According to Wikipedia, “an attractor is a set of physical properties toward which a system tends to evolve” … so what I’m taking from this is that if the world is a system, then it naturally evolves to look awesome.
"To know that no one before you has seen an organ you are examining, to trace relationships that have occurred to no one before, to immerse yourself in the wondrous crystalline world of the microscope, where silence reigns, circumscribed by its own horizon, a blindingly white arena — all this is so enticing that I cannot describe it."
- Vladimir Nabokov, born on this day, April 22, 1899
Such a beautiful description of the pleasure of investigation, capturing the intensely personal joy that accompanies a moment of discovery.
Nabokov was a man of few passions, but to writing and butterflies, his two most beloved arenas, he devoted himself completely. Both of these, though, seem to pale in comparison to his love for Vera, Nabokov’s wife, translator and muse.
Nabokov was no mere hobbyist when it came to the study of Lepidoptera. He dedicated much of his life to observing, collecting and drawing butterflies. So serious was his study that a major theory of butterfly evolution was proven correct by molecular biologists decades after he proposed it.
Thanks to Open Culture, I learned that Nabokov would often draw butterflies for Vera, sketched in the first few pages of books he would give her (above). Many, if not all of them, were imagined species, based on specimens from his study, but created and named solely for her. Vanessa verae, for one, is a midnight and blue variant of the Vanessa genus. These belonged to her alone, an unmatchable gift of pure fantasy. Who among you ladies wouldn’t swoon if you were given your own butterfly? Looks like I’ve got some work to do for Christmas or Valentine’s Day.
Vanessa appears again in Nabokov’s work, in both human and insect form, as the “crimson-barred” and “Admirable butterfly” wife of John Shade in Pale Fire. Brian Boyd wrote that no other author “…has been a more passionate student of the natural world or a more accomplished scientist.”
Although perhaps not as deeply as Nabokov, many (most?) artists have taken notes from science and nature, and their work has been made all the richer for it. I wonder what we would discover if we did the same for science, accepting that our act of observation, interpretation and creation is not that different from drawing butterflies, an act we undertake simply for the love of seeing something new, and giving it to another?
If you enjoyed this intersection of lepidoptery with love, don’t miss Nabokov’s hand-written margin notes on the entomology of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Reggie Watts Riffs on the Red Planet
I too have dreamed of going to Mars, in addition to also not dreaming about going to Mars, because not all our dreams can be about Mars, that’s just crazy talk.
I have a feeling that silk scarves printed with NASA satellite and Hubble images are a thing that some of you might need, in a “shut up and take my money” way.
Check ‘em out at Slow Factory.
Rachel Sussman’s photographs of the oldest living things in the world – a masterpiece at the intersection of art, science, and philosophy.
With an artist’s gift for “aesthetic force” and a scientist’s rigorous respect for truth, Sussman straddles a multitude of worlds as she travels across space and time to unearth Earth’s greatest stories of resilience, stories of tragedy and triumph, past and future, but above all stories that humble our human lives, which seem like the blink of a cosmic eye against the timescales of these ancient organisms — organisms that have unflinchingly witnessed all of our own tragedies and triumphs, our wars and our revolutions, our holocausts and our renaissances, and have remained anchored to existence more firmly than we can ever hope to be.
Above all, however, the project raises questions that aren’t so much scientific or artistic as profoundly human: What is the meaning of human life if it comes and goes before a patch of moss has reached the end of infancy? How do our petty daily stresses measure up against a struggle for survival stretching back millennia? Who would we be if we relinquished our arrogant conviction that we are Earth’s biological crown jewel?
See more here.
I guarantee you that Rachel Sussman’s ten-year quest to chronicle the oldest living things on Earth will be the best thing you read about today. It will change the way you look at your life, and the life around you. It will change your perspective regarding your time on Earth, that everything, from fleeting mayflies to ancient mosses struggles for existence daily, and no matter how many sunrises we see, we should relish in each of them for their impermanence.
The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous.