John Nash, central figure in the feature film "A Beautiful Mind", was born in 1928 to parents of no particular note and displayed a fascination with numbers of an intensity that has always eluded me. After being graduated from Carnegie Tech he was accepted at Princeton, a hotbed of math inquiry at the time, and completed his doctoral dissertation on game theory at the age of twenty one. It was really a breakthrough study -- the Nash Equilibrium -- but its importance wasn't recognized at the time.
Nash accepted a position at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but quickly suffered what was then called a nervous breakdown and is technically known as paranoid schizophrenia. It's a disabling and extremely painful disease of the brain. There were no antipsychotic drugs available at the time. His behavior became bizarre. He began receiving messages from outer space and having auditory hallucinations in which voices talked about him and criticized him. He was hospitalized at McLean Hospital, a facility for the wealthy and socially prominent where he was treated by psychoanalysts. Psychoanalysis assumes that symptoms are the result of earlier childhood experiences and that getting rid of the symptoms -- the hallucinations and the bizarre behavior -- was just sweeping the REAL problem under the rug. Psychoanalysis may have worked with Sigmund Freud's Viennese patients in 1900 but that was an entirely different cultural milieu.
With the help of friends, he was released and returned to Princeton and a job involving little responsibility but he brought his symptoms with him. His wife, Alicia, divorced him and kept custody of their son, which didn't seem to bother Nash much. Considerably later in life, when Nash appears to have recovered, they were remarried for good. Meantime there was the problem of what to do with a man who believed that he was the Pope and was still receiving interplanetary messages. Since their nest egg was depleted by now, the country club facility at McLean was no longer available. The answer had to be hospitalization at Trenton State, a notorious hell hole then (in the 1950s) and now. He was subjected to insulin therapy, which leaves you comatose for a while and was said to lead to improvement. The film claims that insulin injections were the results of a theory involving the effects of glucose on the brain, but I think they got it backwards, and that a serendipitous injection of insulin on a schizophrenic appeared to improve the symptoms, and the theory was developed later in an attempt to explain the results. In any case it's no longer used.
He was finally released and taken in by Alicia in Princeton. She'd been a physics major at the university but now had a low-level job at a laboratory in order to maintain some sort of cash flow. vegetating for a while and then slowly remitting with no further treatment. By this time he was much over thirty, the age at which mathematicians and physicists tend to burn out. But, to Nash's good fortune, his dissertation on game theory had been discovered as not merely airy but as having serious practical applications in economics and politics. A course in game theory, based on the Nash Equilibrium, is now taught by Robert Schiller at Yale. The course is available free on YouTube. I'd always been curious about game theory because, after all, who can disregard the appeal of words like "minimax" and "maximin"? It took roughly one hour to convince me that my lack of mathematical talent had not deserted me.
Nash's early work had turned out to be monumentally important and he was widely considered deserving of the Nobel Prize in math. Of course the Prize would be given for the Nash Equilibrium which had appeared many years ago but that's not uncommon. Einstein got it for work he'd done in 1905. Stockholm had always worried that if they invited Nash to the very formal ceremony, he would do something crazy, but in view of his spontaneous improvement he was finally designated a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize. He behaved very decorously and looked suitably professorial in his tuxedo. He lived in Princeton with his wife and their son and died a few years ago. His son is schizophrenic too. The disease has a high genetic loading but there must be some sort of environmental trigger too because it's not uncommon for one identical twin to "get it" and the other not.
I've read elsewhere that Nash could be, and was, a lot more nasty than the Nash shown in the film -- anti-Semitic and so on. But, that aside, this is pretty well done, a mixture of interviews, still photos, and newsreel footage, salubriously blended together. A nice job overall.
0 of 0 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this