Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Biography of John Nash

Among various interesting places in UCD, I find the James Joyce library as a special place as I always admire good books. During my second visit to the library, I accidentally came across an interesting book which grabbed my attention. It's the biography of the famous mathematician John Forbes Nash written by Sylvia Nasar. The name of the book is "A Beautiful Mind" which is a famous name due to the famous movie with the same name and is based on this very same book. I had already watched the movie a few years ago and immediately felt that I should read the book too.

John Nash is an American mathematician who is famous for his contributions to Economics including Nash Equilibrium. He won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics. He suffered from a mental illness called Schizophrenia which caused him to see delusions and hear voices which were non-existent. His illness failed him to recognize reality and his own imaginations. His life story is so painful as he bounced between the reality and his delusions affecting his academic career and family life. He luckily had a wonderful group of people around him who never gave up with him till the end.

I learned so many things from the book about the life of this mathematician which were not represented in the movie. Of course, it is natural that when a movie is based on a book, so many details from the book has to be omitted from the book in order to fit the story into a short video. However, missing these details from the John Nash's life story makes it so incomplete. Therefore, I'm glad that I found the book.

Among so many things, I thought it is worth highlighting some interesting facts about this interesting man which I couldn't find in the movie. Let's start with some dark aspects.

(1) The movie tells us how Nash found Alicia, how they fall in love and build their family. The missing piece is that Nash had a love life before meeting Alicia. For a while,  Nash lived together with a girl called Eleanor and they had a son too. After their son was born, Nash refused to marry Eleanor and even refused to pay for the child support when she tried to take legal action. Nash's mother tried so hard to prevent her son from doing this terrible mistake but she failed. Nash later met a student called Alicia and got married to her. Eleanor even went to meet Alicia to prevent this marriage but still, Alicia didn't care.

(2) During the time when Nash was working for a defense research institution, he was arrested by police once with the charges of "indecent exposure" in a men's bathroom. Due to this incident, his security clearance was canceled making him unable to work on defense projects. It is still not clear whether Nash was gay. At some points, while he was a Ph.D. student, his behavior indicates like he had some kind of affection for male students. However, still, it is difficult to confirm.

(3) During the Korean wartime, US Government drafted young American men to go to war. Nash was on the list of compulsory military draft and it was clear that he has to join military very soon. He used his personal and family connections to remove his name from the list while some of his unfortunate Princeton colleagues had to go to war. Just imagine how many brilliant young men the war must have taken away. The move taken by Nash spared his life even though the way he did it was not right. 

(4) Nash was so determined to win a mathematical prize somehow and for that, he was supposed to publish in an American journal. He first submitted his paper to Acta Mathematica, a prestigious Swedish mathematical journal and right after getting the acceptance with comments, he immediately withdrew the paper and submitted to American Journal of Mathematics. Swedish reviewers were so outraged by Nash's unprofessional behavior.

Having said so many negative aspects of this brilliant man, I still find amazing things in this person. Among so many other things, this is the most fascinating thing about John Nash. Even though he was suffering from the mental illness called Schizophrenia, which caused him to see delusions and hear voices, he believed in something which is even sane people fail to recognize as a wonderful idea.

Nash believed that there is an incoming Alien Invasion to the Earth. He thought that he can figure out how the Aliens are going to do it by decoding secret messages. His idea was that the whole world should unite and fight back. He tried to convince his fellows, high profile members of the government and many others about this invasion but nobody believed him. Being unable to convince others, finally, he left the US and traveled to Switzerland. There he visited the US embassy in Switzerland and attempted to rip off his passport in front of the officials. He said that he no longer an American citizen but a World Citizen. Although this idea was never accepted and he was deported back to the US, I find this an awesome idea.

Do we have to be insane to think that these divisions among human race are not going to help us in any way?