in the pursuit of knowledge by Michael C. '16
want to see a MacArthur Genius dancing to gangnam style?
“I’ve always been a knowledge junkie; facts are my hit, and Wikipedia is my dealer.”
(I was looking through my old computer files and found the above sentence of a college essay that thankfully never made it into my final draft)
In spirit, not much has changed since I wrote that travesty of a sentence last year. I still make lame over-the-top metaphors, I still overuse semicolons, and I still browse Wikipedia far too often (The Problem With Wikipedia is basically my life).
But Wikipedia, wonderful as it is, is so secondary. And it’s all about the primary sources. But primary sources are so hard to find, right? Right?
Michael’s Knowledge Theorem: if you want to learn more about any topic, there’s a world-class expert at MIT less than 5 minutes from you.
Chorall Corollary 1: If you offer that expert food, he or she is probably more than happy to talk to you about it.
Exhibit A: If you’ve been following the election at all over the past few months, you know that there’s been a lot of hyperpartisan rhetoric about the threat of a nuclear Iran. And a lot of that rhetoric is contradictory. Israeli PM Netanyahu has been warmongering, but Israeli intelligence officials have fiercely opposed any preemptive military strike. Obama has imposed heavy sanctions, while Romney has bashed him for being too soft on Iran. Yadda yadda yadda.
And if you’ve been watching the debates, you know that expecting the candidates to say something substantive about Iran on stage is like expecting a monkey to type Hamlet.
So it’s a good thing that MIT has its resident international security expert on hand. Just the other day, I sat down for lunch with Dr. Jim Walsh–a nuclear expert who’s traveled to both Iran and North Korea (fun fact: he’s never been to Italy) to negotiate nuclear issues with officials, and has testified in front of the Senate–and talked about international nuclear politics for an hour. Among the topics we discussed: how the rhetoric about how Iran is “one screwdriver’s turn” away from a nuclear weapon is false and misinformed; how Iran’s leadership is divided on whether or not to weaponize, though a military strike on Iran would almost certainly push them towards the weapons decision; and whether Iran or North Korea poses the bigger threat to the U.S. right now.
What did I have to do to talk with an international security expert for an hour? I sent an email.
Exhibit B: Everyone (or at least college freshman wanting to sound smart) likes to talk about how the electoral system is “broken.” But what exactly does that mean? Would simply replacing it with the popular vote solve our problem?
This morning, I consulted a Nobel laureate to find out (the answer to that last question, by the way, is no). Eric Maskin, visiting from Harvard, talked for an hour about the flaws of the current electoral system and compared various alternatives, ranging from rank-order voting to instant runoff voting to approval voting to majority judgment. (in case you’re interested, he’s a fan of the Cordorcet, or “true majority” system, in which voters rank candidates by preference and these rankings are used to compare each candidate head-to-head; the winner is the candidate who wins all pairwise matchups)
Exhibit C: I was walking around Stata Center the other day and by chance wandered into Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur Genius Junot Diaz giving a talk.
One of the questions I get asked most often by high schoolers is whether MIT is right for them. That’s hard for me to say, because there’s no one “typical” MIT student. But if you’re a knowledge junkie like me – if you love knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and learning for the sake of learning – you’ll feel right at home here. Chatting with an international security expert, discussing voting systems with a Nobel laureate – these are a few examples off the top of my head, and I could name several more if you cared to ask (the Dalai Lama was here last weekend, for instance).
Conclusion? MIT is wonderful. If you still don’t believe me, I’ll just leave you with this GIF from bio lecture today:
Long live Gangnam Style,