“Nothing exists for itself alone, but only in relation to other forms of life.”
It has been 60 years since anthropologist Louis Leaky provided funds for three brilliant and brave young women to go live with humanity’s closest remaining primate relatives. Diane Fossey lived with gorillas, Birutė Galdikas with orangutans, and Jane Goodall with chimpanzees. A fourth woman was to be sent to the bonobos, but Leaky died before funding could be raised.Perhaps
Leakey chose women to study these primates because he thought they would be more likely to understand the animals both objectively AND subjectively. Goodall, the granddaughter of an open minded and inclusive Congregationalist minister, was a blend of scientist and nature mystic. She wrote, “For those who have experienced the joy of being alone with nature there is really little need for me to say much more; for those who have not, no words of mine can ever describe the powerful, almost mystical knowledge of beauty and eternity that come, suddenly, and all unexpected.”
Science had already weighed, measured and dissected primates, Leakey wanted these women to reverently LISTEN to our nearest relatives that we might discover who WE are before it is too late. The work of these women was intended to be the best of science AND a very deep reverence for the web of life. In addition to the necessary scientific skills, these women brought intuition as well.
Goodall remembered of her education, “I was also told by these professors to be a good scientist you have to be objective. Therefore you cannot have empathy with what you’re studying. That is so wrong. It’s having empathy with what you’re studying that gives you those “aha” moments — “Yes, I think I know why he or she is doing that.” Then you can put on the scientific hat, which I learned at Cambridge, which I love, and say, “Let me prove that my intuition is right or not.”
When asked what advice she would you give to a 10-year-old wanting to become a scientist, she responded, “I would tell them you mustn’t be cold. You must have empathy. It’s the lack of empathy for subjects that’s led to so much cruelty to animals. Now, we’re even learning how these trees communicate. It’s such a fascinating world to live in. There’s always something new to learn.”
To find meaning within an imaginary world can be tragic. It also seems sad to renounce every feeling of reverence so one can remain scientifically objective. Our deep aspiration as human beings to find meaning requires BOTH a scientific mind and a reverent heart.