John Nash, The American Mathematician and Nobel Prize Winner…Farewell!


Last Monday morning, I was in Sydney with hubby, enjoying a nice relaxing breakfast at a nice cozy cafe near Hyde Park, when the TV news announced the accidental passing of John Nash – one of the greatest mathematicians and geniuses in the world, and a Nobel Prize winner.

If you have seen Russell Crowe’s film ‘A Beautiful Mind’, most likely you’d know something about John Nash. The film was based on his life story. I greatly admired his wife, Alicia, (as portrayed in the film) for sticking with him and caring for him through all those troubles they faced. In case you’ve never heard of him, let me tell you a little bit about one of the world’s most beautiful minds.

John Nash was known as one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, known for the originality of his thoughts and for his bravery in wrestling down problems so difficult few others dared talk about them. He is described by one word, “genius”.

John F. Nash Jr., born on June 13, 1928 in Bluefield, West Virginia, was the son of John Forbes Nash, an electrical engineer, and Margaret Virginia, a schoolteacher. He had also a younger sister, Martha F. Nash, born on November 16, 1930.

Nash had a humble beginning. He attended public school during student years. He went to Carnegie Institute of Technology after high school, with a full scholarship, the “George Westinghouse Scholarship”, and took up chemical engineering. He, then, changed to chemistry and then to mathematics. With a B.S. degree and an M.S. degree in Mathematics, he graduated in 1948. He pursued his graduate studies at Princeton University also as a scholar.

It was Nash’s adviser and former professor who wrote a recommendation letter for graduate school consisting of a single sentence, “This man is a genius.”

His Major Contributions

Nash’s biggest contribution was his equilibrium theory known as “ Nash Equilibrium”, an important concept of non-cooperative games, that gave him the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994.

Nash’s major publications are the following:

•    Nash, John Forbes (1950). “Equilibrium Points in N-person Games”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 36 (1): 48–49. doi:10.1073/pnas.36.1.48. MR 0031701. PMC 1063129. PMID 16588946.

•    Nash, John Forbes (1950). “The Bargaining Problem”. Econometrica 18 (2): 155–62. doi:10.2307/1907266. MR 0035977.

•    Nash, John Forbes (1951). “Non-cooperative Games”. Annals of Mathematics 54 (2): 286–95. doi:10.2307/1969529. JSTOR 1969529. MR 0043432.

•    Nash, John Forbes (1953). “Two-person Cooperative Games”. Econometrica 21 (1): 128–40. doi:10.2307/1906951. MR 0053471.

The Nash embedding theorem that shows that every abstract Riemannian manifold can be isometrically realized as a sub manifold of Euclidean space, is also one of his great works in mathematics. He also made noteworthy contributions to the theory of nonlinear parabolic partial differential equations and to singularity theory.

His Personal Life

He had a relationship with Eleanor Stier, the nurse who took care of him as a patient, and they had a son, John David Stier. However, when Stier told Nash about her pregnancy, Nash left her. “A Beautiful Mind”, the movie based on Nash’s life, was criticized for omitting this aspect of his life.

Nash met Alicia Lopez-Harrison de Lardé, a U.S. citizen from El Salvador, not long after his break up with Stier. They married in February 1957 at a Roman Catholic Church (although he’s an atheist).

Before his connection with Stier, Nash was hired as an instructor in mathematics by Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951, where he was given a permanent position. In 1959, the first symptoms of his mental illness manifested.  His wife had him admitted to McClean Hospital for treatment of schizophrenia during the spring of that same year. Soon afterward, their son was born named John Charles Martin Nash.

In 1963, Nash divorced her wife due to the stress in dealing with his mental condition. They remarried in 2001 when Nash already knew how to get rid of his paranoid delusions and was allowed to go back to teaching.

At the age of 86, Nash died last May 23, 2015, together with his wife, due to vehicular accident in New Jersey.  They were on their way home from Norway, where he had received the Abel Prize – Norway’s annual international prize award to outstanding mathematicians.

Evidently, John Nash became famous because of his exemplary intelligence in the field of mathematics. He was known as “The Phantom of Fine Hall” (Princeton’s math center). His intellect was amazingly one-of-a-kind.  Although he had a mental illness, it did not hamper his success. He was a legend and had been a great inspiration to the world.

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