MSU hosts primatologist Frans de Waal

On Oct. 3, while fall’s first snow settled thickly outside, a lecture hall in Leon Johnson Hall was filled with students, professors and community members attending primatologist Frans de Waal’s lecture on natural empathy. De Waal’s visit to MSU also included a question-and-answer session with honors students and an awards dinner celebrating the recipients of the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award.

De Waal was awarded the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award, with MSU graduate and 3M executive Jean B. Sweeny. The award, established in 2009 by  George Keremedjiev, founder and director of the American Computer and Robotics Museum of Bozeman, recognizes those “who have made significant contributions to the preservation of biodiversity on earth.” The American Computer and Robotics Museum also sponsored the event.

Author of “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society” and “The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates,” de Waal presented his research on empathy, reciprocity and cooperation within ape communities. The lecture was lighthearted and poignant, and accompanied by a slide-show including video clips that often sent waves of laughter through the audience.

[pullquote align=”right”]“Professor de Waal… tells a story that suggests that suggests empathy is also a part of our biology.”— Dr. Robert Rydell[/pullquote]

“Professor de Waal, on the basis of his studies of Bonobos, tells a story that suggests that suggests empathy is also a part of our biology,” explained MSU History Professor Robert Rydell, who introduced de Waal before the lecture. “This story too has implications for the way we think about economics, politics and religion. It was important for students to have the opportunity to hear what he had to say and interact with him.”

Preceding the event, de Waal fielded questions from honors students in the Black Box Theater. “We talked about things from biology to neuroscience to ethics and global warming,” said philosophy and political science student Chris Mora. “It was really great to have students interacting with such a world renowned thinker.”