Mathematical Genius/Paranoid Schizophrenic
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994
John Forbes Nash Jr. was born in Bluefield, West Virginia
in 1928. His father was an electrical engineer
and his mother, a teacher. Bluefield was sort of a mining town
in the Appalachians
and so Nash resorted to reading to explore the outside world. He began with an encyclopedia while in elementary school, and by the time he was in high school, he was reading "Men of Mathematics" and had "proven" a very difficult mathematical (Fermat) theorem
. His goal at this time was to become an engineer, like his father, albeit
a chemical engineer
Once enrolled at what is now Carnegie Mellon University, the mathematics faculty persuaded him to transfer to their department and at graduation, he was awarded both a B.S. and a M.A.. He went on to further graduate studies at Princeton and while there, he developed an interest in game theory, which would eventually lead him to the Nobel Prize. His Ph. D. thesis came from a discovery he made concerning manifolds and real algebraic varieties and was submitted for publication.
In 1951 he joined the mathematics faculty at MIT and remained there until 1959. While there, he solved complex mathematical problems that contributed to the progress of physics, computers, abstract mathematics, and our national defense. But in 1959, he began to experience "mental disturbances" and he basically remained in seclusion for the next 30 years. He was, in fact, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. During this time, he was in and out of institutions, he wandered streets almost as a vagrant, and described his illness as if,
all of Boston were behaving strangely towards me...I started to see crypto-communists everywhere...I started to think I was a man of great religious importance, and to hear voices all the time...the delirium was like a dream from which I seemed never to awake..
The disease finally went into remission
in 1974 and Nash returned to producing mathematical work of the highest caliber
. In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for work he had actually done some 30 plus years before, and his contributions were critiqued as being "the most important idea in noncooperative game theory...whether analyzing election strategies, or causes of war."In 1999, Sylvia Nasar
published a biography of John Nash entitled, "A Beautiful Mind
". She covers his stays in mental hospitals until remission at age 61, and has the support and contributions of his colleagues at Princeton and his friends as well.
Editor's note: John Nash died in a car crash with his wife on May 23, 2015.