“The very sight of a mathematical formula makes me physically ill.”

William James Sidis, mathematical genius

Journalists often joke that, if they could do math, they would be in another career field.

That’s not strictly true. It’s the love of writing and the pursuit of a story that draws us to journalism.

But there is something to be said for our inability to do math.

Every now and then, you run across a journalist who is comfortable with numbers, but it’s rare. I believe it has something to do with the left brain/right brain difference.

In my case, if forced to do so, I can add and subtract. I’m so out of practice on multiplication and division I’m sure if I had to do some, it would make me cry.

Fractions? Of course, when you’re cooking, you might have to understand them. Fortunately, I’m a “bit of this, bit of that” kind of cook, mostly so I can avoid dealing with fractions.

Beyond that, I refuse, thank you very much.

Math radiates seriousness and boredom. It smells like dread.

Even a mathematician agrees. Sort of.

William James Sidis was a genius whose IQ was estimated at 250 to 300; an average IQ is 100 and Albert Einstein’s IQ was estimated to be 160. (I say estimated because both of these gentlemen lived before IQ tests. There is a way to reverse-calculate IQ scores and that is how this information was obtained.) Some consider him the most intelligent man to have ever lived.

Sidis graduated from Harvard University when he was 16. He taught mathematics at Rice Institute in Houston, Texas, before leaving because he was younger than most of his students. He also had been arrested in 1919 at a socialist march for rioting, which he later proved he did not do.

Well-known for his intellect, he decided to try to live a quiet life of obscurity, taking jobs such as entry-level accounting, but he was always recognized. And he quit. The New Yorker later wrote a story about him, which prompted him to sue. And to lose.

Sidis died at 46 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

He seemed to blame math for a lot of his problems.

“The very sight of a mathematical formula makes me physically ill,” he complained, noting, “All I want to do is run an adding machine, but they won’t let me alone.”

To be fair, the fame from having such a huge IQ led to his unhappiness, and perhaps to his cerebral hemorrhage. Who knows?

My takeaway is that math engenders negativity. It might even be deadly. And now, I have the smartest man in the world on my side.

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