Fans of auto racing in the Formula 1 car class know very well that a good starting position in no way guarantees a place in the top three at the finish line. Even the holder of pole position can collide with someone, fly off the track, not finish because of technical problems. In usual life the picture is similar – being gifted in childhood doesn’t guarantee success in the further life. And the fate of prodigy William James Sidis is the best confirmation of that.
The story of a one genius with a phenomal IQ
Considered one of the smartest men in history, William Sidis was born in the United States, New York, on April 1, 1898. His parents emigrated to New World from the Ukrainian city of Berdichev (then the Russian Empire). His father Boris Sidis left for the United States because of political persecution (at home the man spent two years in solitary confinement).
After moving to America, Boris graduated brilliantly from Harvard (his mentor was the great American philosopher and psychologist William James, after whom Boris named his son, by the way William James became the baby’s godfather), then taught psychology at the same university, published several scientific works and was considered one of the greatest psychologists of his time in the United States. He was also a polyglot and created his own theory of educating gifted children.
A childhood photograph of William James Sidis. Image source: doisongphapluat.com.
The mother of the future genius, Sarah Mandelbaum, was taken to America by her parents two years later, fleeing the Jewish pogroms. She graduated from Boston University Medical School in 1897, but sacrificed her own career to raise her son.
The parents’ goal was to raise their own child to be a genius, using the parenting theory created by Boris Sidis. As the author of the theory of parenting, “a child is never too young to learn.” And he began by showing the infant cubes with letters.
The seeds fell on fertile ground (William Sidis’ IQ was later estimated at 260-300, making him the smartest person in the world, possibly in all of human history!). For comparison, an IQ of 98 is average for residents of the United States, 102 for Germany, 105 for Japan, and people with an IQ of 120 are already considered intelligent. The IQ of eminent scientists Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking is 160.
William was easy given literally everything he touched. At the age of 7 months, the baby not only knew a large number of words, but also all the letters. At one and a half years of age, a new achievement of the child prodigy was recorded – he was able to read the New York Times independently.
At the age of 2.5, the genius child was confidently typing English and French texts.
And then the next thing was a whirlwind, a drift. His parents kept stressing the child more and more, and his studies became more and more stressful. By the age of six, William had already made up his mind about religion by becoming an atheist.
Boris Sidis, William’s father. Image source: theroyalfamily.ru.
The boy’s education and skills grew lightning fast:
- At the age of seven, Uliam successfully mastered the entire school curriculum, taking about six months to do so. At that age, he already knew seven (!) languages, including German, Spanish, and Russian;
- By the age of eight, the young genius had four books to his credit (including one very serious monograph) and successfully passed his entrance exams to Harvard. But the university’s administration refused to admit the applicant because he was too young;
- At the age of 9, the child prodigy developed his own system of logarithmic numbering;
- William Sidis became a student at Harvard University in 1911 (he is still the youngest student in Harvard history) when he was enrolled along with Norbert Wiener and Richard Fuller in the group for gifted children. The year before, though, he had managed to give a lecture at the Harvard Math Club on objects in four-dimensional spatial dimensions (the Klein bottle etc).
Proud of his son’s success, Boris Sidis published a book in 1911, The Everyman and the Genius, in which he severely criticized the American school system, pointing out the advantages of learning at home. Young William served as the proof base for this criticism.
However, by subjecting his child to such intensive schooling, Boris did not consider that he was depriving his son of his childhood. Payback came in 1923 when William failed to attend his parent’s funeral.
In the summer of 1914, the young man became the recipient of a Bachelor of Arts degree. Soon in his pocket was a diploma with honors from Harvard.
The life of a young genius began to take an active interest reporters, they were able to find out that William Sidis absolutely no interest in the beautiful half of humanity and gave a vow of celibacy. This fact inevitably became the object of close attention of journalists: they described the boy as selfish, narrow-minded, unwilling to create a family and taste the fruits of female passion. A series of similar articles in various media could not fail to go unnoticed and dealt a serious blow to William’s psyche.
William James Sidis: childhood, adolescence, adulthood. Image source: raillynews.com.
Despite the large number of envious people and critics, the young man’s work and scientific activities were more than excellent. In 1915 the young scholar took a prestigious position as professor of mathematics at William Marsh Rice University in Houston, Texas. However, teaching was not easy – the students openly mocked their teacher of trigonometry and geometry (because they did not consider him an experienced and adult, since he was significantly younger in age).
William received ridicule not only from students and the media, but also from complete strangers. After a while, William began to receive physical threats at all.
In 1916 Sidis decides to return to New England and enrolls at Harvard Law School in September, but quits in his final year in 1919. The reason for his departure was rather traditional for that time – politics swirled around the young man.
William was arrested for his participation in the May Day demonstration held in Boston, and was sentenced to a year and a half in prison. True, his parents succeeded in having the jail time commuted to a year of treatment in their mental hospital. At the end of that term, William continued to call himself a socialist, but his father explained to his heir that the next time he would be sent to an ordinary asylum, he would not be likely to get out.
After that, William disappears from reporters’ sight for a while; he takes a job as an accountant and invariably leaves the workplace as soon as his genius becomes known.
In 1924, a reporter for The New York Herald Tribune was able to locate Sidious in a Wall Street office. Soon an article appeared telling him that the genius of 1909 was now working as a calculating machine operator, earning $23 a week for his work.
Sidis again managed to hide from the public for more than ten years. He continued to work as a humble clerk, wrote novels, published under a pseudonym a treatise on railroad tickets (the scientist had been fond of collecting them since childhood) where he showed how to increase the capacity of railroads, obtained a patent for an endless calendar that took into account leap years.
It is believed that at a mature age William Sidis knew about 40 languages, and he also created his own artificial language. As William himself said, it takes him twenty-four hours to learn a new language.
This is the only existing photo of Sidis as an adult.
In 1937, his life was betrayed to the public by a New Yorker correspondent, making the genius one of the heroes of the series “Where Are They Now”, dedicated to famous personalities who have fallen out of the public eye for a long time.
About the fate of the genius is little known. He died quite early, at the age of 46. William Sidis’s body was found in a rented dorm room in Boston in 1944. He lived alone and had no friends. Cause of death: cerebral hemorrhage.
That’s how the life of the smartest man on Earth went. Almost without a trace.
Subsequently, many people tried to find untold riches, secret scientific works and books by William. Many believed that a man with such an IQ should be left mankind something very ingenious, a breakthrough, as did Tesla and Einstein. However, nothing was ever discovered.
What conclusions can we draw from this story?
William’s fate is of course very tragic. But his failures in life are mainly due to his choices, as well as those of his father. So, the first conclusion is that it is not enough to be brilliant, you have to make the RIGHT CHOICES in life.
The second conclusion: the brain’s ability to make instantaneous calculations, quickly learn languages, quickly absorb and process gigantic amounts of information, is ABSOLUTELY USELESS if it stays just in your head. If you want to succeed, you must not just be smart, but USE that knowledge (as to your advantage and as to society).
And lastly: it is completely wrong to think of a high IQ as a measure of intelligence. It is simply a sign of good logical thinking. However, there are different tasks in life that are far from logic and mathematical thinking.