2013–2014

Beyond the Crystal Wall: A Tale of Love and Death, Chimpanzees, and Science

Nonfiction

My nonfiction book will focus on events that occurred at Jane Goodall’s chimpanzee research site in Tanzania, East Africa, during the late 1960s. It will include a good deal of narrative material about the small number of researchers living there in great isolation: their sometimes difficult interactions with each other as well as their often complex relationships with the animals they studied. It also touches on issues of animal awareness or consciousness, and it explores ways in which humans perceive animals.

I am looking for two students to do library research on two different subjects related to this project.

Subject one: I am curious about Tanzanian cultural attitudes toward animals, based on their cultural (i.e., tribal) affiliations and animistic (religious/mythical) belief systems. So I would like a student, perhaps someone interested in anthropology, to explore the tribal traditions of the Africans employed as support staff at Goodall’s research site in the 1960s—as well as those living in the general region (such as, say, the local fishermen). That first problem might be easy to solve. Perhaps one can simply say that the people in and around Gombe are all Ha and Jiji, for example. More difficult to explore and describe would be this second issue: what their cultural traditions have to say about animals of various sorts. There is also a third issue to explore: I am under the impression that the several dozen tribal traditions in Tanzania are actually somewhat similar and historically have common roots; if that is the case, then I would also like to get a more particular sense of the trans-Tanzanian (or East African) cultural beliefs and attitudes about animals and nature, death and afterlife, etc.

Subject two: Animal consciousness. Are animals conscious? I would like someone to put together a brief history of the question, followed by a basic bibliography supporting that history. I would also like to learn something about which contemporary scientists (and others—i.e., philosophers) are actually interested in the question. Since I believe contemporary neuroscientists should have something to say, I would more particularly like to discover which neuroscientists seem receptive to it and what they are working on.

The skills needed to do this work would be: ability to do library and computer research and to summarize it clearly and concisely. Students interested in these subjects should benefit from exploring their particular interests and perhaps also from the experience of doing this kind of research.