With great regret and grief, the Board of the European Sociobiological Society has to announce the death of our Society's founding father and continually inspiring member
Prof. Dr. Jan Wind
Suffering from cancer for nearly two years, Jan died October 30, 1995
after an acute illness of less than four weeks.
Trained as a physician, Jan became a respected ear, nose and throat
specialist in Bussum, the Netherlands. His scientific interests have always
been with genetics and human evolution, in particular behaviour and
speech. He has been a part-time senior lecturer in the faculty of medicine
of the Free University in Amsterdam since 1974.
In 1982 he was the main driving force behind the foundation of the ESS, which he served very shortly as its first chairman and many years as its secretary. In this function he inspired many people to become a member, not seldomly the start of a long friendly relationship, because Jan was interested in individual people at least as much as in science. In November 1991 Jan became a professor of evolutionary behavioural biology, with special emphasis on the origins of human speech, at the Free University in Amsterdam. This chair was proposed by ESS and the Language Origins Society, the other scientific society of which Jan was the founding father.
The ESS Board will seriously miss Jan's personal companionship and his many productive suggestions. We were very glad to have met Jan in a relatively good condition at the successful Cambridge conference of last August. Although he had expressed the wish to reduce his activities for ESS, he already had plans to come to Alfred, USA, next year, provided that his physical condition would allow him to go. We are very sad to have lost an extraordinary collegue and a very good friend. We wish his wife Janneke, and the children Michiel and Mirjam, the strength to go on without their beloved husband and father.
Photograph by Robert Lantos
When I first met Jan Wind at the Brussels meeting of the ESS in 1989, I
was impressed at once with his rare mixture of curiosity, open-minded
ness, and an absolute devotion to scientific discourse. This totally unobtrusive curiosity made me feel welcome as a person, signalled receptiveness
toward any contributions I might want to make to the common cause, and
thus simply made it easier for me to communicate my views. In years and
meetings to come I learned that Jan's talent for signalling openness to
persons and to their ideas, helped motivate well established scientists, as
well as laypersons, to communicate their ideas on the evolutionary
underpinnings of human behaviour.
Jan Wind was an eminent scientist, specializing in human sociobiology, paleoanthropology, and particularly in the origins of human language, to name but a few fields of interest. His lectures not only conveyed a sense of his impressive learning but also his talent for communicating his findings in a scientifically sober, yet amiable manner. I think that Jan's unpretentious way of presenting his findings were a major contribution to the pleasant atmosphere of ESS conferences that, according to numerous private talks I had with newcomers, as well as with regular participants to these meetings, are a distinctive mark of this society. Jan's manner of approaching people was essential also in securing funds, finding publish ers for some of the society's successful books, and in many other ways, not to be dealt with here.
In my function as the chairman of the ESS, I would like to say that Jan
Wind's contributions to this society are essential and will be remembered
by the board, and I think I may say, by the members of our society. Jan's
devotion to science was an inspriation to all participants of our meetings,
in fact he set an example that may help us to go on, in spite of the tremendous loss caused by his death. This is at least the way, I feel that Jan's
energies may prove helpful for us even beyond the limits of his individual
life. I am sure he would be happy to see us going on!
The history of ESS began with a meeting in 1981 of the contributors to a
Dutch book on sociobiology, edited by Frans de Waal. Sociobiology Dis
cussed: Evolutionary Roots of Human Behaviour? was published in the period
that sociobiology was associated in the first place with controversies2. Emo
tions ran high when people dared to think of approaching human behaviour from a biological perspective. In the Netherlands, like in Great Britain
and the United States, one ran a serious reputational risk if one tried to
take biology seriously in the study of our own behaviour. For example, the
Dutch criminologist Willem Buikhuizen, who a few years earlier per
formed very unconventional research to discover possible genetic defects
in some type of criminals, was ostracised by his colleagues, was slandered
in the press, and left Leyden University bitterly disillusioned.
Frans de Waal, who in the early eighties was also working on his well-known Chimpanzee Politics, brought together a number of people who agreed to disagree on the scope, methods and results of sociobiology. De Waal, himself in the first place an ethologist in the Dutch tradition of Tinbergen, Baerends and van Hooff, recognised the intellectual stimulus of sociobiology, although he never wanted to be seen as a sociobiologist. Among the thirteen authors of Sociobiology Discussed, Jan Wind certainly took the most outspoken position with his contribution on the supposed genetic foundation of egoism and altruism. His opponents were Piet Vroon, a psychologist who criticised Jan's alleged 'genetic reductionism', and A.W. Musschenga, a moral philosopher who was not convinced by Jan's analysis of non-kin altruism. In Jan's answer to his critics we can read among others: "I also have argued that the [straight] relevance of sociobiology for daily life is not very great (as yet). That also goes for generally appreciated mental constructions and theories like 'continental drift', Darwinian evolution, cosmogeny and relativity. One of the tasks of sociobiologists (and other scientists) is to analyse how much (... OK, OK: how little) that relevance is." (p. 97).
We can see this as illustrative of Jan's character: he liked to trigger thinking in unconventional directions, but he was not an intellectual warmonger. And if we read this as his scientific program, Jan has contributed very much to the promotion of the evolutionary approach of human behaviour. After Sociobiology Discussed was published, October 24-25, 1981, a public conference was held to stimulate further discussion of the subject. At this meeting the first signs of international interest were present in the persons of Roland Corluy and Rob Cliquet from Belgium. Relaxing in the evening with a drink and a small cigar, we - that is, Jan, Roland, Rob, Hans van der Dennen and I myself - contemplated contentedly about the past discussion and the many people interested. I remember very clearly when Jan, in his characteristic quasi-noncommittal way, asked whether it wouldn't be a good idea to try to continue the interesting discussion on a more regular basis. Why not organise a small-scale follow-up conference, because he knew from his international contacts that not only a few Dutch and Belgians were interested in the subject. For me, these questions mark the moment that ESS was born, although its name originally was 'European Sociobiology Study Group'. And so the first meeting of this ESS Group took place August 21-22, 1982, in the International School for Philosophy in Leusden, the Netherlands. The following lengthy quotation is from the anouncement of this conference, and those who have known Jan as an ESS board member will recognise his style of presentation:
"The aim of this meeting is three-fold. First, there will be a, presumably short, business-meeting starting Aug. 21 at 2.00 pm. during which the participants are invited to elect the members of a board and to democratically decide upon the - presumably modest - membership contri bution. The following and main part of the meeting will be dedicated to the scientific work mainly focusing on the possible contribution of biology - especially evolutionary biology - to the understanding of the social behavior of man and animals. A few invited speakers are scheduled among which professors A. Jaquard (Paris), O. Hansen (Lund), U. Melotti (Milano), and E. Voland (Göttingen). Topics to be discussed include sociobiology's relevance for linguistics, for sex ratio manipulation, for sexism and feminism, for political science, and for human family systems, and a methodological analysis of its underlying concepts. Next to these invited, 30 minutes, lectures there will be some place for free papers, the number of which we prefer to keep limited in order to have ample time for discussion. Papers that cannot be accomodated during this meeting can, however, probably be presented during a next one which, we hope, will be implemented a few months later (depending on the viability of this E.S.S. Group). [...] Finally, we hope that during this meeting informal contacts will be established and renewed for which purpose the chosen site [the International School for Philosophy] seems favourable."
At this meeting, August 21st, 1982, the European Sociobiological Society -
the name was changed a slightly in order to exploit a well-known acronym
as much as possible - was formed by 23 representatives of various
academic professions from 7 European countries. As members of the
Executive Committee Jan and I have been appointed; together with Weiert
Velle (Oslo) we announced our society to various relevant journals and
societies. Point 5 of ESS Newsletter no. 1 (October 1982) already announced
the next meeting: February 5-6, 1983, at the same location in Leusden. The
editor of this Newsletter - not more than one sheet of paper typed on an
IBM typewriter showing traces of cutting and fixing - was, of course, Jan
Wind. He would also be the first signatory of the official notary act which
at June 10th, 1983, promoted ESS to the status of a legally recognised
society under Dutch law, which it still is.
It is true that without Jan's enthousiasm and seemingly unexhaustable working power ESS would not have been created in the first place and have become a modest, but undeniable success thereafter, but he was the opposite of an authoritarian leader. Jan knew the fine art of how to interest other people in the Society's objectives and activities. Not very keen on formal status, Jan preferred to work partly behind the screens in a very informal and personal way. After having been chairman during a short period, Jan chose to act as the Society's secretary, although he remained the driving force until the early nineties. The informality between him, myself and Hans van der Dennen, who from early on was drawn into the preparation of the ESS Newsletter, not only proved very efficient (that, at least, is my opinion), but it also provoked the development of a true friendship which meant to me very much more than I can say here. Jan realised that 'outsiders' might dislike this more or less closed shop business, but he himself ironically talked publicly about us as 'the Dutch mafia', and he always was open to critical suggestions. More than once, especially in recent years, he suggested to retreat from the board as an active member. After all, Jan was not married to ESS, as among other things he showed in his equally active organizational function of founding father and chairman of the Language Origins Society3 and his since 1989 increasing involvement in combatting Kafkaesquely institutionalised child protection organizations.
One of Jan's great charms was that he enjoyed organizational work, but liked even more the intellectual discussion between people from different disciplinary backgrounds4. Evolutionary theory certainly is an inviting area in this respect, and ESS has profited from Jan's undogmatic, non-'school' type of approach. In our meetings, initially twice a year, there was - and still is - much room for unconventional ideas and starters in the field; too much, it is sometimes said. The conference on the aquatic ape theory (in 1987 in Valkenburg, the Netherlands, co-organised with Machteld Roede) was a fine example of discussion between scientists among each other and between them and those without formal universitary positions. The resulting bookThe Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction?, edited by Machteld Roede, Jan Wind and Vernon Reynolds (Souvenir Press, 1991), is one of the many enduring results of these conferences in which 'the scientific work' contributed to the fringes of science itself5. The tradition for this had been set by Jan's editorship of a special issue of the Journal of Human Evolution (vol. 14 (1), 1984; reprinted as Essays in Human Sociobiology, vol. I, 1985), and, together with Vernon Reynolds, volume II of the Essays (1986). The nine edited volumes, seven published and two in preparation, may not have changed our views of evolutionary biology as such, but they reflect ESS's role of attracting attention to new aspects of and insights in, mostly, human behaviour as seen from the most fundamental perspective, evolutionary theory.
It would be highly appropriate to dedicate the volume hopefully coming out of the successful 1995 ESS conference in Cambridge on 'The Darwinian Heritage and Sociobiology', organised by his ESS and LOS friend Robin Allott, to the memory of Jan Wind, the really talented and continually inspiring man whom our Society will miss dearly.
1. Dept. of International Relations, University of Utrecht, Janskerkhof 3, 3512 BK Utrecht, The Netherlands. E-mail: V.Falger@rgl.ruu.nl
2. See, among others, V.S.E. Falger (1984): Sociobiology and political ideology. Comments on the radical point of view. Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 13, 129-135.
3. LOS was founded in 1985 in Cracow, Poland, after it was proposed two years earlier in Vancouver. It is fair to state that Jan's interest in the origins of speech and language date back to his thesis On the Phylogeny and the Ontogeny of the Human Larynx. A Morphological and Functional Study, which he defended in 1970. See also Bernard H. Bichakjian in LOS Forum, no. 21, Fall 1995, 1-3, 'In Memoriam Jan Wind'.
4. Jan himself was everything but a single-minded scientist. Trained as a physician, he combined a florishing practice as an ear, nose and throat specialist with his scientific interests in genetics and human evolution, in particular behaviour and speech. He has been a part-time lecturer in the faculty of medicine of the Free University in Amsterdam since 1974. In November 1991 Jan became a professor of evolutionary behavioural biology, with special emphasis on the origins of human speech, at the same university. In the period of 1972 to 1985 he every year made a trip to one or more Third World countries (in East Africa, India and Nepal) to practice in villages and teach local physicians, nurses and medical students (he was very much interested in development problems, f.e. 'On acculturation and health in traditional societies: noble savages vs. noble savants' Human Ethology Newsletter, vol 5 (1989), no. 9, 5-6), but also collected blood samples for research in his dept. of biological anthropology and visited paleo-archeological sites related to human evolution. Research on fossils in African collections, for example, resulted in 'CT scanning of fossil hominid skulls', Clinical Otolaryngology, vol. 14 (1989), 368-9 (together with F. Zonneveld) and 'Neanderthal speech', New Scientist, no. 1677 (1989), 65. A much earlier, but also typical scientifically fascinating problem was 'Human drowning: phylogenetic origin', Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 5 (1976), 349-363. In 1994 he sent a reprint to two Dutch colleagues who had published an article on submersion with children, telling them in an accompanying short letter that he became interested in the problem after he as a medical student had rescued a boy out of one of Utrecht's canals leading alongside the academic children's hospital where the authors worked. Of course, he never mentioned that in public, but he used such a detail to make new contacts. It is hardly surprising that one of the last initiatives Jan took, was stimulating a small group of Dutch high school biology teachers to discuss the problem caused by the question whether or not evolution should be made a part of the written examination in biology (fundamentalist forces had gained support for the vision that Darwinist evolution was not science, but just a philosophical orientation).
5. An other illustration of the importance Jan attached to his task of promoting new insights from science was his function since 1977 as an author of tens of 'nutshell' reviews of books about medicine and biology for the Dutch Public Library Center in The Hague. He then also paid attention to the quality of the translation.
die Nachricht vom Tod des sehr geehrten Herrn Prof. Jan Wind hat mich
sehr bewegt und überrascht, und ich möchte Ihnen meine aufrichtige
Die wissenschaftlichen Pionierarbeiten von Herrn Prof. Dr. Jan Wind über die Herkunft der menschlichen Sprache, über die Evolution und Ethologie der Primaten, über die Ontogenese der Kindersprache, über die Human- ethologie und Soziobiologie waren auch einigen tschechischen Ärzten, Ethologen, Evolutionsbiologen, Psychologen sowie Philosophen bekannt. Es war kein Zufall, daß der Vorstand der Europäischen soziobiologischen Gesellschaft (ESS) die Entscheidung traf, in Zusammenarbeit mit der Tschechoslowakischen Akademie der Wissenschaften ihre 14. Konferenz über das Thema "Sociobiology and Ethics" im Jahre 1991 in der ehemaligen Tschechoslowakei zu veranstalten. Die Konferenz, organisiert von Frau Doz. Dr. Leonovicová, fand im angenehmen Milieu des Barockschloßes Liblice statt, und es nahmen ungefähr 47 Wissenschaftler teil. Während der Konferenz wurden zahlreiche unformelle Kontakte angeknüpft und die meisten Diskussionen zwischen den tschechischen und holländischen Wissenschaftlern, unter aktiver Teilnahme von Prof. Wind, geführt.
Im Buch Kamaryt, J. und R. Steindl, Philosophische Probleme der klassischen und modernen Ethologie (Prag, Academia Verlag 1989), welches ich Herrn Prof. Wind widmete, wurde nebst der Bedeutung der wissenschaftlichen Arbeiten von Konrad Lorenz und seiner Schule auch die Bedeutung der Soziobiologie hoch gewertet. In der ehemaligen Tschechoslowakei wurde die wissenschaftliche ethologische Gesellschaft gegründet, welches jedes Jahr Konferenzen über aktuelle Themen aus der gegenwartigen Ethologie und Soziobiologie veranstaltet. Als Mitglied dieser Gesellschaft verfaßte ich für deren Bulletin einen Nekrolog zum unerwarteten Hinscheiden des Herrn Prof. Dr. Jan Wind, welcher in Januar 1996 veröffentlicht wird. Sowohl die Mitglieder dieser Gesellschaft als auch ich persönlich, wir alle, die Prof. Dr. Jan Wind kannten, nahmen äußerst betrübt die Nachricht über den Verlust eines bedeutenden holländischen Wissenschaftlers und hervorragenden Menschen entgegen.
Before I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting Dr. Wind for the first
time, at the 1986 Meeting of the International Society of Human Ethology
in Tutzing, Germany, I already had developed from his writings an
appreciation of his encompassing approach to scientific inquiry. His
combined talents, as physician, as a humanitarian who rendered medical
services in Africa, and as a scientist who analyzed individual and social
behavior in the context of evolution, were indeed remarkable. It was in
this integrative perspective that his observations at scholarly conferences
always were incisive and convincing, ranging from clear conceptual
identifications to particular logical inferences, all of which were cogent
reminders of how to avoid flaws in reasoning that readily can occur.
An impairing limitation in the pursuit of knowledge at the present time is the immense degree of specialization, not merely in the separation of different disciplines, but also within disciplines, to a point that a view beyond narrow confines is not possible, and that revealing discoveries through an interdisciplinary approach are precluded. The comprehensive frame of reference for inquiry that Dr. Wind always pursued should serve as a model for overcoming this limitation and as his important legacy to a more enlightening search for knowledge.
My relationship with Jan Wind goes back to the founding of the ESS. I am
not sure how the first contact was made. Jan was keen to found this new
society and asked whether I would like to be involved. At that time I was
worried about some of the more extreme kinds of sociobiology being
voiced, mainly, in the United States. Human behaviour and society was
being analysed biologically without realising the political dimension. I
replied that a European society would be most valuable if it was fully
aware of the political implications of biological theories of human behaviour.
Fortunately both Jan and the founding board of ESS had this dimension in mind and the new society got off the ground. It was not long before politics became a major issue and I remember a meeting at which we discussed how best to deal with this. There were a series of meetings in the early days, and on one occasion Jan and Janneke were kind enough to accommodate me at their nice house in Bussum. We always had interest ing discussions, about anything and everything. Jan did not let theory overwhelm him, but he was interested from an objective and scientific standpoint in human capabilities and limitations. That was a common interest of the ESS group, and, of course, still is. Importantly, Jan, although a scientist, was somehow in a humanistic tradition, or so one felt. He was able to weigh scientific ideas in a wider balance, and that gave him a certain advantage.
In his own writings he shows through clearly as a scientist, and he preferred, I think, to be on his own ground in his own specialism where he knew precisely what was going on. But he took a keen editorial and general interest in the ideas of others. He was instrumental in getting the volumes of Essays in Human Sociobiology published so that the ideas expressed at the meetings of the society would not be lost. He helped organise the meetings that led to the publication of other books such as The Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism and The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction. I was sorry not to see him in Cambridge. While no longer an active member of academic societies (I go to few conferences these days) I maintain a keen interest in the ESS and the arguments presented by various scholars under its auspices. While the ESS remains in the humanistic tradition which Jan favoured it will continue to succeed, even though it will inevitably be let down by those who are politically naive and those who are politically biased.
Jan Wind continues in our minds as a friend. In many big and small acts
he taught us to value him as friend and to feel likewise towards the ESS.
My night-blind spouse, Elizabeth, remembers him as a friend who helped
her descend in the dark the steps from Prof. Velle's house in Oslo after the
party in 1988. Even before I met him he encouraged with letters when I
worked among sociologists mostly hostile to sociobiology. Here on the
West Coast of Canada he will be sadly missed, certainly by the Crawford
and Richards families.
I received the awful news and was astounded. I am writing to you because
I literally do not know to whom express my sorrow. Since time I realized
how much Professor Wind contributed to the advancement of knowledge,
and helped to the promotion of each researcher in particular, myself as an
example. Many of us owe him much.
With anybody you should to speak, I ask you doctor van der Dennen, tell him that dr. Santangelo remained very grieved, at the death of our common friend and life-fellow.
My wife and I met Jan in 1986 at a professional conference in Tutzing,
Germany. Jan and I started comparing notes, found we had interests in
common, and kept in close touch throughout the conference. It was not
long before Jan invited me to be a member of both ESS and LOS.
Throughout the years since then I have appreciated his support and friendship, the even-handed way he approached controversial issues, his constant effort to help me and others to come together and exchange ideas.
I feel his death as a personal loss but think with pleasure that the results of his efforts live on in the organizations he created or helped to create.
Jan Wind was my host during a most memorable visit to Germany and the
Netherlands, including my first ESS meeting. I certainly tested the limits of
his tolerance, both then and as a "somewhat-tardy-with-his-dues" member
of ESS, and I don't remember him letting me down! Let us hope ESS continues to grow and flourish.
Jan Wind left us his vision. It was so sad to hear that Jan Wind had passed
away and that it would never again be possible to meet this kind man and
friend who introduced me, among others, to the circle of the European
Sociobiological Society in 1984. It is hard to imagine this Society without
Jan, who defined its interdisciplinary nature and said that its objective was
to serve "as a forum for the study of the role of biological factors in the
behaviour of animals and man, with special emphasis on evolutionary
aspects". He had a clear vision of the task and he inspired us for cooperative efforts to make true his vision, but life is more fragile than we
believe, and now he is away and we are alone. We are still so far from the
goal, and it is difficult for us to find and agree on the paths that would
lead to the goal. But we have a vision that Jan left us. Let us try to keep
this Society as a forum of free discussion and efforts to study the role of
biological factors in the behaviour of animals and man. Such studies may
show us, ultimately, the best means to make this world a little better place
for all of us.
Sandy and I really got to know Jan Wind in Augsburg, Germany in 1992.
We had just moved to England for a year and thought the August meeting
of ESS would be a fine beginning to our adventures. We were immediately
struck by Jan's authentic, expressive face which showed warmth, intelligence and clarity all at once. He impressed us as one of those persons
whose dignity was amply suffused with human kindness, was not stylized
and was rooted in integrity of a special type.
As the conference progressed we had occasion to talk more. We were saddened to learn how his family was damaged by misguided 'progressives'. Yet even with this, his anger was constrained by civility and his pain was channelled to a larger purpose of righting a personal wrong via sound, scientific social action. He was as fine a silverback male the primate line has produced. Like a good band leader he had a good humor and moved softly and slowly unless he perceived a threat to the interests of his group.
In Augsburg we toured around with Jan and others at the end of the conference. Augsburg is a fine city with a remarkable history of spiritual conflict yielding to ecumenical comity as well as a reconstruction of peace from the rubble of war. It somehow seems fitting to recall Jan with this as a backdrop as he seemed to embody a similar ability to reconcile divergencies. Our meeting was perhaps of special personal meaning to us as Jan was supremely solicitous of Sandy's needs being near term with our first child.
Thus, it was so nice to meet Jan with his wife again in Cambridge. In American English there is, as it happens, a figure of speech for a man of fatherly warmth who takes a sincere interest in others - 'a Dutch uncle'. We showed photographs of our little Victoria and Jan was, true to form, all the doting uncle. To my eye as a physician he looked drawn down a bit but quite animated. We had no true idea we would not see him again. It is hard to believe he died so soon thereafter. We miss him and wish his family well.
Daniel R. Wilson
I was shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the death of Jan Wind.
I never met him personally - I am the loser for that - but I want to take
this opportunity to express my admiration for the intelligence, originality,
courage, and foresightedness he demonstrated in guiding the ESS and
other important research endeavors in human behavior.
Edward O. Wilson