An Interview with Alejandro Zaffaroni

Singh: When you look at the world today, where do you think that the innovative spirit, the creative spirit, can most easily be found? Where do you see it the most?


I think the human spirit is always in the search for new ideas, for new experiences.

Zaffaroni: Well, I don't see that there is one area more than other areas. I think the human spirit is always in the search for new ideas, for new experiences.

I think the key aspect is education: How do we bring the young people to be exposed to all of the creativity aspects, from the arts to science and spiritual experiences. If we have the right teachers, if we have the opportunity for the young people to be exposed, then this thirst for contributing that all of us have begins to come out.

It is a very natural function of the human mind and the human spirit to continue to look for doing something new, having something that is coming from yourself.


All of these problems that we have, drugs, robbery, and destruction, they all come because we are not doing the job right in education.

If we don't have more creativity, it is because we don't have the basic education, the systems, the teachers, the support. These are the great limitations that I see worldwide, most inexplicably in a country like the United States with the huge resources that we have. Politicians are always talking about how we are going to do something better and they don't. All of these problems that we have, drugs, robbery, and destruction, they all come because we are not doing the job right in education.

Singh: About education...Which do you think is more important, book learning, reading and getting facts memorized, or experimentation and learning for yourself?
Zaffaroni: Experimentation is as simple as looking at nature. I think that the role of the teacher is a fundamental role. It is the ability to open the minds and to show people by illustration and, hopefully by experience, some of the interesting things about nature - from birds to music to chemistry to whatever - to open children's minds to the extraordinary events that are taking place all around us.

Take a piece of soil. In it, we see microrganisms doing all kinds of things. Very simple experiences can open up the minds of the young people to the tremendous opportunities for thinking and enjoying knowledge and experience. The key is the school and the keys are the teachers.


I was a kind of a sick child. I had severe asthma, spent a lot of time in my home during those schooling years from 6 to 12. I had lot of time to play with nature, so I was my own teacher without realizing it.

Wolfson: What it was like for you growing up? What were your school and education like? What in your young years stimulated you?
Zaffaroni: In thinking about that, one thing is clear: I was a kind of a sick child. I had severe asthma, spent a lot of time in my home during those schooling years from 6 to 12. I had lot of time to play with nature, so I was my own teacher without realizing it. I was interested in flowers and squeezing colors out of them. I think that being sickly gave me a lot more time to think because there were no companions.

The other part is the school where I went was a Jesuit school with a very rigid regimen. I totally opposed the system, so I spent a lot of time thinking about how to get away from the system, and that helped me to get my brain to think a lot about all kinds of strategies.

Most of my early learning I did basically on my own. The real teachers came later, after leaving the primary school and getting into the public school and having a variety of teachers and experiences. With chemistry, I had a friend in school who was significantly ahead of the rest of us, and he became my teacher. It is interesting that teachers can be found among your equals; they don't necessarily have to be the professor. This friend put in time, a vacation period of three months, when we were intensely dedicated to get my mind to know what chemistry was all about.

I think that there is no predetermination to life. We are all prone to circumstances, and that is what concerns me a lot. We ought to create all of the positive circumstances that we can to provide for the children to grow and begin to have interests of their own.