Personal Information

@ NY Central Park

My TEDxTexasTech Talk

denemeI gave a talk at the TEDxTexasTechUniversity event here at Texas Tech University on 28th of February, 2015. The title of my talk was "Modern Science in the Light of Evolution".  I edited the video since the post-production was not as good as I expected in terms of slide arrangements and timing; also I added Turkish subtitles. You can find the edited version below and unedited version here.

Basic Information

My name is Çağrı Mert Bakırcı. I use the name "Chuck" for the sake of ease. I was born on 4th of July, 1990, in Ankara, Turkey. I am a son of a medical doctor and a teacher. I have a younger brother. I am a PhD student in the BIO-inspired Mechanics and Systems (BIOMS) Laboratory in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Texas Tech University. I am working with Dr. Burak Aksak and my PhD topic is on Evolutionary Robotics, Bio-Inspired Robotics, Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Intelligence. Although I am originally a Mechanical Engineer, my main expertise is Evolutionary Biology and its applications in technology, especially in robotics.

BIOMS Lab

 

Educational Information

I went to Halide Edip Adıvar Primary School in my first year at school and from the 2nd grade to the 8th, I went to TED Ankara College Foundation Schools, one of the best schools in Turkey. After that, I went to Çankaya Milli Piyango Anatolian High School. In the year 2007, I became 1275th among 1.6 million candidate students in the National University Exam and I decided to go to Middle East Technical University (METU) Mechanical Engineering Department. METU is ranked 85th in the top 400 universities list, announced by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings in 2014-2015 and 60th university in terms of reputation in 2013-2014. I graduated from the department on 17th of June, 2013. I finished an unofficial minor / double major at METU Biology Department.. I have been a PhD student, working on Bio-Inspired Design and Evolutionary Robotics, and also a Instructor on Record in Texas Tech University Department of Mechanical Engineering, since 17th of July, 2013, under the academic supervision of Dr. Burak Aksak.

As it can be seen from the courses I have taken throughout my undergraduate education and my fields of interest, my professional / academic life consists of two parts: Mechanical Engineering and Biology. Although these two fields might seem a little unrelated at first glance, in fact, I believe they strongly are connected to each other and this relation is very important for science and technology. I think working in a field at this intersection changes the view of life of the person. Due to the courses I have taken in both fields and my long-terned, inclusive hobbies, I believe I can analyze the problems in life analytically and solution-based like an engineer; as well as systematic and objective like a scientist. I strongly believe that this combination directly affects my personal life and academic studies, in a positive manner.

 

Social Studies: Student Clubs & Activities

My personal enterprise, my skills of leading, my familiarity with team work and my social characteristics are combined with my two-sided studies which, in turn, positively affected my social life.

I stepped into my first leap in my social life with the trial to found METU Digital Photography Club in 2007. Unfortunately, this  attempt failed due to some bureaucratic barriers, although it was welcomed warmly by many eager students.

I continued my work with taking the control of and pulling together the METU Mechanical Society in 2009, which had stopped its activities since the year 2004. On the 5th of November, 2009, with the help of 5-6 other friends who are eager to help, we managed to re-found the society, changing its name to METU Mechanical Engineers and Innovative Students Society (METU MECH). I led the society as the Chairman in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 academic years. I was elected for the Supervisory Board in 2011-2012. As a society, we were highly active in the university, trying to improve and promote engineering in Turkey and the society is still actively doing its duties. The society has not been only a technical club, but it has also aimed the personal development, career development, technical knowledge improvements, social activities, etc. of the METU students.  We extended our connections to science and technology with our relations to different departments. Our society established and led the first and largest national student-industry association called the University-Industry Student Association Platform.

METU MECH

On the other hand, my interest in Evolutionary Biology with all of its aspects has started in 2000, which then became the sourcemain motive of my whole academic career. I have been in numerous debates and forums. The reason why I have attended these is my idea that science should not be limited to the scientists and my support to people who can deliver, explain and infuse scientific knowledge from the Academia to the public. As a result of this, I decided to create a movement in which people can both conduct scientific research and also learn, spread and teach the scientific facts about Evolutionary Biology. For this purpose, I started to take part in METU Biology and Genetics Society, beginning from the October of 2010. In a very short time, my friends and I in the society founded my long-planned project, called Tree of Evolution (ToE) and we still are running it.

Tree of Evolution (Evrim Ağacı)

The aim of the project is to increase the scientific knowledge of Turkish people about Evolutionary Biology and the Theory of Evolution, as well as correcting the distorted, manipulated and fiction-based information among the people and teaching them the facts. We also aim to improve the research and questioning skills of the people from all ages, regions and educational level. Furthermore, we aim to inspire the people with the beauty and grandeur of science. The heart of the project is the unique and novel scientific articles that are mainly written by me and my team members, in which we try to give academic knowledge in a clear and comprehensive way for non-scientist audience and readers. As of November 2014, ToE Archive of Articles have around 410 articles on evolutionary biology (some about physics), almost all of which have been written by me. This archive is the largest Turkish source on evolutionary biology.

Furthermore, as of November 2014, our Facebook page is the largest evolutionary biology based social media source available, being followed by more than 300.000 people. Although we are posting solely in Turkish, this massive audience also makes us the largest evolutionary biology based social media page, including the pages posting in English too! The project also included weekly educational/academic sessions for our team members, in addition to the seminars and conferences we held in the major cities and universities in Turkey, which are open to public. We also organized national and international conferences, such as National Conference on Evolution, and International Students Congress on Evolutionary Biology, with the participation of many well-known scientists like Dr. Kenneth Miller, Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer, Dr. Andrew Berry, Dr. Douglas Futuyma, etc. Now that I moved to the USA, the project became international. The project is directly supported by the outreach of European Society for Evolutionary Biology. You can follow the Facebook of ToE in Turkish (main) or in English (extra).

Other than my social studies in the university, I also carry out academic studies. I had studied on the evolution and fluctuating asymmetry of Apis mellifera in METU Biology Department, under the supervision of Dr. Aykut Kence and Dr. Meral Kence, with my collegue Babür Erdem. After this, I started studying on the visual acuity and resolution in the Neurophysiology Lab, under the supervision of Dr. Ewa Jakubowska-Doğru. My studies were the introductory part of a further study on the prenatal alcohol intake of pregnant mice and its impact on the visual acuity of the offspring. During my undergraduate studies, I had two internships under the supervision of Dr. Metin Sıttı in Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Dr. Torben Anker Lenau in Denmark Technical University (DTU).  The internship I have done in CMU was about a novel model of a water strider from Gerridae family, which was based on the pioneering design made by Dr. Sitti. In the internship in DTU, I worked on self-organization and the studies I had started went into a chapter of a book written by Dr. Lenau (Engineered Biomimicry, Elsevier (2013), Chapter 13: Biomimetic Self-Organization and Self-Healing, pp: 337-362).

 

Personal Interests

I am mainly interested in science and technology. Although almost all fields are science attract my interest, I have been improving myself especially in biology and physics, as much as possible. In biology, I am especially interested in evolutionary biology, neurosciences, ethology and behavioral sciences. In physics, although I do not have an academic study, I am interested in quantum mechanics and cosmology.

Other than these, I am extremely interested in reading books and academic articles. I am building a library, which is another lifetime project of mine. Furthermore, music is also another important interest for me. Although I like listening to almost all genres of music, I am fond of rock/metal and country music. I played the drums in a band my friends and I created for 2.5 years and I performed in several mini concerts.  I am also interested in horseback riding.

 

Religious and Philosophical Thoughts

Out Campaign

I have been examining and researching on skepticism, atheism and religion since I was a very small kid. In the premises of freedom of thought and speech, I do not abstain myself from expressing my views. During my studies, I found the chance to improve myself on the topics of religion, atheism, the notion of God, evolution of religious beliefs creationism, intelligent design, etc. and their alleged relation to science. I published many popular articles on these topics. Personally, with my all respect and understanding to people who are religious (and knowing why they choose to do so, scientifically), I do not believe in any religious system or God(s).

I do not consider myself a "fundamentalist atheist". This means, I do not strictly refuse God, without considering any rational possibilities. Also, I do not take on changing people's minds about their religion as a "duty". I do not think people with beliefs are stupid, nor do I think what they do is wrong. I do not think atheists should discourage people from believing. I reject the existance of God and all religions based on this assumption, just like I reject the rest of "sacred deities" defined by about 4200 religious views and about 42 million Gods created by the holders of these views, that has ever existed up to date, as well as millions of mythological creatures (all categorized and listed here), tooth fairy, Santa Claus and so on, created by human kind in an equally fallacious way, without any kind of acceptable evidence .

I consider myself a "scientific atheist", "skeptical atheist" or "agnostic atheist", or as some call, "De Facto Atheist", depending on the context and definition. This does not mean I cannot be certain about the existence of God, but I believe the possibility of God's existence is so miniscule, that it would be scientifically feasible to ignore that possibility. This does not mean, I am leaving an open door to religion, "just to be on the safe side". I strongly believe that neither the Universe nor any part/section/content of it requires an intelligent designer, or creator. Although I do not like to mould myself into predefined positions, for the sake of defining my world views, I can tell that I am a materalist (meaning I think all Universe is made up of scientifically understandable matter and its forms, and it does not include immaterial beings/notions), naturalist (meaning I think the Universe can only be understood through natural sciences and it does not have any metaphysical contents) and skeptical (meaning my default attitude towards all possible arguments is questioning/doubtful).

Being a (prospective) scientist, I know that we must question and inquisitively investigate all claims possible, but also do I know that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since religious claims are based on an unproven a priori argument dubbed the "God/Creator", all religious systems built on this basic assumption must be considered fallacious and potentially wrong. In order to take religious views serious, one must first prove the existence of God. Only after then, any other claims based on this assumption could be open to discussion. A scientific and inquisitive mind should never forget the burden of proof.

Please note that these are my own personal views and do not officially represent any part of my professional studies.

 

Political Views

I do not support any kind of pre-defined political ideology. If it is necessary to put it in known templates, my ideas would  mostly overlap with humanist, social democrat politics. If I need to list some cornerstones of my political views, I think:

  1. Politicians must serve to citizens, not the other way around.
  2. Science must be the sole guide of a country.
  3. All units of government must be consulted by a science council, consisting of experts on that specific field.
  4. The government should be a regulatory power on the freedom of capital power. Neither it should completely block the progress of market/economy, nor it should grant an uncontrollable power to capital.
  5. All companies must pay taxes based on their revenues and most of this tax must be used to increase the quality of life and standards of the citizens (that I will mention in the next step).
  6. The primary goals of a government must be providing:
    • a powerful, secular, thrustworthy constitution,
    • the security of its citizens,
    • equal rights and opportunities,
    • (free) education,
    • (free) health care,
    • (free) sheltering,
    • absolute freedom of thought and speech,
    • diverse job opportunities,
    • freedom of practicing a profession
  7. A nation should have power enough to protect itself from potential threats, but also it should proactively get involved in global disarmamment policies.
  8. The government must enforce a curriculum based solely on modern science and prohibit all involvement of personal beliefs in education system.
  9. All religious sanctuaries must be treated as ordinary companies (no privilages should be granted).
  10. A government must be based on completely secular foundations. It must not favor or disdain a religion.

I believe that human intelligence is strong enough to take the positive aspects of many systems, combine them and create the best solution to its political problems in the future; however I do not believe the historical and political background of our species is ready for an allegedly utopian change.

 


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