Navigating MIT

How to Survive in the Forest of Numbers
Aug 2020
Hyunjin
P.
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

MIT exemplifies a uniquely analytical and quantitative intellectual approach. It's a good thing, usually; after all, scientific revolutions like Newtonian physics began when we started putting stuff into quantitative perspective. MIT, however, took it a bit too far. 

Humans are, in general, pretty bad at memorizing numbers (with a few exceptions like Akira Haraguch, who memorized and recited 100,000 digits of pi in 2006). Try to memorize the sequence of following numbers: 32, 7, 10, 19, 56, 21, 52, 40. You probably can’t recite them right away. Average people can hold up to 7 random numbers in their working memory. MIT is (presumably) filled with many smart cookies, but even their working memory is no more spacious — at least not mine. 

MIT named all their buildings into what initially seems to be a sequence of random numbers. There doesn't appear to be any sensible rationale for doing this, at least in terms of what would make geographic sense. According to my roommate, a sixth-year PhD student, the numbers reflect the order of construction. What a useful metric for navigation! 

However, there's a method to the madness. Knowing the following might help you to find the building where your next class is located when you have only -5 minutes left till the start of the class — -5 minutes, indeed, since the professor of the previous class finished his lecture late. More importantly, you'll also be able to locate your free food events before the food runs out.

1. The principal components of the campus map are not north-south & east-west axes, but Charles river & Harvard Bridge, which are rotated by about pi/6 radian.

2. The main building complex has the center dome at building 10, and other buildings are placed symmetrically with respect to building 10. The odd numbered buildings are on the left, and even numbered buildings are on the right.

3. Beware of the prefixes! Building 1, Building E1, and Building W1 are all different.

4. Some buildings are not a part of the contiguous campus. These are NE103, EE19, EE20, WW15, WW25, etc.

5. Some interesting buildings, such as the Broad Institute and the Whitehead Institute, are technically not part of MIT but easily accessible. If you work at Building 32 (also more widely known as STATA, one of very few named buildings at MIT) and tired of consuming the products of their quite unorthodox interpretation of Indian cuisine, making a quick trip to the Whitehead canteen may save your hungry yet dainty soul.

If all the above sounds like some gibberish, look at Where Is @MIT. Bookmark it now. Last but definitely not the least — you gotta get out of the campus, at least sometimes. This is crucially important in maintaining your sanity and staying connected to the "real world."