Obituary of a Beautiful Mind: John Nash

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JanPratinidhi
JanPratinidhi

Obituary of a Beautiful Mind: John Nash


Articles / Society & Culture   /   May 26, 2015
Devika Seth
Devika Seth
She studied English literature and graduated from the University of Delhi. She seeks to pursue a successful career in the field of literature. She is also a trained Odissi dancer and has debuted as a poet in ‘When Cupid Struck its Arrow.’

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John Forbes Nash, Jr. once said, “In madness, I thought I was the most important person in the world,” but with his personality and the contribution in the field of mathematics and economics, he certainly is one of the most important persons in the world. The American mathematician with ‘a beautiful mind’ died at the age of 86 in a road accident along with his wife Alicia. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for a 27 pages long thesis called “Non- Cooperative Games, written at the age of 21 in 1950, which he considered his “most trivial work”.

Born on 13 June 1928, Nash contributed in game theory, differential geometry and partial differential equations. The theories are widely used in economics, computing, evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, accounting, computer science (minimax algorithm based on Nash Equilibrium), politics and military theory.

John Nash majored in chemical engineering from Carnegie Institute of Technology with a full scholarship, the George Westinghouse Scholarship. He graduated with a B.A. and an M.A. degree, both in mathematics in 1948. Later, he received a scholarship from Princeton University and pursued graduate studies in mathematics. 

When he was applying for graduate school, former CIT professor Richard Duffin wrote a letter of recommendation of only one sentence, saying: “This man is a genius.” Nash was ensuingly accepted by Harvard University. However, Princeton surely didn’t want to lose Nash, so the Chairman of the mathematics department, Solomon Lefscetz offered him the John S Kennedy fellowship. The fellowship was more than enough for Nash to stay at Princeton. There he worked on his equilibrium theory which was later known as the Nash equilibrium. In 1950, he received his doctorate with his thesis “Non-Cooperative Games”.

He worked for the RAND Corporation, an ultra-secret nuclear think-tank in Santa Monica, California, where his game theory fetched him the stature of prima expert and dominated the work of the organization. It was in 1952 that made him one of the world’s leading mathematicians when he published “Real Algebraic Manifolds” in the Annals of Mathematics. From the same year, he began teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Other important papers that were published and brought him further recognition in the field include “C1 isometric imbeddings” (1954), “The imbedding problem for Riemannian manifolds” (1956) and “Continuity of solutions of parabolic and elliptic equations” (1958).

The beauty of his mind was proven when as an undergraduate unknowingly and individually proved Brouwer’s fixed point theorem. The stunning part was that the problem had been perplexing mathematicians since the 19 century. And, he never ceased to astonish the world by solving equally complicated equations that are used to describe orbits, air flows and alike developments. His mind indulged in games of strategy, computer architecture, the shape of the universe, the geometry of imaginary space and the mystery of prime numbers.

In fact, Nash became the subject of a blockbuster movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ based on the biography by Sylvia Nasar, in which Russell Crow played his character. The movie focused on how he was virtually incapacitated for a score of years as he was suffering from schizophrenia. The author also explained that the mathematician was working on proving Hilbert’s nineteenth problem, which is a theorem involving elliptic partial differential equations when, in 1956, he suffered a severe disappointment. The disappointment came following when he discovered that an Italian mathematician Ennio de Giorgi had already published a proof a few months ago, however with a different approach.

He was not a man who would attend lectures and learn mathematics “second hand”. In fact, he was the one who preferred working on first principles while pacing interminably, whistling Bach or riding bicycles in tight concentric circles.


The views expressed here are those of the authors and doesn’t reflect the official policy of Janpratinidhi. The views expressed here are those of the authors and doesn’t reflect the official policy of Janpratinidhi.
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