The works of William James Sidis, the "smartest man who ever lived"


Originally published at:


Even if IQ tests were valid both generally and for people that smart - lots of folks haven’t been tested and a century isn’t the whole of human history.

For all we know the woman who invented the wheel laps this guy.


“He never got his picture on a bubble gum card. Have you ever seen his picture on a bubble gum card? Hmmm? How can you say someone is great who’s never had his picture on a bubble gum card?”


I came to quip, “If he’s so smart, why is he dead?”

But he does sound like an interesting guy.


Wow, even higher than Marilyn vos Savant’s IQ! :wink:

It’s all controversial, but being recognized as gifted still matters, particularly based on what you do with it.


Good grief!


Aww, look, it’s Autism Spectrum Disorder Of The Paaaaaast! :slight_smile:


Only 1 of the 4 books is by WJS. 3 of the them were written by the philosopher William James, after whom WJS was named.


When I was 11 I had theories about the 4th dimension, but did I get to lecture at Harvard? No!


Needless big words? Check.
Spending time on solutions without problems? Check.

I was him at 11 - but less successful.


My reaction when I saw the list of titles was “huh, I thought The Varieties of Religious Experience was by someone else”, though I didn’t immediately make the connection on the names.


Why do you mention ASD? Is Sidis known to have had it?


I can’t know for sure, but here’s a few things:

  1. Trains and public transportation - at least one special special interest (besides the language he invented)

  2. “Weird” parents with weird and controlling parenting strategies (who, at one point, threatened to put him in an asylum), cuz this stuff is mostly genetic

  3. The photo looks like someone half-awkwardly putting on a smile because it’s appropriate for the photo, not someone smiling with ease

  4. Extreme political ideas (which I’ve found tend to be extremely liberal / extremely conservative / extremely apathetic in general among non-neurotypicals)

  5. Isolation: “Sidis was determined to live an independent and private life.”

  6. Difficulties with and confusion about intimacy:
    "The paper reported Sidis’s vows to remain celibate and never to marry, as he said women did not appeal to him. Later he developed a strong affection for a young woman named Martha Foley"

In my opinion, most “weird” people in history had BPD, ADHD, ASD, OCD, or some combination (plus comorbid conditions), and I haven’t seen much evidence to make me waver. In this case, I’m almost positive. We know so much about ASD, ADHD, etc. right now (I mean, researchers know–most regular Joes and Jolenes only think they know, and they operate on a 25-year-old set of half facts and mythology, even as assertive, knowledgeable ASD and ADHD communities are exploding on YouTube, which I find increasingly surreal in the face of public ignorance). Still, stigma persists, the public conversation is usually pretty counterproductive (it’s a disease! no, it’s my special specialness! No, it doesn’t even exist and shut up! No, it’s because of the vaccines! oy), and society hasn’t hit that tipping point where we acknowledge the non-neurotypicality of public figures (the news is fine with using words like “amoral,” “robotic,” “oblivious,” “unfeeling,” “ruthless,” and even “devilish” to describe Mark Zuckerberg), much less historical figures. I mean, they/we didn’t just appear out of the ether. They/we have always been here.

I don’t mean to pathologize. I mean to acknowledge the true breadth of humanity. There’s more than one flavor, and knowing that we are different in identifiable, predictable ways can help everyone build a better future.


Those do seem like accurate words to describe Mark Z. The autistic tendency that he seems to unfortunately lack is rigid adherence to high ethical standards.


Hmm. Whether or not we’re assuming Zuck has ASD, one thing we know for sure is that he has a very clear idea of what’s right and wrong, important and unimportant, etc. It just doesn’t quite match the most broadly accepted standards of what’s etc, and it seems as though Zuck’s pretty sure his way is the only way worth taking seriously.

I think “high ethical standards” may not be a complete description of the ASD trait. Based on observation and intuition (hardly definitive, I know), I’d describe it more inclusively as “extreme or absolute ethical standards.” I mean, you can’t really hold all ethics to one set of standards, either, for anyone. But people with ASD take their convictions very seriously. I have an ASD friend with whom (as with some of my neurotypical friends, of course) I profoundly disagree on certain moral issues (I find a few of her positions appalling). She may be wrong (or may not!), but, based on her receptivity to counterarguments, I’m guessing she’ll be positive she’s right until the very moment she’s presented with undeniable proof to the contrary (which, for many moral issues, might not exist) and forced to examine it, at which point she’ll probably decide that her earlier position was still reasonable in hindsight (for lack of evidence), absolving her of any blame. Rightly? Who knows? Again, though, she wouldn’t be matching the broadly accepted standards, but I know her and I don’t think she’d be apathetic or in a state of moral conflict, either. She’d think she’d done her best and that’s fine.

If you’re a Trekkie, consider Odo. (If not, all you need to know is that Odo is a shapeshifting alien who doesn’t know where he came from or who his people are.) He has this driving need to promote order, impose justice, and prevent suffering, which lead him to adopt very, very high ethical standards and become a police officer on a space station. Then he finally meets other members of his race, and it turns out the driving need to promote order, impose justice, and prevent suffering is inborn(ish) in them. But they have decided that the best way to promote order, impose justice, and prevent suffering isn’t to become a police officer on a space station, it’s to become an iron-fisted space empire, which they’ve gone ahead and done.

The Odo example has nothing to do with ASD, but I think it’s a good fictional demonstration of the idea that two people with the same drive to do the ‘right’ thing can end up doing very different things. And in ASD, as in ADHD (and combinations, because, yes, there’s more and more evidence that you can have both and that it’s as likely as not a majority of ASD folks do have both), the exact same basic brain tweaks can lead to very different kinds of people.


The second sentence you wrote makes no sense. Nobody knows who is the person (or group of people) who invented the wheel. The wheel is around from thousands of years before Christ. And there’s no real reason why the person (man or woman) who “invented” the wheel would “lap” William Sidis.


Thank you for responding to the literal meaning of a metaphor.

You’re insight is welcome.


I think you mean “your”, not “you’re” and sorry, that is not a metaphor by any means. Maybe sarcasm / irony, and no, I didn’t notice you didn’t mean what you said in that sentence. But I prefer being considered dense to risk letting misinformation spread.


Mission accomplished.


Jokes on you. He’s so smart, he faked his death and hasn’t aged for the last century. Now, he’s using his genius to star on SNL: