A beautiful mind and life, indeed

The book by Sylvia Nasar and the Russell Crowe-starrer 2001 biopic by the same name – A beautiful mind – might not tell much about John F Nash’s work but will surely tell something about his life and struggle which were no less inspiring than his mathematical equations.

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Shishir Tripathi | May 25, 2015


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Fighting one’s fears requires mettle extraordinaire. Nash’s life was a perfect lesson in this regard. A mathematician, Nash won the Nobel prize for economics in 1994 and Abel prize in 2005. A certain measure of eccentricity is an understandable corollary to being a mathematical genius, but in Nash’s case it went further to become a mental illness. In 1959 he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia which marked the beginning of an eventful life.

Apart from his contribution to the field of mathematics, economics and international trade, his life was also an inspiring tale of a conqueror who fought unimaginable odds to emerge a winner. He fought his delusional thinking and made a comeback only to be awarded John von Neumann Theory Prize for his discovery of non-cooperative equilibrium, now called Nash equilibrium, in 1978.

His fight against the fear that his mental condition brought to him is an inspiring tale chronicled beautifully by Nasar in her Pulitzer Prize-nominated 1998 book and Ron Howard in his four Academy award winner film adaptation.

Being a student of political science and international relations, Nash was not an unknown figure for me. Nash equilibrium which stresses that rational actors behaving in a mutually benefiting way always creates a win-win situation for all was a part of the curriculum . A dialogue from the movie can help to bring out the beauty of his idea and hypothesis, even more clearly.

 
Nash: In competitive behaviour someone always loses.

Charles: Well, my niece knows that, John, and she's about this high.

Nash: See if I derive an equilibrium where prevalence is a non-singular event where nobody loses, can you imagine the effect that would have on conflict scenarios, arm negotiations...

 
However, for me, Nash was transformed from a remote intellectual into an inspiring figure through Nasar’s book and Crowe’s portrayal of the genius. The movie while depicting Nash’s struggle to get rid of his delusions ends with an amazing antidote to a complex rational mind.

Towards the end of the movie Nash is shown giving his Nobel acceptance speech. He tells the audience in the jam packed auditorium, “I’ve made the most important discovery of my life. It's only in the mysterious equation of love that any logic or reasons can be found”.

Looking at his wife with tears welling up in his eyes, he Crowe’s Nash adds, “I’m only here tonight because of you. You are the only reason I am... you are all my reasons”.

Perhaps, he treasured his most important finding more than anything. He left for a better world with his love and wife on May 23.

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