Do elephants have hair?
DOĞAN HIZLANProfessor Gökhan Hotamışlıgil won the Vehbi Koç Award this year.
He is a medical doctor at Harvard, the head of an important department. His scientific contributions can be evaluated by experts, but I will talk about the marks his speech in the award ceremony left in me.
He is an internationally renowned scientist. He said that two concepts were a must for science to take place, for inventions and discoveries to be made: Freedom and curiosity. Pascal also said that inventions and discoveries were born because mankind did not stay indoors.
I have learned the answer to the title question: Elephants do indeed have hair. Hotamışlıgil was curious about whether they actually did, and - if they did - what good that hair did to them. That was after he saw an illustration of an elephant in a comic book. Soon afterwards, he learned everything.
The breadth of Hotamışlıgil’s perception of the concept of science has also drawn my attention. This could only have stemmed from the freedom brought by the curiosity to be able to correlate science and life, from comic books to daily life.
He has stated that resistance, persistence and dedicating oneself to a subject are not just full of victories, but they also contain defeats and failures.
An invention may not come after years spent day and night in the laboratory. You can imagine in which mood you would go to your laboratory next day, the famous scientist said.
But he did not give up. He continuously said, “I can see something new. Something new may attract my attention.”
He has reminded me of the myth of Sisyphus, which explains the importance of resistance. Albert Camus also depicted this mythological discourse in one of his books.
What was Sisyphus doing?
He was carrying an immense boulder up a hill. The moment he thought he had placed the boulder at the top of the hill, the boulder rolled back down. But Sisyphus does not give up; he does not lose his determination. On the contrary, he knows that what is important is what he sees while he shoulders the boulder once again and carries it uphill.
While I was listening to examples of Hotamışlıgil’s views of life, full of hope, a famous quote occurred to me: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
There is a message I should convey to younger generations from the award-winning professor.
Science cannot exist without art and culture. You will endorse the importance of this when you learn about the scientific outcome derived from a cartoon.
Let’s highlight how Hotamışlıgil emphasizes this concept of curiosity, a person who was curious since a young age, who has advanced his curiosity.
We are a society who scorn curiosity. I have been warned many times from several people, “You are too curious.” The professor, no doubt, is talking about scientific, intellectual curiosity, not those who are curious about other people’s lives.
The sentences that grabbed my attention in the scientist’s speech were the ones in which he reiterated his confidence in the youth. He explained how several major scientists listened to people from younger generations and how they created opportunities for them. I would have wanted politicians especially to listen to this speech, because they could have learned from it some principles on how to communicate with the youth.
Finally, I want to mention a few sentences from the Can Kıraç’s book titled, “I remember my boss Vehbi Koç,” which was distributed to all attendees. These sentences demonstrate the importance that Vehbi Koç placed on the youth.
It was in his shaking voice and misty eyes, while he was delivering the opening speech of Koç University on Sept. 4, 1993: “Young people! Life is short. Keep on learning by reading, seeing and listening. I cannot forget the thrill of the days when we marched past Atatürk at the ceremonies for the 10th anniversary of the Republic, chanting: ‘We have raised 15 million youths of all ages in 10 years.’”
Doğan Hızlan is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece was published on Feb. 27. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.
DOĞAN HIZLAN - firstname.lastname@example.org