Strength in Numbers

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I have 18.02 due at 4:00 P. M.

On 11/14/00, I will be in 16-135. After that, I need to go to 8.01 in 26-100 at 5:00 P.M.

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and achieve a minimum score of 65 on Exam 3. Remember the Athena cluster combination? Oh, yes, it’s 43169*. To the average person, this terminology may sound like computer code or a series of misunderstandings. However, every MIT student has likely used and heard phrases like this to refer to their daily schedule.

At MIT, numbers are the language used to specify places, classes, work, time, and even the students themselves. This system of communication has become dominant in the school, simplifying organization thanks to the clarity of numbers compared to traditional language. Even before contemplating applying to MIT, I always connected this institution with mathematics and science. However, it wasn’t until I visited the campus prior to my senior year of high school that I fully grasped this truth.

At first, I was told to meet a tour guide at “Lobby 7”. Coming from a high school with clearly marked buildings, I expected to see a prominent number seven displayed on the front of the designated building. Unfortunately, my search for this distinguishing feature outside turned out to be unsuccessful. After studying the campus map several times, I finally found Building 7 on Massachusetts Avenue. Interestingly, there were no external signs indicating its identity until I entered and saw one of the interior doors surrounding the large lobby.

During the tour, the guide took us through numerous identical halls and corridors before leading us outside. She provided an explanation of the numbering system used throughout the campus and mentioned that many of the buildings we passed were only distinguishable by numbers on the doors, something I had not yet comprehended. Additionally, she listed several required freshman courses, including multiple semesters of Calculus and the three primary natural sciences. After the tour, there was an information session for prospective students and their parents to inquire about the admissions process.

During my college visits, I attended various information sessions after the tours. However, none of them could match the exceptional description I encountered at MIT. On that particular day, an individual, potentially a senior or graduate student who was not present during the tour, entered the room. He picked up a piece of chalk and began explaining the various requirements for gaining admission to MIT. Initially, he focused on SAT scores and the numerous possible combinations of scores that would be considered competitive in the application pool. Subsequently, he devised a formula for calculating the overall required score. Following that, he delved into a detailed discussion on academic grades from high school subjects. Furthermore, he provided multiple examples of grade reports that would capture the attention of the admissions board and complement the previously mentioned SAT scores.

I had already made notes on the estimated figures for admission to MIT. The man then discussed how extracurricular activities would affect a student’s chances of getting admitted. Initially, I thought this topic was difficult to measure, but he proved me wrong by showing a graph labeled “Academics” and “Extracurriculars.” He divided the graph into equal sections and explained that a student’s placement on the graph determined their admission prospects. One parent in the audience expressed what many of us were thinking: “Is this a joke?” The man denied it and continued his explanation. It is safe to say that everything at MIT is quantified; this statement is not an exaggeration.

The campus map displayed numbers on buildings and connected hallways, which I found out indicated the building, floor, and room number when seen on a door in Lobby 7. These numbers were consistently used across all campus buildings. During orientation, I brought up my interest in pursuing a major in Civil or Chemical Engineering. The person I spoke to appeared surprised by my answer, prompting me to inquire about their own thoughts on the matter.

He mentioned that he would pursue “Courses 6 and 18,” and I nodded to conceal my bewilderment. I hadn’t known that MIT categorizes majors and study programs with numerical designations representing their historical progression. Subsequently, I discovered that I had to choose between Courses 1 and 10, even though the numbers themselves held no significance to me. Furthermore, each individual course within a particular field of study is also numerically assigned based on its advancement within the intended major.

For instance, the physics department’s first class taken by freshmen is 8.01. Subsequent courses have higher numbers after the decimal point, like 8.02, 8.03, etc.

The students are assigned identification numbers before arriving on campus, which is not unexpected. Upon enrolling at MIT, I received my own identification number and was instructed to keep it confidential. All enrolled students are given a nine-digit identification number, allowing them access to certain buildings and their personal MIT information. Essentially, these numbers serve as the necessary data for computers to organize student records and differentiate one student from another.

Now that I have been studying at MIT for several months, I have become accustomed to thinking and speaking in numerical terms. Instead of referring to my courses based on subject matter, I now identify them by their building and floor numbers. In fact, I am beginning to believe that it would be even more efficient to stop using people’s names altogether and simply refer to them by their last four digits of their identification numbers! All joking aside, I truly believe that this system is more effective and simplifies organization because words can be confusing. In high school, I had classes in buildings named after alumni, but the similar names like “Wallace,” “Davis,” and “Ball” often caused confusion for me as a freshman trying to locate the correct classrooms.

The rooms were not clearly numbered and I wasted a significant amount of time searching for them on the incorrect floors. Many course names, particularly in science, do not clearly identify one course from another. For instance, biochemistry could be classified differently based on the specific material focused on. However, at MIT, a course like this would be identified by a number within the Chemistry 5 or Biology 7 department. Names can also be perplexing when they are lengthy, include silent letters, or are translated into another language. The value of numbers instead of words is often underestimated.

Although numbers may seem confusing when combined due to their similar digits, they are actually quite simple and easy to understand since they do not have varied pronunciations and meanings. In contrast, words are commonly used in everyday life and are spoken naturally without considering each individual letter, but many words can be misleading due to the difference between their appearance and meaning. For instance, two words that have similar looks and sounds, like “there” and “their,” have different meanings and are used in different ways in sentences. Conversely, the words “be” and “exist” have almost no resemblance in appearance or sound yet convey the same meaning.

Verbal language is inadequate globally, and mathematical numbers may provide a solution to numerous misunderstandings. In a diverse cultural environment like MIT, community members speak various languages and often struggle to communicate effectively in a common but foreign language like English. The introduction of numbers could potentially bridge some of the divides caused by cultural diversity. Computers, which are vital for technological advancements at MIT, interpret programs in binary and other numerical systems instead of relying on a written language exclusive to a particular culture or group of individuals.

Teaching students mathematics is comparatively easier than teaching them foreign languages. This is because mathematics uses concrete numbers instead of unfamiliar words with new sounds and meanings. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) values science and mathematics as crucial components of its students’ education. In line with this, MIT relies heavily on numbers to organize information, such as majors and rooms, which follow a numerical system. The diverse cultural backgrounds of MIT’s student groups may lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings. However, the use of numbers at MIT simplifies organization and ensures that everyone can understand and benefit from it.

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Strength in Numbers. (2018, Jun 10). Retrieved from

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