Friday, October 19, 2018

Did Leonardo da Vinci sketch the 'Nude Mona Lisa'?

PARIS — Behind closed doors in the Louvre's basements, experts have been scrutinizing a drawing for weeks with one question on their minds: Could this semi-naked, mysteriously smiling lady that looks strikingly like the Mona Lisa be a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci?

The "Monna Vanna" — or "Nude Mona Lisa" as the charcoal drawing is nicknamed — has been attributed to da Vinci's studio since the 20th century, but questions have lingered about the extent of the Renaissance master's contribution to the work.

The 28-by-21-inch drawing has been held since 1862 at the Condé Museum, in the palace of Chantilly, north of Paris. Scientists are now trying to establish exactly who drew it, before an exhibition that is scheduled to open there in 2019 to celebrate the 500-year anniversary of the artist's death.

Mathieu Deldicque, the Condé Museum's deputy curator, said in a phone interview that an analysis performed by a dozen experts had shown so far that the "Monna Vanna" could either be a drawing by one of da Vinci's students, or one in which he himself had participated.

"We are sure of nothing, and if Leonardo participated, it's not for all the drawing, but for some parts of it," Deldicque said. He added that although the drawing had a similar composition as that of the original Mona Lisa, exhibited at the Louvre, the "Monna Vanna" was a parallel art piece and that the two were distinct.

"Very often, drawings are resumed, completed, transformed," said Patrick de Bayser, an expert in old drawings who helped discover a da Vinci sketch in 2016. He said that although it seemed unlikely that the entire composition was by da Vinci himself, testing would help uncover more details about each layer of the drawing and help determine whether the original one was from da Vinci's own hand.

The Renaissance master is said to have painted the Mona Lisa around 1503. It depicts Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine cloth merchant. Around 20 paintings of nude women that bear a resemblance to Mona Lisa are exhibited or stored in museums across the world.

Elian Peltier, New York Times

After studying thousands of couples, psychologist Eli Finkel has an explanation for the decline in people's satisfaction with their marriages over the past four decades: It's a matter of emotional supply and demand.

Many people are looking to their partners to replace the companionship and emotional support once provided by extended families and churches, bowling leagues, bridge groups, fraternal lodges and garden clubs. Meanwhile, though, many couples are so busy with their jobs and parenting that they're actually spending less time together by themselves.

What to do? You can devote a lot more effort to satisfying your partner, and Finkel tells you how to do that in his new book, The All-or-Nothing Marriage. But he also offers a few shortcuts he calls "love hacks," quick fixes that have been tested successfully in Finkel's relationships laboratory at Northwestern and elsewhere.

"It's not going to give you a great marriage," he says, "but it can certainly improve things." He suggests picking whichever hack appeals and starting right away.

• TOUCH YOUR PARTNER. Holding hands can win you points even when you don't mean it, as demonstrated in an experiment with couples who watched a video together.

• DON'T JUMP TO BAD CONCLUSIONS. If your partner does something wrong, like not returning a phone call, don't overinterpret it. Unhappy couples tend to automatically attribute something like an unreturned phone call to a permanent inner flaw in the partner ("He's too selfish to care about me") rather than a temporary external situation, like an unusually busy day at work.

• PICTURE A FIGHT FROM THE OUTSIDE. In an experiment with 120 married couples in Chicago, Finkel instructed them to try something new during an argument: Think about this disagreement from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. How might this person think about the disagreement?

• MAKE A GRATITUDE LIST. Once a week, write down a few things your partner has done to "invest in the relationship."

• ACCEPT A COMPLIMENT. One of the most common factors in failed marriages is the "rejection sensitivity" of one partner. People with low self-esteem have a hard time believing their partner really loves them, so they often pre-emptively discount their partner's affection in order to avoid being hurt by the expected rejection.

• CELEBRATE SMALL VICTORIES. When your partner tells you about something that went right in his or her day, get excited about it. Ask questions so your partner can tell you more about it.

When researchers studied couples who were trained to use these techniques in their evening discussions, it turned out that each partner took more pleasure from their own victories, and both partners ended up feeling closer. By sharing the joy, everyone came out ahead — and in true love-hack fashion, it didn't take much time at all.

John Tierney, New York Times

Worms and fish do it. Birds and bees do it. But do jellyfish fall asleep? Answering the question required a multistep investigation by a trio of California Institute of Technology graduate students. Their answer, published in Current Biology, is that at least one group of jellyfish called Cassiopea, or the upside-down jellyfish, does snooze.

The finding is the first documented example of sleep in an animal with a diffuse nerve net, a system of neurons that are spread throughout an organism and not organized around a brain.

It challenges the common notion that sleep requires a brain. It also suggests sleep could be an ancient behavior because the group that includes jellyfish branched off from the last common ancestor of most living animals early on in evolution.

Steph Yin, New York Times

Kenneth C. Catania, a biologist at Vanderbilt University, wanted to get a sense of just how big a jolt an electric eel can deliver. For a study published in Current Biology, he allowed one to attack his own arm.

Eels can wrap around intruders like crocodiles or humans, or leap up to create a direct electric circuit. When the eel leapt out of a tank of water and rested its head on Catania's arm, electricity flowed from the head, to his arm, to the water and back to the eel's tail to complete the circuit. When the eel leapt to his arm, he withdrew it immediately, comparing it to how you respond if you accidentally put your hand on a hot stove or touch an electric fence.

Catania experienced about 10 shocks like this during the experiment, but with the data he obtained, he was able to use his numbers to extrapolate what kind of shocks eels of any size could deliver. A large eel, he said, could paralyze you, causing you to fall down and potentially drown.

Joanna Klein, New York Times

Inequality in America is apparent by age 3: Most rich kids are in school, while most poor kids are not, according to a new book, Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality. Only 55 percent of America's 3- and 4-year-olds attend a formal preschool, a rate far below China, Germany and other power players on the global stage.

It's a problem for the kids left behind — and for the U.S. economy. Companies are already complaining they can't find enough skilled workers. It's only expected to get worse if the United States doesn't do a better job educating its youth.

Parents who can't afford preschool typically leave their kids with a grandparent or someone nearby. Some of these informal child-care providers do offer rigorous educational activities, but others just leave kids in front of the television. The quality is more haphazard.

The inequality that begins before kindergarten lasts a lifetime. Children who don't get formal schooling until kindergarten start off a year behind in math and verbal skills and they never catch up, according to the authors, who cite a growing body of research that's been following children since the 1940s. In fact, the gap between rich and poor kids' math and reading skills has been growing since the 1970s. "The earliest years are the most promising for brain and skill development, yet it is when the U.S. invests the least," says Hirokazu Yoshikawa, one of the authors, who is also an education professor at New York University.

When it comes to educating kids under 5, the United States spends one of the lowest amounts of any developed nation in the world, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post

The world once trembled before the theropods. This dinosaur group, which included bloodthirsty killing-machines like the Tyrannosaurus rex and velociraptor, was notorious for sharp, serrated teeth that many used to eviscerate prey and strip flesh clean from bones. But over millions of years, the fearsome beasts evolved into today's flamboyantly feathered birds, replacing their terrifying teeth with beaks.

How the theropod mouth transformed has long been a mystery, but a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides insight into a potential evolutionary mechanism behind the transition.

Amy Balanoff, an evolutionary biologist from Johns Hopkins and an author of the paper, described the findings as further "evidence showing the line of evolution from a Tyrannosaurus rex to a pigeon."

Using fossils and a large comparative analysis of modern animals, a team of evolutionary biologists found that the loss of teeth and the emergence of beaks are connected processes in theropods. As the beak grew across the dinosaur's face, it also inhibited the growth of teeth, the team suggested. On an evolutionary scale, this transition happened until theropods developed mouths that resembled the bird beaks seen today.

The team also suggested that a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 4, or BMP4, may simultaneously stop teeth from growing in embryos and stimulate the development of a beak.

Nicholas St. Fleur, New York Times