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Frequently Asked Questions About W. J. Sidis

Dan Mahony, M. Phil.

What caused the negative journalistic image of him?











Most of the articles were written by journalists who never met him, never interviewed family members or friends, and most of all, never read his writings. They based their assumptions on popular misunderstandings of the new science of psychology as well as rigid ideas of what constitutes success in society. First his father Boris Sidis, a psychologist, was supposed to have somehow caused his son's genius. Then came the 'burnout' theory which assumed that child prodigies tend toward unproductive lives. Then a third: a childhood of "all-work-no- play" had caused his "failure." The fourth: his working at low-paying jobs was yet another sign of burnout. A fifth belief assumed his fatal cerebral hemorrhage at 46 had psychological causes. But the five false beliefs were not simply an invention of the press. The press and its readership fed on one another. At the same time, Sidis's adherence to the Okamakammesset principle of anonymous contribution also fed the frenzy because no one knew about most of his writings.


How do we know he didn't 'burn out'?














Firstly because of his considerable productivity throughout his life (at least a dozen books, as many articles, the invention of the simplified perpetual calendar, and other contributions); secondly the testimony of persons who actually knew him; and finally the fact that not one of the beliefs cited above can possibly be true. The first is contradicted by the practical fact that very few psychologists, if any, would claim that genius can be created, let alone with the methods of psychology. The second, 'prodigies burn out', has been disproved by abundant research which shows that the vast majority of them go on to lead productive lives. As did Sidis. (See Terman) The third, 'all-work-no-play', is a merely a hybrid of the second, this time with poor nurture rather than nature seen as the cause. The fourth, that his working at low-paying jobs was yet another sign of burn-out disregards the fact that many great scientists and artists throughout historyand todaysupported themselves with unrelated jobs. And talk about productivity: he worked full-time and wrote so much. Sidis did another thing: he personally paid for the publication of his books through his labor. The fifth, that Sidis's fatal cerebral hemorrhage at 46 was caused by 'thinking too much', rested on a popular confusion of brain with mind. His father Boris died at age 56 from similar causes.


What scientific evidence is there against the 'burn-out' myth?










"The man most responsible for changing this belief was Lewis M. Terman. Between 1900 and 1920 he was able to carry out a study of about a hundred gifted children, and his observations convinced him that many of the traditional beliefs about the gifted were little more than superstitions. To confirm these observations, he obtained a grant from the Commonwealth Fund in 1922, and used it to sift a population of more than a quarter of a million children, selecting out all those with IQs above 140 for further study. That group has been monitored continuously ever since. Many of the previously held beliefs about the gifted did indeed turn out to be false (Prometheus Society)."  Terman Study

"From the vicious press attacks on celebrated child prodigy, William James Sidis, in the century's early decades to "Doogie Howser, M.D.," ABC television's sensitive and well-written weekly series about a highly gifted 17-year-old doctor, both press coverage and dramatic portrayals of this population reflect the consistent ambivalence Americans feel toward highly gifted children."  HighQ

Which subjects were most important to Sidis?




Although he wrote about history, cosmology, psychology, politics, and transportation with great depth, his apparently mystical relationship to the native Americans may have been most important to him. The native nations who populated the New England area from ancient times, especially the Okamakammessets, lived by the principle of anonymous contribution and enlightened personal independence, and considered liberty to be one of the greatest gifts of life.

Why is The Animate and the Inanimate the best known of his books?




Is it his most important work?



It is, among many things, a devastating blow to the Big Bang theory because he shows that stars exist in an ETERNAL cycle of shining phases and dark buildup phases. He also discovered what might be called The First Law of Physics: All physical laws must be reversible with respect to time. Secondly, many recent discoveries in the field of Astrobiology bear out his theory: "Thus we come to the conclusion that life is as eternal as the inanimate, and is to be found as universally, under as varying conditions, as inanimate phenomena Chap11."

At the present time, yes, because it is one of the greatest discoveries in science, and it is one that will have ramifications far beyond science. Apparently our spiritual evolution is as eternal as the universe. But a reader's spiritual evolution may benefit also from his books about the the original inhabitants of America.  Passaconaway

Was he religious?



"He espoused no religion, but said that...the kind of a God he did not believe in was the 'big boss of the Christians', adding that he believed in something that is in a way apart from a human being (Boston Herald, May 14, 1919)."
What was his physical appearance as a child?





As an adult?



The pictures of him on the home page speak a thousand words.
The Boston Advocate, Jan. 17, 1910, said of him, "...he is of extremely happy disposition, brimming over with humor and fun. His physical condition is splendid, his cheeks glow with health. Many a girl would envy his complexion. Being above five feet four, he towers over the average boy his age. He is healthy, strong, and sturdy."

A photo of him age 45 shows him with his very good friend Isaac Rabinowitz, wearing a suit and a tie, neat in appearance, and smiling broadly. (This photo will appear on this site when we can get a good scan.)


How bad did the bad press coverage get?








The news story in the Boston Herald, May 14, 1919, cited above, included a drawing or 'doctored photo' of him that presented him in a way that could only be described as sinister.

A New Yorker article about him in 1937 entitled "April Fool" was described in a US Supreme Court decision as, "...merciless in its dissection of intimate details of its subject's life (1941)."

Time magazine titled his obituary, "Prodigious Failure." To speak of any human being in this way at his death makes it a low point in the history of American journalism. An apology has long been in order given the prestige of this periodical.

Today on the Internet one can find many more unkind and absurd characterizations of him. Sadly.  Journalistic Links

Did anyone speak out about the negative press at the time?








An article about him in The Nation in 1910 read, "...he possesses extraordinary intellectual power in  general...he has the makings of a great mathematician." It went on to say, "The idea that precocity--or at any rate precocity of any such character as this ---generally dies down into mediocrity has very little foundation." The Nation

"Dr. Abraham Sperling, Ph.D., author of the book Psychology for the Millions in which he debunked the burnout myth, said elsewhere, "...since the appearance of so many distorted news and magazine articles about Bill since his passing, a true and worthy account of the noble spirit and motives that guided Bill Sidis through life is more than justified (letter to Julius Eichel, June 25,1945)." Amen to that!

Who was Boris Sidis?




William's father, Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D., was one of America's great psychologists whose contributions are not acknowledged due to the bad press. Not yet, that is.

It's not just academia's acknowledgement that is due him, but also public appreciation of the fact that many of the techniques of present-day psychotherapy were first used by him.

Dan Mahony, what have you to do with all this?



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"In 1979...a Columbia University graduate student, Dan Mahony, brought the book [The Animate and the Inanimate] to the attention of Sidis's former classmate Buckminster Fuller" Letter..."Dan Mahony, a political psychologist who has been studying Sidis's writings..." "To Dan, Without you this book probably could not have been written--Amy (autograph)."  (The Prodigy  by Amy Wallace, Dutton: 1986)."

"Dan Mahony of Ipswich, Massachusetts, read about Sidis in 1976 and was puzzled. 'What was he really doing and thinking all that time?' Mahony wondered. 'It's true he held low-paying jobs, but Einstein came up with the theory of relativity while working as a clerk in a patent office. I had a feeling Sidis was up to more than most people thought.' (Yankee, April, 1987)." See also Lila

"Three decades after Sidis's death in 1944...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...(The Mystifying Mind, Time-Life Books: 1991)."













Background: wampum language pattern

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