Monday, 8 June 2020

Born to do Math 172 - William James Sidis: The Tragedy of Underutilized Precocity and a Destroyed Genius

Born to do Math 172 - William James Sidis: The Tragedy of Underutilized Precocity and a Destroyed Genius
Scott Douglas Jacobsen & Rick Rosner
June 8, 2020

[Beginning of recorded material]

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Bill Sidis, William James Sidis, what are some preliminary thoughts to set forth this discussion?

Rick Rosner: If you look at the history of the people who are famous for having a high IQ, Sidis is considered to have had the highest IQ of anybody ever between 250 and 300. He is one of those guys like John Stuart Mill. His dad noticed the intellectual talent and really pushed him. He pushed him, went along with it. This was like 100 years ago, way before tiger parents pushing the kid to enter college at age 15 or 16 or something. He entered Harvard super young. He was teaching at Harvard at age 17. He may or may not have had a nervous breakdown. He ended up working at the post office. He died at age 46 of a brain hemorrhage, as you just told me. He is widely regarded, to the extent that he is regarded at all, as being a cautionary tale for how superintelligence doesn't necessarily get you anything because he worked at the post office and had a hobby of collecting bus transfers. If you need to take more than one bus to get where you needed to go, then the bus would give you a slip of paper functioning as a ticket for the next bus. He collected those. He has been presented as a tragic, really smart loser. 

This isn't fair at all. If he had not had the brain hemorrhage, then he might be seen as really successful, because, as he was working at the post office, he was writing a multi-volume... what was it? You know it better than I do.

Jacobsen: Yes, a multi-volume or comprehensive statement of the 100,000-year history of the settlement of the Americas. 

Rosner: Of America?

Jacobsen: Of the Americas.

Rosner: Did it ever get published? I assume it did at some point. He was working on this huge fucking work. You can't imagine how shitty life in America was in the 1930s, whenever he worked in the post office. Unemployment got as high as 25%. Here's a guy who would probably not have functioned well as a claims adjuster in an insurance office, or some other office job. He was probably pretty eccentric. He taught at Harvard for a while. 

Jacobsen: He was a kid, adolescent, teaching at Harvard.

Rosner: Yes, he probably got cantankerous and grew up. The post office job was pleasant in its repetition and left his mind free to work on this huge deal. Plus, jobs may not have been easy to come by.

Jacobsen: A treatise called The Animate and the Inanimate, which dealt with a reverse universe for reverse cosmology. Buckminster Fuller stated that he made a logical proposition of black holes before black holes were a thing.

Rosner: He liked thinking for thinking's sake. He probably liked the pleasure of his own company. You said he was an atheist. He wasn't an anarchist. He was certainly hyper-liberal.

Jacobsen: He claimed atheist identification, but belief in something other than the human. So, he didn't believe [Laughing] 'the big dad in the sky of the Christians.' Something like this. He, certainly, was critical.

Rosner: He is a smart guy who liked following his own paths of thought and knowledge who had the bad luck to die really young, and who has been packaged ever since as a schadenfreude example of how you don't want to be really smart because then you'll end up working at the post office and having a really odd hobby. I have odd hobbies, which give me pleasure. When I first got to L.A. to know what Southern California is like, I drove around and got a library card from every local library system. I got 44 library cards because I visited all these little communities. That's ridiculous. Also, I have a collection of fake IDs from people while working at bars catching people trying to sneak in. My wife likes micromosaics, really tiny pieces of jewellery made out of slivers of glass on a millimetre scale. I will buy broken ones. I will rehabilitate them. I like doing that. It doesn't mean that might be a little eccentric. It doesn't mean my life is a failure; you could argue on other things, as a failure to fully live up to my potential. Nobody is obligated to live up to their full potential. I try from time to time, but you don't have to be a supergenius to not live up to your full potential.

Jacobsen: Who else is like Sidis and John Stuart Mill?

Rosner: Some parents who noticed the talent and worked them hard at a young age. It happens a lot in sports. Tiger Woods, his dad spotted talent. Tiger Woods was showing off golf skills on the Merv Griffin/Mike Douglas show at age 3. Wayne Gretzky's talent was seen by his dad. His dad built him a hockey rink in the backyard. Gretzky was building his Gladwell 10,000 hours of practice starting at age 3. Venus and Serena Williams's dad saw their talent and got them going really early. Then there are the charlatans, like a woman 20 years ago who was from Colorado, who got the answers to IQ tests and drilled her 4-year-old kid, gave him all the answers to the IQ tests. When he was tested, he had an IQ of 400. Eventually, she got caught.

[End of recorded material]


American Television Writer

(Updated July 25, 2019)

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.*

According to some semi-reputable sources gathered in a listing hereRick G. Rosner may have among America's, North America's, and the world’s highest measured IQs at or above 190 (S.D. 15)/196 (S.D. 16) based on several high range test performances created by Christopher HardingJason BettsPaul Cooijmans, and Ronald Hoeflin. He earned 12 years of college credit in less than a year and graduated with the equivalent of 8 majors. He has received 8 Writers Guild Awards and Emmy nominations, and was titled 2013 North American Genius of the Year by The World Genius Directory with the main "Genius" listing here.

He has written for Remote ControlCrank YankersThe Man ShowThe EmmysThe Grammys, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!. He worked as a bouncer, a nude art model, a roller-skating waiter, and a stripper. In a television commercialDomino’s Pizza named him the "World’s Smartest Man." The commercial was taken off the air after Subway sandwiches issued a cease-and-desist. He was named "Best Bouncer" in the Denver Area, Colorado, by Westwood Magazine.

Rosner spent much of the late Disco Era as an undercover high school student. In addition, he spent 25 years as a bar bouncer and American fake ID-catcher, and 25+ years as a stripper, and nearly 30 years as a writer for more than 2,500 hours of network television. Errol Morris featured Rosner in the interview series entitled First Person, where some of this history was covered by Morris. He came in second, or lost, on Jeopardy!, sued Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? over a flawed question and lost the lawsuit. He won one game and lost one game on Are You Smarter Than a Drunk Person? (He was drunk). Finally, he spent 37+ years working on a time-invariant variation of the Big Bang Theory.

Currently, Rosner sits tweeting in a bathrobe (winter) or a towel (summer). He lives in Los AngelesCalifornia with his wife, dog, and goldfish. He and his wife have a daughter. You can send him money or questions at LanceVersusRick@Gmail.Com, or a direct message via Twitter, or find him on LinkedIn, or see him on YouTube.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing

(Updated January 1, 2020)

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:


[1] Four format points for the session article:
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  2. Session article conducted, transcribed, edited, formatted, and published by Scott. 
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  4. This session article has been edited for clarity and readability. 
For further information on the formatting guidelines incorporated into this document, please see the following documents:
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