Portrait of the Artist as a Young Beaver
MIT drove me to drink, drug, and draw toxic smoke from the tips of skinny white cancer sticks. And dream. Arthur P. Mattuck (God bless him), while talking about ants on coordinate planes, would respond to questions in class by saying, “Oh really? Well, I just happen to have Mr. Stokes right here,” leading George Gabriel Stokes himself to the front of 54-100 to explain his theorem.
18.02 was still a mystery to me, though, until a four-ton mantis pulled me into the tomb of the unknown hacker and taught me how to integrate like a No Limit Soldier. “Battle not with monsters,” she said, “lest ye become a monster.” Then she said something else I couldn’t hear over the din of a thousand phys-plant night-staff transistor radios set to the soft rock of WBJT.
MIT is a monster that sometimes inspires consummately abysmal feelings. We come here with four(ish) years to turn our precociousness into intelligence. The conversion of this comprehension currency is an onerous process, involving a constant struggle to finish your problem sets before they finish you.
All the while we feel it’s our duty to pursue a new kind of science, one that lets us remember that our bodies are not temples, but amusement parks, and that we should all be enjoying the ride. Granted, it’s not much fun to hurl on the Gravitron. However, when you hurl in the temple, the priest throws you out. When you hurl in the amusement park, the attendant brings you a soda.
Between hardcore bouts of problem settlement and feverish prayers made to the porcelain gods, we find ourselves reduced to nothing but mens et manus. This intensity prepares us for our future jobs as the people who screw the caps on the toothpaste tubes. It lets us burst through the great glass ceiling, making sure we’re never all grown up with no place to go.
And things will only get more difficult. While the American unemployment rate recently hit a 9-year high, MIT has entered in talks to upgrade our status from a world-class institution to a more challenging galaxy-class institution. On our long trek to the top, we can only expect more casualties of study.
Looking to the future, I can only encourage all of us to remain optimistic. “The basis of optimism,” as my good friend Oscar Wilde noted, “is sheer terror.” We grow up, get jobs, rent apartments and learn the importance of being furnished. We learn to speak in the mechanical codes we are taught, slowly forgetting that “C” once stood for cookie, and eventually almost no confection is good enough for us.
In the end, it is the sagacity of Woody Allen that ought to direct us in all of our future decisions: “More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to utter hopelessness and despair, the other to total extinction. Let us hope we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”