"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin

Nov 9, 2007

A Primate Meets his Maker

Frans de Waal and a fate worse than death

Eric Michael Johnson with Frans de Waal (the bright glow on my face isn't because of the sun).

I'm presenting on my bonobo research today, so I apologize for the sporadic posting recently. It's been a little crazy. However, a funny thing happened yesterday. I met one of my heroes. This doesn't happen to me very often and the feeling was . . . what's the right word? . . . nice. Perhaps a little more than nice. Somewhere between nice and indescribably vast joyful excitement.

Frans de Waal (recently one of TIME's 100) has been most responsible for inspiring me to pursue the work I am currently doing. For those of you who haven't encountered his work before, dive right in to his latest book Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are. For those of you who want a more academic example of his writing you simply must, must, MUST, read Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved.

I will write about his talk a little later, but I just wanted to take a moment before my presentation to bask in this warm feeling (if nothing more than to distract myself from the panic I will soon be experiencing as I engage in an activity many view as being worse than death - if Jerry Seinfeld is to be believed).

“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

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Tiffany said...

Congratulations! So exciting!

Jacob said...

Congrats! I know the feeling you mean from when I met Frank Drake at a conference last year.

I'm not familiar with Frans de Waal's work, but Primates and Philosophers looks fascinating; it's definitely going on my winter reading list.

I stumbled across your blog a couple weeks ago, by the way, and I've enjoyed what I've read so far!

Paul said...

Congratulations, Eric!

Priyank said...

Congrats! And yes the glow on your face says it.

Brian said...

Hey, you look familiar. Did you by chance take a primate behavioral ecology class with Jessica L.-A. a couple years back (I guess it'd be Fall 2005 or Spring 2006)? If my brain isn't going dull and that is indeed the case, then I was in that class with you (the psych undergrad), and have myself gone on to work with capuchin monkeys. I've been reading your blog for a little while now and just realized it's written by someone I (think I) knew. Just thought I'd say hi.

Eric Michael Johnson said...

Hi Brian!

What a coincidence. Yes, this is me. How are you? Have you continued at WSU or did you start a grad program elsewhere? Send me an e-mail sometime, I'd love to hear about your work (

Mirandian said...

The glow on your face....agreed not from the sun! ;-)
I can imagine the feeling..meeting someone whom you admire!