The Most Wasted Brain Ever

(Island)

There cannot be many differing takes on that William James Sidis was the most wasted brain ever. This child prodigy, enrolled at the Harvard University at the age of 11, the youngest ever to do so in the history of America’s prestigious academia. He could speak at least 40 languages. As a young man, Sidis was well versed in cosmology, philology, thermo-dynamics, civil engineering, biology, anthropology and Native American history, all self-taught.article_image

Sidis earned his first degree, a BA in Mathematics (with honours), at the age of 16. He began lecturing at Rice University (Houston, Texas) at the age of 17. Then he was in and out of prison since the age of 21, for political reasons.

Sidis was born to Jewish parents on the April fool’s day of 1898, in the New York City. His both parents were doctors. Both of them had fled Russia to avoid anti-Jew riots in the late 19th century. Sidis senior was a psychiatrist, a researcher cum author, and a polyglot.

Papa and mama Sidis, who believed in strict upbringing of their children, taught them many things including different languages from a tender age. They believed that they could create a genius in the cradle. They hung alphabet blocks over the baby’s crib and within six months little Billy was speaking. He could read a newspaper by the age of 18 months. By the age of eight, Billy knew eight languages, (one being a language he invented, called Vandergood). Between 4 and 8 years he had written four books.

Although Dr. Sidis tried to admit Billy to the Harvard when he was nine, his application was rejected on the grounds that the boy was “still too small”. However, he succeeded two years later.

Apart from languages, young Sidis’s special prowess was in mathematics. He was a born wizard on higher mathematics, and was part-time lecturing (students who were much older than him) at the age of 11. However, this extraordinary skill Sidis possessed was not welcomed by most of the senior students. They envied him. Later he was threatened physically by the senior students, which made his parents to take him out of employment at Harvard and put him to Rice.

Sidis’ precocity made him a celebrity. His graduation was one big media hype. To the media he said his intention was “to live a perfect life”, by which he hinted a life of seclusion. (However, he later developed a strong relationship with a journalist cum leftist Martha Foley that ended with latter’s marriage to a fellow journalist).

Sidis’ teaching career at the Rice didn’t last more than a year. Frustrated with the job, he left the university. Although he tried his luck at different fields, including law for a while, he never completed any of these courses. For a short period, he worked at the League of Nations (that later fashioned into the United Nations), which he left because of his disagreement with the US’s involvement in the World War I. Later, in 1933, he barely passed the American Civil Service exam, but never worked in the state bureaucracy.

Sidis’ Political activism and Downfall

Sidis was an out and out socialist and an atheist. In 1919 he was arrested for the first time in Boston for participating in a May Day rally. He was tried under the Sedition Act, based on his derogatory remarks of US government’s involvement in the World War I, and was imprisoned for 18 months. This scenario caught immense media attention for what Sidis was known then – America’s biggest young intellectual.

Since the release from prison Sidis opted to live a low profile life. He only did some menial jobs, and that too very infrequently. However, in 1930, Sidis developed a perpetual calendar that included leap years, for which he received a patent.

His association with the American Communist Party too didn’t last too long as Sidis contested the party’s popular ideologies on many occasions.

Sidis’ IQ was estimated to be between 285 and 300 (about 50 – 100 points higher than Albert Einstein).

Sidis met his untimely death when he was only 46. Ironically, the brainiest man ever to walk this world, died from a brain haemorrhage.

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Melting ice could release ancient viruses hidden in glaciers

“As global warming thaws permafrost, bacteria that have been frozen for millennia may come back to life” reports Mother Nature Network.

In 1999, Russian scientists famously dug a long-dead frozen woolly mammoth out of the Siberian permafrost. Other things lurking in the frozen earth may more alive — and more dangerous. Scientists warn that global warming could release ancient bacteria, viruses and fungi from frozen lakes, glaciers and permafrost. If this happens, humans could become exposed to viruses and diseases they have not encountered in thousands of years.

It happened just last year in a remote part of Siberia in the Arctic. As the BBC reports, an exceptionally warm summer in 2016 thawed a layer of permafrost, revealing the carcass of a reindeer infected with anthrax some 75 years ago. Anthrax is caused by a bacterium, Bacillus anthracis, which leaked into the water supply, soil and food supply. A 12-year-old boy died from the infection, as did 2,300 reindeer; dozens more people were sickened and hospitalized.

“Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark,” evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie at Aix-Marseille University in France told. “Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past.”

Montana State University professor John Priscu told Scientific American: “You put something on the surface of the ice and a million years later it comes back out.”

What else lurks under the ice?

Scientists around the world have been studying Arctic and Antarctic ice for years. For example, scientists found the 1918 Spanish flu virus, which killed 20 to 40 million people worldwide, intact on corpses frozen in Alaska. Researchers studying the anthrax outbreak in Siberia believe smallpox is frozen in the same area. One 2009 study of Antarctica’s frozen freshwater lakes revealed DNA from nearly 10,000 species of viruses, including many that had not previously been identified by science.

Frozen viruses may have been making their way back into the environment for centuries, even without global warming. Scientists theorize that periodically melting Arctic lakes release previously frozen influenza viruses, which are picked up by migrating birds and transported toward human populations.

One virus seems to have reappeared in the 1930s, 1960s and most recently in 2006 when a Siberian lake melted. “This phenomenon may take place regularly, far beyond what we witness,” Dany Shoham a biological warfare researcher at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University told. Many viruses won’t remain viable after freezing, but others are more adaptable. For example, influenza has properties that allow it to survive the ice and transfer between animals and humans once it is out, Shoham said.

Ice isn’t the only repository for diseases. Many also are carried by insects, some of which are expanding their range due to warming climates. Humans won’t be the only ones affected. Climate change will stress out some organisms, such as coral, leaving them more vulnerable to new viruses.

“It’s really a double whammy, not only does the host become more stressed and susceptible, but also the pathogens are growing faster,” Drew Harvell of Cornell University told LiveScience. “That’s the key to why a warmer world can be a sicker world.”

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