Depth of technical studies does not imply social narrowness
I would like to know why Mr. Lerner in his opinion ["Being a nerd isn't everything," Jan. 24] implies that it is not "human" to have a passionate interest in science and engineering? It is extremely human to be interested in Maxwell's equations -- no other animal on earth possesses this interest. Social stereotypes would have us believe that it is more human to have a passion for baseball or parties than to have a passion for science. The human spirit expresses itself in many ways -- a passionate kiss, social service, the climbing of Mount Everest, in art and in creative inventions. The diversity in the human race is tremendous and different people express themselves in different ways. For some, an all-absorbing passion dominates all of their lives, while some find an involvement in several activities more stimulation. This does not mean that the latter are more human and personally developed than the former. Personal philosophy and natural inclination must not be confused with humanness.
Mr. Lerner also says that "being the best at something, even the world's best at something doesn't make you educated. It makes you an automaton, able to do one job extremely well." By that definition, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Carl Gauss and Michelangelo were uneducated automatons who machined away with no creativity or insight and chanced to come up with their beautiful theories and sculptures. There is joy, awe, excitement and plenty of human emotion in science and supposed automatons -- Archimedes would not have run out of his bath naked and yelled "eureka!" in the streets if he had been an automaton.
The tradition at MIT has been to sacrifice breadth for depth. A deep pursuit of one field equips the mind to think about, and contribute to, issues in other fields because the characteristics of knowledge are similar across all fields; only the specifics change. In the long run, it is far more profitable and humbling to go deep into one branch of knowledge than to spread oneself thin. Depth can and often does lead to breadth as several fields of knowledge merge at the fundamentals. I do appreciate Mr. Lerner's point that information just seems to be whizzing by at such a rapid pace here that it does sometimes feel like one is a human calculator moving from problem set to problem set and quite out of breath. Hours of study spent on things instead of with people do lead to poor social skills. However, as a senior looking back, I believe that the intense education was the right decision as things and people come into better perspective with practice and maturity. The analytic skills that have been developed are generic and may be used profitably wherever needed.
The science and engineering talent that abound here can easily give one the wrong idea that they are common commodities. I think we should be proud of the unique and rare breed of people that exist here with all their limitations rather than be ashamed of them.
Rahul Sarpeshkar '90->