He is considered the most intelligent person in the world, someone with a prodigious mind and whose intellectual quotient was between 250 and 300 points. William James Sidis was a human calculator and a genius of linguistics, someone who was expected amazing achievements for being so intelligent, however there was a pending issue that never resolved and that took it early: sadness.
Imagine for a moment a child who at 18 months could read the newspaper The New York Times. Imagine it now with eight fluent in French, German, Russian, Turkish and Armenian, dominating Latin and of course English, their mother tongue. Let’s go a little further and visualize this same little one with 9 years creating a new language called “sellgood” that linguists studied and rated as very complete, correct and fascinating.
“I want to live a perfect life. The only way to achieve it is through isolation, from loneliness. I have always hated crowds.”
-William James Sidis-
This child was William James Sidis, son of two Russian-Jewish immigrants and born in New York on April 1, 1898. Much has been said about him and no doubt much more has been written, and as always happens in these cases, fiction is often made with reality, data is exaggerated and the biography of a man with the pen of the romantic and the ink of the fantastic is novelized, when what we have is a rather crude history. And still, tremendously interesting from the psychological point of view.
The physical and documentary testimonies endorse a large number of facts. One of them is as simple as transcendent: William J. Sidis never had childhood, he could never enjoy the right to be a child, despite being so intelligent. With only 9 years he was accepted at Harvard University and on a cold night in January 1910, aged 12, he gave his first lecture about the fourth dimension in front of the scientific community and the press of the time.
His parents, a renowned Russian psychologist and one of the first doctors in medicine at the time were very clear about their goal: they wanted a genius. They educated his mind completely forgetting the most essential thing: his heart, his emotions.
Genetics, disposition and a highly facilitating environment
To know every detail of the life of what is considered “the most intelligent man in the world”, we have the book “The Prodigy: A Biography of William James Sidis, America’s Greatest Child Prodigy” by Amy Wallace. In it we are quickly struck by the kind of upbringing that our protagonist received.
Both his father and his mother had a brilliant mind, hence the genetic factor had its part of importance when developing that high intelligence in him. However, the purpose of this couple at the time of having a child as clear as controversial: they wanted to train the brain of a child to be a genius.
A life of laboratory and public exhibition
To the genetics it was added without a doubt an environment facilitator, highly stimulating and oriented to a very concrete end. It is known that his father, Boris Sidis, used sophisticated techniques -including hypnosis- to boost his son’s abilities and potential early on.
Her mother, for her part, left medicine to, according to her, “model” the child and innovate in new teaching strategies. It should be said that William himself, without a doubt, also showed a clear disposition toward learning. However, there was something that always marked him and traumatized him: exposure to the public and the media.
Parents published academic reports every short time showing the child’s achievements. The press was watching him, as well as the scientific community. It is known that while he studied at Harvard he suffered the daily stalking of the press. After graduating cum laude and leaving the amazed academics on his theories of the fourth dimension, he was taken to the University of Houston to teach mathematics while at the same time starting his law career.
“He was then 16, when his mind simply said “enough” and started what he called a pilgrimage to the abyss.”
Although we often assume that individuals who have a high IQ will be successful people, there is also a contradictory stereotype.
The most intelligent man in the world and its sad end
William would not finish law school or any other, despite being so smart.
He was 17 when he decided to react to that academic and experimental environment where he felt like a laboratory mouse, observed with a magnifying glass and analyzed in every aspect and in every thought. In 1919 he was arrested and taken to jail for initiating a demonstration and recruiting young people for a communist movement.
Given the influence of his parents and the relevance of his figure, he was released quickly. However, in his efforts to defend himself from his parents and from society itself, he returned to backsliding, causing youth uprisings against capitalism and showing himself to be highly arrogant in front of the judges. Finally, he was imprisoned for two years, thus achieving what he so desired: loneliness and isolation.
“Try not to become a successful man, but a man of value.”
After regaining freedom, the first thing William J. Sidis did was change his name. He wanted an anodyne life, but every so often he was found by his parents or the press, thus initiating a continuous pilgrimage through the United States where he would look for sporadic jobs and do what he liked best: writing. He made multiple publications under various pseudonyms. He wrote books about history and others about theories of black holes. According to his biographers, there may be dozens of forgotten books where under some false identity the figure of William J. Sidis is actually hidden.
An end too early and in solitude
William J. Sidis loved only one woman: Martha Foley, a young Irish activist with whom she had a relationship as complex as it was unequal. The photo of this woman was the only belonging they found in their clothes when in 1944 they found her body dead in a small apartment in Boston. He was 46 years old and died of a stroke.
Their last years had passed them from court to court. The press enjoyed slandering him: “the child prodigy who came to nothing is crying now while working as a warehouse boy”, “the most intelligent man in the world has a miserable life”, “the genius of mathematics and linguistics has burned” , “William J. Sidis has tired of thinking”.
We do not know if he really tired of thinking and even living. However, what is deduced when reading his biographies is that he got tired of society and of that familiar and academic environment that had placed high expectations on him before he was even born.
He got tired of not being able to be himself and when he had the opportunity to do it he did not achieve it either. He was an expert in black holes and in the fourth dimension, but the most important subject of life, that of learning and fighting for his own happiness, was always something that escaped from his hands, eyes and hearts …
William James Sidis is still the person with the highest IQ. It is followed by the young Terence Tao with an IQ of 225-230, a young Australian mathematician who currently teaches at the University of Los Angeles.
However, it is very likely that somewhere in the world there is one or several prodigy children, not yet identified, that even exceed these intelligence scores. The truth is that it does not matter, because the figures are just that, figures. The essential thing in these cases is that they are allowed to have a childhood, to be children, to enjoy secure emotional bonds where they can personally perform whatever they want, in freedom and without pressure.