The Animate and the Inanimate
Title page to William Sidis' 1920 The Animate and the Inanimate, wherein he sets for the view that life is reversal of the second law.
In famous publications, The Animate and the Inanimate is a 131-page "thermodynamic theory of life" book written between 1916 and 1920 by American child prodigy William Sidis while he was locked in a sanitarium, in which he attempts to outline the nature of animate and inanimate matter in the context of thermodynamics, Maxwell's demon, and what he calls the "big collision" theory of universal origins.

In 1916, at the age of 18, Sidis sent a letter to Julian Huxley in which he stated: [10]

“How has everything been this summer with you? I myself have been writing that theory of mine regarding the second law of thermodynamics. In a short while, I expect I will be in Cambridge, studying in the Law School. The University opens September 25.”

According to this statement, it would seem that he had previously discussed his theory with Huxley, who himself was under the view that the second law is inoperable in the case of evolution, possibly a year or more previous, while he was aged 17 or younger.

Sidis' theory was finally finished in the book The Animate and the Inanimate in 1920 and eventually formally published by The Gorham Press in 1925. [1]

In this book, adding to the various theories of existence, Sidis set forth the view that life is a "reversal of the second law of thermodynamics". This was the only published book by Sidis, written when he was twenty-two, in which he used his own name. [2]

Building on the "reserve energy" theories of American psychologist William James, in which a person is theorized to have latent mental stores of energies (such as second or third winds of thought), along with English physicist William Thomson's views on life and the second law, and Scottish physicist James Maxwell's conception of an intelligent demon able to circumnavigate the second law, Sidis used a theory of probability to argue that a vital force exists in living matter able to supply available energy, in a converse manner to entropy (unavailable energy) such that "animal life acts the part of Clerk-Maxwell's sorting demon". [1]

In the May Day riots of 1919, Sidis was among the 114 people arrested for protesting the war and for being a conscientious objector to the draft and was sentenced to eighteen months of jail—six months for rioting and a year for assaulting an officer. Sidis appealed, and was released on five hundred dollars bail under the condition that he be locked in a sanitarium, operated by his two parents (both psychologists). In his own words, when looking back on the situation some twenty years later, he was “kidnapped by his parents, by arrangement with the district attorney, and was taken to a sanatorium operated by them and kept there a full year―from October, 1919 to October, 1920” (age 21-22). On the conditions of his rehabilitation he comments:

“I was kept under various kinds of mental torture, consisting of being scolded and nagged at (everything that did or did not happen was grounds for a tongue-lashing protracted over many hours) for an average of six to eight hours a day; sometimes this scolding was administered while I was loaded with sleeping medicine, or after being waked up out of a sound sleep. And the threat of being transferred to a regular insane asylum was held up in front of me constantly, with detailed descriptions of the tortures practiced there, as well as of the simple legal process by which he could be committed to such a place.”

This last bit on legal processes was accurate, as both Sidis’ parents were physicians, and by law in most states, any two physicians can commit a man, without giving him a chance to defend himself, into a sanatorium or asylum, where he can be held incommunicado indefinitely.

In October 1920, he was taken to California, to prevent his communication somehow with friends in his home city sixty miles away. Sidis states that he made his escape from there in September, 1921. He stated that for years afterward his parents attempted to “get him back to the old tortures”, resorting, from time to time, in various efforts to track him down and to persuade his friends to turn him over for "protection". In an event, the preface to his The Animate and Inanimate is January 6, 1920, which means that he wrote his masterpiece while in an asylum. [4]
Black hole
Rendition of the side view of a black hole, predicted to exist by American mathematical physicist William Sidis in 1915, showing Hawking radiation shooting out the sides, as was predicted to exist in 1974 by British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. [8]

Black holes
Interestingly, in this work, Sidis predicted the existence of black holes (using the term "black body" stars), which he defined as a type of sun that would take in all light energy, and therefore be totally invisible, some forty-seven-years before the term "black hole" was even invented; a 1967 coining of American astrophysicist John Wheeler. [3] Sidis also described what is now known as the event horizon, using the term "boundary surface". A partial explanation of his theory is found in chapter eight ‘The Nebular Hypothesis’, where Sidis explains his views on the nebular hypothesis, black bodies, and radiation thermodynamics:

“Our previous consideration on the production of radiant energy from the stars indicates that such production of radiant energy is only possible where the second law of thermodynamics is followed, that is, in a positive section of the universe. In a negative section of the universe the reverse process must take place; namely, space is full of radiant energy, presumably produced in the positive section of space, and the stars use this radiant energy to build up a higher level of heat. All radiant energy in that section of space would tend to be absorbed by the stars, which would thus constitute perfectly black bodies; and very little radiant energy would be produced in that section of space, but would mostly come from beyond the boundary surface.

What little radiant energy would be produced in the negative section of space would be pseudo-teleological directed only towards stars which have enough activity to absorb it, and no radiant energy, or almost none, would actually leave the negative section of space. The peculiarity of the boundary surface between the positive and negative sections of space, then, is, that practically all light that crosses it, crosses it in one direction, namely, from the positive side to the negative side. If we were on the positive side, as seems to be the case, then we could not see beyond such surface, though we might easily have gravitational or other evidence of bodies existing beyond that surface.”

Sidis, according to biographer Amy Wallace, had actually formulated his ideas on entropy, black stars, and life as early as 1915, when he was 17, during his stay at the Rice Institute. [8] Wallace states that it was not until the publication of the 1939 book An Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure, by Indian-born American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, that the existence of black holes was suggested.

Stimulus to publish
Sidis stated that he was at first hesitant to publish this theory, but that he gained confidence on discovering the following quotation by Irish-born Scottish mathematical physicist William Thomson:

“It is conceivable that animal life might have the attribute of using the heat of surrounding matter, at its natural temperature, as a source of energy for mechanical effect . . . . the influence of animal or vegetable life on matter is infinitely beyond the range of any scientific inquiry hitherto entered on. Its power of directing the motions of moving particles, in the demonstrated daily miracle of our human free-will, and in the growth of generation after generation of plants from a single seed, are infinitely different from any possible result of the fortuitous concurrence of atoms.”

Fullers’ 1979 review

Sidis’ treatise, supposedly, failed to receive a single review for many decades, supposedly being found only in a few dusty attics. [5] The first review, it seems, was done by Sidis’ former Harvard classmate Buckminster Fuller, who in the late 1979 was handed a fat envelope marked "A present for Bucky" from American biographer Dan Mahony. Mahony is Columbia University graduate student who had read about Sidis in 1976 and been puzzled as to what Sidis had been doing all those years after leaving Harvard and had been probing the lost years of Sidis' life (1922-1944) and was attempting a biography on William and Boris Sidis. [7] After reading Sidis' book, Fuller dispatched a letter to Scientific American editor Gerard Piel urging him to reprint the text: [6]

“Imagine my excitement and joy on being handed this Xerox of Sidis’ 1925 book, in which he clearly predicts the black hole. In fact, I find his whole book to be a fine cosmological piece. Norbert Wiener used to talk to me about him and Norbert was grieved that Sidis did not go on to fulfill his seemingly great promise of brilliance. I hope you will become as excited as I am at this discovery that Sidis did go on after college to do the most magnificent thinking and writing. I find him focusing on many of the same subjects that fascinate me, and coming to about the same conclusions as those I have published in Synergetics, and will be publishing in Synergetics, Volume II.”

William suggested that the second law of thermodynamics is not a law at all, but a probability. The fact that the second law seems always to hold true is more or less coincidence in our corner of the universe. Also, entropy is reversed in other corners of the universe--elsewhere, chaos is proceeding to order. And if the second law appears to dominate local events, then probability suggests that there must be reversals of it all around us that we haven't yet recognized.

Sidis theorized that inanimate (dead) objects follow the second law, while animate (living) things reverse the law, and draw on a ‘reserve fund’ of energy to mold the universe to their will. Life provided the reversal of entropy that Sidis' theory required. William's theory remains highly speculative; there is no reason to believe that a reverse universe exists. Also, biological processes are no longer the mystery they were at the time of his writing. But while working on this problem, Sidis came up with other conclusions that are interesting to this day.

Cosmogeny is the study of the origins of the universe; the most popularly known-theory today is called the "Big Bang" theory. In The Animate and the Inanimate, William proposed a "Great Collision" theory, wherein two large, inert bodies, containing all the matter in the universe between them, collided; this collision provided the energy that started the universe in motion. As our sun hurtles through space to an eventual frozen death, it gives off energy. Somewhere in the universe there are suns that take in energy, and death becomes life. This other kind of sun Sidis dubbed a "black body," since it would be taking in all light energy, and therefore be totally invisible. This exactly describes a black hole. Should the second law of thermodynamics eventually reverse itself in this "blackbody," it would then start giving off energy and become a sun. In this way, the universe would be in a perpetual state of ebb and flow, all energy being conserved.

Scientists all over the world are still working on a problem known as "Fermi's paradox," proposed by Enrico Fermi. If the universe is infinite, Fermi postulated, then everything possible must occur somewhere sometime; therefore, there must exist a planet where the inhabitants speak English. Why haven't we met them? Why haven't we met anyone out there? Young Sidis also said, "The theory of the reversibility of the universe supposes that life exists under all sorts of circumstances, even on such hot bodies as the sun." Like Fermi's paradox, Sidis' reversibility theory also requires that life must exist in every corner of the universe, in order to provide the necessary reversals of the law of entropy.

The theory is challenging, fascinating, and controversial on its own merits today. It was far more so in 1925; and it must be remembered that it sprang from the mind of a boy in his early twenties, who devoted only a portion of his scholarship to this book, because he was dedicated to such a vast variety of other intellectual pursuits at the same time. Had he dedicated his life entirely to cosmogeny, who knows what extraordinary body of work he might have produced?”

Sidis was, in fact, twenty-two when he wrote this book.

In circa 2010, an inscribed copy of The Animate and the Inanimate was sold in London to an anonymous collector for 5,000 pounds or about $8,000 in US dollars. [9]

See also
10 percent myth
Good Will Hunting (William Sidis)

1. Sidis, William J. (1920). The Animate and the Inanimate. Draft stage 1916; Published: R.G. Badger, 1925.
2. Seitz, Robert N. (2002). “The Prodigy: a Book Review”, May 31.
3. (a) Lyons, Viktoria and Fitzgerald, Michael. (2005). Asperger Syndrome: a Gift or a Curse? (pg. 164). Nova Publisher.
(b) Anon. (1998). “Good Will Sidis”, Harvard Magazine, March.
4. Sidis, William J. (c.1941). “Railroading in the Past” (scan); from: various mimeographed handouts, total 20p, presumably unpublished, most archived in the Eichel Collection, Swarthmore Univ., some found in Helena Sidis' files, 1977.
5. Dan Mahony: what have you to do with all this? - FAQs about W.J. Sidis -
6. Fuller, R. Buckminster. (1979). "Letter to Gerard Piel: on Sidis' book The Animate and the Inanimate", Scientific American, Feb 27.
7. Sidis, Helen. (1978). "Notary Letter: authorizing Daniel H. Mahony to be the official biographer on Boris Sidis and William Sidis, authorizing him to receive any and all documents related to the Sidis family ", Notary Public, New York, Aug 26.
8. Wallace, Amy. (1986). The Prodigy: a Biography of William James Sidis: America's Greatest Child Prodigy (black holes, pg. 157; Dan Mahony, pgs. 157, 188-89). Dutton Adult.
9. Meet William James Sidis: the Smartest Guy Ever? (2011) –
10. Sidis, William J. (1916). “Letter to Julian Huxley”, Aug 28.

External links
The Animate and the Inanimate (French → English) – Wikipedia.

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