Compass of Curiosity

In a special way János Szentágothai's personality unified the Aristotelian Triad: beauty, goodness and truth, i.e. an aspiration for aesthetics, morality and scientific truth. This is how brain researcher and former disciple Balázs Gyulyás recalled the character of his former mentor and teacher. According to the honorary member of HAS and professor of the Swedish Karolinska University, János Szentágothai had always considered the moral tenets of his scientific discoveries.

"He was the focal point of Hungarian brain research"; that is how Balázs Gyulyás remembers for our website the internationally acclaimed individual of Hungarian science born 100 years ago. After an interview with member of HAS Béla Halász, professor Gulyás is the second disciple to share his personal memories and thoughts of  the former President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences with our website on the occasion of the János Szentágothai Memorial Year. Although at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries marked by such names as Mihály Lenhossék, István Apáthy, Károly Schäffer and Endre Hőgyes, an influential brain research school had already existed, nevertheless it was János Szentágothai who, drawing on his scientific genius and personal charm, was able to establish his own school half a century later. "His school of thought is still alive, and even expanding thanks to his closest disciples successfully passing their mentor's spirit on to younger generations."  

    Praising János Szentágothai's legacy, professor Gulyás pointed out: probably the most important guidance he had ever received from his professor and has been trying to convey to young researchers ever since, is to sparkle curiosity, i.e. a genuine longing for finding answers to questions previous generations of researchers hadn't been able to satisfactorily answer. Between master and disciple, one can always perceive a sense of finiteness on the mentor's part, the sad admission that due to methodological and technical restrictions, one wouldn't be able to solve every problem one intends to, Balázs Gulyás said, describing the relationship between successive generations of scientists. "Curiosity, the fundamental drive in any researcher's life, will last as long as I shall live, and I hope that those coming after me are going to be able to find even the answers that have eluded me", he said.   

    The scientist did not only speak highly of the present state of the world-renowned Szentágothai School, but he also sees its future in an equally optimistic way since, he said, it cannot be denied that the number of brain researchers per capita in Hungary is the highest in the entire world. Today, János Szentágothai's followers and disciples are to be found in several Hungarian and foreign universities and institutes. Two of the three winners (György Buzsáki, Tamás Freund, Péter Somogyi) of the Brain Prize awarded for the first time last year, are also Szentágothai-disciples, i.e. Tamás Freund and Péter Somogyi.

János Szentágothai and Balázs Gulyás at the inauguration of the first PET camera in Hungary in January, 1994
János Szentágothai and Balázs Gulyás at the inauguration of the first PET camera in Hungary in January, 1994


    "Members of the Szentágothai School are not only bonded by their scientific merits, but also their common ability to follow in the footsteps of their master, i.e. to return to the roots of discovery research from time to time", Balázs Gulyás said. The scientist believes that discovery researchers need to find time to take a few steps back from a fierce international scientific race and appreciate the beauty and moral aspects of their research as well as contemplate on how the pieces of the puzzle they have uncovered fit into the grand scheme of things.