Of Monkeys and Men: The Extraordinary Life and Work of Frans de Waal

Lawrence M. Krauss in Quillette: Frans de Waal, one of the world’s preeminent primatologists, passed away on 14 March 2024, at the age of 75. He was the Charles Howard Candler Professor Emeritus of Psychology and former director of the Living Links Center for the Advanced Study of Ape and Human Evolution at the Emory National Primate Research Center.

His passing is a loss not just for his family and friends, but for science and society more broadly. De Waal’s death ends a career that showed what science can accomplish at its very best, by changing our perspective on ourselves and our place in the cosmos.

Frans was more than just a colleague and friend to me. He was a teacher. I count myself among the innumerable people who were impacted by his writing and lecturing in clear and explicit ways.

That is why I don’t feel that it is inappropriate for me to pen this brief memorial, even though I am a theoretical physicist and Frans was a primatologist. After all, like me, Frans believed that science is not compartmentalized into completely separate fields with no areas in common. Fields of scientific knowledge overlap and they are all united by the joy of discovery.

Indeed, Frans was a professor in a psychology department, even though he was a biologist by training—a background that affected his outlook on both his own work and on that of his colleagues. Last year, Frans sat down with me to record an in-depth discussion of his life and work, including his last book, Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist, for my Origins Podcast. In that discussion, he confessed, “I am so happy that I work with animals who cannot fill out a questionnaire.”

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