Passage 1: The Mysterious Portrait, by Nikolai Gogol
Young Tchartkoff was an artist of talent, which promised great things: his work gave evidence of observation, thought, and a strong inclination to approach nearer to nature. “Look here, my friend,” his professor said to him more than once, “you have talent; it will be a shame if you waste it: but you are impatient; you have but to be attracted by anything, to fall in love with it, you become engrossed with it, and all else goes for nothing, and you won’t even look at it. See to it that you do not become a fashionable artist. At present your colouring begins to assert itself too loudly; and your drawing is at times quite weak; you are already striving after the fashionable style, because it strikes the eye at once. Have a care! society already begins to have its attraction for you: I have seen you with a shiny hat, a foppish neckerchief. . . . It is seductive to paint fashionable little pictures and portraits for money; but talent is ruined, not developed, by that means. Be patient; think out every piece of work, discard your foppishness; let others amass money, your own will not fail you.” The professor was partly right. Our artist sometimes wanted to enjoy himself, to play the fop, in short, to give vent to his youthful impulses in some way or other; but he could control himself withal. At times he would forget everything, when he had once taken his brush in his hand, and could not tear himself from it except as from a delightful dream. His taste perceptibly developed. He did not as yet understand all the depths of Raphael, but he was attracted by Guido’s broad and rapid handling, he paused before Titian’s portraits, he delighted in the Flemish masters. The dark veil enshrouding the ancient pictures had not yet wholly passed away from before them; but he already saw something in them, though in private he did not agree with the professor that the secrets of the old masters are irremediably lost to us. It seemed to him that the nineteenth century had improved upon them considerably, that the delineation of nature was more clear, more vivid, more close. It sometimes vexed him when he saw how a strange artist, French or German, sometimes not even a painter by profession, but only a skilful dauber, produced, by the celerity of his brush and the vividness of his colouring, a universal commotion, and amassed in a twinkling a funded capital. This did not occur to him when fully occupied with his own work, for then he forgot food and drink and all the world. But when dire want arrived, when he had no money wherewith to buy brushes and colours, when his implacable landlord came ten times a day to demand the rent for his rooms, then did the luck of the wealthy artists recur to his hungry imagination; then did the thought which so often traverses Russian minds, to give up altogether, and go down hill, utterly to the bad, traverse his. And now he was almost in this frame of mind. “Yes, it is all very well, to be patient, be patient!” he exclaimed, with vexation; “but there is an end to patience at last. Be patient! but what money have I to buy a dinner with to-morrow? No one will lend me any. If I did bring myself to sell all my pictures and sketches, they would not give me twenty kopeks for the whole of them. They are useful; I feel that not one of them has been undertaken in vain; I have learned something from each one. Yes, but of what use is it? Studies, sketches, all will be studies, trial-sketches to the end. And who will buy, not even knowing me by name? Who wants drawings from the antique, or the life class, or my unfinished love of a Psyche, or the interior of my room, or the portrait of Nikita, though it is better, to tell the truth, than the portraits by any of the fashionable artists? Why do I worry, and toil like a learner over the alphabet, when I might shine as brightly as the rest, and have money, too, like them?”
Passage 2: Remember That? No You Don’t.
The phenomenon of false memories is common to everybody — the party you’re certain you attended in high school, say, when you were actually home with the flu, but so many people have told you about it over the years that it’s made its way into your own memory cache. False memories can sometimes be a mere curiosity, but other times they have real implications. Innocent people have gone to jail when well-intentioned eyewitnesses testify to events that actually unfolded an entirely different way. What’s long been a puzzle to memory scientists is whether some people may be more susceptible to false memories than others — and, by extension, whether some people with exceptionally good memories may be immune to them. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences answers both questions with a decisive no. False memories afflict everyone — even people with the best memories of all. To conduct the study, a team led by psychologist Lawrence Patihis of the University of California, Irvine, recruited a sample group of people all of approximately the same age and divided them into two subgroups: those with ordinary memory and those with what is known as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM). You’ve met people like that before, and they can be downright eerie. They’re the ones who can tell you the exact date on which particular events happened — whether in their own lives or in the news — as well as all manner of minute additional details surrounding the event that most people would forget the second they happened. “What I love about the study is how it communicates something that memory-distortion researchers have suspected for some time, that perhaps no one is immune to memory distortion,” said Patihis. What the study doesn’t do, Patihis admits, is explain why HSAM people exist at all. Their prodigious recall is a matter of scientific fact, and one of the goals of the new work was to see if an innate resistance to manufactured memories might be one of the reasons. But on that score, the researchers came up empty. “It rules something out,” Patihis said. “[HSAM individuals] probably reconstruct memories in the same way that ordinary people do. So now we have to think about how else we could explain it.” He and others will continue to look for that secret sauce that elevates superior recall over the ordinary kind. But for now, memory still appears to be fragile, malleable and prone to errors — for all of us.
Passage 3: What A Black Man Wants
I do not know, from what has been said, that there is any difference of opinion as to the duty of abolitionists, at the present moment. How can we get up any difference at this point, or any point, where we are so united, so agreed? I went especially, however, with that word of Mr. Phillips, which is the criticism of Gen. Banks and Gen. Banks’ policy. I hold that that policy is our chief danger at the present moment; that it practically enslaves the Negro, and makes the Proclamation of 1863 a mockery and delusion. What is freedom? It is the right to choose one’s own employment. Certainly it means that, if it means anything; and when any individual or combination of individuals undertakes to decide for any man when he shall work, where he shall work, at what he shall work, and for what he shall work, he or they practically reduce him to slavery. [Applause.] He is a slave. That I understand Gen. Banks to do—to determine for the so-called freedman, when, and where, and at what, and for how much he shall work, when he shall be punished, and by whom punished. It is absolute slavery. It defeats the beneficent intention of the Government, if it has beneficent intentions, in regards to the freedom of our people. I have had but one idea for the last three years to present to the American people, and the phraseology in which I clothe it is the old abolition phraseology. I am for the “immediate, unconditional, and universal” enfranchisement of the black man, in every State in the Union. [Loud applause.] Without this, his liberty is a mockery; without this, you might as well almost retain the old name of slavery for his condition; for in fact, if he is not the slave of the individual master, he is the slave of society, and holds his liberty as a privilege, not as a right. He is at the mercy of the mob, and has no means of protecting himself.
Passage 4: Beans’ Talk
The idea that plants have developed a subterranean internet, which they use to raise the alarm when danger threatens, sounds more like the science-fiction of James Cameron’s film “Avatar” than any sort of science fact. But fact it seems to be, if work by David Johnson of the University of Aberdeen is anything to go by. For Dr Johnson believes he has shown that just such an internet, with fungal hyphae standing in for local Wi-Fi, alerts beanstalks to danger if one of their neighbours is attacked by aphids. The experiment which suggests this was following up the discovery, made in 2010 by a Chinese team, that when a tomato plant gets infected with leaf blight, nearby plants start activating genes that help ward the infection off—even if all airflow between the plants in question has been eliminated. The researchers who conducted this study knew that soil fungi whose hyphae are symbiotic with tomatoes (providing them with minerals in exchange for food) also form a network connecting one plant to another. They speculated, though they could not prove, that molecules signalling danger were passing through this fungal network. Dr Johnson knew from his own past work that when broad-bean plants are attacked by aphids they respond with volatile chemicals that both irritate the parasites and attract aphid-hunting wasps. He did not know, though, whether the message could spread, tomato-like, from plant to plant. So he set out to find out—and to do so in a way which would show if fungi were the messengers. As they report in Ecology Letters, he and his colleagues set up eight “mesocosms”, each containing five beanstalks. The plants were allowed to grow for four months, and during this time every plant could interact with symbiotic fungi in the soil. Not all of the beanstalks, though, had the same relationship with the fungi. In each mesocosm, one plant was surrounded by a mesh penetrated by holes half a micron across. Gaps that size are too small for either roots or hyphae to penetrate, but they do permit the passage of water and dissolved chemicals. Two plants were surrounded with a 40-micron mesh. This can be penetrated by hyphae but not by roots. The two remaining plants, one of which was at the centre of the array, were left to grow unimpeded. Five weeks after the experiment began, all the plants were covered by bags that allowed carbon dioxide, oxygen and water vapour in and out, but stopped the passage of larger molecules, of the sort a beanstalk might use for signalling. Then, four days from the end, one of the 40-micron meshes in each mesocosm was rotated to sever any hyphae that had penetrated it, and the central plant was then infested with aphids. At the end of the experiment Dr Johnson and his team collected the air inside the bags, extracted any volatile chemicals in it by absorbing them into a special porous polymer, and tested those chemicals on both aphids (using the winged, rather than the wingless morphs) and wasps. Each insect was placed for five minutes in an apparatus that had two chambers, one of which contained a sample of the volatiles and the other an odourless control. The researchers found, as they expected from their previous work, that when the volatiles came from an infested plant, wasps spent an average of 3½ minutes in the chamber containing them and 1½ in the other chamber. Aphids, conversely, spent 1¾ minutes in the volatiles’ chamber and 3¼ in the control. In other words, the volatiles from an infested plant attract wasps and repel aphids. Crucially, the team got the same result in the case of uninfested plants that had been in uninterrupted hyphal contact with the infested one, but had had root contact blocked. If both hyphae and roots had been blocked throughout the experiment, though, the volatiles from uninfested plants actually attracted aphids (they spent 3½ minutes in the volatiles’ chamber), while the wasps were indifferent. The same pertained for the odour of uninfested plants whose hyphal connections had been allowed to develop, and then severed by the rotation of the mesh. Broad beans, then, really do seem to be using their fungal symbionts as a communications network, warning their neighbours to take evasive action. Such a general response no doubt helps the plant first attacked by attracting yet more wasps to the area, and it helps the fungal messengers by preserving their leguminous hosts.
Passage 5: Gouldian finches’ head colour reflects their personality
Gouldian finches, Erythrura gouldiae, are an extraordinarily colourful species of passerine bird endemic to subtropical woodlands of northern Australia. Both sexes are brightly coloured with red, green, black, yellow, red and purple markings, it is for this reason that they are also sometimes known as rainbow finches. In the wild the birds exhibit two main head colour morphs, black and red. There is also a rare yellow colour morph as shown in the image above. Interestingly, studies of captive birds have shown that males with red heads are on average more aggressive than those with black heads and that females have a preference for red-headed over black-headed individuals. Red headed males were also found to have higher levels of testosterone and corticosterone than black headed males when faced with socially challenging situations. What this suggests is that behavioural characteristics, such as aggression and other traits, may be correlated with particular head colour morphs meaning that head colour is indicative of different personality types. This idea has been tested in a new paper by Leah Williams and her colleagues. In order to determine if head colour really does indicate personality traits in Gouldian finches Williams and her colleagues tested a number of predictions. First they looked at pairs of black-headed birds which were expected to show less aggression towards each other than pairs of red-headed birds, this makes sense since red-headed birds had previously been found to exhibit higher levels of aggression. The second prediction was that red-headed birds should be bolder, more explorative and take more risks than black-headed birds. This hypothesis is based on previous studies of other species that have shown a correlation between aggression and these behavioural characteristics. However, there is another possibility, red-headed birds could take fewer risks for two reasons; first, they may be more conspicuous to predators due to their bright colouration and second, it may pay black headed birds to take more risks and be more explorative so they find food resources before the dominant red-headed birds do. In order to test the first prediction paired birds of matching head colour were moved into an experimental cage without food. After one hour of food deprivation a feeder was placed into the corner of the cage where there was only enough room for one bird to feed at a time. aggressive interactions such as threat displays and displacements were then counted over a 30 minute period. The results as shown in the figure below were striking. Red-headed birds were significantly and consistently more aggressive than black-headed birds
To test the birds willingness to take risks they were deprived of food for one hour before their feeder was replaced. After the birds had calmly begun to feed a silhouette of an avian predator was moved up and down in front of the cage to scare the birds from the feeder. The time it took for them to return to the feeder was taken as a measure of their willingness to take risks, birds that returned quickly were considered to be greater risk takers than those that were more cautious. This time the results were surprising. Red-headed birds were considerably more cautious than those with black heads at returning to the feeder after a “predator” had been introduced. As the figure below shows they took on average 4x longer to begin feeding again than the less aggressive black-headed birds. Finally, the authors investigated the birds interest in novel objects or “object neophilia” which is defined in the paper as “exploration in which investigation is elicited by an object’s novelty“. To do this a bunch of threads was placed on a perch within the cage, the time taken for the birds to approach the threads within one body length and to touch them were recorded over a one hour period. In line with the results from the risk taking experiment it was found that the aggressive red-headed birds showed less interest in novel objects than did black-headed birds. The difference is not so striking as the previous experiments but was statistically significant nonetheless.
These experiments were repeated after a two month interval and showed that different birds differed in their responses but the responses of individual birds were consistent over time. Head colour was found to predict the behavioural responses of the birds. Red-headed birds were more aggressive than black-headed birds but took fewer risks and were not explorative. What is surprising about these results is that aggression does not correlate with risk taking behaviour, however, the authors do provide a convincing explanation, suggesting that red coloration has been found to be conspicuous against natural backgrounds, and more conspicuous birds have been found to suffer higher predation rates. Thus, selection could favour more conspicuous red-headed birds taking fewer risks. Interestingly boldness and risk taking behaviours were found to be strongly correlated, regardless of head colour they always occurred together forming a “behavioural syndrome”. This implies that there is selection in favour of specific combinations of traits and of head colour in relation to those traits. Selection favours aggression in red-headed birds and the boldness/risk taking behavioural syndrome in black-headed birds. This makes sense when you consider the high risk of predation faced by red-headed birds if they take too many risks and the need for black-headed birds to find food away from the dominant red heads which occupy the safest foraging locations. Williams and her colleagues suggest that if red-headed birds are aggressive, and black-headed birds take more risks, this could lead to differences in foraging tactics. For example, black headed birds could increase their foraging opportunities by feeding at more risky sites away from interference by the dominant red-headed birds which feed in safer locations. The lower conspicuousness of their black heads means they are at less risk of predation at exposed sites that red-headed birds would be.