Stalking E.O. Wilson

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—

Call me.

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6 Responses to Stalking E.O. Wilson

  1. Lauren – really loved this blog! I just had to smile, because I know what you mean. I heard about him through work by Stephen Kellert – someone else you’ve probably heard. I had a similar experience contacting Steve (yes, Steve) and got to interview him last fall! I am currently writing a book about the importance of reconnecting to the natural world through our manmade spaces – using biophilic design and that age-old wisdom, feng shui. So drop me a note if you’re interested in talking. I think we have a lot in common. Best of luck with E.O.!
    (Just in case you’re wondering how I found your post, I have a google alert for “biophilia”) ; )

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  2. Sara Chesluk says:

    Hi Lauren , and Maureen -

    Lauren, I am a fellow e.o. groupie and enjoyed hearing about your hunt for that interview. I am hoping that one, or both of you, might respond to my recent project. I recently self-published an e-book , “The Boy Who Loved Ants: Edward O. Wilson.” It’s for children ages 7 and up, a short (only abour 2000 words) bio of him, focusing on his early years, based on “Naturalist.” It’s been hard to get the word out about the book. It’s priced at only $0.99, so clearly I am not trying to make money, just to share my enthusiasm and hope for the environment..

    I would greatly appreciate finding someone who would read the book and comment on it, preferably on Amazon or even Smashword. On Smashword you can download it for free with the coupon MB66Y, and it’s readable on most devices or your computer.

    Let me know if you have any questions about this. And meanwhile, Lauren, best wishes in your studies. Maureen, I’ve seen articles recently on integrating nature into our cities.

    Thanks -

    Sara van Dyck Chesluk

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  3. Joel Liveris says:

    I never knew it before reading this blog, but I now suspect that I too am an E. O. Nerd. I wanted to email him today and relate one way his writing has affected a reader… me. I found you’re blog and decided to leave you a reply instead.

    A few weeks ago, at a Starbucks, I found myself sitting next to a young couple whose conversation I could not help overhearing. I concluded that they may be conservative Christian creationists, yet they also seemed non-extremist and reasonable. I decided to ask them if they would like to meet over a cup of coffee with someone who accepts ‘evolution’ as fact. This was an outreach inspired by Wilson’s book “The Creation”.

    Today I had coffee with the couple and it was very rewarding for me. The man was a divinity scholar and the woman an artist. We all described ourselves as trying to make our Earth a better place and decided to avoid differences that could possibly inflare confrontations.

    What a great converstation we all had. We agreed that individuals with strong but different points of view should identify common concerns and accept one another’s differences. What was important was saving our most beautiful planet and life’s exquisite diversity.

    We both were willing to listen to one another with respect and hopefully, each in our own way, will leverage this respect to help humanity find a way to become a more responsible species.

    Thank you E.O. for your example. And thank you Lauren for your blog.

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  4. Greg Wolley says:

    My fascination with Dr. Wilson began in undergraduate school, and my knowledge of him – and respect for him – is as an entomologist rather than a popular science writer. I’ve shared his lifelong fascination with ants. I haven’t read any of his popular books – from Sociobiology to whatever his latest one is – but read his 1957 paper on ants that he wrote in graduate school, and have his population biology books that he wrote with Robert MacArthur and William Bossert. So one day soon I would like meet him so he can sign one of my books. I haven’t found his lecture schedule listed in one place yet.

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  5. Richard Landers says:

    I wrote Wilson with a question after I read his “The Social Conquest of Earth”. A guy that was enthralled with the book, saying it was more important than the Bible, later told me that “self interest is a mortal sin”. That seemed really off, so I wrote Wilson about it. I couldn’t believe he wrote back, saying “Yes, that’s going a bit far”.

    I think he was being polite. If I one really believed that “self interest is mortal sin” they wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.

    - h

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    • So Richard – how DOES one find E.O. Wilson’s email address?? I too have a burning question stemming from Social Conquest of Earth (and also a long-time love for his other books). Barbara

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