Jerzy Vetulani

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Jerzy Vetulani
Creativity is an integral part of our personality.

Jerzy Adam Vetulani (21 January 1936 – 6 April 2017) was a Polish neuroscientist and pharmacologist, one of the most frequently cited Polish scientists in the field of biomedicine after 1965.


  • As a result of brain evolution, humans managed to develop much more efficient and less risky forms of gaining food than most other carnivorous and omnivorous terrestrial mammals. We do not need now, like our distant ancestors, to go through long periods on the verge of hunger and use all suitable occasions for immoderate consumption "in reserve." Today, in a civilized world, thanks to effective production, we have enough food, and we could consume it rationally, in quantities necessary for efficient functioning. But after our ancestors, we have a deeply ingrained habit of "gorging", especially if the food is attractive. Together with prosperity, the world has been overtaken by an epidemic of obesity and overweight.
  • As I walk through my beloved Krakowski Park and pass by a group of young people from which I can smell beer, I give them a wide berth. But when I feel the weed, I go boldly through their group and sometimes chat. Yes, the abuse of marijuana causes trouble with memory, concentration, but it is a short-lived condition. I'm not talking about extreme cases, but there are few of them. Less than after alcohol. Oneself should sometimes detach from reality to deal with it somehow.
  • "Designer drugs" are a word bag, just like "drugs", by the way. But after the word "drugs" is the word: "illegal". And after the "designer drugs" there is something much worse: lack of knowledge.
  • Dolphins, unlike us, do not have manual skills, but their dances, jumps, are perhaps the equivalent of our ballet. Sounds, like music in the Orthodox Church – without musical instruments – are probably their songs, by which they are holding long discourses. It is a semantically organized signal system.
  • Emotions have evolved so that we can make decisions quickly and without thinking in situations where there is no time for reasoning.
    • Woźniak, Olga; Vetulani, Jerzy (24 December 2011): Stań się dobrym. To się opłaca, interview. Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish).
  • Freud is completely unscientific. It's a cross between vision, poetry and deceit.
    • Vetulani, Jerzy (11 May 2012): Neurobiologia i religia, lecture. Copernicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies (in Polish).
  • From the point of view of the modern neurobiologist, the question whether the mind exists as an autonomous being or is simply a derivative of the coordinated action of the brain cells is unscientific and irrelevant. Regardless of the possibility of an independent existence of the soul, it has no chance to express itself without a functioning brain.
    • Vetulani, Jerzy (2008): Mózg i świadomość. Prace Komisji Filozofii Nauk Przyrodniczych PAU. 2/2008, pp. 37–62
  • Great people that performed in "Piwnica pod Baranami" often hated each other.
    • Vetulani, Jerzy: Mózg trzeba ćwiczyć w każdym wieku, interview. (in Polish).
  • I believe that the fight against substance addictions is very important and is a duty of the state and society, but this fight must be carried out in a deliberate way not to produce large amounts of splinters hurting a lot of people around while only chopping small trees.
  • I have always known that I want to be a scholar. That it is a worthy thing for a man to work at the university and discover the secrets of nature. Scientific work was not a revelation, it was not a change in life direction – except my first dream to be a pearl diver. It was all from the nature, from home.
    • (2013): Macanie świata, interview. Focus (in Polish).
  • I would like to live in a society in which we could go to a cafe and smoke a joint, just as nowadays we eat cake, which may have negative influence on our health as well.
    • Borejza, Tomasz; Vetulani, Jerzy (3 December 2012): Gdybym miał plantację marihuany, interview. „Przekrój” (in Polish).
  • It is reason, logic and rationality that machines, said to be soulless, have. In the deontological sense, in fact, morality is evolutionary atavism. It let us survive, that's why it was maintained. As parents were not empathetic, not guided by the good of others, children might have not survived, neglected and abandoned by the group, so morality was promoted in the genes.
    • Woźniak, Olga; Vetulani, Jerzy (24 December 2011): Stań się dobrym. To się opłaca, interview. Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish).
  • It is very clear in Poland that the non-restrictive anti-smoking campaign has been a huge success, and it seems that conclusions should be drawn from it.
  • It's a great question about what is our mind. Undoubtedly a creation of our brain.
    • Woźniak, Olga; Vetulani, Jerzy (24 December 2011): Stań się dobrym. To się opłaca, interview. Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish).
  • Life is an ulcer on the body of universe.
    • Vetulani, Jerzy (2007): Starość okiem przyrodnika. Psychogeriatria polska, 4(3), pp. 109–138.
  • Longevity in the sense of the maximum survival time of an individual has not changed much with the progress of civilization.
    • Golinowska, Stanisława; Grodzicki, Tomasz; Tobiasz-Adamczyk, Renata (2013): Starość i starzenie się – trudne wyzwanie przyszłości. Alma Mater, 154, p. 19 (in Polish).
  • Morality allows killing in self-defense, in defense of your group, for example during the war. In addition, we have a smaller problem with taking away life when it is done in a non-personal way. That is why modern conflicts are so bloody – it is harder to break through the opponent's spear or to crush his head with a club yourself, than to launch a long-range rocket aimed at a multi-million metropolis.
    • Woźniak, Olga; Vetulani, Jerzy (24 December 2011): Stań się dobrym. To się opłaca, interview. Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish).
  • My father taught me that in scientific work even the most brilliant intelligence won't be useful if it won't be supported by a long, hard work.
    • Adam Vetulani. 1901–1976. Kraków: Polish Acadcemy of Learning, 2005, p. 77.
  • Religiosity has appeared in the course of evolution and is advantageous for human kind. And although it is believed that it is religion that teaches us what's right and what's wrong, I think religion evolved to substantiate our morality. Brain likes to justify our behaviors.
    • Woźniak, Olga; Vetulani, Jerzy (24 December 2011): Stań się dobrym. To się opłaca, interview. Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish).
  • Sexual intercourse consumes time, requires much effort, absorbs a huge part of energy. But it gives such dose of pleasure, that all of these defects don't matter.
    • Vetulani, Jerzy (2008): Mózg, seks i nagrody. Charaktery, 1(5), pp. 41–43 (in Polish).
  • The biological goal of the existence of every organism becomes understandable when we realize that it acts as a protector of genes worn in it, which must ensure that they move into the child's body before the caregiver himself becomes old and can not function properly.
    • Vetulani, Jerzy (2010): Poszukiwanie dobrostanu. Academia, 2, pp. 4–7 (in Polish).
  • The expression of aggression is conditioned both biologically and culturally and it can be learned. On the other hand, proper upbringing can completely eliminate aggressive behavior, but it must be remembered that biological conditions remain present and aggression can easily be restored.
    • Wojnar, Anna (April 2011): O mózgu interdyscyplinarnie. Alma Mater”, 134–135, pp. 24–25 (in Polish).
  • The worst thing happens when ideologists are trying to analyse scientific researches.
    • Vetulani, Jerzy (2008): Neurobiologia inteligencji. Wiedza i Życie, 2, pp. 14–19 (in Polish).
  • There was a discussion in one of Polish TV stations. In that discussion, I told that mountaineering causes much more disasters than marijuana does. I do not know anyone who would die by marijuana, and some of my mountaineers friends paid off their passion in disability. But the presenter had a prepared punch line – she said that 85 percent of Poles are against the legalization of marijuana. I added then that in the eighteenth century, 96 percent of Poles were for smoking witches. Unfortunately, my punch line was cut out. And in this simple way, the media demonize the problem.
  • To stimulate the brain or not to stimulate? Whether 'tis nobler to take the exam after the sleepless night, with the brain darkened, but not stimulated, or in the chemicals to seek help? To waste a year or to pay health for quick success? I will not advise you.
    • Vetulani, Jerzy (2010): Mózg: fascynacje, problemy, tajemnice. Homini, Kraków, pp. 221–229.
  • We humans are already at this moment artificially reared, with the provision of basic life needs and without having to fight for it. We would even, as a species, be able to survive a long period of total glaciation of the Earth.
    • Kobos, Andrzej (2007). Po drogach uczonych. 2. Kraków: Polish Academy of Learning. pp. 491–524 (in Polish).

About Jerzy Vetulani

  • A characteristic feature of the Professor was the fascination with technical novelties, especially those that could facilitate his scientific and editorial work. When home computers started to appear in the second half of the 1980s, he immediately brought to our Department one of them, and then the next ones. In this way, he initiated, and then, being a deputy director, he took care of the computerization of the Institute.
  • A truly Renaissance personality. Absolutely undisputed authority, world-renowned scholar, a real neuroenthusiast who can also spray such a cascade of wit and humor that all anecdotes should hide!
  • Above all, a man of inexhaustible energy, drawing life with full handfuls and a great provocateur. However, in the good sense of the word. As he admitted in an interview with me, which we published as a book, he felt almost all his life a fool who wanted to make people laugh and at the same time stimulate them to think. Anyone who has ever listened to the lecture of Professor Vetulani, knows what I'm talking about. That's why I find it so difficult to accept His death. Unreasonable, because it is a consequence of a tragic accident. I could not be present at his 80th birthday, so I was hoping to celebrate the 85th and then the 90th and subsequent jubilees with his family and lots of friends. I was hoping to see him during these jubilees, bursting with energy and wit, as He did usually. Unfortunately, life has written a different scenario.
  • Feisty, lively, silver, smiling and always rebellious. Loving life and people, completely tolerant. Atheist believing in man. A rationalist defending marijuana. That's what Professor Vetulani was.
  • He always left a strong and distinctive trace. His personality exerted a great influence on people, on their knowledge, worldview, approach to life. In such an extent he was. That is why it is so difficult to accept his passing away. He died in a result of a tragic accident, full of intellectual strength and full of activity. And I know that if he had anything to say on the matter, he would prefer it just so.
    • Dominika Dudek, psychiatrist, friend and disciple of Vetulani. Piękno neurobiologa (in Polish), Tygodnik Powszechny, 10th April 2017.
  • He never built a distance to other people despite his scientific position. Sensitive, open to new ideas, with a large personal culture, endowed with excellent emotional intelligence and a kind of media talent – these features allowed the Professor to quickly establish contact with listeners, regardless of their age and education. We listened with delight to his descriptions of animal behavior full of virtuosity. His expressive lectures have always attracted crowds of listeners, and popular science articles and books, written with extraordinary lightness of the pen, are a model of how to translate the difficult language of scientific discoveries into a fascinating story about the mysteries of the body's functioning.
  • He was an extremely direct man, spontaneous in dealing with other people, he did not care about keeping distance between him as the boss and co-workers. At the very beginning he informed me that he was on first name terms with everyone, proposing the same to me as well. Of course, I willingly (and proudly) accepted this situation.
  • He was a man of contradictions: genius, loyal, virtuous. But also uncompromising and even brazen. Beloved and unbearable at the same time. A controversial scientist, and just a good man.
  • He was an extraordinary man – a colorful bird against the background of academic gray. A scholar and erudite, he was witty, malicious, surprising, uncompromising and courageous. His knowledge and talent for lecturing made him a valued popularizer of neuroscience. He could simplify even very complex phenomena, showing their essence and meaning. Non-standard interpretations of the reality that he presented at the lectures were witty, but also deep and attracted fascinated youth. He loved Krakow – he knew everything about it and was a great guide. There is grief and anger in us that he was driven over at the pedestrian crossing by a delivery van.
  • I met Jurek many years ago when he was only little older than his beloved grandson now. And he was just as nice and at the same time extremely handsome!
  • I will remember him as a man who is honestly seeking the truth. And a bit more: there was also the courage to find and take risks to defend this truth.
  • In lectures, it is important that you lecture plain. We are interested in the smartest students, and we really should take care of those who have most difficulties with understanding certain concepts. I try to balance it. You know what? In lecturing, Jerzy Vetulani really helped me – listening to his lectures, I learned how to teach correctly, so that the students did not fall asleep after fifteen minutes.
    • Marek Sanak, geneticist and molecular biologist, friend and disciple of Vetulani. Kobos, Andrzej (2012). Po drogach uczonych. 5. Polska Akademia Umiejętności. p. 334. ISBN 978-83-7676-127-5.
  • It is the most obvious fact that Jerzy Vetulani is an extraordinary personality who masterfully combines deep knowledge with the art of rhetoric, form and beauty of expression. But I have trouble answering the question: Who is Professor Vetulani really? There is no doubt that he is an eminent scholar, a star of Polish science, but he is also an unconventional man – what shocked me two years ago when he marched in the first line of the Cannabis Legalization March.
  • Jurek had a feature rarely seen in an older adult – an unrestrained, almost childish curiosity of the world that fueled his activity in everyday life and did not allow him to age mentally. He liked to be on the move all the time, to go on trips, so as not to sit idle.
  • Jurek was a ubiquitous person, in all ways sociable, he constantly acquainted people with one another and liked to be in the center of attention. He was extroverted, he felt best in company, which he liked to surprise with his funny sayings and stories and often controversial opinions on various life topics. He also liked to talk about himself and his achievements and belonged to a small group of people who took care of writing down the details of their biography and continually supplementing it with descriptions of subsequent events. Obtaining further awards or honorable functions was carefully recorded. When I once asked if it wasn't a waste of time for him, he retorted with his inborn charm and a specific sense of humor: "... of course not, this will be another line to my obituary. And yet, my dear, there are many indications that you will take part in writing it, so be happy that just in case you will have something like ready "crib sheet" and above all "first hand" data so at least you won't mess up anything." Jurek's prophetic words, it was so, I did not have to look for that data because I had it in my computer.
  • Professor writes about the brain in a very approachable way, and from what he writes, the conviction that man is free is born. The message of his books influenced, among others, the emergence of several of my painting cycles. For me he is an authority, and I do not have many of them.
  • The professor was a charismatic person, lectures and crowds of listeners gave him great pleasure. Undoubtedly, an additional feature that attracted crowds was his sense of humor, also in relation to himself. Not only lectures, but also ordinary conversations with Jurek were full of humor and jokes. He had an amazing personality. His energy, knowledge sharing did not diminish with age, but even being an extremely busy person because of his scientific activities and numerous lectures given throughout Poland, he never refused to lecture as part of the "Brain Week" and write an article. He is an unrivaled model of a neuroscientist, social activist and popularizer of science.
  • The results led us to say that the so-called β-down-regulation is not (as it was believed in the 1970s and 1980s) a necessary and characteristic condition for the antidepressant action of drugs. In particular, this confirmed the result that citalopram, currently considered the most effective antidepressant from the group of selective serotonin inhibitors, does not cause β-down regulation, and the opposite effect. Jurek was completely not bothered by the fact that these results had narrowed down the earlier theory (his and Sulser's) regarding the mechanism of action of antidepressants. He believed, and often said, that a true scholar can not fall in love with his own theories and must know that sometimes they should be verified.
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