So, anyone who’s known me for more than five minutes knows I’ve had what one would call a “nerd-crush” (technical term, that) on E. O. Wilson for years.
Oh, E. O. — and may I call you E. O.? — you had me at Biophilia.
I was introduced to some of Wilson’s ideas soon after I started work on my masters degree in psychology at Florida Atlantic University, where I studied people’s perceptions of the mental lives of animals. Wilson talked about science and nature with an eloquent reverence that was revelatory, and his view of evolution as the epic myth (à la Joseph Campbell) of our age resonated with me very strongly. I believe that the only way to save our planet is for people to become re-enchanted with the natural world — and for me, Wilson is a perfect embodiment of just that way of seeing.
When I first came to visit MIT to learn about the Graduate Program in Science Writing, I mentioned my hapless crush to one of my future colleagues—who reminded me that Wilson’s stomping grounds at Harvard are, y’know, basically right down the street. So, naturally, when I arrived here this fall, I set about searching for a story to write about Wilson and his work.
Wilson’s Life on Earth project — meant to revolutionize the way science is taught in our schools, all the way from elementary school up through university — seemed like the perfect match. I very calmly and deliberately tracked down Wilson’s contact info and crafted what I hoped was the most finely-tuned e-mail of my life: Respectful without being worshipful; humble without being self-deprecating; and short, sweet, and to the point without being terse. Then I proofread it a dozen or so times, and clicked “Send.”
And then I e-mailed a few of my old lab mates, knowing they’d appreciate the import of this momentous occasion, and said, “OMG I JUST E-MAILED E. O. WILSON!!!”
I patiently waited. But when the e-mail got no response after 32 seconds a few days, I decided to try a different approach: I looked up who the head of Wilson’s department was at Harvard, and e-mailed him to ask if there were a better way to contact the man, the myth, the legend. His response, though more circumspect and in a few more words, basically amounted to, “Hell if I know.”
If it were anybody else, I probably would’ve just found his office, and kept going over there until I caught him. But, I figured, if E. O. wasn’t answering his e-mail, there was a good chance he was off in some exotic locale like Mozambique, single-handedly defending the biosphere against the enemies of biodiversity (at least, that’s how it works in my head).
So, I had to shelve the idea of interviewing E. O. Wilson — for now. But I’m not giving up hope just yet.
So E. O., if you’re reading this—