CAE Reading and Use of English Part 6
You are going to read four reviews of a book about memory called Pieces of Light. For questions 37-40, choose from the reviews A-D. The reviews may be chosen more than once.
Reviews of Pieces of Light
Four reviewers give their opinions on a book about memory by Charles Fernyhough
In my view, the most important message of Pieces of Light is that the ‘reconstructive nature of memory can make it unreliable’. It is wrong to see memories as fixed biochemical or electrical traces in the brain, like books in a giant library that you could access if only you knew how. People are becoming increasingly aware that memory is, in fact, unstable. The stories in Pieces of Light may persuade a few more – and anyone who reads them will enjoy Fernyhough’s effortless prose. He returns repeatedly to his central message using a sophisticated and engaging blend of findings from science, ideas from literature and examples from personal narratives. Yet in disabusing us of our misconceptions, and despite this being the stated aim of the book, Fernyhough leaves us with little sense of a scientific explanation to put in their place.
‘Remembering is a serious business,’ Charles Fernyhough warns. It is this respect for his subject that makes Pieces of Light such an immense pleasure, as Fernyhough sees the emerging science of memory through the lens of his own recollections. In the hands of a lesser writer, such reliance on personal experience could rapidly descend into self-indulgence and cliché, but Fernyhough – a psychologist and published novelist – remains restrained and lyrical throughout. As Fernyhough examines the way the brain continually rewrites our past, it is almost impossible not to question the accuracy of our recollections. Even the events that we recall with the most vivid sensory detail are not to be trusted, he maintains. Although I remain to be persuaded, Fernyhough does serve up the latest findings in neuroscience and quotes academic studies without ever baffling the reader along the way.
Fernyhough, who is a popular science writer as well as an academic psychologist, wrote this book because he is worried that too many people still think of memory in terms of a vast personal DVD library. He sets out to show the reader how he believes it to actually operate, and I for one was convinced. The author plays a key role in his own book, returning to places that were very familiar to him in childhood to see how much he can remember. However, he gets hopelessly lost. Though Fernyhough is a gifted writer who can turn any experience into lively prose, these autobiographical passages are the least successful of Pieces of Light because they are too disconnected from any scientific insights about memory. There are also frequent references to literature. Yet whereas others might find these a distraction from the main narrative, I personally found the balance between science and literature refreshing and well judged.
A major theme of Charles Fernyhough’s book is that remembering is less a matter of encoding, storing and retrieving an accurate record of events, and more a matter of adjusting memories to current circumstances, which may then alter them for future recollection. He mixes the latest findings in neuroscience with in-depth case histories. Nor is Fernyhough uncomfortable using personal testimony to put warm flesh on hard science: sizeable sections of the book are taken up with him exploring his own past. These do not add greatly to the book, and it is hard for the reader not to wonder whether it is really worth the effort of ploughing on with him. This weariness is reflected in his writing style. Surprisingly, however, Fernyhough is a lucid, concise and knowledgeable guide to all the data that generally stay buried deep in specialist journals, and that is where the book really springs to life.
Which reviewer …
37 expresses a similar opinion to B on how clearly the science is presented?
38 has a different opinion to all the others on the quality of the writing?
39 shares C’s view of how well the writer brings together diverse academic disciplines?
40 has a similar view to D on the effectiveness of the writer’s emphasis on his personal memories?
CAE Reading and Use of English Part 7
You are going to read a newspaper article about a project at a natural history museum. Six paragraphs have been removed from the article. Choose from the paragraphs A – G the one which fits each gap (41-46). There is one extra paragraph which you do not need to use.
Taking Dinosaurs Apart
Pulling apart limbs, sawing through ribs and separating skull bones are activities usually associated with surgeons rather than museum staff. However, that is exactly what is going on at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, USA. Renovations to the museum’s dinosaur hall, which started recently, have necessitated the dismantling and removal of its collection of dinosaur and extinct mammal skeletons, some of which weigh as much as five tons.
One particular specimen which curator Matthew Carrano can’t wait to get hold of is a meat-eating Jurassic dinosaur called Allosaurus, which has been on display for 30 years. ‘Scientifically, this particular Allosaurus is well-known,’ he explains, because ‘for a long time, it was one of the only Allosaurus specimens that represented a single individual animal’.
The Smithsonian’s five-meter-long Allosaurus, however, is definitely one unique individual. So once crystallized glue holding it together is removed, researchers and conservators can get a better sense of how the creature’s joints actually fitted together in life
Another modification in the museum plans to make to its Allosaurus is removing a couple of centimeters from its tail, which is not original fossil but casts of vertebrae. ‘The tail on the Smithsonian’s specimen is too long’, says Peter May, owner and president of the company in charge of dismantling, conserving, and remounting the 58 specimens in the museum’s dinosaur hall. He explains that the skeleton on display has over 50 vertebrae, when it should have something closer to 45.
Slicing a thin cross-section out of a leg or rib bone can help with that. By placing a slice under a microscope, researchers will be able to count growth rings on the bone, the number of which would have increased throughout the creature’s life, very much like the rings on a cross-section of a tree trunk.
One example which Carrano wishes to investigate further is an apparent blow to the Allosaurus’s left side. ‘The shoulder blade looks like it has healed improperly,’ he explains. If the damaged shoulder blade can be fitted together with the ribs which are held in storage, paleontologists might be able to determine the severity and cause of the damage.
Finally, Carrano hopes to be able to compare the Allosaurus with another dinosaur in the collection called Labrosaurus. Labrosaurus is known only from a single bone – a lower jaw with a distortion which is believed to have been caused by disease or injury. ‘The two front teeth are missing and there’s an abscess there’, Carrano explains.
But in order to confirm their suspicion, Carrano and his colleagues will have to wait a while. ‘A lot of what we hope to learn won’t be accessible to us until the exhibits have been taken down and we can have a good look at them’, he says. So he won’t be able to get his hands on the Allosaurus quite yet.
A Dismantling the Allosaurus and removing the plaster and glue covering it can also reveal whether the animal suffered any injuries when alive.
B The Smithsonian’s team should be able to take it apart in large chunks in a single day, but even once they’ve dismantled it they’ll still have hours of work ahead of them, breaking the skeleton down further into individual bones and cleaning them.
C These endeavors will modernize a space which has never seen a major overhaul. It will also give researchers a chance to make detailed studies of the exhibits – some of which haven’t been touched in decades.
D There are also plans to slim it down a little. When the museum first displayed the Allosaurus, preparators decided to use plaster casts of the ribs instead of the actual specimens, which resulted in a heavier-looking skeleton. Curators hope that the final, remounted skeleton will more closely resemble the dinosaur’s natural shape.
E However, this dinosaur, previously classified as a separate species is now thought to be a type of Allosaurus. Both of the specimens come from the same quarry, and what’s more the Allosaurus is missing the exact same bone, so it’s entirely possible that it actually belongs to the Smithsonian Allosaurus.
F In addition to correcting mistakes such as this, made when the specimens were first displayed, Carrano would also like to determine the age of the Allosaurus.
G There are Allosaurus skeletons in museum collections across the world, but most consist of bones from a number of different examples of the species. This has made it difficult for scientists to work out how the entire skeleton fits together.