IDEA FACTORY: Learning to Think at MIT by Pepper White (Dutton: $19.95; 265 pp.). c,8.5,pl “It doesn’t really matter what you study here,” a professor told Pepper White a few days after he enrolled as a graduate engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We teach you to think. . . . Then you can do whatever you want.” If that statement sounds arrogant, it should; White’s compelling account of his two-plus years at MIT shows it to be a grueling, callous, and enormously challenging place, one in which many professors are millionaire businessmen and the most important attribute in a student is single-mindedness. White, fortunately, has a wider view of life; although he’s obviously committed to his courses and lab projects, and explains them well, he’s also interested in his fellow students. White graduated with an M.S. in mechanical engineering in 1984, but surprisingly, “The Idea Factory” doesn’t feel dated; indeed, the passage of time may have been essential to the book’s creation, for White is writing about an experience many students would rather forget.