Rest In Peace: The Great John Nash


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As Mark Twain once said, “‘The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

But, I must say, it was a bit of an odd and eery moment when the breaking news flashed across my cell phone, telling me John Nash was killed in a car accident in New Jersey.

After all, being a John Nash, I had to double check my own personal well-being before remembering that I suck very badly at math and thus there was no way a headline reading, “Mathematician John Nash, wife killed” would ever be written about me.

That being said, though, having one less John Nash in the world is a sad, sad thing — especially when it comes to the death of John Forbes Nash, Jr., whose story was brought to the world courtesy of the 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind.”

I’ve always felt a kinship with “The Great John Nash” — the above film clip courtesy of youtube is my favorite part of the movie, for obvious ego-centric reasons — since I first learned of his existence.

John Nash (1928-2015)

John Nash (1928-2015)

Perhaps it was the identical name (no, we’re not related in real life, though I did claim him to be a great uncle back when the movie first came out). Perhaps, it was his battle with mental illness. Or maybe it was the fact he got to sleep with Jennifer Connolly — oh wait, I’m sorry, that was the movie version of John Nash, played brilliantly by Russell Crowe.

In truth, it just gave me a connection to somebody I wanted to know more about. I could simply Google myself to find out everything I needed to know about him.

Nash was born on June 13, 1928, in Bluefield, West Virginia — so right away we share nothing but eight common letters. After all, I was born 38 years later, during which time he was fighting his on-going battle with schizophrenia, finding himself going in and out psychiatric hospitals as that beautiful mind battled inner demons against its inner brilliance.

Over the years, Nash attended Carnegie Mellon University (it was actually Carnegie Institute of Technology back in those days) and moved on to Princeton after that. (Side note: He picked Princeton over Harvard).

Me? I went to the University of Maine — not that there is anything wrong with that.

At Princeton, Nash came up with the Nash equilibrium, which I can explain, “is a solution concept of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players, in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only their own strategy. If each player has chosen a strategy and no player can benefit by changing strategies while the other players keep theirs unchanged, then the current set of strategy choices and the corresponding payoffs constitutes a Nash equilibrium. The reality of the Nash equilibrium of a game can be tested using experimental economics method. Stated simply, Amy and Will are in Nash equilibrium if Amy is making the best decision she can, taking into account Will’s decision while Will’s decision remains unchanged, and Will is making the best decision he can, taking into account Amy’s decision while Amy’s decision remains unchanged. Likewise, a group of players are in Nash equilibrium if each one is making the best decision possible, taking into account the decisions of the others in the game as long the other party’s decision remains unchanged.”

That came courtesy of Wikipedia and I’ve read it twice and still don’t understand it.

During my college years, I attempted my own quest at the Nash equilibrium, which was trying to stay upright for as long as I could while I was drunk.

Like I said, there is no comparison between me and John Nash except for the obvious.

Still, I mourn his loss. I really do.

Perhaps it’s because of what he meant to this world. He is, after all, a Nobel Prize winner and his theories are used in everything from economics, computer technology, artificial intelligence, accounting, politics, and military theory … just to name a few.

Perhaps it’s because of the life-long battle he fought in his head — trying to live his life in reality when he didn’t always know what was real and what wasn’t.

Perhaps it was the relationship he had with his wife, Alicia, and how they first married in 1957 and were together in the end. Those who saw the movie and knew nothing more of John Nash’s life saw the touching speech at the end of the film where he professed his love for her because she stood by him for all those years.

And, in a way, she did, but she also divorced him in 1963 — though she always remained a part of his life through his struggles and fight against mental illness.

They remarried in 2001 — soulmates who lost their way to only to find each other once again when the universe allowed things to line up just right.

Sadly, Alicia Nash was killed in the same accident that took her husband’s life, as well.

On Saturday, they were riding in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike, near Monroe Township, N.J. The taxi driver lost control of his car while he was trying to pass another and struck a guard rail.

Both Nash and his wife, neither of whom were wearing seat belts, were thrown from the car and killed.

John Nash was 86 years old when he died. He is survived by his two sons and a grandson.

And a namesake who always admired him from afar.

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14 thoughts on “Rest In Peace: The Great John Nash

  1. Pingback: RIP John Nash | Sine of Madness

  2. Reblogged this on cynthiajbuck and commented:
    John Nash became my hero after I watched “A Beautiful Mind” and learned that the movie was based on a real person. I wanted so much to be like him. It seems crazy but the dedication he had to his field of study, the dedication that was so destructive to his mental health that he lost a chunk of his life, I wanted to be like that. He had a theory and was going to prove it no mater what, I really look up to him.

  3. I am an economist myself and, sad enough, I did understand the Wikipedia quote on “Nash equilibrium”. In fact, I had to take some courses where game theory and Nash’s contribution was a central topic. However, I chose not to go there during my doctoral studies, but stick to macroeconomics. Even sadder (is that correct english?) is the loss of John Nash. Thank you for the great post, it deserves to be on “Freshly Pressed”!!!

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