The Spider Carpet and Some Thoughts About Passion

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Opinions on November 24th, 2009 by MadDog
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Life is about passion. I can’t imagine life without a few things burning me up from the inside out. Love, art, service . . . the list goes on. I’m fascinated by the things that people do because their passion drives them to do so. Sure, there is often  money involved, sometimes big money. That’s okay. It doesn’t detract from the amazement we experience when we see remarkable results of human passion simply because someone made a living from it. That’s a given.

From the 2 October issue of Science, the a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science comes this fascinating image and story:

The Amazing Spider Carpet from Lamba Weaving in Madagascar (Image: AMNH/R.Mickens)

A million female Madagascar golden orb spiders contributed their golden silk to this one-of-a-kind textile that went on display last month at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. More than 80 people spent 4 years on the work, collecting spiders in the wild, drawing silk from immobilized (and later freed) arachnids with hand-powered machines, and twisting hundreds of spider lines to make each thread. The 3.4-by-1.2-meter tapestry is on loan from Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, who founded Lamba, a weaving enterprise in Madagascar.

I’m hoping that my journalistic license will allow me to escape the ire of the AAAS for filching their image and quoting a paragraph of text. I’ll give them a plug by mentioning that, if you’re a student or a post-doc, you can get a subscription for a limited time for just US$50 a year. That’s 51 issues of one of the finest science journals on the planet. What a deal! I paid over US$200 for my last subscription.

Let’s get the calculator out (can’t do this stuff in my head any more). Well, huh! A million spiders . . . I don’t know where to plug that in. Let’s set the spiders aside. I doubt if spider passion contributed much to this carpet (A Buddhist might disagree.)

Okay, it says that 80 people spent four years on the work. Let’s keep the numbers conservative. Let’s say that each person, on the average, worked 20 hours a week for 40 weeks a year. Hmm . . . 80 people times 20 hours times 40 weeks times 4 years . . . that’s 256,000 hours! A quarter of a million hours! A single person working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a years would take 128 years to finish the job (check my numbers).

Think about that while you contemplate this rather sombre sunrise at Coconut Point:

A Coconut Point Sunrise

Is the world any better off because of this achievement? Not a whit. Are a lot of ordinary people all excited about it? Probably not. Is it an intelligentsia thing? Of course. It appeals to rich folk, artsy types and science geeks. So, what’s it worth?

Well, (and you knew this was coming), let me tell you what I think.

Most of us face the daily grind and that’s about all that we will ever have. It’s simply too draining to exert much effort to pursue things which we may passionately desire to do, because putting food on the table and taking care of business is all we can manage. We need people who can somehow overcome these obstacles (no matter the means) and deliver to us remarkable achievements that inspire us.

Maybe they did it for money. Maybe they did it for love.

No matter. Though they didn’t know it, they also did it for me.

UPDATE: I found three very nice links with much more information about the Spider Carpet here, here and here.

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