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Meave Leakey

Pioneering Paleoanthropologist

Once we had worked the site at 4.1 million, which is called Kanapoi, we decided that we could work at a site that was the same age as Lucy and see if we could find afarensis, or whether we'd find something else. Because again, I was still thinking that there should have been diversity at that time, and it shouldn't just be the common ancestor there, but it should go back further. So that's why we were working at that age, 'cause it was the same age as the sites from which Lucy came. What we found there was a skull, and other specimens as well. But we only named the skull because we couldn't relate the other specimens directly to the skull. But the skull had a very flat face and a very long face. Lucy's face is much more protruding and much more ape-like in many ways, actually. The face shape showed that the species was not afarensis, it was something different. So it showed that there were at least two hominid species living at the same time as Lucy. So therefore, Lucy wasn't necessarily the common ancestor. It could have been the species that we found, that we called Kenyanthropus platyops, or it can be something else that we haven't yet found. I believe sincerely that in the end, there will be several different things found at that time as there are later.
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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

I wanted to grow grapes and start a vineyard, and people said, "You can't grow a vineyard in your area. It's six-and-a-half feet above sea level. You're on the Equator. The days are too short. How are you going to grow grapes that make good wine?" So, I said, "Well, why can't I?" and they said, "Well, it can't be done, and you'll have to think of something else." Well, we're producing very good wine today, pinot noir and chardonnay, very drinkable. First time it's been grown. In fact, a wag friend of mine wrote a book and said, "He's growing the best wine in a region twice the size of France." The fact that nobody else is growing any doesn't matter. It's a great sense of achievement, and we serve the wine now to all our friends, and they prefer it to a lot of the wine that is available commercially in Kenya. This is the challenge. If you want something done by me, suggest it can't be done, and then I will engage. I enjoy that very much.
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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

What struck me is -- if we developed bipedalism six or seven million years ago on the African savannas, rough, thorny country -- there can't have been a single individual who would have lived 20, 30 years who didn't at some stage have his or her leg -- or legs, one or two -- incapacitated. If one leg is incapacitated with a sprain or a break or an abscess or a thorn, unless somebody looks after you on the African savanna, brings you water, brings you food, fends off the hyenas and the lions, you won't make it. Given that everyone was bipedal, there has to have been genetic selection for empathy, for compassion. I believe that is the single strongest characteristic of being human today, and that is our propensity and natural ability to feel empathetic and compassionate and sympathetic. That is the one character that, to me, really sets us apart from other forms of life. That is the one character we really need to rely on to get us through the difficult years and to think globally as opposed to thinking nationally or racially or on the various mini-forms of bonding that we approach. So losing my legs taught me that, too, in a very real sense, and it has become a major part of my public message. Let's go back to fundamentals. We are compassionate. With compassion, we can solve a lot of the problems that threaten us today.
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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

If a country like Bangladesh goes under water in the next 30 years because of rising sea levels, there are 160-odd million people there, many of them poorly educated, who will be refugees. If it was only the Bangladesh country that went under water, maybe we could deal with it, but we could have a billion people on the run within the next 30 years. Where are we going to put a billion people? The U.S. is having trouble with 11 million illegal refugees, immigrants. What are we going to do when there's a billion of them? Where are we going to feed those sort of people when much of the rice-growing areas of lowland might disappear? The implications of what is coming are enormous, and most leadership is not addressing it outside the framework of their own elected terms.
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Leon Lederman

Nobel Prize in Physics

Leon Lederman: Let's take a metaphor. You have a trunk. And all kinds of combination locks and you know this trunk is important because you found it in an attic. It's covered with cobwebs, and must be really good. People are working on the combinations and you come in, sort of six months later, and they're all working on the combinations, and they have these papers and computer codes, and they're working out, and you say, "Look at all these bright guys. They haven't been able to get into the trunk. There's something they're missing." And you walk around the back -- the back is open. Nobody went to look at the back of the trunk. Well, it's kind of a silly metaphor but, in a way, science can often be that way. You know that a lot of very bright people have been working on a problem. You know there's a solution, right? So, you say, "What is it that they haven't thought about?"
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Leon Lederman

Nobel Prize in Physics

Leon Lederman: Many, many great theoretical breakthroughs in physics and mathematics were done by very young people. Of course, you have to know something, so that's experience, and experience grows with age, creativity is declining with age. You've got to find that balance between the two which will give you your peak years of accomplishment. If you have pure creativity, but you don't know anything, it's too bad. Sometimes it's bad to know too much. I remember Wolfgang Pauli, a very famous Austrian physicist, complaining about his own lack of creativity, said, "Ach, I know too much!" You see, if you know too much, then you don't have that fresh view which allows you to see the breakthrough idea.
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