Myths, Facts, Lies, and Humor About William James Sidis Part Four

Myths, Facts, Lies, and Humor About William James Sidis - Part Four

Cammille Flammarion - Flat Earth

(PD) Cammille Flammarion - Flat Earth

Larry Neal Gowdy

Copyright ©2008-2021 — updated February 11, 2021

The following condensed topics are taken from my personal unedited notes, written under the working title of Myths, Facts, and Lies About Prodigies, and from a chapter that lists fifty popular online claims about William Sidis. Each topic's comments have purposefully omitted lengthy detailed information that will not be made public. The purpose of the following comments is to present concepts that question the popular belief that William James Sidis was the smartest man on earth.

31: Wrote books, poems, and articles.

"We smile politely as we explain that many children write books, poems, and articles, and the unclarified claim is simply irrelevant except for its information about William's interest in languages and writing.

William's poetry, unfortunately, was as aromatic as my own, and it would be a great treasure to the world if neither of our poetry was endured again.

It is reported that a trunk was later found after William's death that contained numerous writings of his. It is not uncommon for a person to write their thoughts without intending for the thoughts to be made public. Extensive writing without publication can be an outlet of expression for the individual who has no one to speak to, and in the case of prodigies, the lack of peer discussions is common. Too, one entertainment value in writing is in the author approaching it as a challenge, a puzzle of words to be worked-out into a suitably logical structuring.

Perhaps one of the more prevalent reasons for William keeping his writings private was simply because he had no desire to make the writings public which would result in his receiving more negativity from critiques. All it takes is one or two bad experiences with low intelligence critiques for an author to stop allowing his work to be seen, and any blame should be aimed at the critiques, not the authors."

32: Total disregard for sports, physical activities, and money (supposedly learned from his father).

"William wrote considerably about his childhood hunting, hiking, and outdoor activities in Passaconaway in the White Mountains. Believed or not, not everyone in the world is fascinated with ball games, and the term "sports" is not defined within the narrow interpretation of it only being applicable to games where a ball is lobbed back and forth. William was said to be overweight as an adult, but he was familiar with physical activities when younger, and of the manner of his writing detailed sensorial perceptions that only a person experienced with the outdoors can know, it verifies his firsthand experience with the outdoors.

The prodigy, with focused intellectual interests, is not focused on vanity or appearances, nor any other activity outside the intellectual interest. Surely it is obvious that whatsoever interest a person has, the interest will become the thing that the person does, and he will not devote time to things he has little or no interest in. More will be covered about this topic in a latter section, but suffice it to say that the idea about William not finding interest in physical activities as an adult can be equally applied to well over ninety percent of today's American population.

...Similarly, as the frontal lobe theory was wrong, so are the 'proven' theories about an intellectual's psychological reasons for not finding an emotional thrill in ball sports. ...Most definitely there are millions of people who watch sports while sitting idle on a sofa, but few individuals actually participate in the sport. The physical health of the majority of modern humans in 'developed' countries is also very poor, and for those of us who enjoy hiking and being outdoors, the common man, who invariably cannot walk so much as a mile of rough terrain without getting winded, is viewed as the one who has the disregard for sports and physical activity.

If William Sidis' choice of an intellectual interest over sports is a negative thing that signifies a mental disorder, then all people who are not professional ball tossers have brain disorders too.

Instead of inventing wildly irrational theories and tossing-out invented names of brain disorders, it would be wise to stop and actually ask a prodigy how s/he thinks. Unsubstantiated claims are beliefs, fantasy, not real, and only serve to validate the ignorance of the person making the claim. Instead of claiming an individual has autism, or Asperser's syndrome, or narcissism (as what is now being accused of Einstein), it is useful to actually get off the sofa and go ask questions. It is not likely that questions will ever be asked, and if someday a psychologist/psychiatrist might decide to ask questions, s/he will...

William also wrote extensively about money and economics in The Constitution of the Community of Hesperia and Geprodius. While it might be true that William and many other prodigies did not exhibit a psychotic lust for material wealth, William did not have a "total" disregard for money. Upon his death it is reported that he had approximately $652.81 saved in a bank account, a sizable sum in 1944, and far more than did the notables of history (Jesus, Buddha... etcetera). Before the general public points fingers and begins falsely accusing prodigies of aberrant behavior, the general public ought to first look at themselves and the heroes they have placed upon pedestals.

"Before he was six, the man he became was made. The Addington Bruces, friends of ours from the Adirondacks, used often to visit us in Brookline. ...

One evening, reluctant to see them leave, Billy walked out to their car with them and opened the door for Mrs. Bruce. Mr. Bruce gave him a quarter, and told him to buy something that he would like with it.

"Why did he do that?" Billy, quite upset, asked me when he came back in the house.

"Ah, Mr. Bruce thought it would please you," I told him. "What did you do?"

"I didn't want to take it," Billy said, "but I didn't want to make him feel bad. So I took it, and after he drove off I threw it in the gutter."

I thought a minute, with amusement. When I was a waitress in the White Mountains, the tips had always embarrassed and confused me. But he was Boris all over again, with his savage contempt for largesse, for the padrone.

What could I say to this son of mine who threw quarters in the gutter, without seeming to criticize his father, whose bone-deep scorn of money Billy had already absorbed? It was a problem too much for me, so I said nothing.

For he was his father at six, in everything but temperament. In temperament he was me. And it was perhaps because he was so much like me in undiscriminating devotion to his father that he absorbed every shade and variation of Boris' attitude toward the world." [Sidis Story]

Giving an individual money for performing a good deed or an act of kindness is irrational, rude, and insensitive. Placing a monetary sum upon behavior devalues the behavior to that of the fiat money that the behavior is weighed upon. Even more insulting is the affixing of a monetary value to an individual's intelligence.

The disdain is not for money, but rather the mentally associating of one's intelligence and chosen qualities of behavior with materialism. Perhaps the general population might zealously grub for nickels and only deem a person successful if the person has a lot of money, but for the individual who mentally weighs relativities of objects, money is demeaning. More will be discussed about this topic in a latter section...

It is beyond my ability to fully comprehend the public's apparent fascination with money, but William's behavior at being given the quarter is not alien. When an individual does a good deed that the individual feels is proper, the individual is not performing the act for selfish profit, but rather performing the act because it is proper.

No parent hugs a child and then demands payment, and likewise there should be no money involved in any form of show of affection or good manners. It is an insult to one's intelligence and morality for a proper act to be reduced to the plebian level of it being weighed relative to monetary values. The prodigy does not perform circus tricks for money, as if money were the sole reason in life to do anything for anyone, but rather the prodigy does what he feels is correct behavior. Offering money for one's proper behavior seems not unlike having to pay someone to love you. The love of money might be the prime moving force behind some people's behaviors, but it is definitely not a motivational cause for prodigies.

If the report by Sarah is valid, and William had the good heart to recognize his desire to not possibly cause the friends ill feelings, then William's intelligence and observational skills were much better than what the many claims might lead a person to believe. Too, Sarah's comments appear reasonably correct in her observation that William shared similar personality traits as Boris'. William's writings exhibit the personality of adoring and seeking approval from his father. The emotional structuring of heredity was unmistakable.

As it stands, claim thirty two took a few bits of non-understood information out of sequence, implanted the ultimate "total," and twisted the concept into a lie."

33: Total disregard for academia, academicians, academic bureaucracy and their titles.

"The claim is in direct conflict with previous claims about William's academic interests. Similar to claim thirty two and most all others, the claim takes a bit of information out of context, inserts the ignorance of the creator's, and the composition becomes a lie. The claim should have included useful information about how William may have lost interest in formal academia as he got older and found new interests in life.

Around 1927, at the age of about 29, William is said to have remarked to some friends where he stayed: "Sidis told them he hated Harvard and that anyone who sends his son to college is a fool ― a boy can learn more in a public library." (The Prodigy page 229) I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that more can be learned [on many topics], and faster, in a common library than what can be learned in an eight-to-three classroom. It is beyond silly to waste four years of one's life to learn less of a topic than what can be learned in four days' hands-on study. A simple logics experiment using a common voltmeter can verify that many foundations of biology, psychology, and electrical physics are seriously flawed, and it is irrational to believe there is a personal advantage of academia if academia may not teach useful information.

What was also not stated is that when an individual self-evolves beyond the level of social standards, the individual has in the process distanced themselves from the social standards, and the person at that point no longer has regard for the social standards. No thing can be improved over the average unless the thing is greater than the average, and the thing will then no longer exist within the average. It is not possible for an above average individual to conform to and accept an average social standard...

"Disregard" does not of itself imply rejection, it can just as easily imply achievements beyond the level of what is now disregarded. As with some philosophies, the student begins by following the laws of the philosophy, where each law is as a rung of a ladder, and as each law becomes the nature of the student, the student then takes another step, until in time the student steps off above the top rung into a state of lawlessness that is founded upon law, and at which point the student is no longer a student, but rather a master who no longer follows nor regards any of the laws, for the master is the law himself. There is the act of following, the act of manifesting, and the act of being manifested, each of which is distinctly different. William achieved a degree of mastery within academics, and if there were no more useful rungs to climb, it would have been natural for William to have at that point disregarded academia similarly as to how a college student disregards elementary school level education.

William's interests through the remainder of his life [appear to have] focused primarily on the study of history, which is still an academic topic. William's research was private, he did not attend a formal university to memorize information from a short list of books, but rather he pursued his interests correctly, through investigating much of his material firsthand. In my eyes, William's best achievements were after he left formal academia.

No common man will know of the higher state of a prodigy, simply because the common man is not a prodigy himself. As the claim currently stands, it is a half-truth at best, and a lie as presented."

34: William collected street car transfers and he knew most details of most routes within the USA.

"It is normal for humans to find an interest in collecting different objects. Some people collect coins, some collect door knobs, some collect dead bugs, and William collected electric trolley transfer tickets.

Perhaps the primary reason that this claim has remained alive is that emotionally unstable individuals who hate and/or are envious of William have used the reference with an attempt to allegedly 'prove' William was mentally defective because he collected something that few other known people collected. Anyone who at any time uses this claim as a means of 'evidence' against William's mental worthiness, such a person has a very definite mental problem themselves.

The claim, as stated, is a basic bit of information and is not useful for deriving conclusions of William's intelligence or personality attributes. No one will ever honestly know why William found an interest in transfer tickets. Associating William's interest in street cars to his interest in doors, a new question is raised of how the two different things may have been felt by William to be a portion of his apparent interest in social interaction...

In a newspaper article by Jared Manly: "His chief recreation seems to have been going on streetcar rides with his parents. The elder Sidis explained transfers to him and interested him in the names of streets and places. Even before he was five, William had learned to recite all the hours and stations on a complex railroad timetable. He would occasionally recite timetables for guests as other children recite Mother Goose rhymes or sing little songs." With Jared Manly being a newspaper reporter, it is not advisable to trust the information's accuracy, but the story does lend a little support for the previous speculation that William may have held social and emotional reasons for collecting transfer tickets.

The bottom line is that a prodigy who is quick to learn will just as quickly learn all there is about a topic and then move on to a different subject, as William did with most of his hobbies. The choice of interests is based upon intellectual abilities, personal family heredity, personal experiences with one's family, personal experiences with the public, one's emotional experiences, one's physical state, how an object harmonizes with the mental and physical and emotional states, and of the too numerous variables to state that combine to create the reasoning behind choosing a specific hobby, the sum is always that the person chose a hobby because he wanted to."

35: He feared dogs.

"The majority of humans fear some type of animals, so, therefore, the majority of humans are prodigies? The claim leaves the field wide open for any interpretation the reader might desire. Individuals who do not like William can easily point to the claim and pretend that a fear of dogs implies a brain disorder. Individuals who like William can invent a similarly wild claim and pretend it means something good. The claim however, as it stands, might have been correct in a temporary time frame, but it is not correct as it applies to all of William's life, and thus, even if it might be an accurate bit of data, it is still false.

The claim has little value beyond providing information of the possibility that William might have actually feared some dogs. His writings in Passaconaway in the White Mountains did tell stories about other people fearing wolves, which to a country person is an unreasonable fear, so perhaps William did have an apprehension of canines as evidenced in his having given special importance to the stories, but many people have reason to have specific fears, such as being scared by a dog when an infant. Until the verifiable cause is known for William's possible fear of dogs, all guesses are speculation. Very commonly, people have fears of things for no other reason than the individuals have developed a false belief that a thing is dangerous. William's fear might have simply been imaginary, and there is no known solid evidence to support or oppose the possibility.

Also common is for a dog to be a very good judge of character in humans. Healthy intelligent dogs will bark and snap at people with poor health or character attributes, while the same dogs will be friendly to the humans with good character attributes. A known individual is capable of walking into a fenced area that is protected with trained guard dogs, and the dogs will be docile and wish to play with the individual. Known dogs that have bitten every non-family person that tried to enter a protected area, those dogs will lick and be friendly to the aforementioned individual. If dogs had shown aggression towards William, then the dogs' behavior might be a sampling of evidence about William's health and/or personality traits during the specific age. The normal behavior of young children can agitate adults as well as dogs, and never should an individual's whole life history be evaluated upon a single event in their childhood.

Sarah said in The Sidis Story: "So it was in my childhood and from my early family life that I got two ideas that are still with me, and that have shaped all my life: I thought I could do anything, and I was afraid of nothing but dogs.

The fear of dogs I resented, it made me uncomfortable, but there it was. It came when I was five. I was chased across the fields by a pack of - something. They might have been wolves, and they might have been sheep dogs as savage as wolves. My memory does not go into zoological detail, but I have a very clear memory of bursting lungs, and the terror that I was lost when I fell through the door of our house."

A newspaper hearsay article written by Jared Manly stated: "He was not interested in toys or in any of the normal pleasures of small children. Dogs terrified him. "If I see a dog," William told somebody at this time, "I must run away. I must hide. I like the cat. I can't play out, for my mother would have to be there all the time ― because of the possibility that I might see a dog."" The story appears to possibly point to William at the age of perhaps nine years old, but the actual age of the quote is not known. The possible cause of William's phobia of canines is unknown, and wild speculations could range from an early childhood experience to that of his having heard his mother speak of her fear of dogs and he convinced himself to fear dogs, but whatever the speculation might be, without further information all the speculations are winds of fantasy.

In The Prodigy it is reported that at an unknown age (perhaps around 22 years old) while at a relative's house, a neighbor's dog named Patsy ran to William and placed a paw on William's knee while looking up at William's face. William later remarked it was the only sympathy he got there. Apparently, the possible fear of dogs was only during his youngest years, and claim number thirty five's lack of background information results in a half-truth that is most commonly interpreted incorrectly.

...the fetus learns through the... patterning of its mother and environment. I term it a non-substance nourishment, that of..., as necessary as the substance need of nutrition. The fetus in part learns of the external world and the ancestors' worlds through the... of the mother. The greater the..., the greater is the influence that structures the child's mental and physical attributes... The term heredity is vague at best and without a rational explanation of how it functions. No thing in the Universe can exist without it being composed of no fewer than three elementals, and neither is heredity possible without three distinct variables that harmonize to create the thing called heredity.

The parents that are with effort in the study of academia will produce children prone to follow the trend of finding interest in academia. ...A prodigy father with a zeal of study and accuracy, blended with a similarly intelligent good hearted mother with a zeal of history and good common sense, might produce a prodigy child with a good heart and talents in academic history (which in this example has occurred).

Repetitions of personalities and interests through generations does not occur [Darwinian] willy-nilly by random. I am with the realization that most people report that they cannot easily recognize... and symmetries in other people, so perhaps most people do not consciously recognize how the variances of influences from Nature and nurture color the unborn child's personality and potential talents.

...My best guess is that William might have indeed had a fear of dogs when young, and that if he did, then he learned the fear from his mother [sympathetically], and he grew out of the fear when he got older."

36: Big interest in politics.

"The Black Panthers, Ku Klux Klan, Stalin, Lincoln, Jackson, and Gandhi are/were also interested in politics. Again the claim only presents a bit of information without giving additional information to clarify why the claim might be of importance.

Similar to most all other humans, William is reported to have gone through phases of liking and disliking various systems of politics as he aged...

...The reader should maintain a neutral stance on the idea of politics, and not derive at any conclusion whatsoever. William's writings included much on social organization, but the writings have numerous background and personal moral reasons for his writing about legalities, and his reasons for interest in law should be observed and recognized before any thought is given to politics itself."

37: Wore a vest winter and summer.

"Every man I know wears socks in winter and in summer.

Businessmen and others of the 'old world' style of dress wear vests in winter and summer. Hunters too. Are all of the individuals also insane, or prodigies? Claim number thirty seven is similar to the one about transfer tickets, and is predominately used by... people as a false fact to imply William was mentally inferior. Unless a person thoroughly wears a garment inappropriately, such as private garments on their head when there is not a need to, what a person chooses for their style of dress is their business and no one else's.

According to a relative's report in The Prodigy, William did wear a vest as well as a tie, that William was quite formal, although perhaps in a bizarre way by their interpretation."

38: As a child he dressed in Russian peasant clothes.

"Imagine the mental aberration of a Russian child who wears Russian clothing! Surely it would not have anything to do with his having Russian parents too?

According to a report by one of his previous professors, William's parents made him wear short legged pants even though he was tall for his age. Is the act of honoring one's parents wishes reason for ridicule? Taking a look around today, there are found many individuals who wear what used to be called "Bermuda shorts" and "kulats". To one generation the sloppy baggy Bermuda shorts are ridiculous looking and a symbol of inferior intellect, but to other generations short legged pants are a symbol of patrician status. The 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' suits were common for children in William's day, and also popular for those of Jewish beliefs like William's family's. Jewish children wore similar types of clothing when they played parts in the USA propaganda films of Nazi Germany.

Young males today can be found to be wearing what in a previous generation were called "kulats", a skirt for girls. Today's boys and girls find nothing wrong with boys wearing skirts, as there was no wrong in men wearing skirts in Europe's past. There is absolutely nothing negative about what type of dress a culture might choose.

Again, like the vest comment, such claims are mostly used as unwarranted attacks against William."

39: Upon hearing a Bible read out loud, he said he did not believe in what was spoken and that he did not want to hear more.

"What verses were read? How old was he? Did he sit through an entire month of listening to someone read the whole Bible? Did he reject the Jewish part or the Christian part? Did he ever read it himself? Where is the Aristotelian logic?

Quoted on page 46 of The Prodigy: "The atheism that had so disturbed his grammar-school teachers was no less terrifying to the faculty of Brookline High. On one occasion, Headmaster Hitchcock began reading the Bible at a school assembly. Billy leaped out of his seat in front of a thousand students, pressed his hand over his ears, and exclaimed, "I don't believe in that. I don't want to hear that.""

William is said to have later read religious and philosophical works, so just exactly what he knew or believed is unknown. In Passaconaway in the White Mountains William alluded to the following of some Jewish customs such as being aware to not eat pork, which implies that he was not wholly ignorant of Biblical history. As the claim stands, it does not allow for William's later acceptance or denial of religions, and never should a conclusion be based upon such an unclarified claim.

Nevertheless, if the claim is even remotely a valid indication of William's temperament, then his skeptical denial would coincide with his other denials of topics of which he had no understanding nor experience in. As found throughout William's writings, his knowledge was predominately based upon the memorization of other people's words, not a knowledge structured upon his own firsthand investigations. Boris is said to have studied numerous religious texts in the original languages, and yet Boris too never appeared to have empirically investigated religions and philosophies beyond the mere reading of the texts. Similarly did all known western philosophers do the same, that of believing that the reading of words is a suitable alternative to firsthand experience. Coupled with his parents' anti-religious beliefs, it would be natural for a boy to skeptically reject and deny anything that might conflict with his family's system of beliefs, and since his family's beliefs were based upon unfounded beliefs, then so would [the trend of] William's."

40: In school he only worked the problems that he did not know the answers to.

"The claim likely originated from page 46 of The Prodigy.

"When his teachers began to complain that he didn't do his lessons, John C. Packard, the submaster and teacher of physics, investigated.

"William, is it true that you did only nine out of the twelve algebra problems?"

"That's all," replied Billy with a grin.

"Didn't you know how to do the others?"

"Of course!" the boy answered. "That's why I didn't do them." Mr. Packard looked puzzled. "Why should I spend my time on things I know," asked Billy, "when there are things I don't know?"

To his credit, Packard saw the point, and took Billy on as his special student."

Few if any teachers today would allow any child to skip over course work regardless of the child's intelligence. Today's public education places emphasis and scores on the quantity of labor, with little or no emphasis on knowledge.

William might have skipped some mathematical equations during one grade, but there is no reason to believe that he did not solve other equations during all grades. Similar to almost all other claims about William Sidis, the claims might have a small degree of truth behind the twisted interpretation, but in the end the claims are false."