Dr. Arthur C. Zajonc
Professor of Physics
Amherst College

Institution/Organization(s)

Interview Date

Interviewer

Current research areas

Key Quote

  • "We are almost at a unique place. While it seems elusive, this notion of the mind, we are at this place neuroscience, cognitive science where we are now able to address these tough questions scientifically. And there is almost nothing more important in terms of who we are and how we live in the world than that aspect which we think of as our mind or consciousness. To damage that inadvertently, just by being simpleminded and euphoric about a new technological advance as opposed to being somewhat more careful and sophisticated, is really irresponsible."

Key Points/Issues

Dr. Zajonc is not an active researcher in the areas of education, psychology, or technology. He has been a physicist at Amherst College since 1978, mainly researching quantum phenomena. He has become involved in issues of the effects of technology, however, through a variety of venues. In 1981, he founded the Hartsbrook School, a Waldorf School in Western Massachusetts. Through the evolution of the school, he has had to wrestle with issue of incorporating technology into the school's curriculum. In his work as a researcher and professor, he uses information and communications technologies extensively. And, like many parents, he became interested in the effects of technology on his own children.

In the mid 1990s, he began speaking at conferences, first at Columbia University and then elsewhere, about the place of the computer in education. He authored several short papers on the subject soon afterward. At about the same time, Dr. Zajonc left academia for a short period and began work as a program director at the Fetzer Institute. While there, he commissioned a study on the impact of visual media on consciousness. While less concentrated on individual uses of technology, the study attempted to address, from a scientific basis, a theoretical framework and an empirical base from which to address specific questions about technology use and mental development. At the time, and even now, Dr. Zajonc feels there are "relatively few unbiased comprehensive tests, even from a clinical or empirical point of view, about the efficacy of computer technology in instruction."

Dr. Zajonc is far from a Luddite. He feels it is most important to research the effects of early childhood use, because theory suggests that by upper elementary and high school the real dangers have mostly passed and, with appropriate use, schools, teachers, and students can make good use of technology. "I have a very strong endorsement for your project, a very high skepticism, and many, many deep worries and concerns. It is based not on being a cognitive scientist, but on reviewing that literature, working in education from kindergarten through higher ed, and knowing the technology first hand over many years. I am very, very concerned."

Selected Bibliography

Zajonc, Arthur and George Greenstein. The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Jones and Bartlett, Sudbury, Massachusetts, 1997.

Zajonc , Arthur. Catching The Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind. Oxford University Press, New York, 1993.

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