Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0016765, Thu, 17 Jul 2008 23:28:19 -0400

Re: great novelist (Lolita, Pale Fire, Pnin) ...
An addendum to Brian Boyd's comment [which was "I would reply to the
Discovery Institute were it really interested in open debate and facts
rather than a priori convictions that (as I have pointed out elsewhere)
Nabokov's assumption that mimicry exceeds predators' powers of deception has
been falsified."]:

This spring in his Developmental Mechanisms of Evolutionary Change course at
Harvard, Jim Hanken, the Director of Nabokov's beloved Museum of Comparative
Zoology, led an afternoon seminar on eyespots on butterfly wings. (The
class' other instructor, Arkhat Abzhanov, is well known for his work on
butterflies.) Apparently they are one of most studied subjects in
evolutionary biology, and now boast some of the best understood evolutionary
mechanisms. Small genetic variations drive a wide variety of expressions,
with some involving very detailed mimicry.

Asked about Nabokov's seeming "intelligent design"-type statements and any
collision with his scientific butterfly expertise, Hanken answered that it
was not uncommon for naturalists of Nabokov's era to feel that the subtlety
and variety of features could not be accounted for by natural selection.
It's worth remembering that Nabokov left the Museum of Comparative Zoology
three years before Watson and Crick began working together on the structure
of DNA, and that much less was understood about genes and their expression
at the time.

Andrea Pitzer

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