The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap. - Novalis

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Of Ants and Humans

Part of the job for anyone who really wants to understand the place of human beings in the world, to know our place, is to become really familiar with at least some of the other creatures with whom we share the planet. It has long seemed to me that one of the best  ways to do that is to learn about insects. They have lots of advantages over leopards or elephants for instance. They are small, they are everywhere, they are abundant beyond imagining, and their diversity  and complexity are unparalleled. This used to be a hard sell, but no longer. I've been out of the world of entomology for long enough that I did not know about Mark Moffett, who has clearly made a terrific profession out of a line of work that has long been considered the province of nerds and oddballs by the uninformed general public. He is a student of E.O.Wilson at Harvard, one of the truly great biologists of our time (much as I disagree with his theoretical work - on which, see Wendell Berry's book Life Is a Miracle here]. Moffett's website Dr. Bugs is wonderful and not to be missed. Both Wilson and Moffett are primarily students of the ants. Anyone who thinks this a bit odd really must listen to the Fresh Air interview with Moffett: Tracking a Sisterhood of Ants - Fresh Air.  I am completely delighted that my former profession is getting such great press. I might add that beyond my delight in the creatures themselves, the book that initially hooked me was Evans's Life on a Little Known Planet, which is still a fascinating piece of writing. And I was extraordinarily lucky to have some great teachers in my first courses in biology. Pre-eminent among them was Carl Schaefer, a wonderful man and a terrific teacher whose joy in his subject, and in Dickens and Brahms, helped to pull me entirely into his world. I owe him a debt of gratitude for revealing some of the wonders of biology.

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