of Amy Wallace's
by Doug Renselle
Other links to Sidis Information:
http://www.casagrande.com/~gallae/col14ang.htm (Link lost: A Colloquy discussion on Sidis and Slater's review)
Our Review of Chapter III of Sam Rosenberg's The Come as You Are Masquerade Party - 'The Streetcar Named Paradise Lost'
our comments in our Recommended Reading on Hermann
Hesse's Harry Haller dual of WJS.
Our Review of William James' Some Problems of Philosophy - WJS is William James' namesake; William James is WJS' godfather
Our Review of Henri Louis Bergson's An Introduction to Metaphysics - Bergson's view of time & WJS' The Animate and Inanimate
Is John Forbes Nash a potential modern Sidis? See our
comments on Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind.
Consider Nash's much more extreme schizophrenia to WJS' apparently milder version.
Also consdier WJS' intellectual breadth vis-à-vis Nash's narrower and much deeper mathematical/systems focus.
Links to late-breaking Sidis NEWS!
Quantonics Society Sidis-related News (See our 2003 August News on Sidis. We quote a chapter of Boris Sidis' Nervous Ills on issues related to current USA political phenomena: Gray Davis recall. Also see Sidis Memorabilia on our top page.)
Quantonics Society News Archive (See prior years' news regarding Sidis. Browser search there for 'Sidis.')
Links to Pirsig's Lila comments on Sidis:
Pirsig discovers Sidis and Dan Mahony in Yankee
Links to works of William James Sidis which we have found:
Sidis on the Unconscious Intelligence, an essay
Swarthmore College Peace Collection DG 131 (See box 3. Thanks to curator Wendy E. Chmielewski - content access at Swarthmore.)
6Oct99: We just returned from an all-day visit to Swarthmore. Gradually, we will document portions of our experience here. Our first brief contribution is part of a posthumous Lament by Mrs. Sharfman about Bill Sidis. Please note our recent correspondence with Dan Mahony where Dan tells us Amy's use of 'Billie' is inappropriate. His family and friends called him Bill. Our experience at Swarthmore appears to agree with Dan's comments. Also note that Dan is starting an email list on Sidis, so if you want to be involved in that, please email us. Also see a recent Note from Robert M. Pirsig just after Mrs. Sharfman's Lament.
My perspective of Amy Wallace's The Prodigy,
—————————————————————1986, Dutton first edition
hardbound, 297 pages. -
The Prodigy is Amy Wallace's biography of William James Sidis. An alternative title might be, Intentional Creation of Genius - 'Miracles and Tribulations.'
William James Sidis is arguably the brightest human who ever existed on our planet Earth.
He was born of parents Boris and Sarah Sidis, emigrant Jews who escaped anti-Semitic Russian pogroms and came to America at the end of the 19th century. William James Sidis ('Billy') boggled minds of normal intellectuals and theoreticians. He was born on April Fool's Day in 1898. He became a strange combination of an April Fool and a 20th century genius vastly beyond common sentient discernment.
Boris and Sarah met each other some time after they entered the USA. Boris arrived in 1886 at age 19, and Sarah arrived a year later at age 13. Boris arrived with a few hundred dollars which afforded him opportunity to find a decent place to stay and to spend several months learning English and rudimentary American customs. Sarah arrived broke and had to borrow a minimum $20 needed for entry, which she promptly returned having passed immigration officials.
Sarah needed Boris to tutor her. That is how they met. Unknown to her, he fell in love at first sight, but delayed disclosure to a more opportune time.
Both Boris and Sarah became well educated. He with Ph.D's and M.D., and she with M.D. His first Ph.D. was basically settled upon him by Harvard to entice him to do their bidding. Boris and his family were so bright that they could learn and understand difficult, complex intellectual concepts at a rate greater than ten times as quickly as typical advanced academics. Boris claimed to have a technique which allowed him access to an energy source. He taught Sarah, then William how to access and manage this source of abundant energy.
In her first three chapters of The Prodigy, Amy Wallace belies details and essence of William James Sidis' (Billy's) persona. Your reviewer decided to capture this as partial lists which allow you reader to quickly capture essence of Billy as a Homo sapiens (some might argue he is a precursor of our successors — Neo sapiens).
Here is a partial list of William James Sidis' extraordinary capabilities and accomplishments:
Here is a partial list of known publications of William James Sidis:
Here is a partial list of William James Sidis' idiosyncratic and acultural behaviors:
Here is a partial list of William James Sidis' friends and relatives:
In chapter four, Amy Wallace spends a significant amount of time comparing William Sidis to other known geniuses. On net, he equals or exceeds all others and except for his lack of social graces and athletic interests, appears more well-rounded than most.
Crux: William James Sidis probably represents the apex of recorded human intellectual capabilities.
In chapter five, Wallace tells us of Sidis' book on his ideas of a utopia. His book, The Hesperia Constitution, was so legal and dense only advanced legal intellect could have produced it. She tells us Billy probably used 'Hesperia' as a play on his surname of Sidis. (Your reviewer was fascinated that nowhere in her bio of Sidis did Amy Wallace mention 'Sidis' is a palindrome.) She goes on in great detail to discuss many features of The Hesperia Constitution.
(More recently, your reviewer discovered a potential meaning for Sidis' term, 'Hesperia.' Hes in Latin means 'to stick.' Per in Latin means 'completely, through, or wrongly.' Finally ia, in Greek, means 'quality of.' So Billy Sidis' personal constitutution's title may have meant: Stick it wrongly, through, and completely, with quality. He could as easily have meant, To Fully Penetrate Wrong with Good. Latter fits Billy better than former, IMO. Just conjecture. Your reviewer surmises Pirsig would love this! If latter is what Billy intended, then we can say Hesperia h MoQ. :)
She also shows us how normal society is so effective at rejection of what it considers acultural behavior. Not only did US news media antagonize Billy, but many members of tiny-minded academia did too. So much so, Billy's father Boris wrote a book about it entitled, Philistine and Genius. Boris' book allowed him a luxury of letting off much steam against Billy's antagonists, but its effect was only to bring more antagonism on both of them. (We find Boris' comments in P&G harsh, but not far from apropos. Were William our child, we would be very angry too. What we love most about P&G is that Boris recommends a quantum approach to life and learning: practice a meme of absolute change. Students flourish and grow rapidly when frequently exposed to changes in their home and educational environs. Boris does not say so, but we intuit that if you want to access what he calls 'reserve energy' you may only accomplish that potential personal transcendence via liberal use of absolute change as foundation of your learning/teaching processes. Learning to tap 'reserve energy' is a direct acknowledgment of reality's quantum impetus for quality AKA "absolute change" "quantum flux," and "reserve energy." Pirsig made this "quantum Quality" foundation of his new philosophy which we practice here in Quantonics and Pirsig calls his "Metaphysics of Quality" or MoQ. Read Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) and his Lila (1991) to learn more about MoQ. Also see his 1995 SODV paper here in Quantonics.)
(Your reviewer could not help but relate this societal immune response against Sidis and his family to other instances like Pirsig's Brujo in Lila, Pirsig himself, Giordano Bruno, Loyola, Galileo, Hippasus, Socrates, Jesus, etc. Our mediocre society does not want pioneers to intervene on behalf of its own intellectual growth. What a sickness...one which derides genius so easily. It also made this reviewer wonder how Billy would perceive and accept Pirsig's new philosophy, Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality. We likely shall never know.)
In chapter six, Sidises move to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A wealthy benefactress whose parents Boris Sidis 'cured' of severe mental distress, gave Boris and Sarah Sidis Maplewood Farms, a beautiful estate in Portsmouth. It had 44 rooms and 14 bathrooms. Boris moved his practice and patients there where his family stayed for an extended portion of their lives.
Sidis' estate was so large it required 65 servants and workers. Benefactress Mrs. Buck Whitemore showed Sarah Sidis how to run it with five people. Mrs. Whitemore deeded her estate to them for one dollar. It became a noose around Sarah's neck and a playground for friends and relatives, as well as Boris' sanitarium for his wealthy patients. It became an increasing source of friction among Sarah, her family and eventually even among their friends. Sarah became cynical about her estate, but never ceased unrelenting energy and hard work to keep it going.
In chapter seven, Amy Wallace shows us more of Harvard society's parochial and provincial muck. These little people who think themselves so large considered Billy Sidis a freak.
(Reviewer's note: Even today Harvard arrogance manifests failings in poor counsel on international policy/relations, especially a failure of its policy recommendations on transformation of Russian economy from a totalitarian to a democratic/capitalistic one. See Washington Times editorials, August/September, 1998.)
Harvard and Radcliffe people (many anti-Semitic) made William James Sidis, The Prodigy, "...the butt of practical jokes."
(Today, this same caliber of people operate many of our largest corporations. Ironic, eh? :)
According to Amy Wallace (p. 103), "As one student put it, 'In harmony with their policy of getting all they can for as little as possible, Jews incidentally take a majority of the scholarships. They deprive many worthy men of other races a chance.'" In a bright light of 1998 this is extraordinary in its blatant exposure of an idea those less diligent are victims of more diligent "oppressors." Socialist mind traps are alive and well, still, in broader academia. In Sidis', Wiener's, Houghton's, Sessions', and Berle's time socialists' envy/hatred of them was rampant. This same mindset saw its duty: an unrelenting humiliation of true greatness.
Billy's grades at Harvard were just average. This is more a reflection of mentally-addled judging work of mentally-gifted than perhaps anything else. History repeats this lesson for us over, and over...
In chapter eight, Amy Wallace starts by unambiguously showing us New York Times' denigrating values. Here, in 1999, they are still doing it. New York Times essentially borrowed information of a deeply personal nature from a Boston Herald article on an interview with Billy and twisted it into a personally demeaning tirade against him. New York Times was one of Billy's greatest antagonists.
Chapter seven also describes Boris' and Sarah's efforts to remove Billy from a physically and mentally hostile environment at Harvard by sending him to Rice University in Houston. Unfortunately, Billy's tribulations only continued at Rice. People there offered little solace or quietude for our intellectual protagonist. Ahhh...an unrelenting visceral meanness of humankind against itself.
In chapter nine, Amy tells us Billy returned to Boston after less than one sad year at Rice. Beginning chapter nine she tells us, "His arrival was greeted with a flurry of news articles so embarrassing, so widely syndicated, that William could only watch in despair as he was mercilessly ridiculed yet again."
Rest of chapter nine is mostly about Billy's idealism and its temporary experiment with more socialist mire of cultural and logical relativism. Billy becomes disgusted and retreats to his own utopian ideals.
Chapter 10 title is, 'May Day.' Amy describes a 1918 May Day riot in Boston. Billy participates. He gets arrested in 1919. Claims he is a socialist. Claims he believes in a Russian system of government. Says he believes in economic evolution. Says he does not believe in a god. Billy knows an entire text of USA's founding papers, so he is practically impossible to beat in court. Bottom line, he receives an 18 month sentence and gets out on $500 bond. Then he has to hide for a long time to keep out of jail.
Chapter 10 contains a set of remarkable and memorable pictures of Billy, his one true love (Martha Foley), an inadequate sampling of personal artifacts, and his friends and family.
In chapter 11, Amy shows us how Billy got his political idealism: From his father, Boris. Boris believed fear is mankind's greatest enemy which, in fruition, leads to mass hypnosis. Billy's Hesperia Constitution was an attempt to use static structure to ensure utopian freedom from oppression and yet, somehow, provide global societal support to eliminate (according to his way of thinking) fear. Part of Billy's thinking in his construction of his constitution was direct experience of Sarah's (his mother's) oppressive controls on the family vis-à-vis his father's desire for total freedom at all costs. (Juxtapose our last few sentences with Pirsig's MoQ philosophy: a complementary balance of Static and Dynamic Quality.)
Billy's revolutionary ideas, proaction, arrest, and zealous experimentation with communism/socialism angered Boris, his father. Billy had already broken off with his mother. Now it was happening with his father. Billy thought he wanted to be a liberal, and it was costing him his relationship with his father.
Billy was tried as a revolutionary, but somehow his father and his father's connections kept him out of jail. His family kidnapped him and hid him in their sanatorium in Portsmouth, keeping him drugged, and then in 1920, took him to California. Then, fearful of his parents keeping him as an insane patient and fearful of going to jail, he escaped his family in 1921
Amy goes on in chapter 11 to tell us more about Sidis' works. His masterpiece on physics went unreviewed/uncriticized on publication in 1925. Fifty-four years later, Buckminster Fuller read it and was astounded. Billy described black holes, thermodynamic reversibility, and placed a classical view of laws of thermodynamics in question. Simply amazing! One can see much weight of classical SOM thinking on his mind, but one can also see his intellectual divergences from a SOM path. This chapter is worth your effort.
Amy also mentions Dan Mahony, whom Pirsig also mentions in Lila. See nearby links to Pirsig's Lila quotes on Sidis. Your reviewer feels awe imagining what Sidis might have done had he been taught quantum physics or had he known, say, Niels Bohr.
Anyway, on escape from his family, he feared a return to Boston and a jail term, so he went to New York city. Here he met his one and only love — Martha Foley. He saw her often. One only photograph he had of her he carried everywhere and showed to every acquaintance at any slightest opportunity.
In chapter 12, Amy tells us how East coast media continue to berate Sidis. They accuse him of cowardice, teaching socialism, and of being raided by federal authorities — none of which was true.
His relationship with Martha Foley progressed only to a kissing stage.
His dislike of money and his hatred of being used intellectually by 'superiors' kept him in a low profile hiding his identity, and kept him in low paying jobs running mechanical computers.
(Reviewer's note: One has an impression Billy was treated sort of like a lapdog. He was expected to perform, and adhere local cultural metrics. He refused and persisted. It is a comedic epiphany to grasp an inverse: academic and media lapdogs tongue-wagging and expecting humankind's highest intellect to perform for them.)
He worked briefly as an interpreter.
Boris Sidis died on October 24, 1923, at fifty-six. He published 17 books and 50+ magazine articles. When he died he was writing his new book, The Psychology of the Folk Tale. See A Partial List of Boris Sidis' Books.
Billie received a small inheritance which he had to go to Portsmouth to retrieve. Everyone denigrated him for this, because they thought he didn't deserve it. Apparently, Billy never made up with his mother — they continued to fight. He hated oppressive authority viscerally.
Inept media continued to harass Billy. One inane reporter wrote of the, "tragedy that young Sidis represents."
Your reviewer loved this paragraph Amy wrote in chapter 12:
"If he had been a man of different temperament, perhaps he would have sent a copy of The Animate and the Inanimate to the Times, or written a letter of complaint. But he did not. He probably thought that his great work of theoretical physics was not fit for such little minds, and disdained to argue with them. He wanted only his solitude, and now exposed as a genius, he quit his job." Page 172 of The Prodigy, 1st edition.
Revision: It dawned on your bone-headed reviewer finally, in June, 1999 possibly why Pirsig's original intent, when he wrote ZMM, was to write about American Indians. What is Pirsig's MoQ about? Reality, right? What are Pirsig's two major co-permeating divisions of reality? Undefinable Dynamic Quality and definable Static Quality! What is a real world physical metaphor of Pirsig's metaphysical reality? Quantum science as we can affirm abundantly in Pirsig's SODV paper. What is Sidis' The Animate and the Inanimate about? Quantum science! What source for his words animate and inanimate? American Indians! Those two words are their divisions of reality. Animate iso Dynamic Quality co-permeating inanimate iso Static Quality! How's that for a connection, reader? Awesome, eh? Quantum, eh? American Indians, William James Sidis, Robert M. Pirsig, and Quantum Science all see reality with nearly identical analogues! (added 29Jun99 PDR)
East coast's bungling media thought of Sidis as a lapdog, some 'thing' that should perform to media expectations. They wrongly assumed Sidis was proud and vain. He was neither.
Amy tells us William Sidis hated academia and spoke harshly of a world of academics. (Upon reading his father's Philistine and Genius, we can see why! See our review of P&G nearby.) Using a Pirsig-like, MoQ perspective, Billy saw academia as rigid, structured, bureaucratic, title- and c.v.-centric, arrogant folk of suffuse Static Quality. He saw them as stuck, proud, content, and satisfied. They had to be! How else could they 'teach' other people what they need to know? In both Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM) and Lila, Pirsig rails about academics incapable of Quality teaching because they do not know what Quality is... Billy Sidis certainly would agree. Genius in agreement with genius!
In this chapter, Amy compares Norbert Wiener and John Stuart Mill to William Sidis. This is enormously interesting, but I will leave it for your own reading and consideration.
In chapter 13, Amy Wallace tells us after receiving so much ridicule from media, Sidis commenced publishing under a pseudonym: Frank Folupa. Amy says pseudonyms are rarely arbitrary and her linguistic analysis produces 'crazy she-wolf.' Your reviewer's reaction: folupa is awfully close to foul-up-a. Media thought he was a major failure, a foul-up of nature. We will probably never know, but it is fun and interesting to try. Positions of individual letters in English alphabet produce: 18.104.22.168.16.1. Again, fun, but probably not meaningful.
Your reviewer, later in November, 1998 tried again to attach meaning to Sidis', "folupa." Stretching phonemes, bases, and -ixes a bit we can extract, 'enlightener of leaves (pages) of books.' I think Billy would like that — he certainly did that most of his short life. Put this interpretation with Amy's 'crazy she-wolf,' and one synthesizes a chimera akin to Phaedrus.
Your reviewer, in June, 1999 reviewed Sam Rosenberg's The Come as You Are Masquerade Party, Chapter III, 'The Streetcar Named Paradise Lost,' and discovered Rosenberg probably has a best case interpretation of 'folupa.'
Your reviewer, in September, 1999 was contacted by Dan Mahony. Dan gives us this
in his latest email on 'falupa:'
"PS His [Sidis'] use of the pseudonym Frank Falupa for his great work of taxonomy, Notes on the Collection of Transfers, was a clever use of French. 'Frank' was the clue to understanding 'fallu-pas:' 'Frankly, not necessary.' — — Oh but it was."
Chapter 13's balance primarily covers Sidis' deep interest in transfers and his 'transfer' works. Amy says his book about transfers is arguably a second most boring book ever written (vis-à-vis a 200 page blank book by Methelà).
In chapter 14 we hear more examples of Sidis' unusual behavior and misfortune attempting to lead a quasi-normal life. After publishing his book on transfers, he invested his remaining inheritance in bus stocks. They became worthless. As a result he had to work, and went endlessly from one job to another. Each job ended with people discovering who he was and then relentlessly harassing him.
Amy tells us of Samuel Rosenberg's collection of essays titled, The Come As You Are Masquerade Party, in which Rosenberg tells one anecdotal story about Sidis. In his story Sidis outsmarts on overbearing supervisor who thinks Sidis is doing all calculations in his head, but cannot find out for sure. A Charlie Chaplin comedy erupts with his supervisor spying on Sidis and Sidis adjusting his behavior to compensate. More humor follows in other accounts of Sidis' funnier side.
She tells us Sidis founded a Geprodis Society in 1929. It marketed Sidis' perpetual calendars which were unique because they fixed a major problem of the day — leap years. He also started a monthly newsletter called Geprodis Organization News. It advertised other Sidis' products and marketed translation services and a manuscript circulation service for budding authors.
Amy ends chapter 15 by telling us Billy thought he was an incarnation of a mystical Gray Champion who appeared, to protect against problems, at critical times in our new nation's history.
In chapter 16, Amy Wallace tells us about William's friends and family.
William would not accept new friends unless they promised not to disclose his identity, his works, or his authorship of his works to media. His attitude, again, shows his base dislike of media for their torture of him in previous malicious articles.
He discussed his best work with his sister and a close friend Isaac Rab and Rab's son, Bill.
But even his family rejected him sometimes. They rejected him when they knew his presence might disturb ambiance of a gathering, which was often. Billy often smelled and dressed in a slovenly fashion (notably he had this trait in common with some other prominent folk, e.g., Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, etc.) But perhaps worse, Billy's topics of conversation were abstruse and complex — not easy for typical humans to grapple.
Billy carried cartoons (he clipped them from newspapers, etc.) with him every where. When a good joke or topic arose, Billy would pull out a corresponding (to him) cartoon, show it, and then laugh detonatably. Some accused him of laughing at his own material and his timing was atrocious. Often he was not funny, but still people thought he was hysterical.
Billy did crossword puzzles in his head — a whole puzzle! He was able to make ditto copies using a pie tin and some fortified household chemicals. He knew chemistry so well he could substitute chemicals to still make a process work.
Bill Rab's favorite science fiction story Billy wrote was one similar to Jules Verne's story about time machines. Amy shows great detail about some technical issues involved which a reader may find extraordinary.
Chapter 16 contains more anecdotes of William's visits to friend's and family's homes, and a mention Martha Foley gives William in her memoirs. All provocative and archetypical behavior patterns which will surprise and move you.
Chapter 17 recites a single time when William Sidis decided to fight against print media. He sued for invasion of privacy, and pushed it to finality, receiving a small consideration for his effort expended. There is some intrigue in this chapter which your reviewer leaves to your discovery. In 1941, he won his suit against Boston Sunday Advertiser and received $375. All of this leaves a reader with a view that journalists are inept and slimy, but for journalism they could have no other work...though politician comes to mind.
Chapter 18 is one of Amy's more convoluted efforts ranging over worn territory. She spends significant time on William's publications, describes his run-in with Julius Eichel, jumps to his efforts on transfer collection, tells us about Billy's high blood pressure and more on his politics, shows that transfer collectors can be as evil as journalists, and ends saying William is still doing battle with The New Yorker. Duh!
In chapter 19 we learn what we already knew — William hated his mother, "furiously." We learn that Sarah becomes quite wealthy on her own and needs Helena's near constant social attention for security. As Sarah aged, she became worse and worse — almost impossible to be around.
Amy tells us specific examples where William refused to work for large sums of money for highly skilled tasks, but would do similar things for his friends and family for nothing. William certainly was paradoxical and eccentric.
Later, we have something Pirsig would just love. Billy expatiates on American Indian lore. Fascinating! He now knows one person with whom he can have true intellectual tête-à-tête: Nathan Sharfman, a Harvard graduate whom Alfred North Whitehead said would save American philosophy, but who became a taxi driver and an alcoholic instead. Sidis liked him!
Amy describes incredible visits by Sidis and Sharfman to Paul Saunders' home. Sharfman told Saunders that Sidis was the greatest brain in our USA. Sidis loved Saunders' library. He would browse Saunders' 20 volume Golden Bough set with ease and almost as if he knew it all, in parallel, instantaneously. He knew what material was on which page in Saunders' whole set! (Sharfman brought to mind a recent movie, Good Will Hunting, touched upon briefly in a Harvard link near this page's top.)
6Oct99: Many people who visited Saunders were Marxists then. However, Saunders said he never thought of Billy as a Marxist. (Note: This directly contradicts what Kathleen Montour wrote in her, William James Sidis, The Broken Twig, 'American Psychologist,' April, 1977, pp.265-279.)
Your reviewer found one comment particularly cogent and timely. Amy says, "According to William's theory of geographical/political continuity, a people tended to repeat its political history over and over again." To read and review that in September of 1998, when Slick/sick/sociopathic Wiley Clinton is doing his grand culturally relativistic exit... (spellings intentional :). (We conjecture this cycling will form a new vortex during Millennium III's early centuries. Why? A great shift away from classicism and relativism has commenced lead by a new quantum philosophy, metaphysics, ontology, science, and language. William James Sidis would love to play in that new flux! Mayhaps he shall! J PDR)
Chapter 19 also tells of William's active political behavior, his gaining attention of FBI, etc. His The New Yorker lawsuit gets into full swing and becomes mean. William probably would have won a libel case against The New Yorker, but they did not want that to happen so an out of court settlement was reached. William received an estimated $500-600 in April, 1944 (just three months before his death). Both parties felt they won.
Chapter 19 ends on a powerful and poignant note — read Amy's book to find out.
Chapter 20 tells us William had a stroke on July 13, 1944. He died on July 17, 1944 of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.
Amy's Epilogue is superb. I will leave that adventure for you...
East coast's evil media continued its tirade even after his death. Amy tells us, "William's obituaries were an orgy of reveling in his supposed failed life...most contained factual errors..." Today we see similar journalistic and media ineptness...truly sad.
But Sidis' life proved children with good genetic inheritance may be nurtured extensively with proper care and love in very early days of their stint here in Static Quality. Boris and Sarah succeeded! They enhanced Dynamic Quality's creation, The Prodigy.
Boris and Sarah Sidis' theory of educating children experiences great criticism in some venues of our classical 'education' system. Their (IMO, inept) antagonists claim harm to children who are raised this way. Certainly Sidises denied Billy some crucial social experiences. Certainly, Boris' and Sarah's own predilections and hurts from their early experiences in Russia affected their tutelage of Billy, but any intellectual and spiritual adventures he experienced were beyond anything we normal beings know. We should cease listening to these inert classical educators. Their realm is one of more Static Quality. Their realm is a lowest common denominator. Sidis' realm is one of peaks, ascendances, and strong interrelationships with Dynamic Quality. Many of us, especially those who live in MoQland, want to rear children of highest intellectual and spiritual character. As Billy discovered, any actual socialist morally-relativistic regime achieves an opposite.
Thanks for reading, and
Many truths to you,
Note: The Prodigy is currently out of print. Your reviewer was able to find a clean first edition through John Gach books. You can find them and other 'previously owned' booksellers on WWW's Internet. We are currently in discussions with www.amazon.com encouraging them to work an agreement with Amy Wallace, et al., to do JIT (just in time) printing of The Prodigy. Send them your own email, and encourage this. It will make possible rapid access, by our many Quantonics site visitors, to this great work.
If you find material in this review interesting, please allow us to suggest you see other media on similar subjects:
Books: (bullet dates show when we posted entries, red text shows subsequent entry alterations)
Please send comments and suggestions to:
1998-2004 — Rev. 5Mar2004 PDR — Created: 2Sep1998 PDR
(1 of 2)
(See list of revisions at page bottom.)
Pirsig's momentous discovery of William James Sidis as portrayed in his novel, Lila:
"Back down in the plains, in a country motel one night with nothing to read, Phædrus had found a small dog-eared Yankee magazine, thumbed through it, and stopped on a brief account by Cathie Slater Spence entitled, 'In Search of the April Fool.'
It was about a child prodigy who had possibly the highest intelligence ever observed, and who in his later life went nowhere. 'Born on April 1, 1898,' it said, 'William James Sidis could speak five languages and read Plato in the original Greek by the age of five. At eight he passed the entrance for Harvard but had to wait three years to be admitted. Even so he became Harvard's youngest scholar and graduated cum laude in 1914 at the age of 16. Frequently featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not, Sidis made the front page of the New York Times 19 times.'
"But after graduating from Harvard, the 'Boy Wonder' pursued his own obscure and seemingly meaningless interests. The press that had lionized him turned on him. The most scathing example came in the New Yorker in 1937. Entitled 'April Fool,' the magazine article ridiculed everything from Sidis's hobbies to his physical characteristics. Sidis sued for libel and invasion of privacy. Though he won a small out-of-court settlement for libel, the invasion of privacy charge was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark decision. 'The article is merciless in its dissection of intimate details of its subject's personal life,' the court conceded, but Sidis was 'a public figure' and thus could not claim protection from the interest of the press, which continued to hound him until his death in 1944. Obituaries called him 'a prodigious failure' and 'a burnt-out genius' who had never achieved anything of significance despite his talents.
"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 in a patent office. I had a feeling Sidis was up to more than most people thought.'
"Mahony has spent the last ten years looking into Sidis's work. In one dusty attic, he found a bulky manuscript called The Tribes and the States in which Sidis argues persuasively that the New England political system was profoundly influenced by the democratic federation of the Penacook Indians.
"At this sentence, a kind of shock passed through Phædrus, but the article went on.
"When Mahony sent Sidis's book The Animate and Inanimate to another eccentric genius, Buckminster Fuller, Fuller found it 'a fine cosmological piece' that astoundingly predicted the existence of black holes — in 1925!
"Mahony has unearthed a science fiction novel, economic, and political writings, and 89 weekly newspaper columns about Boston that Sidis wrote under a pen name. 'The amazing thing is that we may only have tapped the surface of what Sidis produced,' says Mahony. 'For instance, we've found just one page of a manuscript called The Peace Paths, and people who knew Sidis have said they saw many more manuscripts. I think Sidis may still have a few surprises in store for us.'
"Phædrus set down the magazine and felt as though someone had thrown a rock through the motel window. Then he read the article over and over again in a sort of daze, as the impact of what he was reading sank deeper and deeper. That night he could hardly sleep.
"It looked as though way back in the thirties Sidis had been on exactly the same thesis about Indians. He was trying to tell people some of the most important things that could be said about their country and they were rewarding him by publicly calling him a 'fool' and failing to publish what he had written. There didn't even seem to be any way to find out what Sidis had said.
Phædrus tried to contact the Mahony mentioned in the article but couldn't find him, partly, he supposed, because his effort was only half-hearted. He knew that even if he did get a look at Sidis' material there wasn't much he could do about it. The problem wasn't that it wasn't true. The problem was that nobody was interested." Pp. 56-7, Lila, hardbound edition, end of chapter four.
Pirsig's inference of Sidis' vow of celibacy, Lila:
"Phædrus thought about William James Sidis, the prodigy who could read five languages when he was five years old. After discovering what Sidis had said about Indians, Phædrus had read a full biography of him and found that when Sidis was a teenager he announced he would refuse to have anything to do with sex for the rest of his life. It seemed as though in order to sustain a satisfactory intellectual life he felt he had to cut himself off from social and biological domination except where they were absolutely necessary. This vow of ancient priests and ascetics was once considered a high form of morality, but in the 'Roaring Twenties' of the twentieth century a new standard of morals had arrived, and when journalists found out about this vow they ridiculed Sidis mercilessly. That coincided with the beginning of a pattern of seclusion that lasted the rest of his life.
'Is it better to have wisdom or is it better to be attractive to the ladies?' That was a question debated by Provençal poets way back in the thirteenth century. Sidis opted for wisdom, but it seemed to Phædrus there ought to be some way you could have both.
"The question seemed to imply the stupidity of women but a feminist could turn it around and ask, 'Is it better to have wisdom or to be attractive to men!' That's practically the theme song of the whole feminist movement. Although the feminists and the male Provençal poets would appear to be condemning the opposite sex, they are, in fact, both actually condemning the same thing: not men, not women, but static biological antagonism to social and intellectual Quality." PP. 203-4, Lila, hardbound edition.
Pirsig's connection to Sidis' squirrel
logic metaphor, Lila:
"However, in his rereading of James, he had so far found three things that were beginning to dissolve his early prejudice. The first wasn't really a reason but was such an unlikely coincidence Phædrus couldn't get it out of his mind. James was the godfather of William James Sidis, the child prodigy who could speak five languages at the age of five and who thought colonial democracy came from the Indians. The second was a reference to James' dislike of the dichotomy of the universe into subjects and objects. That, of course, put him automatically on the side of Phædrus' angels. But the third thing, which might also seem irrelevant, but which was doing more than anything else to dissolve Phædrus' early prejudice, was an anecdote James told about a squirrel.
"James and a group of friends were on an outing somewhere and one of them chased the squirrel around a tree. The squirrel instinctively clung to the opposite side of the tree and moved so that as the man circled the tree the squirrel also circled it on the opposite side.
"After observing this, James and his friends engaged in a philosophic discussion of the question: Did the man go around the squirrel or didn't he? The group broke into two philosophical camps and Phædrus didn't remember how the argument was resolved. What impressed him was James' interest in the question. It showed that although James was no doubt an expert philosophologist (certainly he had to be to teach the stuff at Harvard) he was also a philosopher in the creative sense. A philosophologist would have been mildly contemptuous of such a discussion because it had no 'importance,' that is, no body of philosophical writings existed about it. But to a creative philosopher like James the question was like catnip.
"It had the smell of what it is that draws real philosophers into philosophy. Did the man go around the squirrel or didn't he? He was north, south, east, and west of the squirrel, so he must have gone around it. Yet at no time had he ever gone to the back or to the side of the squirrel. That squirrel could say with absolute scientific certitude, 'That man never got around me.'
"Who is right? Is there more than one meaning of the word 'around?' That's a surprise! That's like discovering more than one true system of geometry. How many meanings are there and which one is right?
"It seems as though the squirrel is using the term 'around' in a way that is relative to itself but the man is using it in a way that is relative to an absolute point in space outside of the squirrel and himself. But if we drop the squirrel's relative point of view and we take the absolute fixed point of view, what are we letting ourselves in for? From a fixed point in space every human being on this planet goes around every other human being to the east or west of him once a day. The whole East River does a half-cartwheel over the Hudson each morning and another one under it each evening. Is this what we want to mean by 'around?' If so, how useful is it? And if the squirrel's relative point of view is false, how useless is it?
"What emerges is that the word 'around,' which seems like one of the most clear and absolute and fixed terms in the universe suddenly turns out to be relative and subjective. What is 'around' depends on who you are and what you're thinking about at the time you use it. The more you tug at it the more things start to unravel. One such philosophic tugger was Albert Einstein, who concluded that all time and space are relative to the observer.
"We are always in the position of that squirrel. Man is always the measure of all things, even in matters of space and dimension. Persons like James and Einstein, immersed in the spirit of philosophy, do not see things like squirrels circling trees as necessarily trivial because solving puzzles like that are what they're in philosophy and science for. Real science and real philosophy are not guided by preconceptions of what subjects are important to consider." Pp. 325-6, Lila, hardbound edition.
Pirsig on Sidis' view of the American
cultural immune system, Lila:
"The experience of William James Sidis had shown that you can't just tell people about Indians and expect them to listen. They already know about Indians. Their cup of tea is full. The cultural immune system will keep them from hearing anything else. Phædrus hoped this Quality metaphysics was something that would get past the immune system and show that American Indian mysticism is not something alien from American culture. It's a deep submerged hidden root of it." P. 408, Lila, hardbound edition.
Note 1: Boris Sidis dedicated this text to William James thus, "Who has drawn my attention to the vast and important domain of abnormal mental life, who has inspired me with love for the study of the 'varieties' of human experience, who has given me sympathy and hearty support in many an hour of trial, this work is affectionately dedicated."
Note 2: Boris Sidis dedicated this text to "The Fathers and Mothers of the United States."
Note 3: Boris' dedication page in this text is simply two quotes. First a quote from Virgil's Georgic II (original in Greek) which he (for some strange reason) shows in Latin:
Felix qui potuit rerum
Atque metus omnes, et inexorabile fatum,
Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari.
Our interpretation of Boris' Latin is (Acheron is ~ 'river Hades'):
Joyous are those who have
skills [things] to cognize Nature's hidden causes,
All terrors everwhere, with inexorable doom,
And beneath her feet [in Hell], avaricious Acheron's big noise. (Consider subjecit is 'below' objecit: legacy classical inversion of quantum reality.)
Virgil, Georgic II, approximately line 450 of original
Second quote is from Lucretius' De Rerum Natura:
Hunc igitur terrorem animi
Non radii solis neque lucida tela diei
Discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque.
Lucretius, De Rerum Natura
Our own interpretation of Boris' Latin version:
Life's terrors and darkness
of mind must
Not be chased away by Sol's many directed rays of light,
Rather by Nature's own laws and rationale.
Lucretius, On the nature of Things (Lucretius' reality was highly substantial and objective!)
Roughly line 50-60 of Book II
We see in Boris' choices of quotes above, classical SOMwitted predilections to evil and negatives. If Boris spoon fed this substance-based objective hyperBoole to William, we can see how William became rebellious and remote to Boris, Sarah, and other classically 'objective' friends, co-workers, and relatives. A quantum perspective of reality sees no intrinsic evil in Nature as depicted in those quotes. Quantum reality's only intrinsic is absolute change, which Robert M. Pirsig calls "Quality."
As we can see quite easily, ancient Greek perspectives of reality, based upon substance and material things which 'exist,' impose objective dichotomies on human classical thing-king. If you want more evidence, just read Virgil's Georgics and Lucretius' On the Nature of Things (text available online several locations, though we suggest you avoid MIT site's severe problems).
From that unfortunate mindset, all ancient Greece's wrathful and negative unidimensional and unilogical dichotomies arise: good-evil, love-hate, right-wrong, and so on. Our assessment of William's own mindset, and his extreme instincts, intuitions, and intellect, is that he did not intuit SOM's dichotomies, nor its objective negation. He was trained, propagandized, and indoctrinated in them. Had he intuited them exclusive of more qualitative quantum reality, he would not have been capable of fathoming J. C. Maxwell's great failures of insistence on an analytic, deterministic (necessary-cause-effect), homogeneous (unilogical), closed, and conservative classical reality. Maxwell's contrived second law of thermodynamics declared only posentropy as possible. William found Maxwell's classical memes intuitively unpalatable. Bravo William!
We think William either intuited or was in a process of grasping Bergson's important quantum meme that classical negation is subjective. All modern science and mathematics and philosophical 'falsifiability' depend on objective negation for logical viability. We think William intuited this, but he was alone in his view, and any attempts to promote it would have only brought him more ridicule.
Thanks for reading. Doug 6Mar2001
Visit this site for a short, quick overview of William James' philosophy:
You will see many truths, unification of subject-object, and other concord with Pirsig's MoQ.
ðSince we recommended that link above, we reviewed James' last work which was published posthumously. Titled, Some Problems of Philosophy, it shows to what extent James moved beyond pragmatism, and how closely he approached a new quantum philosophy. We highly recommend you see our review of this work It also shows how closely he aligns Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality.
ðJames shows great respect for Henri Louis Bergson in his last work. We are reviewing Bergson's works. See:
We highly recommend these reviews to you as important adjuncts to James' last work. Consider all of these reviews as foundation prior to reading and understanding William James Sidis' The Animate and the Inanimate.
Lament by Mrs. Sharfman about Bill Sidis - (~1944-1945)
"When I think of America again,
Of what it could be, or was meant to be,
I shall see Sidis, with the light upon
His face, the light of genius, that made him more
An angel than a man. He was no failure.
You could roll Harvard, its professors and
Its learning into one. He could have taught
That one. The proof? Not one in Harvard knew
Enough to honor him..."
From part of an attachment to a letter by Helena to Julius Eichel and
family, on 19Dec44.
- Folders 10-11, DG-131, Box 3, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
thanks to Swarthmore College, and Wendy Chmielewski, Peace Collection curator.
Any contributions to Swarthmore's Peace Collection may be directed toward scanning
Sidis-related materials into a hyper-linked archive. We encourage this. Robert M. Pirsig
agrees. See a portion of his letter to us, below.
Rev. 6Oct99 PDR
"...I am very pleased, however, that you're following up on William Sidis. About 10 years
ago Mahony showed me a 3-foot cubic box filled to the top with manuscripts Sidis wrote
that have never been published. I looked at them, but decided sadly then that a commercial
publisher would probably lose money on them.
"That was before the internet. Now I think it is extremely important that someone put
these manuscripts on-line. Although their commercial value is low their cultural and
intellectual value is enormous..."
Rev. 6Oct99 PDR
Please send comments and suggestions to:
1998-2004 — Rev. 5Mar2004 PDR — Created:
2Sep1998 PDR (2 of 2)
(9Jan2000 rev. by Doug - Extend with Good Will Hunting and reformat/revise other media recommendations.)
(8Mar2000 rev - Repair typos.)
(10Apr2000 rev - Add links to James' and Bergson reviews. Add info to Boris' book list and subsequent comments, re: Philistine & Genius.)
(11Apr2000 rev - Repair missing links! Had to Google-cache two missing Dave Slater links.)
(20Aug2000 rev - Repair Dave Slater's new home page which we had lost. Thanks Dave! Add some movie and book titles, too!)
(9Oct2000 rev - Add 'autism' link to our new Aug-Sep2000 piece on Stairways and Our Quantum Stages as 'illusions.')
(1Nov2000 rev - Extend list of Bergson's books which we shall review. Add 'narcolepsy' to quantum stairs link.)
(15Jan2001 rev - Update news link for year 2001.)
(15Feb2001 rev - Remove dead casagrande link.)
(6Mar2001 rev - Add note 3 to Boris Sidis book list. Started our relevant media book list. Edit review status near page top/bottom.)
(6Mar2001 rev - Other minor edits for currency.)
(23May2001 rev - Add more video suggestions and commentary on how to tap 'reserve energy.')
(6Aug2001 rev - Add Steppenwolf Recommended Reading commentary. See top page link.)
(13Aug2001 rev - Correct 'Return to Arches' links.)
(12Nov2001 rev - Correct Prometheus Society link.)
(27Nov2001 rev - Add browser frame break.)
(22Mar2002 rev - Repair News link from 2001 to 2002. Add link to A Beautiful Mind.)
(2Jun2002 rev - Add link to our newly completed review of Bergson's Time and Free Will.)
(9Aug2002 rev - Add Glenn Gould anchor.)
(14Sep2002 rev - Minor typo [an...adjuncts] near page bottom.)
(29Apr2003 rev - Add link to Sidis materials in our News Archive.)
(20Aug2003 rev - Redirect our top of page News link to new material in 2003 August News.)
(16Nov2003 rev - Repair spelling of 'Academy.')
(18Dec2003 rev - Discard some wasted text. Reset red text and some markup dates.)
(5Mar2004 rev - Repair A Beautiful Mind Review link. Repair Swarthmore link.)
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