William Sidis Biographical Research

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Magill Reviews, THE PRODIGY " Amy Wallace...skillfully weaves vitality and wit into this very unfortunate story of wasted genius."


http://prometheussociety.org  Click 'The Outsiders'

"A comment that Aldous Huxley once made about Sir Isaac Newton might equally have been said of Sidis. 'For the price Newton had to pay for being a supreme intellect was that he was incapable of friendship, love, fatherhood, and many other desirable things. As a man he was a failure; as a monster he was superb [5, p. 2222].'"



"Billy never graduated from Harvard or any college. As an adult he refused to do any work that paid well or took advantage of his skills. A newspaper reporter discovered him years later, and reported how Billy lived in a boarding house with a low paying job using an adding machine. This came as an enormous embarrassment to Billy. He was a failure as an adult. He died at the young age of 46 with a cerebral hemorrhage..."



"Amid the 22 profiles herein, we learn about William Sidis an intellectual giant driven into unproductive solitude by jealous sniping and emotionally disturbed parents...



"Why someone of Sidis's talents achieved so little has been the subject of some debate. Some say he demonstrates the folly of pushing young geniuses too soon; others blame his nutty parents."



"His was quite a tragic story. Such an incredibly brilliant mind, gone to waste. I too, believe it is important to let your children enjoy their childhood."



"As a boy [Norbert Wiener] had  had the good fortune to be overshadowed by an even greater whiz kid, William James Sidis who lectured at Harvard on four-dimensional bodies in 1910 at age eleven. Unlike Wiener, Sidis soon tired of academic life and fled from public view, and however abstruse Cybernetics may seem, it cannot help being more interesting than Sidis’s only publication, a three-hundred-page treatise on streetcar transfers"



"Unlike the title character in the film 'Good Will Hunting,' played (and conceived) by Matt Damon '92, William James Sidis '14 never swore, smoked, chugged beer, or hit people."  [Has photo of him aged 17.]



"William James Sidis was not the first nor last child wounded by parents trying to create a trophy. Others have lamented the creative productivity we lost when Sidis dropped out of society. What I grieve is all the joy that his well-honed mind should've given him -- all the joy that Sidis was never able to access." 



"William Sidis possessed possibly the greatest mind of the 20th century. Fed up, he spent the rest of his life as an adding machine operator."



"Compare the life of Billy Sidis with the life of Victor, the wild boy of Aveyron. Both were famous for being ‘different’: how did that difference change people’s behaviour towards them?"



"I think you're onto something here, Stever. I was looking through my Role Models file and found that persistence was a factor in almost all their success. I mean even William Sidis who had incredible mental powers was also a person who used enormous persistence for his activities. I've been thinking of persistence in two new ways: 1. Concentration as perhaps a form of condensed persistence? 2. Persistence as a discontinuous process. That persistence can be over time with interruptions of the activity being persisted in. e.g. I haven't thought of myself as persistent until rather lately. I tend to move from one new thing to another. But I was working on rewriting a novel a couple of years back and I realized that I had done the first draft of this thing many years ago. Had worked on it for a couple of periods since and was working on it again. A writer friend of mine said, "Damn, you never give up on a book!" I think he meant it in the sense of I beat a lot of dead horses, but I realized that it was a form of persistence to keep coming back to a project. I would prefer the form of persistence where you stay with a project until you get closure on it, but, heck, I'll take whatever I can get."


[URL Currently not available]

"The Angst of Genius

AL:   Concerning William James Sidis ... David Slater (A Prometheus member, methinks) wrote a compelling (IMNSHO) article entitled "The Greatest Mind Ever - A Lesson From History" for the Prometheus Society magazine, and it was recently posted to the "Thinkers International" mailing list, to which I'm currently subscribed. As a newlywed contemplating having children, I'm fascinated and saddened by this story. It's more than a little frightening to realize the immense power we wield in raising children - in Sidis' case, parental pressure to become a super-genius destroyed him. I know I'll certainly think twice now before forcing Latin verbs down my infant's gullet.

Has anyone here read David Slater's article, or any other material about Sidis?** Did it touch a nerve?

JW:   I had read about William Sidis a long time ago. Supposedly, his father was obsessed with the idea of making his son a super-genius. As a child, instead of learning about fairy tales, Sidis learned of Latin and mathematics.

I heard that at the age of fourteen, I believe, he was lecturing on the fourth dimension in front of many educated individuals. This was when his bizarre malady surfaced. He was supposed to have had an uncontrollable fit of laughter. I also heard that thereafter, when attempting to lecture, or undertake some other type of intellectual endeavor, he would suffer from these laughter fits. It was said that he died at a young age. He had been supporting himself as a janitor, or something of this sort. I read about William Sidis a long time ago, in the book called Stranger Than Science.

His was quite a tragic story. Such an incredibly brilliant mind, gone to waste. I too, believe it is important to let your children enjoy their childhood.

JCC:   Yes, Andrea, I recall a brief article about his troubled life, some years ago, if it was in fact the same story. I fear that variations on the theme exist in significant numbers ... and it's not at all certain that matters have improved over time. It seems wise to allow learning to be a delight rather than a forced issue. At least allow the delight of learning until such time as tedium and/or inept teachers spoil things rather much. I was most fortunate to have enjoyed two highly gifted teachers in succession in the closing years of primary school ... and a few inspiring ones in subsequent years."



What went wrong? Why did this monster mind apparently achieve so little? The potential was there. Reading through the details of William's life (in Amy Wallace's book, 'The Prodigy', published by Macmillan) a few things become very clear. William was a reluctant genius. In his early years he delighted in his gifts and abilities, but he lived in a goldfish bowl with the world watching his every move. His father made the serious mistake of setting him on a pedestal as an example of how children should be educated, attributing his high I.Q. to education. The critics were there, many just waiting for him to fail. The press love to find fault with those in the public eye; it sells newspapers. Princess Diana was a recent victim of the tyranny of the press, but she was not the first and will not be the last. William Sidis was denied privacy and the freedom to live his life in the way he wanted and withdrew into his shell. The world was thus denied the potentially huge benefits of a very powerful mind.



"Transhuman Mailing List

The man with the highest IQ ever may have been a fellow by name of
William James Sidis (1898-1944). He could read The New York Times when
he was 18 months old and just a few yeas later solve its crossword
puzzle in his head, he didn't write anything down until he'd finished
all of it. Just for fun when he was seven he developed a set of
logarithms in base 12. At eight he was given the final exam in anatomy
from the Harvard Medical school, he passed. At the same age he was
given the entrance test for MIT, he passed. At age nine he knew dozens
of languages and could pick up a new one in a day or two.

Sidis's IQ can only be approximately known even though he took many IQ
tests, the tests were just not up to the task, he was off the charts.
Abraham Sterling, director of New York City's Aptitude Testing
Institute said " he easily had an IQ between 250 and 300, I have never
heard of anybody with such an IQ. I would say that he was the most
prodigious intellect of our entire generation".

So what did this prodigious intellect accomplish in his 46 years? Not
much, if he's remembered at all it's for writing the definitive book on
streetcar transfers, perhaps the most boring tome on the planet. I'm
not sure what the moral is, maybe it's not to push gifted children too
hard as Sidis's parents did, or maybe it's that high IQ and genius are
not quite synonymous."


"Peridromophilia Unbound: William James Sidis
By Jim Morton

The great geniuses of mankind are often said to be "born ahead of their time." William James Sidis, on the other hand, seems to have been born out of his time completely; on the wrong world, in the wrong dimension. Perhaps someday the world will understand "Willie" Sidis's strange genius, but that day is far off indeed.
Sidis was born in 1898. His father, Boris Sidis, taught psychology at Harvard and was considered one of the foremost psychologists of his day. The boy was named after William James, a leading psychologist and brother to author Henry James. Boris argued that traditional approaches to child-rearing obstructed the learning process. The elder Sidis was determined not to make the same mistake with his son.
He started by stringing words together with alphabet blocks above the child's crib. He eschewed the usual "googley-goo" baby-talk that adults lapse into around infants, speaking instead to the child in the same way he would speak to an adult. If the boy showed any interest in a subject, Boris encouraged his curiosity and study.
The effect of all this on the boy Sidis was astounding. By the time he was two, Willie was reading literature meant for adults; by age four he was typing letters in French and English; at age five he wrote a treatise on anatomy and dazzled everyone with a mathematical expertise few adults could match.
William Sidis graduated from Brookline High School when he was eight years old. When he applied at Harvard, the entrance board suggested he take a few off to let his personality catch up with his intellect. Willie spent the time between high school and college reading books in French, German, Latin, Greek, Russian, Turkish and Armenian.
The boy entered Harvard at age eleven, becoming the youngest student ever to attend the school. Later that year he gave a speech in front of the Harvard Mathematical Society an the subject of "Four-Dimensional Bodies." After the speech, Professor Daniel Comstock of MIT told reporters that the boy would someday be the greatest mathematician of the century. From that moment on, William Sidis' world was never the same. Reporters followed his every move. He was a celebrity. His classmates treated him indifferently. The boy kept to himself, walking to his classes alone.
Suddenly Sidis realized his intellect was not admired; it was stared at. He wasn't merely intelligent; he was a freak. Within a year, the boy suffered a nervous breakdown. The boy was taken to his father's Psychotherapeutic Institute and treated. A few months later, Willie was back at Harvard, studying as diligently as ever.
He graduated cum laude at the age of sixteen. In 1918, he began teaching mathematics at Rice University in Texas. The annoyance of constant media attention finally took its toll. Quitting his teaching post, the young man moved back to Boston and, after a notorious arrest at a socialist march, disappeared from sight.
In 1924, a reporter found him in New York City, working in a Wall Street office for menial pay. Sidis told the reporter that he was not the boy-wonder he once was. He wanted anonymity and a menial job that made no demands on him. Soon afterwards, he dropped out of sight again.
As an adult, Sidis had one great passion. A passion that has intrigued psychologists and writers for years. Sidis spent hours every day in search of street car transfers. He would chase them through windy lots, chisel them from icy sidewalks and rescue them from rainy gutters. During his lifetime, he collected over two thousand of them, all different.
In 1926, he published a book on the subject of his hobby. The book, Notes on the Collection of Transfers, is, to say the least, esoteric. Sidis filled it with page after page of detailed information on how the transfers are interpreted, how to use them to their best advantage and the techniques used by the devoted "peridromophile" (his term for a someone who collects street car transfers) to find abandoned transfers. For those with merely a passing interest in the subject, he provided a chapter of bad street car jokes. Sidis used the pseudonym, "Frank Folupa" to throw the press off the track, but it did not work. The book was quickly ascribed to him and once again, Sidis had to flee from the curious eyes of the press. Losing himself in the crowded streets of New York City.
Sidis managed to stay out of view for many years after that. Until 1937, when a writer working for New Yorker magazine found him in a run down rooming house in South Boston. Sidis told the reporter that he was no longer the mathematical genius he once was. "The very sight of a mathematical formula," he claimed, "makes me physically ill." When the New Yorker article appeared, Sidis sued for invasion of privacy. Acting as his own attorney, Sidis offered to take an I.Q. test to prove just how normal he was. The suit was thrown out of court.
Again the world forgot about him, until 1944, when, at the age of 46, William James Sidis died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Several articles and a book have been written about Sidis. All of them point to Boris Sidis as the misguided mastermind behind Willie's fall. Boris Sidis, the writers argue, by depriving the boy of a "normal" childhood, turned him into a freak, incapable of ever fitting comfortably into society.
It's a neat argument. It follows the accepted pattern of parental folklore. It sounds logical, but it's all wrong. In the first place, contrary to popular belief, Boris Sidis was not a slave driver coaxing his son to "learn, learn learn!" Rather, he used positive reinforcement to encourage his son's exploration of subjects that interested him. The knowledge the boy gained was based not on his father's iron will, but on the boy's own curiosity. Boris Sidis was one of the leading psychologists of his day, he knew the dangers of indoctrination and parental aggression.
In the second place, Sidis had little difficulty fitting into society. He found jobs easily and always worked hard. If he moved from one job to another, it was because of the press; or because someone at this job recognized him. Whenever he was recognized, his employers quickly sought to take advantage of mathematician in their midst, but Sidis no longer wanted to be that mathematician. If he used his talent at math, he wanted no strings attached. At one establishment, his knowledge of mathematics led him to completely rework their statistical tables. The bosses were impressed and tried to get him to use his talent for their advantage. Sidis soon quit.
"All I want to do is run an adding machine, but they won't leave me alone."
Sidis was only a failure in terms of goals assigned to him by others. If he did not become "the greatest mathematician of the century," as Professor Comstock predicted, the failure lies in Comstock's skill as a prognosticator, not in Sidis's refusal to live up to the prediction. One thing is certain: Sidis's knowledge of street car transfers is unexcelled. He was, and is, the greatest peridromophile in history. For this, we salute him."



"Kan du nævne alle tiders mest intelligente person? Måske Albert Einstein eller Leonardo da Vinci. Måske Isaac Newton eller John Stuart Mill. Disse personligheder er så sandelig værdige kandidater, men der var een mand, som må have overgået dem alle. Du har sikkert aldrig hørt om William James Sidis. 1998 er hundrede-året for hans fødsel, og dette er hans historie - kort fortalt.

Boris Sidis og Sarah Mandlebraun - forældrene

William James Sidis var barn af helt ekstraordinære forældre. De var russiske jøder, som flygtede fra den intense anti-semitisme i deres oprindelige land, Ukraine. Boris ankom i 1886 som 19 årig. Boris havde kun ganske få hundrede dollars på sig, hvilket dog gjorde, at han havde råd til at bo på et fornuftigt sted og bruge nogle måneder på at lære det engelske sprog og almindelig amerikansk skik.

Sarah ankom til USA et år senere end Boris, 13 år gammel og uden en cent på lommen. Boris og Sarah mødte først hinanden nogen tid efter ankomsten til USA, hvor hun kom til at studere engelsk under Boris. Det var Sarah, der opfordrede Boris til at melde sig på Harvard. Med hendes skarpe intelligens begyndte hun selv at studere medicin ved Boston University og var een blandt få kvinder, der fik en medicinsk eksamen, M.D., før århundredeskiftet.

Oprindeligt studerede Boris ikke for at tage en doktorgrad, men han gennemførte alligevel den fire årige forløb på et år - han arbejdede een uge og studerede i to. Hans Ph.D. blev indstillet, men han afslog i første omgang at forelægge et disputats eller gennemgå en mundtlig eksamination. Han fik dog sin Ph.D. i 1897, og senere M.D. i 1908. Hans første Ph.D. blev rent faktisk givet til ham, fordi man ville friste ham til at fortsætte ved Harvard University.

Boris og hans familie var så kvikke, at de kunne lære og forstå svære og komplekse intellektuelle koncepter 10 gange hurtigere end typiske erfarne akademikere. Boris hævdede at have en teknik, der tillod ham adgang til en energikilde. Han lærte senere Sarah og William, hvordan man fik adgang og kontrol over denne kilde af rigt energi.

Sarah og Boris giftede sig, selvom Boris gjorde opmærksom på, at han nok aldrig vil tjene penge. Sarah opgav senere sine ambitioner - for at hellige sig sin søn.

Især på grund af William blev Boris Sidis interesseret i psykologi, og i USA blev han en ledende skikkelse indenfor fransk psykopatologi. Hans arbejde skabte blandt andet interesse i en psykologisk indfaldsvinkel til sindsyge, og han var også kendt for hans arbejde med hypnose. I hans første bog "The Psychology of Suggestion" forsøger han at forklare underbevidsthedens natur.

William James Sidis

William James Sidis blev født den 1. april 1898 i Boston, og opkaldt efter hans egen gudfar, hans forældres ven og vejleder, William James. Han beskrev sin navnesøn som et bemærkelsesværdigt vidunderbarn. Hans forældre overøsede ham med opmærksomhed fra begyndelsen, og de arbejdede hårdt på at gøre ham højt begavet. Stadig i sin barneseng, lærte Boris ham stavelser med bogstavbrikker.

Seks måneder gammel kunne han sige hans første ord, "dør", og få måneder senere kunne han forklare at "dør åbner, folk kommer". 18 måneder gammel kunne han læse New York Times og havde lært at tælle. Da han var 4 år havde allerede lært sig selv latinsk og græsk, og før han var gammel nok til at gå i skole beherskede han russisk, fransk, tysk, hebræisk, tyrkisk og armensk. Igennem hele hans liv beherskede han mindst 14 sprog fuldstændigt, og det fortælles at han kunne lære et sprog på een dag. Han kendte til samtlige sprog i verden (omkring 200), og kunne oversætte mellem.

Som seksårige var William i stand til at udregne på hvilken ugedag en hvilken som helst dato ville falde på. En skribent var forbløffet over, at han ikke bare kunne citere fakta fra bøger, men også give sidetallene, hvorpå disse fakta kunne bekræftes.

Skole og uddannelse

Han hastede gennem grade school, gennemførte alle syv klasser på syv måneder - også selvom han ikke var så god til matematik til at begynde med. Han fandt tallet syv interessant, og udviklede enddog et sæt af logaritmer med 12 som base. Han udtænkte hans eget hurtig-læsningssystem og skrev fire bøger, medens han var i alderen fire til otte, og opfandt en ny Esperanto-lignende sprog.

Pressen "opdagede" ham, da han som otte årig, og som den yngste nogensinde, startede på high school. Herefter fik han ikke fred i sit privatliv. Det tog ham seks uger at blive færdig med en fire årig curriculum ved high school, hvorefter han arbejdede endnu seks uger som assisterende lærer. Efter tre måneder på high school trak han sig tilbage, og William blev hjemme og tilegnede sig advanceret matematik. Han læste Einstein's arbejder (og menes at have skrevet sammen med ham).

William kunne allerede som ni årig komme på Harvard University, men måtte vente to år før han kunne blive immatrikuleret som "special student". I hans første år, stadig i knæbukser, leverede han en meget omtalt to timers forelæsning om "fire dimensionale objekter" til Harvard Mathematical Club. Blandt tilhørerne befandt der sig matematikere fra hele New England.

Som 2. års student boede han en tid på et tilstødende kollegie, men blev drillet så grusomt, at hans forældre flyttede ham til en lejlighed. Det efterfølgende år tog han syv fag. Nogle må have været for gået for langsomt for ham - han fik ti A'er (i matematik, fysik og fransk), ni B'er og fire C'er (i økonomi, engelsk og filosofi).

En fætter til ham har sagt, at han aldrig spillede, men var altid i færd med at læse. Han var "et geni, og for at være en geni må man arbejde meget hårdt". Denne seriøsitet og høj begavelse, sammen med social kluntethed, ledte til forfølgelse på Harvard, understøttet af stærke anti-semitiske følelser. Hans resultater var ikke specielt gode og han bestod med "cum laude" fremfor "magna cum laude", hvilket frembragte vrede hos hans moder.

Allerede på dette tidspunkt begyndte et pres omkring ham, og man havde enddog tillagt en hård omgang influenza som en nervøs sammenbrud. Ved dimissionen sagde han til journalister "Jeg vil leve et perfekt liv, og den eneste måde jeg kan leve et perfekt liv på er, at leve det i afsondrethed. Jeg har aldrig brudt mig om mennesketrængsel". Han har skrevet en forfatning til et utopi samfund, og tillagt sig selv og sit liv et sæt af 154 regler, som blandt andet omfattede et liv i cølibat.

Tiden efter uddannelse

I 1915 (17 år) fik han en position som professor i matematik på Rice Institute, hvor han var omgivet af højt begavede mennesker. Han blev drillet af studerende, der var ældre end ham selv. Det var nationale nyheder. Det reducerede ham til ineffektivitet, og blev mere og mere socialt fejlplaceret. Han tilsluttede sig det socialistiske parti, og udtrykte stærke pacifistiske synspunkter, hvorefter han blev bedt om at gå efter otte måneder.

William meldte sig ind på Harvard Law School, som han dog forlod på sidste semester - det chokerede hans moder. Medens han læste på Harvard Law School, begyndte han at interessere sig mere for politik, svingende til venstre for det socialistiske parti. Nogle yderst til venstre foretrak revolution og det skabte mishag hos størsteparten af befolkningen. William var militærnægter af samvittighedsgrunde, og undgik kun fængselsstraf, fordi Første Verdenskrig sluttede. For en tid arbejdede han som laboratorieassistent, men trak sig i foragt, da han opdagede, at han arbejdede under en militær dagsorden.

Han var blandt de prominente, der blev arresteret, da politiet i 1918 stoppede en første maj demonstration, der iøvrigt endte i uroligheder. En dommer mente, at William var lederen af marchen og satte kautionssummen til 5.000,00 US$. Det var under dette fængselsophold William mødte den eneste kvinde han nogensinde har elsket - en irsk socialist ved navn Martha Foley - hvis billede han altid havde på sig lige til hans død. En klassekammerat, senere governør af Massachusetts, Leverett Saltonstall, sørge for kautionen. Sagen førte aldrig til en egentlig domsafsigelse, hvilket sandsynligvis reddede William fra et fængselsophold eller 18 måneders hårdt arbejde.

Derefter blev William, ifølge ham selv, bortført af hans forældre og holdt tilbage i to år. Hvad der end skete, led forholdet mellem William og hans forældre et alvorligt knæk. Efter at have "flygtet" fra hans forældre nægtede han at have et hvert kendskab til matematik, og var opsat på at finde et liv i fred. Han arbejdede blandt andet som russisk tolk, og senere i forskellige stillinger som operatør ved samlebånd til lave lønninger. Han skjulte sin begavelse overfor arbejdsgiverne, og forlod dem, når han blev afsløret. Pressen fortsatte med at forfølge ham, og han protesterede mod dem, som følte, at han skyldte dem noget, blot fordi han var et geni. Hans isolation og særhed blev forværret.

Arbejdede som kontormand

I 1924 afslørede New York Herald Tribune, at "den geniale vidunderdreng fra 1909" nu var en kontormand hos et firma i New York til 23,00 US$ om ugen. Som operatør til kontor-regnemaskiner gik han fra job til job resten af hans liv. Bekendt med sprog, så arbejde hans også som tolk. Efter arbejdstid ophør, skrev han.

I 1925 udgav han bogen "The Animate and the Inanimate". Dette var et videnskabeligt arbejde, hvor William blandt andet udviklede og fremsatte teorien om sorte huler, 15 år før fysikere og astronomer overhovedet fik kendskab til emnet. Dette arbejde blev for en gang skyld totalt ignoreret af pressen og alle andre, og William udgav aldrig en bog i hans eget navn senere.

William tog tilbage til Boston, flyttede ind i en lille lejlighed i South End, tog nogle kontorjobs, og fortsatte med at skrive. Hans få venner beskrev ham som tilfreds. Hans afsondrethed sluttede i august 1937, da Boston Sunday Advertiser og The New Yorker skrev artikler om ham. Overskriften i The New Yorker af "Jared L. Manley", der dog var redigeret af James Thurber, var "Aprilsnar". William havde fået nok, og han sagsøgte begge udgivere. The Advertiser indgik forlig for 375,00 US$. I sagen mod The New Yorker afsagde retten, at William ikke kunne gøre krav på et privatliv, fordi han stadig var et offentlig figur. I 1944 skulle The New Yorker efter sigende have betalt 500,00 US$ for at bilægge en sideløbende sag om ondskabsfuld injurier.

Som elleve årig studerende på Harvard blev han i The Times beskrevet som "en fantastisk succesfuld resultat af et videnskabeligt eksperiment". I de senere år, hvor man fandt ham med beskedne kontorarbejde, blev han fremstillet som et eksempel på, hvad der kunne ske med begavet børn, når forældre skubbede dem for hårdt frem.

Hvad gik galt?

Hans høje intelligens kan ikke betvivles. Som et sidste eksempel, så fandt han det sjovt at løse krydsord uden at skrive dem ned - før han havde løst dem alle. Abraham Sterling, direktør ved New York City's Aptitude Testing Institute sagde, at "han snildt kunne have haft en IK mellem 250 og 300 (Stanford-Binet skala). Jeg har aldrig hørt, at nogen nogensinde skulle have haft en sådan IK. Jeg kan helt ærligt sige, at han var den mest formidable intellekt i hele vor generation".

Hvad gik galt? Hvorfor opnåede dette monsterhjerne tilsyneladende så lidt? Potentiellet var der. Når man gennemlæser detaljer af William's liv (i Amy Wallace's bog, "The Prodigy"), fremkommer et par ting meget klart. William var et modstræbende geni. I hans tidlige år var han henrykt i hans begavelser og evner, men han levede i en glasskål med resten af verden omkring sig, som fulgte hver en bevægelse han foretog.

Hans fader begik den fejl, at sætte ham op i en piedestal som et eksempel på, hvordan børn skulle undervises, og roste sig selv, sin undervisning og sin egen høje IK. Kritikken var der naturligvis, og mange ventede blot på, at han skulle fejle. Pressen elskede at finde fejl hos kendte person - det sælger aviser.William Sidis blev nægtet et privatliv, og frihed til at leve hans liv på den måde han ville, og det trak ham ind i hans egen skal. Verden blev på den måde nægtet et stort potentielt udbytte af en virkelig skarp hjerne.

Har man ret til at sige til den individuelle "Du skal udføre noget for os"? William gjorde sine egne ting, og han brugte sin intellekt til sin egen esoteriske gadebilshoppy, og i skrivelser om amerikas oprindelige folks historie. Man fortæller da heller ikke kunstnere, at de skal dekorere en offentlig bygning, så alle kan drage nytte af deres talenter. Ej heller kan man forvente, at komponister skal ofre sig selv til de mest populære stilarter, så størsteparten af befolkningen kan nyde deres arbejde.

Genier arbejder ikke på den måde (se Outsiders). Faktisk hæmmer man genier, hvis man med seletøj forsøger at styre dem i een retning. På det individuelle plan har de fleste mennesker oplevet "et øjeblik af begavelse", når man mindst venter dem. Jo hårdere man prøver at være smart, jo mindre sandsynligt vil man udmærke sig. Høj begavelse fås ikke på recept.

Skal man lade de bedste hjerner udvikle sig uden indblanding? Nej. Kun få af historiens største hoveder har afstedkommet storhed uden aktiv opmuntring og en lille skub fremad. Men det er størrelsen af den arrogance, der tror, at man kan opdrage genier til at adlyde. Man skal være der for dem, når de har brug for støtte, og skubbe dem stille og roligt fremad. Beskytte dem mod ubehagelige pres, som genier tit udsættes for. Vigtigst er dog, at hjernen tilhører den individuelle og ikke samfundet (ej heller forældre eller lærer). Der er en risiko for, at bestræbelserne kan blive forgæves, men risikoen for at kvæle en høj begavelse er langt størrere.

William havde en fotografisk hukommelse og en fantastisk evne til at løse uforståelige matematiske problemer. Hans IK var stratosfærisk, og hans interesser var bredt og omfattede politik, matematik, sprog, astronomi, anatomi og transport systemer. Han hverken bandede, røg, drak øl, eller slås, og afviste sex, kunst, musik og alt andet, der betød kontakt med den utiltalelige verden uden for hans egen. William James Sidis, formentlig med verdens højeste intelligens nogensinde, døde af en hjerneblødning i en alder af 46. Historien husker ham knap nok.

William James Sidis var ikke det første barn, ej heller det sidste, der blev hårdt såret af forældre, som forsøgte at skaffe dem selv en trofæ."




"The Prodigy: A Biography of William James Sidis, America's Greatest
Child Prodigy
by Amy Wallace (Dutton)
Amy Wallace gives us the heebie-jeebies. In fact, the whole Wallechinsky clan does. Amy, Irving, Sylvia, David, Sam, Sophie and god-knows-who-else Wallace are there in their word factory in Pomona or Gardena or Cucamonga busily spinning out Sex Books and Prediction Books and Psychic Healing Books and their newest The Of Lisps about all the great lispers of hithtory (did you know that Tipper Gore calls Al "Thnookumth?")

We always envision the Wallace Word Factory as the Swanson's of the publishing biz; Irving in charge of the Salisbury Steak, David parboiling the string beans, and Amy dredging up mashed potatoes.

The Prodigy certainly is a potato --- mashed together in record time in Amy's trusty spud cutter, facts and history glaucously amush, lumped up just in time for some new Dutton publishing deadline.

Sidis' history is not unworthy of interest nor pursuit: he was a certifiable genius, perhaps as great a prodigy as John Stuart Mill. He could type at three, write on anatomy by five, and speak seven languages at age six. He entered Harvard in 1909 when he was eleven years old; he composed poems and elaborate theories (he came up with a theory for the creation of the universe which is not unlike the Big Bang) --- but within a decade, he had dropped out of school and life --- spending the rest of his days hiding from the press and collecting streetcar transfers. His sad tale has great potential for in-depth probing (what happens psychologically to child pushed to the limits while still a prepubescent?) but the TV Dinner School of Journalism can kill an entertaining story deader 'n' an armadillo on a Texas two-laner just outside Waxahatchie at midnight."


Bent Twig  Time-Life Books, 1991

For William James Sidis, a fine mindperhaps one of history's bestbecame a kind of deformity. Instead of following the expected meteoric career, the child prodigy opted for what seemed a life of mediocre obscurity that earned him the hatred of a disappointed public and press.

Born in 1898 and named for his father's mentor and colleague, psychologist-philosopher William James, Sidis began his rise to fame at the age of four, when he could use a typewriter to produce both English and French. By five, he could speak five languages and read Plato in the original Greek. Learning a new language was the work of a day for the young genius.

The impetus for this extraordinary development was his father, Boris Sidis, a Russian-born psychiatrist then teaching at Harvard. The elder Sidis was convinced that geniuses are made the way twigs are bent, and he showed off his son to the world as proof of his theory. But young Sidis's mind was naturally spectacular: One psychometrician later estimated his IQ at between 250 and 300.

Under his father's unrelenting tutelage and the glare of publicity (stories about him would appear on the first page[sic] of the New York Times nineteen times), Sidis finished his first year of high school and applied for admission to Harvard at the age of nine. Although he passed the entrance examinations, he was rejected on the ground that he was too immature emotionally for college life. Admitted as Harvard's youngest scholar when he was eleven, he amazed his elders with a lecture on the fourth dimension that was beyond the grasp of many professors.

Brilliant as he was, however, Sidis appeared to be out of his depth at Harvard socially and emotionally. Many of his classmates regarded him as eccentric and reclusive. Sidis nevertheless graduated cum laude in 1914, at sixteen. "I want to live the perfect life," he told reporters at the time. "The only way to live the perfect life is to live it in seclusion." His remarks were prophetic.

He taught briefly at Houston's Rice Institute, then entered Harvard Law School. Increasingly radical politically, he left school in 1918 just before graduating. Then, as a conscientious objector and budding Marxist, he was arrested during a May Day riot in Boston and narrowly saved from jail by his parents. But the incident apparently jarred him, for from then on, he seemed to drop out of the intellectual race he had run all his life. Sidis took a series of undemanding jobs, apparently discarding all challenging pursuits. He did write one book about a hobby that became a passion: Notes on the Collection of Streetcar [sic] Transfers. He even coined a word for such collectors, peridromophiles.

The press took to attacking the one-time boy wonder as a burnout who had been too smart too soon. A James Thurber article in the New Yorker in 1937 ridiculed him so savagely that Sidis sued for libel, finally winning a small out-of-court settlement. Editorials accused him of betraying the public's expectations. But, although Sidis went his own way, he never really abandoned the inner life of the mind. Instead, as one writer put it, Sidis merely took his intelligence underground.

Three decades after Sidis's death in 1944 of a brain hemorrhage, a Columbia University psychology student by the name of Dan Mahony began probing the lost years of Sidis's life. After much rummaging in dusty attics, Mahony found that Sidis had in fact filled those seemingly empty years with mental activity. He had many friends, whom he amazed with such feats as doing a New York Times crossword puzzle entirely from memory after quickly reading the clues. He could translate some forty Ianguages. and he wrote prodigiously. There were manuscripts for two books and evidence of two more, as well as eighty-nine newspaper columns written under a pen name. His sister, Helena, thought that there must be a dozen more manuscripts, including one book about the lost continent of Atlantis and a science fiction novel. One of the surviving books, The Animate and the Inanimate, published in 1925, put forward a number of precocious theories of the universe, including a description of the cosmic phenomena now called black holescollapsed stars so dense that their powerful gravity prevents even the escape of light.

Another book, a 1,200-page [sic] tome called The Tribes and the States, argued from persuasive evidence that the political system of New England was profoundly influenced by the democratic federation of its Indian tribes. Sidis's search for seclusion, some scholars now believe, came from his having adopted the teachings of the Okamakammessetts, a Massachusetts tribe that taught a principle of anonymous contribution to society.

But the legacy of the man once called "the most remarkable youth in the world" was a general sense that neurotic failure was the inescapable fate of child prodigies. In fact, by jeering at his differences, the world had silenced one of its finest minds.



"Unlike the title character in the film 'Good Will Hunting,' played (and conceived) by Matt Damon '92, William James Sidis '14 never swore, smoked, chugged beer, or hit people."—Harvard Magazine  William James Sidis (1898-1944) was a remarkable child prodigy. When only three, he learned Latin to surprise his father. At 11 he was lecturing professors on mathematics. But as an adult, he struggled to hide his unbounded intelligence from a world that treated him as a freak.

"William's parents, Russian immigrants who settled in Boston, started their child's education early, by suspending alphabet blocks over his crib. He was six months old when he spoke his first word, "door." A few months later when asked why he liked the door, he replied, "Door moves. People come."

"William was reading The New York Times by age two. He learned to type. He astonished guests by "reciting railroad and bus timetables as if they were children's rhymes. It was the beginning of two decades of being onstage," writes Amy Wallace in her 1986 biography, The Prodigy.

"He zipped through grade school in about half a year, bored to tears all the way, and wrote books on grammar, calendars, astronomy and anatomy. (His "Introduction" to the grammar text: "My book, the reader—my reader, the book." Many authors might learn from this example.) He invented Vendergood, his own Latin-based language.In his early twenties, William Sidis predicted the existence of black holes in a brilliant study, years before the first recognized work on the subject. He could master any language, however difficult, in a day. But many knew him only as a burned-out collector of bus transfers...and gloated over what they thought was a ruined life.        

"A 1926 Tribune editorial, "Precocity Doesn't Wear Well," was one example of the attitude. "Parents whose boys show no indications of being or becoming intellectual giants can get consolation from observing what has happened in the case of the once much-advertised son of Dr. Boris Sidis, the Boston psychologist....The mental fires that burned so brightly have died down, to all appearances. It may be, of course, that precocity now takes the shape of realizing that all is vanity, and ordinary successes are not worth seeking, but such philosophy is a poor result of the speed shown early in the race...."

"When Sidis left college, he was socially inept, often alienated from the world around him. Determined to live his life independently, he did refuse to remain on stage as a public spectacle and did withdraw his mind from the market. But he didn't stop thinking. He pursued his intellectual studies in private, solely for his own pleasure, away from the crowd.

"William Sidis had only one debt," writes Amy Wallace, "the same debt every man has to himself—to achieve his own happiness and fulfillment, using his mind to the best of his ability." Her biography of Sidis, now sadly out of print, is the absorbing tale of an endlessly fertile genius who threw convention to the wind, pursuing his own goals without any concern for the expectations and demands of others. It is about a "man of the mind" who goes on strike. —adapted from the Apr. 20, 1987 issue of Oasis magazine."



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