William James Sidis – again.

Sidis is a standard interest of Robert Pirsig fans, Pirsig makes significant reference to him, so he’s been mentioned here a couple of times.

(William James Sidis (1898-1944) basically a child prodigy of high intelligence pushed by his parents – through Harvard aged 11 (!) – that the general public / media meme is that he collapsed through some kinda breakdown into a ignominious life of trivia. Significance for Pirsig is that he too was assessed by various intelligence tests and advanced in education over several years of his early life. He only discovered later that he had been part of a longer “longitudinal” educational development study.)

Sidis did publish some strange books under pen-names, but published one important book under his own name.

Fellow Pirsigian David Harding (@GoodMetaphysics) posted a new short video about Sidis:

I responded already, but just wanted to capture here:

I’d forgotten Sidis had published his “life as entropy reversal” idea back in 1920. And, I remember Mahoney as the man that “rediscovered” him in 1979, BUT hadn’t spotted the Bucky-Fuller connection – an old class mate(!) reviewing Sidis only publication. And Norbert Wiener of Cybernetics fame too. It was 1940 before Schrödinger did the same. Black holes too.

Here is that Buckminster-Fuller letter:

4 thoughts on “William James Sidis – again.”

  1. I already responded on Twitter about the difference between Sidis and Schrödinger. I can add some explanation here.

    Schrödinger quite reasonably describes, as you point out, how life is able to locally overcome the immediate effects of the Second Law. In perhaps one of the formative experiences that turned me into a thermodynamics crank, I read his “What is Life?” In 1988. I was struck by the important discussion of life absorbing negative entropy from the environment.

    Sidis, on the other hand, proposes an incredible universe divided into “positive” and “negative” volumes, where the Second Law functions in reverse in the negative regions. In spite of the claims on YouTube or by Buckminster Fuller, Sidis predicts nothing like a black hole. His dark regions are not a function of gravity, but rather are a completely unexplained reversal of all of physics. It’s fascinating reading, but I find it ridiculous that Fuller would claim in 1979 that he came to similar cosmological conclusions as Sidis.

    You asked if I would recommend Sidis’ book. As I said on Twitter, he reminds me of Aristotle at his most ludicrous. Aristotle’s excuse was that he had to invent most of science by himself. Sidis, on the other hand, I judge to have suffered from a tragic isolation. He is certainly well-read, but he apparently didn’t get any feedback that could have helped him to avoid fundamental conceptual errors regarding the reversal of causation and probability (Chapter 4). If you enjoy Aristotle’s confident but nonsensical explanations for weather in “Meteorology”, you will also enjoy Sidis’ tour of the divided universe, the origin of life, and the reversal of time.

  2. Hi Tim, I saw you added this after our Twitter exchange, my problem in responding initially was that I don’t see how it has to do with anything I’ve said.

    In fact that point is the crux of my current systems thinking.

    Recognising the boundaries between layers of systems and (as a “2nd Law crank”) applying free energy principles and active inference etc, means that not all details elsewhere matter here and now. Everything’s connected at some level, but not reductively. No doubt Sidis was primarily a tragedy and his “negative zones” cosmology (or thought experiment?) flawed to say the least, and I don’t see Bucky Fuller saying more than inspired / catalyst to his own thinking, not any concrete conclusions? Me neither.

    Fascinating and entertaining detail is not the same as relevant?

  3. Sorry if I caused a problem for you. Admittedly my focus is not on systems thinking. I figured I could contribute to the post since I actually read Sidis’ book some years ago (while doing research for my second novel). Agreed you didn’t offer any concrete conclusions, but since you mentioned black holes I wanted to point out that Sidis’ book is not relevant for those. Not relevant, but, like Aristotle, still worth reading!

    Our common starting point is Pirsig; I think we agree he gave the best explanation for the structure of the world. But of course neither one of us is content to leave that explanation as-is. You are integrating it into a systems theory, and I am integrating it into a thermodynamic framework. Those two subjects may re-converge, at a concept you refer to as sacred naturalism (and what I call the motive power of fire). Considering that re-convergence, maybe everything is relevant?

  4. Ha no problem – made me think – about relevance.

    Everything is relevant to something – just not relevant to anything or everything all at the same time.
    Systems thinking IS a thermodynamic framework. No convergence necessary 🙂

    Pirsig’s version – I prefer (systems) architecture to “structure” – it’s about the topology, the dynamic relations between layers – that layers (sub-systems) exist – NOT what the layers are. They’re always emergent from the processes.

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