Many of us will know of John Nash as the brilliant mathematician whose life was the inspiration for the movie A Beautiful Mind. He made essential contributions to game theory, differential geometry, and partial differential equations.
Nash’s theories have been used in many fields and helped us understand decision-making and what governs chance. His work contributed tremendously to the modern development of mathematics and economics.
But what else can we learn about this brilliant man? Read on to find out 13 interesting facts about John Nash.
John Nash Facts
1. John Nash was inspired to pursue mathematics at a young age
When Nash was only 14, he began to show his passion for mathematics. He read E.T. Bell’s book, “The Men of Mathematics”, and learnt about famous mathematicians throughout history. This inspired him in his studies, and is credited for his decision to focus on mathematics.
2. However, Nash was first interested in chemistry
When he was very young, Nash was interested in specializing in chemistry. He studied at Bluefield College, where he took lots of science subjects and especially chemistry. In the end, he used his knowledge of chemistry to fuel his practical jokes that he would become known for among his friends and colleagues, an interesting fact about John Nash.
3. Yes, Nash was a prankster
John Nash became known for his love of practical jokes. With his knowledge of chemistry, he would make explosives to surprise people. He is also known to have tied his sister to a chair wired with batteries. It would always be something very science orientated, but fundamentally a prank nonetheless.
4. He knew Einstein closely
John Nash studied at Princeton University, where Einstein worked and researched. It was a great environment which allowed Nash to meet many scientists, especially in the fields of mathematics and physics. He is known to have not only met, but also had lengthy discussions with Einstein, especially on the latter’s ideas around gravity, an interesting John Nash facts.
5. He was an iconic feature of Princeton
Nash came back to work at Princeton after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1959. He was well known by this point and would wear a trademark pair of red sneakers and write his equations on blackboards as he went around campus. He was recognized and well liked by the students who met him.
Nash also became known as the “Phantom of Fine Hall” after he was seen at all hours in the hall at Princeton, working on math problems. Finally, his classmates voted him “Most Original”.
6. Nash met his future wife in math class
Nash met Alicia Larde Lopez-Harrison, from El Salvador, and married her in 1957. They met in a math class, more specifically one of advanced calculus, and Nash was taken with her talent for mathematics as well as her multilingualism (she spoke French and English alongside her native Spanish).
7. He married Alicia twice!
During Nash’s mental health issues and because of relationship issues and differences, the couple ended up getting divorced in 1963. However, they stayed close and, in the 1970s, John Nash moved in with Alicia in her house as a lodger, and she took care of him as his health was deteriorating. They ended up re-marrying in 2001, an interesting John Nash fact.
8. Nash and his wife died in a car crash
The two were killed in a car accident in 2015. They were in a taxi, travelling home from the airport after coming back from Norway. Nash had received the Abel Prize for outstanding contribution to mathematics. The taxi driver lost control of the car and hit a guardrail, which led to both Nash and his wife being ejected from the car, apparently as they weren’t wearing seatbelts.
9. He was also accepted into Harvard
The connection between Nash and Princeton is well-known and documented in popular media like the film A Beautiful Mind. He was, however, also accepted at Harvard University. He didn’t go there because Princeton offered him a fellowship, to demonstrate how much more they valued him.
10. His theory is used in decision making
An interesting fact about John Nash is that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his theory, Nash Equilibrium Theory. This is now used routinely in business decision making.
11. Schizophrenia greatly affected his life
It was common for Nash to refer to characters that didn’t exist because of his illness. He sometimes referred to men with red ties who he believed were conspiring against him.
When his son was born, he wasn’t able to be there, because he was actually interned in a mental ward, albeit in the same hospital.
12. He kept an active mind in old age
Despite all his troubles with mental illness, John Nash’s intellectual acumen stayed the same into old age. He was 86 when he died, and he would still carry on with a wish to go back to mathematics research, as well as an interest in cosmology and gravitation.
13. He recovered due to logical thinking
During the worst bouts of his mental illness, Nash was given various anti-psychotic medical treatments. He quit taking these in the early 1970s and he tried to recover without medical help. This worked amazingly well, as he made a come-back in the 1990s and this is when he did the economics work that earned him the Nobel Prize. He credited logical thinking for this, saying he recovered because his logical mind won over the delusional thinking, an interesting John Nash fact.
John Nash became popular in mainstream culture due to the movie A Beautiful Mind. However, he had long made impressive contributions in the fields of sciece, especially mathematics and economics. The enigmatic status he enjoys is due to his struggles with mental illness and his success at overcoming his deepest struggles to produce work which would be recognised and rewarded with the Nobel Prize.
Despite spending years in hospitals, by the mid-1980s he was an iconic figure at Princeton, well loved by students and respected by his peers.
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