and apologies in advance if you’re lunching…

Thomas Nagel wrote (in “Birth, Death, and the Meaning of Life,”) a short thought experiment The Spider in the Urinal.

Apparently he was inspired(?) by a episode in his life on visits to the bathroom at the institute where he was teaching and

“noticed a sad little spider living in a urinal… (who)… appeared to have an awful life, constantly getting peed on”

Thomas wrote on (assuming the spider was a ‘he’ I guess, as it was in the men’s room – but perhaps that’s a whole other story?)...

Gradually our encounters began to oppress me. Of course it might be his natural habitat, but because he was trapped by the smooth porcelain overhang, there was no way for him to get out even if he wanted to, and no way to tell whether he wanted to…So one day toward the end of the term I took a paper towel from the wall dispenser and extended it to him. His legs grasped the end of the towel and I lifted him out and deposited him on the tile floor.

He just sat there, not moving a muscle. I nudged him slightly with the towel, but nothing happened . . . . I left, but when I came back two hours later he hadn’t moved.

The next day I found him in the same place, his legs shriveled in that way characteristic of dead spiders. His corpse stayed there for a week, until they finally swept the floor.

Having spend a bit of time thinking about ways of telling other people how to go about their business, Nagel’s little lesson bought me up short.

It’s often worth pausing for a bit before offering advice on what we think might be for the best. Like ‘best for who, exactly?’

Feature image from the brilliant work of Alessandro Gottardo. Sorry, couldn’t show a spider picture.


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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

Latest Posts By Richard Hill


Experiences, Ideas for business, Re-thinking, storytelling, strategy


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