Although Vladimir Nabokov may be better known for his outstanding literary achievements, particularly as the author of the novel “Lolita” (1955), he had an equally impressive genius for science. While acting as curator at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology in the 1940s, he became an expert on a group of butterflies popularly known as “Blues.” He named one species and several have been named after him. He published nine articles on lepidoptery in a number of prestigious scientific journals. During this time, he also developed compelling opinions about evolution. He argued, rather heretically, that some instances of insect mimicry did not result from Darwinian survival strategies; that is, slight resemblances could not be furthered by the “function or purpose” they served, leading “gradually” to better resemblances. I contend Nabokov was partially correct in his belief. Recent advances in evolutionary biology, namely structural evolution and neutral evolution, can be shown to support his argument. I also argue it was Nabokov's aesthetic interest in the mechanisms behind teleological phenomena that gave him the insight he needed to construct a theory of mimicry that was quite progressive for his time.
Neutral Evolution and Aesthetics: Vladimir Nabokov and Insect Mimicry
Periodical or collection
Santa Fe Institute Working Papers