Myths, Facts, Lies, and Humor About William James Sidis Part Five
(PD) Cammille Flammarion - Flat Earth
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.
41: After 3 months in high school his parents withdrew him from school, and the teachers were relieved.
"Probably because of the vest (just joking). If William was so smart that he breezed through eight elementary school grades within seven months, then why had he not finished four years of high school in three months? Did he flunk all high school classes? Did he graduate high school ever? The 'facts' are not complimentary to the others, and no sensible conclusion can be derived from the claim.
As mentioned earlier, William allegedly finished his high school courses in about six weeks and then remained as a teacher's assistant for approximately six weeks longer, which sums to about three months. Without the information of William's progress in high school, the claim is left open for anyone to misinterpret it as they wish."
42: His chosen refuge from bad press was thinking.
"What other pastime would be expected of a high [intelligence] child?
...appears to have originated from page 55 of The Prodigy: "All his apparently idle moments, while reading to and fro in cars, or walking from the end of the street to his home, he spends in thinking." Thinking - analyzing, pondering abstractions - was his refuge, his place of privacy and play. The more he hungered for privacy, the more famous he became, and the more reporters hounded him. His father seemed insensitive to his boy's plight as he busily flaunted his theories and named Billy as an example of what could be done with any child. His mother, equally indifferent to her boy's discomfort, did nothing to shield him from the reporters. Billy's only refuge was in learning."
It is unknown to me what other 'refuge' any child might have in William's situation."
It appears that the average mind may not be within a continual act of conscious thought, and if the suspicion is true, then it might explain why the average mind interprets constant thought as prodigious and/or uncommon. My question is not what marks a prodigy, but rather what marks the normal mind. It is not possible to define the term 'prodigy' without first knowing what is normal, and within my search for information about prodigies, I soon shifted the focus with an attention to learn information about what might be deemed as normal. To grasp why a thing is a rarity, i.e. a prodigy, first there is a need to know what is not rare, what is common, and the search for an explanation of what defines normalcy is more elusive than the common man's interpretation of what 'prodigy' might imply.
43: Smartest man ever on earth.
"There is no evidence to support the claim, and there is ample evidence that suggests the claim is untrue."
44: Had an IQ of 250-300.
"The general public has been led to believe that IQ (intelligence quotient) scores are a valid measurement of intelligence, and since the focus of William has been about his possibly having been the smartest person on earth, it is important to give additional attention to IQ scores and intelligence..."
No known verifiable evidence supports the 250-300 IQ claim. See "Was William James Sidis the Smartest Man on Earth? The World's Smartest Man?".
45: Had no concept of beauty.
"William's vivid writings about beauty in Passaconaway in the White Mountains are sufficient evidence that the claim is untrue. The false claim appears to have arrived from information provided in The Outsiders (covered with detail in a following chapter) which allegedly received its information from The Prodigy. All reports of William not having a concept of beauty are hearsay and false.
...Everyone has their own tastes and their own interpretation of beauty, and just because William might not have felt beauty in low quality women and paintings, it in no measure implies he did not have a concept of beauty."
46: Vowed to never marry.
"According to The Prodigy, William gave an interview with the Boston Herald soon after graduation from Harvard. In the interview William was quoted as having said "I resolved never to marry following a certain episode that took place in my life. A woman had something to do with it. ...
... Of course before I made it [oath] I became fully satisfied that it was the best thing for my happiness. Thus far it has proven so. I have no desire to marry and have children." (pg 107-108)
There are many reasons for a child to not desire marriage, even if the child did not truly mean it. Many children say similar things about not wanting to marry, and yet later the children do desire marriage, as did William several years later when he met Martha Folley.
The claim may be valid in its literalness, but not valid in how it is most commonly interpreted to apply to the whole of William's life.
The concept of choosing to not marry and have children rings to memory various quotes that include: "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mothers womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heavens sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." (Matthew 19:11)
By what standard a person places upon themselves, that standard will reign over all other choices, including marriage. It is common for people to choose to not marry, and more common to choose to not have children. It appears that the majority of choices to not marry are based upon an individual's preference to not be tied to a relationship that restricts the individual's lifestyle. Of the individuals I have personally met, the lifestyle choice was occupational or simply the preference to party every night, but the choices were based upon personal wants, and such is the right for everyone to make choices."
If Sidis' choice to not marry was based upon a reasoning of his environment and psychological self-awareness, the choice would be evidence of a superior mind, and not one of an aberrant mind as the general public often claims. No known public claims of Sidis' choices have taken into consideration the psychological structuring of prodigious talents, and thus all known public claims of Sidis' intellect are conjectures, and none can be valid.
47: Repulsed by the thought of sex.
"All healthy humans are repulsed by the thought of intimacy with an incompatible mate, and until the reasons for William's supposed report are known, no... conclusion can be accurately formed. The answers are unknown, the answers cannot be known, and any conclusions will be unfounded beliefs."
48: Died a virgin.
"Who verified this? Who followed William twenty four hours a day to verify what he did or did not do? The claim is like those of the vest, mostly used as ammunition against William. Virginity is valued in religion, marriage, and self-quality, and it is wrong always for anyone to believe that being a virgin is a bad thing. Today's society in 'civilized' countries promotes wanton behavior where almost no child enters adulthood with a sense of personal value, and it is within that manner of social worldview that William's virginity (if true) would be deemed anti-social and inferior."
If Sidis did indeed remain a virgin throughout life, he should be applauded for his willpower to choose and honor his choices. Precious few other people have ever had the mental and spiritual strength to uphold a moral choice.
49: He was a pacifist and an anti-war conscientious objector.
"So are/were millions of other people. The claim may have some truth to it, but without the claim giving additional information about how William's pacifism affected his writings on law, the claim has no usefulness beyond being just one more bit of disconnected information. As is evidenced in William's writings, he might have held a personal distaste for war in general, but in no stretch of the imagination was he a pacifist where it pertained to controlling other people's lives. William's political and legal writings speak of an author who was totalitarian, tyrannical, with a ruthlessness common among pseudo-intellectuals."
Sidis was arrested for his participation in disorderly socialist activities, and there existed during that era numerous terrorist bombings by the same socialist groups. A pacifist is not an activist. Sidis was an activist; not a pacifist.
There are also several reasons why individuals have been anti-war conscientious objectors. Some individuals are conscientious objectors because they fear for their own safety, some individuals are sympathetic with the enemy, some individuals follow a religious or philosophical teaching, and other individuals have other reasons for their conscientious objector classification. If Sidis had been a true pacifist, he would not have participated in the parades, but rather he would have peacefully accepted whatsoever was chosen of him by the rulers.
50: He presented the concept of black holes (in The Animate and the Inanimate) decades before science.
"Not true. In The Animate and the Inanimate, written between about 1915 to 1920, William was not speaking of black holes nor even of dark matter and anti-matter as some commentators have claimed. William's speculative theories revolved around a pondering of how physical matter might behave in a reversed direction of time...
In a rough chronological order, William James held a metaphysical theory about reserve energy. Boris Sidis learned of reserve energy from William James. Boris claimed that William Sidis' intelligence was in part due to the use of reserve energy. William Sidis pondered how William James' theory of reserve energy might be removed from the metaphysical realm and brought into a scientific study. The Animate and the Inanimate is William Sidis' pondering about how the second law of thermodynamics might apply to William James' reserve energy theory...
...The general idea was that the natural entropy (loss of useable energy: lost as heat) in the forward direction of time would behave instead as the storing of energy/heat in a reverse direction of time. William's speculation included pseudo-living celestial bodies that might theoretically be following a reversed second law of thermodynamics, and thus the bodies would retain heat instead of radiating heat. Although William's speculations might appear vaguely similar to modern theories of dark matter, William was not pointing to the concept of dark matter itself, but rather merely pointing to how a body functioning under a reversal of the second law of thermodynamics might behave. Modern theories of dark matter do not include thoughts of a reversal of the second law of thermodynamics, and therefore William's dark bodies should not be misconstrued to imply the modern theories of 'dark matter.'
Simply because some celestial bodies may exist that do not emit or reflect light in the visual or radio spectrums, and are thus 'dark,' it does not necessarily infer that the dark bodies of one theory are parallel to another theory of dark bodies. Also, just because two things might appear similar by having been given similar names, it does not necessitate that the two things are one and the same (Aristotelian logic). [Also see Origins of Myths that lends thought to how the general public is so apt to believe that similarities of names implies sameness of origin.]
William's ideas revolved around matter absorbing light and heat in a reverse flow of time, thus appearing dark to an observer in the positive flow of time, but modern theories speak of dark matter being the cause for gravitational fields that are theorized to keep fast spinning galaxies from slinging stars into space. William's theories create an opposite effect that pull galaxies apart...
From The Animate and the Inanimate: "Our previous consideration on the production of radiant energy from the stars indicates that such production of radiant energy is only possible where the second law of thermodynamics is followed, that is, in a positive section of the universe. In a negative section of the universe the reverse process must take place; namely, space is full of radiant energy, presumably produced in the positive section of space, and the stars use this radiant energy to build up a higher level of heat. All radiant energy in that section of space would tend to be absorbed by the stars, which would thus constitute perfectly black bodies; and very little radiant energy would be produced in that section of space, but would mostly come from beyond the boundary surface. What little radiant energy would be produced in the negative section of space would be pseudo-teleologically directed only towards stars which have enough activity to absorb it, and no radiant energy, or almost none, would actually leave the negative section of space. The peculiarity of the boundary surface between the positive and negative sections of space, then, is, that practically all light that crosses it, crosses it in one direction, namely, from the positive side to the negative side. If we were on the positive side, as seems to be the case, then we could not see beyond such surface, though we might easily have gravitational or other evidence of bodies existing beyond that surface.
Furthermore, just as in the positive section of space, light is given out uniformly in all directions, so, in the negative section, light must be absorbed by a star equally from all directions. Thus, to any star in the negative section, light must come in about the same amount from all directions; and, since most of this light comes from the positive sections, it follows that the negative sections must be completely surrounded by positive sections and must therefore be finite in all directions. By reversing this (since we have seen that all physical laws are reversible), it follows that any positive section must also be finite in all directions, and be completely surrounded by negative sections. We thus find the universe to be made up of a number of what we may call bricks, alternately positive and negative, all of approximately the same volume; a sort of three dimensional checkerboard, the positive spaces counting as white (giving out light), and the negative spaces as black (absorbing light)."
The comments of William's that have likely been misinterpreted to imply black holes probably arrived from the idea that the 'bricks' are deformed of shape, creating a flattened circular shape similar to what is found in many galaxies, and that the negative light-capturing spaces in-between the positive light-emitting spaces would be of similar shape but at a perpendicular angle. If William's idea had pertained to black holes, then black holes would exist on six sides of each galaxy. Simply stated, William was not referring to intense gravity that creates what is popularly termed a black hole, but rather he was merely pondering the possibility of reversals in the second law of thermodynamics.
His theory also necessitates the need for "completely surrounded" fields of positive and negative, which cannot be done with rectangular brick shapes, and can only be done with spheres, one inside the other, which in William's theory would cause no light to be seen outside the dark region, which means people on earth would not be able to see outside the Milky Way galaxy. William's theories revolved around a pondering of reversing the second law of thermodynamics, and the theories did not ponder actual celestial properties such as black holes and [modern] dark matter.
According to historical reports that I personally cannot verify, mathematical concepts of black holes began in the 1700s and were further developed through to the 1970s when Hawking allegedly 'proved' that black holes do exist, and John Wheeler coined the term "black hole" in 1979. As the act of spinning a ball in water will create a vortex, so will the spinning of a celestial body create a vortex, what might be termed a black hole. The general description of black holes has been recognizable for... thousands of years, and it is not a valid concept that mathematics and modern science 'discovered' black holes.
If William had intended to speak of black holes, he likely would have referenced the idea directly since he should have been familiar with mathematical equations of gravity at Harvard. As with all research, all theories continue to be improved upon while having their flaws corrected, and after some individuals openly challenged some of the popular scientific beliefs about black holes, Hawking reversed some of his earlier theories to coincide with the observation that some forms of matter and radiation can and do escape the so-called 'black holes.' It is quite impossible for anything in Reality to not 'emit' a measurable force of some form, and the idea of black holes not allowing anything to escape has always been and always will be irrational.
...Although it cannot now be known exactly what William intended for The Animate and the Inanimate to be, whether serious or just 'thinking out-loud,' it appears that the book was simply a pondering, a tossing-out of ideas without an expectation of receiving a response.
William presented his thoughts, and he also presented known reasons why his speculative thoughts are not wholly correct. He likely, as many prodigies have done, talked to himself, putting thoughts on paper, knowing that few if any other humans would ever discuss the ideas. William knew his theories were not valid nor carved in stone, he knew the problems, he knew there are unknowns, but the theories he presented were presented as one of his ponderings. Ponderings are ponderings, and no pondering is deemed a fullness of explanation for anything, but rather just some ideas he would like to toss out to someone who might toss related ideas back. To develop a workable theory, it is most helpful to have someone to discuss the thoughts with, to bounce ideas back and forth, to lay absurdities upon the table and then thrash them with logic and reasoning. When a prodigy does not have a peer to discuss thoughts, the prodigy's innate need for social interaction is reduced to a one way conversation, that of the prodigy tossing out his thoughts in a book, and his never expecting nor receiving a reply. The Animate and the Inanimate is a pondering, and one that did not receive a reply.
...I myself find it peculiar that William never inserted much dimensional speculation into his theories. I was interested in learning more about reserve energy as promoted by Boris Sidis and William James, but as the theory's words stand, perhaps there never was a good theory basing the idea of reserve energy upon...
The claim, that William presented the concept of black holes in his book... is not true."
It is not possible to present here a useful concept of The Animate and the Inanimate without giving a full indepth commentary, but it is sufficient to state that the book is based upon an academically limited knowledge of physics, and though the book might be of an above average talent for a fifteen to twenty year old, the book's topic is not remarkable, nor does it approach the precocity of other prodigies who presented advanced dimensional theories at much younger ages and were in fact decades ahead of modern physics. The Animate and the Inanimate is a fun book to read, and the topic would make for an entertaining discussion of how the topic expands into related fields, but the book by itself does not lend support to the belief that William Sidis might have been the smartest man on earth.