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Doug's Pre-review Comments

for his

Boris Sidis'

Philistine and Genius

Several Robert M. Pirsig and William James Sidis-relevant comments appear in this pre-review commentary.

Our pending review of William James Sidis' The Animate and the Inanimate (AIA) mandates this review. Our goal is to "get inside Boris Sidis' head," and thus to enhance our inferential capabilities interpreting what WJS means in AIA.

Our library of Sidis works continues to grow. Eventually, we will review those for you here in Quantonics.

Usually we start review comments with a big positive feeling, but this review is starkly different from those we have done for Quantonics over its past 4-5 years. Boris' book, while informative and useful to parents and academics (those striving for change), and education bureaucrats (who are or want to be agents of change), is filled with anger and much retribution.

Too, you may not side with our view: we share many of Boris' concerns. (We see USA's public education system as failing and in crisis. Boris predicted and anticipated what we are seeing today. Doug just heard yesterday 8May2000 that a secondary school system, from which he graduated 40 years ago, will only graduate 40% of its seniors from its year 2000 class! 60% failed basic competency evaluations! Heads up folks! Pay attention to what Boris is saying!)

You will find, when you read our review of Boris Sidis' Philistine and Genius that he is angry, very angry and very visceral. For detail, you should read Amy Wallace's superb book, The Prodigy. But more briefly, we can give you a few clues.

Why? Why is Boris so angry? Why is he so visceral?

We conclude some of these issues contribute (Amy Wallace documents countless others.):

  1. Boris' experience with Russian anti-Semitic pogroms during his late teens and early twenties.
  2. See Amy Wallace's, The Prodigy, Chapter 1.
    1. Amy sets a tenor of possible outcomes for Boris:
      "At the time of Boris' birth [1867], Russia was under the severe, autocratic rule of Tsar Nicolas II. The Ukraine, a portion of southwestern Russia with a population of nearly twenty million, was part of the Jewish Pale of Settlement, established by Catherine the Great in 1791. Nearly two million Jews inhabited this area, and few were allowed to move 'beyond the Pale.'

      "By the mid-1800s the prevailing attitude of Russians toward their large Jewish population was intensely hostile. A long history of persecution made the Jews easy prey for mass hysteria whipped up by the government; Jewish economic success and land ownership was a threat to many Russians, who claimed that the Christian population was being exploited. Rumors circulated that Jews used the blood of Christian babies in their religious ceremonies.

      "In 1881, under the rule of the reactionary Tsar Alexander III, the wave of hatred broke. The first of a vicious series of pogroms occurred in southern Russia. Jews were assaulted in the streets, robbed, raped, and murdered.

      "The pogroms spread, and in 1882 the Tsar ordered anti-Jewish tribunals, ultimately passing the notorious 'temporary' May Laws. These forbade Jews within the Pale to leave their villages, and forced multitudes of other Jews into the dense, overcrowded cities. Existence for the average Jewish family was at best a struggle. The situation grew increasingly grim, with little hope of improvement. The Russian authorities were pressing Jews to emigrate, and Jews were anxious to leave. America was now the promised land." See page 2, The Prodigy, 1986, Dutton first edition hardbound, 297 pages.
    2. Boris, against Russian law, at age 16 (~1883), started an organization to teach peasants to read. At 17, he enrolled in a 'junior college.' Tsarist police raided Boris' and his friends workplaces. Boris and 11 friends were arrested. Two were hanged. Nine were marched barefoot into Siberia. Boris, as leader, was thrown into a dungeon. He was released once temporarily to wine and dine him, to extract details of Boris' plot. Boris said there was no plot and refused to confess to such. He was taken back to solitary confinement, shackled, and tortured. He spent two years in a body-sized cell, unable to recline. However, regardless of his vile conditions, he rose above them, and refused to be broken. He, instead, learned to tap 'reserve energy,' and to think and reason well and dynamically. (Paraphrased from page 3, of Amy's, The Prodigy.)
  3. Boris' expectations.
    1. Boris, though told otherwise in Russia, intuited America as a land of plenty.
    2. Boris loved books, and when he first entered Boston's Public Library, his expectations were beyond fulfilled.
    3. Boris may have expected America to be his ideal land of education and intellectual development. We infer his initial idealization of America from his own experiences described by Amy Wallace and from his own words in Philistine and Genius. Who would be crazy enough not to love learning, intelligence, intellectual development, and all their accoutrement? Ancient Greeks loved wisdom. Ancient Greeks loved philosophy. Would not Americans too? "Why, it is just impossible to imagine otherwise."
  4. Boris' and Sarah's rearing of their son, William.James Sidis.
    1. Followed a method very similar to Montessori.
    2. Were rigorous.
    3. Were extraordinarily into change, applied change, and learned access to reality's 'reserve energy.'
      1. Drove out repetitive habit.
      2. Drove out rote memorization.
      3. Drove out static structure.
    4. In their son, William, had almost an ideal human genome to work with.
  5. Boris' disappointments with complex USA social fabric.
    1. Politics as a social endeavor, not an intellectual endeavor.
    2. Education as a process of cloning industrial cogs/plug-ins.
    3. Bureaucracy as a process of enforcing social mores while denigrating intellectual growth.
    4. Public fear of displacement via growth of intellectual power. (Intellectuals hated as a higher caste system.)
    5. USA's Social value decoupling from Intellect. (Public's classical inversion of Intellect-over-Social natural interrelationships.)

Probably, we have missed much in our numbered lists of considerations of why Boris was so visceral in his writing of Philistine and Genius. Regardless, media, bureaucratic, and institutional social engineers abused him and his family mercilessly for decades. We admire his will to be noble, and to fight against these mindless nitwit social clones, these hive-drones of exclusive social status-quo. Bravo Boris! Not too soon will these social Sisypheans be evolved out of humanity's intellectual progress.

We found a major alignment of Boris' views with Robert M. Pirsig's new philosophy, his Metaphysics of Quality. Boris claims, "...the true education of life is the recognition of evil wherever it is met." page 38, "Open the eyes of your children so that they shall see, understand and face courageously the evils of life." page 66, and "We must guard the child against all evil fears, superstitions, prejudices and credulity." pages 91-2. Boris sees evil as genius' greatest threat. What does he say is evil? Amazingly, just as does Pirsig, he says stasis is evil. Also he declares fear is evil. What is their antidote? Boris' reserve energy!

Now, how do good, evil and reserve energy align with Pirsig's MoQ?



Boris Sidis view:

habit and thought stasis

change via reserve energy

Pirsig's MoQ view:

exclusive static quality

absolute dynamic quality

Here, reader, we think you may benefit by hearing our words of recommendation again: Both Sidis and Pirsig are saying "Flux is crux!" Better, they tell us absolute dynamic energy is real, and we can tap into it! They offer implicit intellectual guidance for child-rearing. Two key ingredients are lots of change, and learning how to tap into dynamic quality. How do we tap into DQ? By choice. Choose change over stasis! This is what Pirsig meant when he said children intuit DQ. They already do it. They are born doing it. But society sees its role as teaching them not to do it. Society teaches children exclusive static quality. Society sees itself classically as above intellect and dominant over intellect. This is what Boris Sidis rails against in his book, Philistine and Genius. Bravo Boris!

As a result of our local Quantonic distillation of Boris' book we felt obliged to express our opinions about what our country should do to resolve some of these difficult educational and institutional issues. We take our queue from one of Robert M. Pirsig's most intuitive memes paraphrased, "We cannot ride a motorcycle either intuitively or intellectually. If we do, we will crash. To prevent crashing our motorcycle, we must ride it (' becoming more and more in contact with the formless Dynamic Quality...' see Pirsig letter to Renselle dated 24Jan1996) by unifying both Dynamic Quality intuition and our Static Quality intellect!" He is saying we need a quantum both/and, not a classical either/or solution to riding a motorcycle safely.

When we juxtapose Boris' effort in Philistine and Genius, we come to a similar conclusion. We come to a similar conclusion, especially when we consider many interrelationships among: Boris Sidis, William James Sidis, Amy Wallace, Henri Louis Bergson, William James, Robert M. Pirsig, Clifford Geertz, Thomas Kuhn, Henri Poincaré, Mae-wan Ho, Irving Stein, quantum science, our own predilections, etc.

Given Pirsig's queue and input from all those other interrelationships, we conclude:

Read our review and consider whether you agree with our conclusions.

Thanks for reading,


To contact Quantonics write to or call:

Doug Renselle
Quantonics, Inc.
Suite 18 #368 1950 East Greyhound Pass
Carmel, INdiana 46033-7730

©Quantonics, Inc., 2000-2012 Rev. 26Aug2009  PDR Created: 9May2000  PDR
(25Jan2001 rev - Change 'roll' to 'role' in paragraph after Sidis/Pirsig comparison.)
(14Nov2001 rev - Repair review return link.)
(18Feb2002 rev - Add links to HtTIRE. Add link to Pirsig's Jan1996 letter. Add Geertz & Kuhn to name list.)
(30Jul2008 rev - Reformat. Reset legacy red text.)
(26Aug2009 rev - Make page current.)

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