The Brain: Beautiful Indeed

A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate, John Nash by Sylvia Nasar is a far superior portrayal of the life of John Forbes Nash than the motion picture version. His super-egocentric personality, his ambition, his bisexuality, his relationships with mistress and bastard son, his wife Alicia and son John would never have popular appeal. The power of his mind would never be within the grasp of a lay audience. However, his actual breakdown, the faithfulness of his wife, even after divorce and the devotion of his peers that maintained him through the decades of mental illness after he turned thirty should have made film.

John’s paranoid schizophrenia was not as physically dramatic as portrayed in the motion picture. Most schizophrenia isn’t. Much of John’s battle was trying to make sense of the distorted input his mind was feeding him. He cycled between a sense of omnipotence and impotence as his delusions grew within him only to collapse like a deck of cards as they collided with reality. His illness drove him across Europe and the United States and exhausted his family and colleagues as they sought to help him and resurrect the unique intellect.

John’s recovery was helped by medication, however in his 40s and 50s, living with his ex-wife, as there was no one left to take him in, he wandered Princeton campus like a ghost. And somehow his delusions turned from pathology, to numerology, to mathematics and finally to actual pure mathematical research. John said that aging itself had altered his mind and he began to recognize that the delusions caused by political thought and religious thought could be deliberately rejected as wasted effort and what was left was science.

John’s Nobel for Economics did not come without controversy, however his supporters prevailed. They felt that Nash had been overlooked his entire life by the mathematical community and finally he could be vindicated. Nash’s contribution to game theory, the Nash equilibrium, that has changed every science where there were noncooperative systems was finally recognized.

A very good video lecture on John Nash by Sylvia Nasar at MIT in 2002 is here.