Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Score One for the Amateurs: Nabokov's Butterflies

OK, so really, referring to Vladimir Nabokov (one of my heroes) as an amateur in anything, particularly butterflies, is a stretch, but how delightful to read the news in today's New York Times that DNA testing has just vindicated his theory of the evolution of Polyommatus blues.  For years, he was dismissed by other lepidopterists as a capable cataloguer who "did not produce scientifically important ideas."

Hah, not so.  It took DNA testing to verify what he was able to theorize on the strength of his own scientific discoveries + imagination.

Two things about things delight me:

1) Naturally, first and foremost, I am crazy about Nabokov's lepidoterist leanings, always have been ever since I learned about this side of the famous author in my undergraduate study of Russian language and literature.  There is something thrilling about people who have multiple passions, particularly when one or more of them involves the natural world.  It's such proof of how much we are capable of -- we are not confined to being good at just one thing.  We can be good at lots of things.  We can be fired-up by the natural world, run around with nets cataloguing butterflies just because we love it.

2) We now have the ability to sequence DNA and derive proof of shared ancestry.  But thoughtful observation and imagination still appear to be the essential ingredient in scientific understanding of the world around us.  Let it not all revolve around laboratories -- we, with our eyes and brains, even us amateurs, have a role to play in the great unwrapping of the mystery of how life has evolved on this beautiful planet of ours.

Feeling so inspired this morning, and so delighted. Leaving you with this poem by Nabokov, written in 1943.

On Discovering a Butterfly

I found it and I named it, being versed
in taxonomic Latin; thus became
godfather to an insect and its first
describer — and I want no other fame.

No comments: