Illustration of Jane Goodall by Christina Chung

Illustration by Christina Chung

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Jane Goodall is perhaps best known for researching primates and advocating for the conservation of the habitats that sustain them (and us). But her work has also made her wise to the contradictions and promise of our human species.

“Bizarre, isn’t it, that the most intellectual creature — surely, that’s ever lived on the planet — is destroying its only home,” she mused in her conversation with Krista this week. “I always believe it’s because there’s a disconnect between that clever, clever brain and human heart, love and compassion. I truly believe, only when head and heart work in harmony can we attain our true human potential.” 

Listening to Goodall, I wondered what we might cultivate in this valley between intellect and empathy, knowledge and compassion.

Robin Wall Kimmerer offers one answer. The botanist, who is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, says Indigenous traditions also value this balance in relationship to plants, trees, and the natural world. “We say that we know a thing when we know it not only with our physical senses, with our intellect, but also when we engage our intuitive ways of knowing, of emotional knowledge and spiritual knowledge,” she says. “And that’s really what I mean by listening … What is the story that that being might share with us if we know how to listen as well as we know how to see?”

In the intersection between the subjective and the objective, we may also find beauty. As Frank Wilczek told Krista, “There are forms of beauty that are not found in science, and there are facts about the world that are not beautiful. But there’s a remarkable intersection and a remarkable overlap between the concepts of beauty that you find in art and literature and music, and things that you find as the deepest themes of our understanding of the physical world.” 

With as many discoveries as she's made, Jane Goodall still holds more questions than answers. “Part of being human is a questioning, a curiosity, a trying to find answers, but an understanding that there are some answers that, at least on this planet, this life, this life-form, we will not be able to answer,” she says.

Perhaps this sense of curiosity and wonder is the compass we need as we continue to both think and feel our way through the expanse of the unknown. 

Yours,
Kristin Lin
Editor, The On Being Project 

P.S. — We recorded this week’s conversation with Jane Goodall remotely over Zoom. At the end of the call she showed us some of her treasures in her home in Bournemouth, England, including this portrait of herself as a young woman with her beloved dog, Rusty.

Screenshot of Jane Goodall from the zoom interview


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On Being with Krista Tippett
Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall on What It Means to Be Human

The primatologist on the moral and spiritual convictions that have driven her and what she’s learned about our species from studying chimpanzees.

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Recommended Reading & Listening


Recommended image collage: image of two chimps; image of a

cheetah hiding behind grass; portrait image of Sylvia Earle

Read | “Jane Goodall Is Still Wild at Heart” by Paul Tullis | The New York Times Magazine
This 2015 profile of the primatologist takes a sweeping look at her career, 54 years after her first research trip to the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve.

Listen | “Her Deepness” with Sylvia Earle
Another delightful listen, with the trailblazing oceanographer who was the first person to walk solo on the bottom of the sea. 

Listen | “We Are All Wildlife” with Alan Rabinowitz
The wildlife biologist also drew connections between his research on wild cats and what it means to be human.

Find more in our onbeing.org library on Science & Being.

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