Articles/Biographies/Other/Nash Jr., John Forbes
John Forbes Nash Jr. was born on June 13, 1928 in Bluefield, West Virginia. His father was an electrical engineer and his mother worked as a school teacher before marrying her husband. John was brought up in a loving household that nurtured his genius. It was apparent at an early age that he liked to work independently, often playing alone.
His father gave him scientific volumes to study, while his parents made sure that he received a good education. He became known as an oddball at his school, considering dances, sports, and other social activities to be distractions from his work in scientific study and experimentation. He became aware of his intellectual superiority over his peers and developed a sense of arrogance and intense pride. His mother tutored him outside of school, allowing him to skip a grade.
In his senior year of high school, John won a coveted Westinghouse scholarship, one of only ten awarded in the nation. He went to the Carnegie Institute of Technology and, in 1948, graduated with a Master's degree after only three years. Although he had originally planned to study chemical engineering, he quickly discovered a love for mathematics and changed his major. His advisor wrote a recommendation for him saying "This man is a genius".
After graduating, John went immediately to Princeton University, where he wowed his peers by developing a game called "Nash", which involved strategy and planning. The game took over the campus and John found himself making some friends.
His major accomplishment during his time at Princeton was to develop his theory of "Nash Equilibrium", which applied to Game Theory. Prior to his theory, it was thought that in game theory and competition, everyone fought for their own interests. He developed the idea that for each player in a game, there is an ideal solution with regard to the other players' actions. Although the potential of the theory was not realized then, it gained notoriety over the next several decades.
John rarely attended class, insisting that it would ruin his originality. He constantly looked for ways to establish himself in the field of mathematics in order to become the world's greatest mathematician. He constantly walked through the hallways whistling Bach's "Little Fugue" and rode his bicycle in a figure-eight or infinity symbol in the quadrangle on campus.
After he graduated with his Ph.D, John moved to Boston, where he became a distinguished member of the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was called the "kid professor" by students since he was so young, but he considered himself incredibly elite. His colleagues there were annoyed by his arrogance, but tolerated it because of his genius. He quickly began making huge discoveries in mathematics in fields such as geometry and partial differential equations. In 1958, he was featured in Fortune Magazine as one of the brightest stars in the field of mathematics. However, he still considered himself a failure since he had not yet achieved the Field's medal, the highest award in mathematics.
While teaching at MIT, John met a woman named Eleanor Stier and later found that she was pregnant with his son. After the birth, John refused to acknowledge that it was his son, but continued having sexual relations with her, even after he had become romantically involved with a student named Alicia Larde. Alicia was a student at MIT and one of only sixteen women in a class of eight hundred. In February of 1957, he married Alicia and they had a son in 1959.
By this time, John's mental state was beginning to deteriorate. It is thought that his psychotic break occurred primarily from anxiety about his work and Alicia's pregnancy. His friends first noticed his odd behavior when he arrived at a New Year's Eve party dressed as a baby and spent the entire evening curled up on Alicia's lap, sucking his thumb. In his game theory course, he appointed a graduate student to teach and disappeared for several weeks, suddenly appearing in the commons at MIT. There, he began exclaiming that aliens were sending him encrypted messages through the New York Times. He also interrupted a lecture to say that he was on the cover of LIFE magazine, disguised as the pope, and he knew this because twenty-three was his favorite prime number.
On the campus, he began noticing many people wearing red ties. He thought that the men were members of a secret communist organization and began watching them carefully. When the University of Chicago offered him a prestigious position in their faculty, John turned it down, saying that he was scheduled to become the emperor of Antarctica. He talked to his colleagues about extraterrestrial creatures and secret government agencies working to destroy his credibility and reputation, greatly disturbing them. The math department chairman relieved John of his teaching responsibilities, thinking that he was having a nervous breakdown.
Eventually, John was hospitalized at McLean private hospital near Boston. John was terrified of being locked up, thinking that he didn't belong there. He was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and given Thorazine to calm him down. His treatment there was psychoanalysis and his doctors referred to him as "Professor".
After he was released, he resigned from MIT and withdrew his pension to move to Europe. In Europe, he made various attempts to renounce his citizenship in the United States and declare refugee status. Alicia followed him to Europe and had him deported back to the United States. Although he was flown back to the United States, he claimed that he had been put in chains and sent back in a ship, like a slave.
Back in the US, John started hanging around at Princeton, talking about himself in the third person, writing bizarre postcards, and lecturing endlessly about numerology. Alicia took up a job in Princeton and managed to support their family. She managed to convince the faculty at Princeton to give her husband small amounts of work in mathematics in an attempt to help him back into the society. However, he refused to sign W-4 forms saying that the government was conspiring against him. He continued to make pay phone calls to his family members using fictitious names.
In 1961, John was committed by Alicia and his sisters to Trenton State Hospital in New Jersey. There, he was subjected to insulin-coma therapy, which involved injecting the patient with large amounts of insulin to put them into a coma, often causing seizures. His colleagues in mathematics were outraged and wrote a letter to the hospital, urging the doctors to protect his mind for the good of humanity. He was discharged after six months of the insulin treatment and looked absolutely terrible to his family members.
His former colleagues at Princeton found him some research work and he published a paper on Fluid Dynamics, his first work in four years. He left for Europe again, sending bizarre postcards to his family with cryptic messages and mathematical theorems. He returned shortly afterward, looking rather haggard.
In 1962 Alicia filed for a divorce and John moved in with Eleanor and his first son. She complained that he had deserted her without child support and resented her for committing him. His colleagues in Boston got him an apartment and arranged for him to meet with a psychiatrist, who prescribed anti psychotic drugs. He began to improve dramatically, beginning to look like the old Nash for the first time in years. He was much nicer and his egotistical nature had completely disappeared. He even began meeting with Eleanor and seeing his first son.
Less than a year after moving to Boston, he stopped taking his medicine, causing his symptoms to resurface. He said that he stopped taking the medication mainly because of his feeling of exhaustion and inability to concentrate on his work. This time, he heard voices along with his visual delusions. The voices constantly criticized his behavior and greatly deteriorated his mental condition.
In 1970, Alicia allowed John to move in with her and their son, promising to never commit him again to a hospital. She took him not only as a husband, but to prevent him from living on the streets as a homeless beggar. He began showing up on Princeton, writing mathematical formulas all over campus and developing a reputation as "The Phantom" due to his extreme introversion. Myths developed, with students telling each other that he had been driven to madness as a result of trying to solve an overly complex mathematical problem.
Over the next decade, he continued to wander the campus, working independently on mathematical problems. Some time in the 1980s, he finally overcame his mental illness, learning to reject the voices that he heard in his head. His recovery was gradual, but allowed him to slowly become mentally fit, allowing him to regain a role in society. He said that his recovery was as a result of his decision to think rationally.
Over time his idea of an equilibrium point in game theory had finally caught the proper attention and became a cornerstone of modern economics. Economists mostly used his ideas to attempt to predict occurrences in the world economy. Members of the Nobel committee finally decided to award Nash the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994, despite fears of him causing a major embarrassment. People were shocked that a man suffering from schizophrenia for so many years was able to recover and receive such a prestigious award.
Today, Nash serves in the department of mathematics at Princeton. He has since remarried Alicia and found that his own son also suffers from schizophrenia. He has also reconnected with his oldest son, John Stier. His life was immortalized in the film "A Beautiful Mind", with his character portrayed by Russell Crowe.