Sunday, September 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.

- George Orwell

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

At the center of the experiment was the plant Mimosa pudica, which has a dramatic response to unfamiliar mechanical stimuli: Its leaves fold closed, perhaps to scare away eager herbivores. Using a specially designed rail, Gagliano introduced her M. pudica to a new experience. She dropped them, as if they were on a thrill ride in an amusement park for plants. The mimosa plants reacted. Their leaves shut tight. But as Gagliano repeated the stimulus—seven sets of 60 drops each, all in one day—the plants’ response changed. Soon, when they were dropped, they didn’t react at all. It wasn’t that they were worn out: When she shook them, they still shut their leaves tight. It was as if they knew that being dropped was nothing to freak out about.

Three days later, Gagliano came back to the lab and tested the same plants again. Down they went, and … nothing. The plants were just as stoic as before.

This was a surprise. In studies of animals such as bees, a memory that sticks for 24 hours is considered long-term. Gagliano wasn’t expecting the plants to keep hold of the training days later. “Then I went back six days later, and did it again, thinking surely now they forgot,” she says. “Instead, they remembered, exactly as if they had just received the training.”

She waited a month and dropped them again. Their leaves stayed open. According to the rules that scientists routinely apply to animals, the mimosa plants had demonstrated that they could learn.

In the study of the plant kingdom, a slow revolution is underway. Scientists are beginning to understand that plants have abilities, previously unnoticed and unimagined, that we’ve only ever associated with animals. In their own ways, plants can see, smell, feel, hear, and know where they are in the world. One recent study found that clusters of cells in plant embryos act a lot like brain cells and help the embryo to decide when to start growing.

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In their experiments, however, Crisp and Eichten don’t observe many plant memories being formed. What if, they ask, plant memory is rare simply because it’s better for plants to forget? “Having a memory, keeping track molecularly of signals that you’ve received in the past from your environment, does have a cost,” says Eichten. “Since we don’t see memories all that often … maybe plants don’t want to remember things all the time. Maybe it’s better to put their energies elsewhere.” Even when memories do form, they can fade. Another research group has shown, for example, that a plant might form an epigenetic memory of salt stress and pass it along across generations, but that if the stress fades, so does the memory. A plant that remembers too much might sacrifice healthy growth to be constantly on guard against drought, flood, salt, insects. Better, perhaps, to let those negative experiences go, instead of always preparing for the worst.

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“In that context, memory is actually not the interesting bit—of course you have memory, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to do the trick,” she says. “Memory is part of the learning process. But—who is doing the learning? What is actually happening? Who is it that is actually making the association between fan and light?”

It’s telling that Gagliano uses the word “who,” which many people would be unlikely to apply to plants. Even though they’re alive, we tend to think of plants as objects rather than dynamic, breathing, growing beings. We see them as mechanistic things that react to simple stimuli. But to some extent, that’s true of every type of life on Earth. Everything that lives is a bundle of chemicals and electrical signals in dialogue with the environment in which it exists. A memory, such as of the heat of summer on last year’s beach vacation, is a biochemical marker registered from a set of external inputs. A plant’s epigenetic memory, of the cold of winter months, on a fundamental level, is not so different.
The Hidden Memories of Plants

Quote of the Day

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.

- Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living


Friday, September 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will, through work, bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea’.

- Chuck Close

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

The excluded when on living on the fringe, like lepers, of whom true leper are only the illustration ordained by god to make us understand this wondrous parable, so that in saying “lepers” we would understand “outcast, poor, simple, excluded, uprooted from the countryside, humiliated in the cities” but we did not understand; the mystery of leprosy has continued to haunt us because we have not recognized the nature of the sign. Excluded as they were from the flock, all of them were ready to hear, or to produce, every sermon that, harking back to the words of Christ, would condemn the behaviour of the dogs and shepherds and would promise their punishment one day. The powerful have always realised this. The recovery of the outcasts demanded a reduction of the privileges of the powerful, so the excluded who became aware of their exclusion had to be branded as heretics, whatever their doctrine. This is the illusion of heresy. Everyone is heretical, everyone is orthodox. The faith a movement proclaims doesn’t count: what counts is the hope it offers.

- Umberto Eco