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John Nash in library

A Warrior Mind: The Life of John Nash


The genial mathematician is a living example that a normal way of thinking does not necessarily result in solving the problems of the world.

One of theoretical physics fantasies (just as that of philosophy and religion since time immemorial) is to eventually reach a whole understanding through an idea system that will encompass the universe and all of knowledge’s possibilities, within it in a complete manner. Rationality has been the incentive and the engine’s driving force since the Seventeenth century; it has guided scientists and thinkers, meanwhile the role of insanity has been reduced to a barely marginal role in the universal oeuvre. This is why assessing John Nash’s perspective is important.

Popularised through Russell Crowe’s masterful interpretation in A Beautiful Mind (based on the homonymous book by Sylvia Nasar), the figure of John Nash is presented as a quasi-renaissance mathematician that must fight against the ghost of his schizophrenia, shows brief glimpses of the genius that should be included in order to have an accurate evaluation and learning experience; also, we can thing that the game theory (just as theories that Nash subsequently developed during a large part of his mental illness) throw some light on some of the contemporary issues of a geopolitical nature.

In sciences such as mathematics, economy and biology, game theory can help scientists solve problems which have a series of variables (some of them unknown), within the concept of uncertainty. This is significantly less hard than it first seems: as is shown in the movie, if a group of men want to pick-up the most attractive woman, her self-perceived value will increase, which is why she will turn all of her suitors down. However, if each man tries to talk to a different girl, they will all feel equally appreciated and everybody at the party will have someone to dance with (to put it innocently).

What this (let’s be honest, somewhat misogynist) example shows us about game theory is that the prize for the participants —the most attractive woman— of a system —or a party— can be negotiated within an uncertain context if the participants were to coordinate themselves before jumping in the ring. Mutatis mutandis, what would happen if before we sought out our era’s ideal lifestyle (our work, family, dog and two cars) we seriously considered that integrating ourselves in this impersonalised competence scheme could actually oppose our true desires, desires which we could adequately formulate and actively seek if we chose to really know ourselves?

‘Knowing yourself’ is precisely the advice the mythical Delphic Oracle gave to those that approached him to consult their future, as well as being a sentence usually associated with Socrates. He, just like Nash, was harshly judged by his contemporaries because of their employment of thought schemes that defied the traditional laws, which the ideas of the world were founded upon.

John Nash spent at least nine years in psychiatric care institutions; it is likely that while he was there he developed his most interesting theories until then. In his own words:

Thus there came about the research for “Le problème de Cauchy pour les équations différentielles d’un fluide général”; the idea that Prof. Hironaka called “the Nash blowing-up transformation”; and those of “Arc Structure of Singularities” and “Analyticity of Solutions of Implicit Function Problems with Analytic Data.

It is possible that what we consider to be a mental disease is actually an unconventional way of perceiving reality, one that is socially marginalised, as Foucault has proved in his monumental Insanity: A History of Madness? Some of Nash’s hypothesis revolving around his own mental health (after being diagnoses with paranoid schizophrenia and clinical depression) could support this claim.

John Nash at chalkboard


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