Undeveloped Intelligence

William Sidis was thought to be the smartest person who ever lived. His IQ was between 250-300. Albert Einstein had an IQ of 160 as does Stephen Hawking. Leonardo da Vinci’s IQ was 180. He was able to read a newspaper at 18 months. He spoke eight languages when he was just 6 years old.

William’s parents focused on his intellectual growth but they were not very loving. He isolated himself from his family and others. When the press found out about his intellectual eminence, William was more inclined to withdraw into his own world.

When William was admitted to Harvard at age 11, his father organized a publicity event. William gave a lecture on mathematics that few faculty could comprehend. The publicity made William more of a target for bullies.

After graduation, William became a professor at Rice, but this didn’t last long. Because of his age, he was not taken seriously. William then took a series of low wage jobs which he left as soon as he was “discovered”. He became a recluse.

He continued this existence until he was 39. The New York Post found out where he lived and what he was doing. They ran a story portraying him as a failure. William filed the first privacy lawsuit in America. He lost.

William was found dead by his landlady when he was 46. What does the tragedy of William’s life tell us about intelligence? Clearly any university would be delighted to have someone with a high IQ as a student. Would the challenges that William faced in life be recognized? Could his lack of nurturing be overcome?

How do we help those who have potential realize their fullest level of intelligence? For too long we’ve thought of intelligence as a static number that measures just one thing. A holistic view of intelligence is one that recognizes that intelligence is ever being developed. To reach our fullest level of intelligence, we need:

  • Nurturing by others throughout our lives
  • Quiet time to reflect and internalize from our experiences
  • Awareness of what we want our future selves to become
  • A positive outlook on life that is unshakeable
  • An openness to change, contrasting perspectives, and learning by risk taking
  • An acceptance of our self-worth determined by our own values.

The tragedy of William Sidis is that he had no one in his life who could help him realize the full potential of his intelligence in all the dimensions of intelligence. One has to wonder how many more William Sidis’ exist in our society who are going un-nurtured?

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“Experience is knowledge. All the rest is information.” – Albert Einstein


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