Hey there, budding Stochastic fans. If you’re reading us now, you can officially say you listened to us when we were underground. I’m new to this whole blogging-and-being-read thing, so please be kind while I stand in the shadows of giants.
A couple of months ago the Blogosphere was abuzz with news of Kurt Vonnegut proclaiming that we are “miracles of design” and “natural selection couldn’t possibly have produced such machines.” Around the same time, Orson Scott Card published an essay criticizing biologists and saying Darwinism currently functions as a religion.
Heavens above! Are all of our most beloved fiction writers anti-science? Well, possibly. I’d like to point out another much-adored traveler on the ID bandwagon: Vladimir Nabokov.
According to his memoir, Speak, Memory, Nabokov fully believes that the phenomenon of mimicry cannot be explained by evolution:
“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. I discovered in nature the nonutilitarian delights that I sought in art. Both were a form of magic, both were a game of intricate enchantment and deception. (125)
This is actually an argument I don’t believe I’ve heard before: Mimicry occurs to greater detail than could ever be detected by a predator, and therefore this excess detail is inexplicable by natural selection. I’m not nearly expert enough in the ways of evolution to give a specific reason for why this should be the case. My offhand guess is the extra details give some robustness to the illusion; in circumstances where the illusion might otherwise just disappear, it stays. The other offhand guess would be that he’s just wrong: These subtleties can, in themselves, be detected by predators. Biologists: please tear me and the good writer a couple of new ones.
At least I can speculate that Nabokov might have sided with scientists when it came to teaching ID in schools. A notorious elitist, the good writer likely would have given science to the plebes, confident that the true artists—and only the true artists—would find their way to the ultimate truth of design.