I know you, for I have seen you dozens of times before. You think you want to be a scientist or an engineer. But be realistic — what do you, a teenager, know of science and engineering? You have applied to this institution, not out of any sophisticated understanding of the choices you are making, but because society has sold you a lifestyle brand. You want to be able to call yourself a scientist for the same reasons trendy youths want to buy clothes with swooshes or cigarettes with cowboy mascots. You crave, as any human does, the respect and admiration of your peers. You see the status that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have achieved, and hope that a career in technology will be your salvation. But you will find none here.
Let me explain: In the 1970s, Bruce Alexander ran an experiment. He was unsatisfied with studies that put rats in tiny cages and offered them a button to press that would deliver morphine — of course, the rats pressed the button like addicts. It was only rational to numb oneself to the plight those rats had been placed in. Alexander decided to challenge the conventional models of drug addiction by creating a “rat park,” a massive complex that more closely mimicked the actual living environs of rats, with plenty of space and resources for living, eating, mating, and so on.
The results of the experiments were shocking. No matter how hard Alexander tried, he could not get his rats addicted to morphine. Rats who were “addicted” to morphine beforehand gave up their habit upon being introduced into the park, and none of its denizens — even if bribed to take morphine — would use it to an extent that impaired their abilities. They lived their lives happily and free of dependence.
Your brain, when it learns a new concept, releases a neurotransmitter and gives you a bit of pleasure to reward you for your work. It is enjoyable, but by itself is not addicting. For it to take control of your life and erode your will, you must be put in a situation that is exceedingly stressful. Hence, MIT.
You have been selected because of your Type A personalities, your competitive drive and ambition. This place feeds on that. It will twist your natural inclination to push yourself into something darker. It will invite you to demand of yourself more than any rational person would give, and in doing so, you will lose your identity, your self-confidence, and your God-given free will. At the start, you will complete the work you are given out of a determination to win. By the end you will complete it because you know of no other source of happiness in life.
Forget “mens et manus” — the real motto of this place is “no rest, no mercy, no matter what.” The Institute has no motivation to give you any respite — by oppressing you, by keeping you without sleep, warmth, comfort, or recreation, you will become a more receptive medium for their dark designs. No one would knowingly choose a career in science. Anyone with your intelligence could slack off throughout college and end up paid just as well as a consultant or financial analyst. These are meant to be your best years. You should be exploring the world, finding love, drinking deeply of life — not spending your nights hunched over books.
Why does MIT do this? Why does it try to beat you down until the only chemical pleasure your brain can experience is a fleeting release of some neurotransmitter? The reason is that MIT is a fiefdom of petty, egotistical warlords. The professors care nothing for you — they see you as a pawn in their quest for prestige, a lowly helot in their squabbles over rank and status. Research is the end goal of MIT, not education, and certainly not the development of students into full-fledged human beings. Take a cautionary tale from those that we call “postdocs.” They are pathetic creatures, existing in a gray area between slave and indentured servant. Underpaid and overworked, never before have people of such intelligence been placed in stations with such lowly prospects.
This is what this place wishes to make you: a human sacrifice to be offered atop the altar of science, like the Aztecs, but worse — the Aztecs had the decency to make it quick and cut out your heart. Here they bind you, still living, to their machine of suffering and extract your soul from you over the course of years. And no one is in control of the system — like any good dystopia it simply exists, locked into a pattern of behavior that cannot be escaped. The professors are conditioned to compete for meaningless recognition, the post-docs are too beaten to escape, and the students stumbled upon this infernal pit out of ignorance — it is an endless circle of pain.
Just look at the undergrads that MIT is asking you to join. They put on a good face for the cameras, of course. This is the nature of cognitive dissonance — they have rationalized their poor life decision by convincing themselves that they like it here. But if you peer deeply into their eyes, you will feel their despair. Like dogs unable to escape their beatings, students here develop a sort of learned helplessness. They cease to question what purpose their day-long psetting sessions serve; they surrender themselves to the course laid down for them. The system has convinced them that they are imposters, well behind their peers in intelligence. They have lost the self-esteem that would push them to escape MIT’s vampiric grasp.
“What of it?” you might ask. Even if science is hellish on the scientists, isn’t it important for society?
Perhaps. But likely not. Science merely offers power — the use of that power for good or evil is out of the hands of scientists. And as it stands, we have the power to do great things, like cure malaria or end world hunger. In a final sense, we simply choose not to. Becoming a scientist will not give you control over how your technology is used — if anything, it is an abdication from the responsibility to better society. Just ask Oppenheimer.
Or better yet, ask Orwell. You want a picture of an MIT undergraduate education? Imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for four years.
Keith Yost is currently pursuing his fourth degree at MIT.