Famed Mathematician John Nash and his wife Alicia died in a car crash in New Jersey on Saturday. The two of them were in a taxi that lost control and hit another car on the New Jersey turnpike. Nash is most famous for his work on game theory as well as the adaptation of his biography in the Academy Award Winning 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, directed by Ron Howard. This is a tribute to the man with his Biography, Religion and Legend.
According to St. Andrews biographies, John Nash began as an introverted boy who preferred to play in solitude. John was very good at learning, and his father gave him science books to read, which inspired him to learn more from home than at school. At 14, he showed a great interest in mathematics, and entered Bluefield College in 1941 and won a scholarship in the George Westinghouse Competition and was accepted at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University).
Many of John's classmates noticed that John had mental problems, and that he exhibited homosexual tendencies. He was accepted into the mathematics programs at Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, and Michigan, but chose Princeton. It was here that he wrote a paper which would help him win a Nobel prize for economics 45 years later. The paper was on non-cooperative game theory, which is the study of how individuals or institutions might interact strategically if they don't communicate.
Nash eventually started teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is when his mental problems began to surface. In 1959, Nash asked a graduate student to take over his course and then vanished for a few weeks. He came back to the common room with a copy of the New York Times, saying that it contained encrypted messages from outer space that were meant only for him.
You might notice this is slightly different than the account of John Nash from his biography film, A Beautiful Mind. In that movie, John's hallucinations are primarily based on cold war and nuclear fears rather than that of extra-terrestrials. The film also did not show that his wife, Alicia, divorced him in 1962, and Nash spent time with Eleanor Stier, a woman he had a long affair with before he met Alicia. Eleanor and John also had a son before John met and married Alicia as well.
John and Alicia did get back together as she took him in as a boarder. Eventually, after many years, Nash did recover. He then won the Nobel Prize in 1994, and recently won the Abel prize at Princeton just this year.
John Nash's discoveries in mathematics will certainly challenge arithmeticians for years to come, but his story of overcoming schizophrenia is also inspiring as well. According to his biography A Beautiful Mind, the book that was adapted into the film of the same name, Nash was an atheist. Whatever his religion or beliefs actually were, it is very humbling to know that a man with Nash's abnormal tendencies could still achieve such great accolades and a very committed relationship as well. In spite of John's tendencies and past history, John and his wife Alicia were together for 60 years.