Ard: Did you ever see chimpanzees doing some kind of, maybe, religious-type behaviour or dances or…?
JG: Let’s say pre-religious.
Ard: Pre-religious, okay.
JG: We have this amazing waterfall at Gombe, and sometimes when, usually the males… You can hear it roaring. It falls down 80 feet and through hundreds and hundreds of years it’s worn itself a groove in the solid rock. So when you go near, there’s always breeze as the air is displaced by the falling water, and there’s a thundering noise as this rather narrow stream lands in the rocks below. And the chimpanzees sometimes do these amazing 20-minute displays. I call it a waterfall dance.
JG: More scientific to call it a display, but they are upright and they are swaying from foot to foot. They pick up big rocks in the stream and hurl them, and sometimes they… They used to climb up the vines growing down and push off into the spray.
The vines aren’t there anymore. Anyway, the time I remember vividly was when I actually was able to see the eyes of this male, and he’d finished his display, his dance, and he was sitting on a rock and I was watching his eyes, and he was watching the water falling, and he was watching the water flowing away, and I thought to myself, this pinpoints the biggest difference them and us: that we, ‘What is this? What is this stuff that’s always coming and always going and it’s always here?’ Might that not lead to some primitive, early religion, worship of the elements? You know, early man’s curiosity as to what these things are and what they meant. But we can discuss it, therefore we could turn it into that early primitive religion. The chimpanzee has the same, perhaps, feelings, although we don’t know.
David: Not quite able?
JG: But that he can’t discuss.
Ard: That’s fascinating.
JG: So although their brain, cognitively, is capable of learning: they can learn sign language – they can learn up to 600 signs or more; they can use a computer; they can paint; they can tell you what they’ve painted; they have a sense of humour – but, as far as we know, they can’t discuss something.
David: It’s almost as if they’re on the cusp of that. They might have intimations of something, but it’s just out of reach for them.
JG: Yes. And these guys, like Bertje, they become different, because they’re with us. Because they’re in a different type of society where we do use language all the time, and they can understand what we’re saying.
Ard: Some scientists say that one day we’ll explain everything in terms of, kind of, mechanical properties of the atoms and molecules in your head, and that seems to take away any sense of purpose or spirituality or the soul. What’s your response to that kind of approach?
JG: I sincerely hope it’s not true, because, for me, it’s the unknown out there. It’s the fact that we’re always being surprised; that we’ll never know it all. I don’t believe it’s possible for us ever to mechanise the whole of the life force, and that’s just my belief. I feel a very strong sense of spirituality out in the forest where everything is interconnected. It’s as though there’s this life force that is so powerful, and there’s little specks of this life force in everything and in us, we call it a soul.
JG: At least, unless we believe that we only have a mechanised body. I don’t believe it. I certainly don’t want to believe it.
Ard: Do you believe in God?
JG: I believe in a great spiritual power. What it is, I don't know. We call it God, other people call it Brahman or Allah or Jehovah, whatever it is. But it’s so universal: it’s just everywhere, every people. And, of course, it’s especially strong in people living closest to the land, like the Pygmies and the Native Americans and the Australian Aboriginals. They have this sense of connectedness.
Ard: Do you think we’ve lost that sense?
JG: I think it’s still there, but we’re rapidly making it very difficult, in the Western world, for our children to ever feel it. We’re denying them the opportunity to grow up in nature like you did, like I did. I don't know, did you also?
David: No, no, I didn’t.
Ard: Maybe this explains why you don’t believe in God and I do.
David: Because I didn’t spend enough time in nature.
Ard: Maybe, yeah.
JG: See, I don't know if I call it God, but that’s the name we have. But there’s certainly something. There’s something out there. There’s something, even a guiding force. I mean, I used to spend hours as a child, I think many children do, thinking what was before space? What was before time? How could there be no time? How could there be no space?’ There couldn’t.
David: Does there have to be a God for you to justify the spiritual feeling or those feelings that there’s something outside of us? Because I think I share some of those feelings, but for me, I don’t feel that there’s a God. So, for me, they’re not… One doesn’t need the other.
Ard: They’re just feelings?
David: Well, it’s trite to say it, but I’ve always felt that the spiritual was far too important to leave to God.
JG: I think you have a different concept of this spiritual power from mine.
David: Very probably. But for you two, does it depend on there being a God or not?
JG: Well, as I say, I don’t think of it as a God. It’s just the spiritual power – and I don't know what it is – but embedded in nature.
Ard: I think it has to be something that is somehow different from nature, and that’s what these things are pointing to – something transcendent. Just like when you ask yourself, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ You’re asking yourself, ‘What was it that made time and space in the first place?’ And there has to be something outside of time and space.
David: Are you saying something supernatural, though?
Ard: Yeah, if you want to use that word.
Ard: Something supernatural. I think that’s…
David: That’s weird for a scientist, a physicist as well.
Ard: For a physicist, a theoretical physicist to say? No, I don’t think it’s weird at all. I think the great power of science is its ability to ask very specific questions about constrained things. But the minute you think about it for a little while, there are many really important questions that science can’t answer and no conceivable advance of science could answer. Like, what’s the value of a human being? And if you think that science answers all questions, then you’ve evacuated hugely important parts of life.
JG: I agree completely. You know, science should be a tool, and for many, it’s become a god.
Ard: Exactly, that’s right.