A couple years ago, I was given a task: write an essay for a college application. This was my favorite one, for MIT. Too bad they didn't like me enough to send me the application before the date I had to send it back by.
Q:   What is division?

A:   Subtracting until you no longer can, and keeping track of how many times you’ve subtracted.

For example: What is forty-two divided by seven? You can subtract seven from forty-two a total of six times, therefore, forty-two is divided by seven six times.

My father tells me that I asked and answered this question at the age of six. I had overheard my sister in second grade working on her math homework. Curious about this new process called division, I tried to understand it in terms of the addition and subtraction I had already learned. My seemingly simple observation nevertheless impressed my father. It was a new perspective on division that had never occurred to him.

Understand this, I am no genius. I am a horrible chess player. I sometimes struggle on Calculus tests. However, I do seem to be able to understand things differently than other people. I strive to better understand the inner workings of objects and processes. Not satisfied with the explanations of others, or their instructions to follow the standard method to get the “right” answer, I often arrive at my own understanding. I do not just want to find the correct answer, but also the reasoning behind it.

This fascination has been an important part of my character. I was the kid who took his toys apart, not always being able to reassemble them later. Rather than merely playing with them, I wanted to understand what made them work. A favorite book of mine at the time and even now is David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work, which provided simple explanations for complex things such as automobiles and lasers. My interest has led me into pursuits like Odyssey of the Mind, Academic Challenge, untold hours on our computer, and numerous disagreements with my parents over wasted time. Perhaps even a career in engineering . . .


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