result of a
gradual accumulation of traits, despite the reliance of his "fictional"
argumentation on very abstract notions, as "the spirit of nature", "the
warehouse of the bestower" and his confessed "monism" (infinite variations
inside a closed cosmos/warehouse ***).

And would John Shade be striving after the above mentioned "spiritual
alliance" and the mysterious patterns that are revealed only to "the
illuminated" human minds by a "bestower"?


*"The mysteries of mimicry had a special attraction for me. Its phenomena
showed an artistic perfection usually associated with man-wrought things.
Consider the imitation of oozing poison by bubblelike macules on a wing
(complete with pseudo-refraction) or by glossy yellow knobs on a chrysalis
[.]"Natural Selection," in the Darwinian sense, could not explain the
miraculous coincidence of imitative aspect and imitative behavior, nor could
one appeal to the theory of "the struggle for life" when a protective device
was carried to a point of mimetic subtlety, exuberance, and luxury far in
excess of a predator's power of appreciation" (VN - Speak, Memory)

** - "How lovely it is, by the way, how one's eye is caressed by [the Plusia
rosanovi's] .dark-cherry forewing, traversed by a mauve-pink stripe and
adorned at its center by the golden emblem of its genus, in this instance a
tapering, bowed half-moon - and if it is hard to render the flowery velvet
of the background, what is one to say of the "emblem," which, on the actual
moth, resembles a dab of gilt redolent of turpentine, and must therefore be
copied (and recopied!) in such a way that the painter's work transmits,
besides all the rest, a resemblance to the work of a painter!" ("Father's

*** Cf. Sebastian Knight in Lost Property: 'All things belong to the same
order of things, for such is the oneness of human perception, the oneness of
individuality, the oneness of matter, whatever matter may be. The only real
number is one, the rest are mere repetition,' (p.83), quoted by V in RLSK..

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