This week’s curiosity box explores the following topics.

1 – What is the most expensive piece of fabric you can buy?
2 – Why are pigs and humans similar?
3 – Can you make trick yourself to like learning something?

1 – What is the most expensive piece of fabric you can buy?

Ahead of the upcoming festive season, my social media feed is filled with ads and offers for clothing and apparel from all sorts of brands. No matter which platform I am in, the offers and discounts seem to sprout like wild weeds.

This got me to move away from discounted clothing and to go on a quest to find the most expensive fabric I can buy. And I found one that is more precious than gold.

The Vicuna wool

The Vicunas are a camelid and live on the high alpine regions in the Andes. A pair of socks made with this wool would cost you close to $1000, and sweatshirts could cost around $24,000. 

The wool from Vicuna is known for its softness and its ability to retain heat, but that is not the reason why it is so expensive:

  1. It is time-consuming to collect a sufficient quantity of wool; a Vicuna produces only 200 to 400 grams of wool every year.
  2. These animals can not be domesticated. They are shy and agile, which makes it all the more difficult to pin down a Vicuna and sear the wool out.
  3. The wool does not have long fibres which make it all the more difficult to spin.

Also, the population of Vicunas dwindled to satisfy human greed. To save them, brands have invested in a lot of conservation efforts and support schemes for the farmers. And it is only natural, for the brands to make up for these costs by selling us $1000 socks.

2 – Why are pigs and humans similar?

For a Cutting Chai conversation, I read George Orwell’s short and exciting Animal Farm. The book is about what happened when farm animals fought for their freedom from the farmer. The book is satirical in nature as it depicts how animals who fought for independence from humans, found themselves suppressed by pigs.

The last sentence in the book is “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which”. 

After reading the sentence, I wondered, why did Orwell choose a pig out of all the other possible animals for comparing with humans. Could it just be imaginative thinking?

Surprisingly, there are other reasons why a pig is similar to a human. Down the evolutionary line, there has been a link between the two species. Here are some facts that might make you raise your eyebrows this weekend. 

  • There are start-ups here in the UK that are trying to develop a human+pig hybrid. They are making use of pigs to harvest organs and tissues for humans. The term for this is called Xenotransplantation. 
  • Humans and pigs have remarkably similar skin. They use pigs’ skin for skin grafting surgeries. Also, tattoo artists hone their skills by practising on pig’s skin first.
  • In the Netflix documentary, Pandemic, researchers who are trying to engineer a universal flu vaccine use pigs to test out samples for their experiments. They use pigs to test these vaccines because if it works on a pig, then chances are it would work on us as well. 

I am not sure if George Orwell could not predict how much science would rely on pigs, but his analogy sure got me curious. 

3 – Can you make trick yourself to like learning something?

This week, I spent a lot of time learning a new subject. Although I enjoy learning and expanding my frame of mind, if it is a subject that I am learning for the very first time, I have my fair share of struggle at the beginning.

The feeling of a “struggle” when we learn something new or develop a new habit is our brain rewiring itself and strengthening neural pathways for the electrical pulses to travel. This restructuring process happens in our brain because of its neuroplastic ability. 

The internal changes our brain goes through are fascinating. Our brain can either have structural growth or synaptic growth. Structural growth occurs when we begin to get more branches, i.e. dendrites and axons, developing off neurons. Synaptic growth means that the electric signals between neurons are stronger and well transmitted. And unfortunately, the exact opposite can happen when we stop a habit.

Research now has proven that irrespective of age, our brains will remain neuroplastic. So, by rewiring and strengthening the connections, you can get a new skill or learning something new. 

But the million-dollar question is if there are methods that would make this process of learning easier. There is no one science-backed universal answer to give. But if you think logically, all you need is neurogenesis – i.e. new neurons and stronger connections between them. 

The challenge is that you do not have conscious control over neurogenesis. However, some tricks and tips could help. Some of the things I follow to help me learn better are to make my own notes and to teach others (either verbally or through blogs like these). 

Please comment below on what you do to learn something new. Curious to know.

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  1. Wow…..👏👏👏👏👏very very interesting…..keep it going !!!

  2. Honestly, I associate the learning outcome with some positive gains. I try to see how learning something new can have a tangible impact on my skill set and that drives me to explore new things!

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