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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Goodall’

13 AUGUST, 2014

Jane Goodall Answers the Proust Questionnaire

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A dead writer meets one of the greatest scientists alive.

A century before today’s popular personality quizzes, Victorian “confession albums” served essentially the same role, presenting a series of simple questions designed to reveal the respondent’s sensibility and aspirations. In the 1880s, teenage Marcel Proust was given one such questionnaire by his friend Antoinette, the daughter of France’s then-president, which he promptly answered. The original manuscript, titled “by Marcel Proust himself,” lay dormant for decades, until it was discovered in 1924, two years after the writer’s death. Half a century later, French television host Bernard Pivot resurrected the questionnaire as a backbone for his literary interviews. In 1993, Vanity Fair transplanted the tradition to the last page of the magazine, which began featuring various public figures’ answers to the Proust Questionnaire.

In 2009, the magazine released Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire: 101 Luminaries Ponder Love, Death, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life (public library). Among the respondents is legendary primatologist and environmentalist Jane Goodall, she of great wisdom, who answered the famed survey in May of 2004.

Portrait of Jane Goodall by Robert Risko for Vanity Fair

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Sitting by myself in the forest in Gombe National Park watching one of the chimpanzee mothers with her family.

What is your greatest fear?
That I shall be tortured and be a coward.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Hypocrisy.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Long-distance phone calls to my friends.

What is your favorite journey?
My favorite ever journey was my first trip from Nairobi City to the Serengeti to Olduvai Gorge before it was famous, when there were no roads and all the animals were there. We were in an overloaded Land Rover, four people and two Dalmatians.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Aging skin!

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My childhood companion and teacher — my dog, Rusty.

When and where were you happiest?
In the early 60s, when I was alone at Gombe with the chimpanzees.

What talent would you most like to have?
Ability to learn languages.

What is your current state of mind?
Deep concern at the state of the planet, environmental and social.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I need to be 20 years younger — there is too much to do.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Starting our youth program, Roots & Shoots, along with helping to blur the line between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Knowing you have let someone down, betrayed their trust.

What is your favorite occupation?
Observing animals alone in the wilderness.

What is your most marked characteristic?
Determination/optimism.

What do you most value in your friends?
Being able to share happiness and sadness and have a good laugh.

Who are your favorite writers?
Shakespeare, Tolkien, Mary Wesley.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Robin Hood.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My mother, until her death; dedicated teachers; Kofi Annan; Nelson Mandela; Muhammad Yunus.

What is it that you most dislike?
Receptions and dinners in noisy places with people talking too loud, riding in stretch limos, waste.

How would you like to die?
Peacefully and before losing my physical and especially my mental facilities.

What is your motto?
“As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”

That Goodall — one of the greatest scientists of the past century — should answer this last question with a quote from the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish Torah only speaks to her sensitivity to the spiritual aspect of science and her conviction that religion is useful only when and if it inspires us to do better.

Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire features more responses by such cultural icons as Allen Ginsberg, Hedy Lamarr, Gore Vidal, Julia Child, and Joan Didion. Sample it further with David Bowie’s playful and poignant answers and complement it with LIFE magazine’s similarly-spirited 1991 volume The Meaning of Life.

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03 APRIL, 2014

Jane Goodall on Science, Religion, and Our Human Responsibilities

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What the chimpanzees teach us about the fine line between faith and apathy.

Legendary British primatologist Jane Goodall (b. April 3, 1934) is celebrated not only as humanity’s greatest expert on chimpanzees but also as a remarkable mind that bridges the rigor of science with the sensitivity of spirituality. In a passage from her altogether fantastic 1999 exploration of science and spirituality, Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey (public library), which also gave us her gorgeous poem “The Old Wisdom”, Goodall reflects on a trying time in her life — her divorce in 1974, coupled with her quest to reconcile the faith in a higher power that she had harbored her whole life with the new understanding of and awe at evolution after her transformational experience of studying the chimpanzees at Gombe Stream National Park.

Portrait of Jane Goodall by Lisa Congdon from our collaborative project, 'The Reconstructionist.' Click image for details.

She writes:

Even if there was no God, even if human beings had no soul, it would still be true that evolution had created a remarkable animal — the human animal — during its millions of years of labor. So very like our closest biological relatives, the chimpanzees, yet so different. For our study of the chimpanzees had helped to pinpoint not only the similarities between them and us, but also those ways in which we are most different. Admittedly, we are not the only beings with personalities, reasoning powers, altruism, and emotions like joy and sorrow; nor are we the only beings capable of mental as well as physical suffering. But our intellect has grown mighty in complexity since the first true men branched off from the ape-man stock some two million years ago. And we, and only we, have developed a sophisticated spoken language. For the first time in evolution, a species evolved that was able to teach its young about objects and events not present, to pass on wisdom gleaned from the successes — and the mistakes — of the past, to make plans for the distant future, to discuss ideas so that they could grow, sometimes out of all recognition, through the combined wisdom of the group.

Echoing Mark Twain’s lament that we often use religion as a mask for human egotism, Goodall considers how these human capacities unfold beyond the intellectual and the spiritual to affect the very behaviors that shape our future and the responsibilities we have to our species, all species, and our precious shared planet:

With language we can ask, as can no other living beings, those questions about who we are and why we are here. And this highly developed intellect means, surely, that we have a responsibility toward the other life-forms of our planet whose continued existence is threatened by the thoughtless behavior of our own human species — quite regardless of whether or not we believe in God. Indeed, those who acknowledge no God, but are convinced that we are in this world as an evolutionary accident, may be more active in environmental responsibility — for if there is no God, then, obviously, it is entirely up to us to put things right. On the other hand, I have encountered a number of people with a strong faith in God who shrug off their own human responsibilities, believing that everything is safely “in God’s hands.” I was brought up to believe that “God helps those who help themselves.” We should all take responsibility, all play our part in helping to clean up and heal the planet that, in so many ways, we have desecrated.

Perhaps rather than disheartening, the awareness that we are, indeed, a cosmic accident is the most powerful gift we have.

Dame Jane Goodall, 2011 (Photograph by Angela George via Wikimedia Commons)

Reason for Hope is a beautiful read in its entirety. Complement it with Goodall’s conversation with Bill Moyers about science and spirit and her little-known, lovely children’s book, then see Carl Sagan on science and religion.

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21 JANUARY, 2014

Jane Goodall on Science and Spirit: The Iconic Primatologist Talks to Bill Moyers and Reads Her Poem “The Old Wisdom”

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“As human beings, we can encompass a vague feeling of what the universe is, and all in this funny little brain here — so there has to be something more than just brain, it has to be something to do with spirit as well.”

Alan Lightman’s superb recent meditation on science and religion reminded me of a 2009 Bill Moyers conversation with legendary primatologist Jane Goodall, in which the celebrated scientist contemplates the question of science and spirit — a question previously pondered by such great minds as Galileo in 1615, Ada Lovelace in 1844, Albert Einstein in 1936, Isaac Asimov throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and perhaps most famously Carl Sagan in 1985.

In the interview, found in the altogether fantastic Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues (public library), Goodall also reads her beautiful poem “The Old Wisdom,” inspired by the eternal inquiry and found in her 1999 book Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey (public library), which further explores Goodall’s views on science and spirituality.

THE OLD WISDOM

When the night wind makes the pine trees creak
And the pale clouds glide across the dark sky,
Go out my child, go out and seek
Your soul: The Eternal I.

For all the grasses rustling at your feet
And every flaming star that glitters high
Above you, close up and meet
In you: The Eternal I.

Yes, my child, go out into the world; walk slow
And silent, comprehending all, and by and by
Your soul, the Universe, will know
Itself: the Eternal I.

A transcript of the full discussion, absolutely stimulating from beginning to end, can be found it Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues, which also features conversations with luminaries like E.O. Wilson, Karen Armstrong, John Lithgow, Michael Pollan, and Jon Stewart.

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