Day before yesterday, we witnessed the death of perhaps one of the greatest contributors to the field of Economics. Surprisingly, he is not an economist by profession or qualification. Instead, he was a mathematician. He is none other than John Forbes Nash Jr.
Born in 1928 in West Virginia, Nash was a bright student who earned full scholarship at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), where he studied advanced mathematics. Nash earned a scholarship to Princeton University.
Here’s the scene from the biographical movie, A Beautiful Mind, where John Nash supposedly stumbled upon his Theory of Equilibrium.
It was at Princeton University that Nash started working on his Theory of Equilibrium which later came to be known as Nash Equilibrium. In 1950, Nash earned his Ph.D for his dissertation on non-cooperative games. A concept, which later revolutionized modern economics and the same concept had earning him the Nobel Prize in the year 1994. John Nash recently received the Abel Prize, awarded by King Harald V of Norway on May 19th, 2015.
Apart from these prizes, John Nash also received several prizes which include John von Neumann Theory Prize in 1978, an honorary Doctor of Science and Technology from Carnegie Mellon University in 1999, an honorary degree in economics from the University of Naples Federico II in 2003, an honorary doctorate in economics from the University of Antwerp in 2007.
Here’s final scene from the movie where one of the Nobel Committee members visits John Nash and breaks the news about Nash being considered for the Nobel Prize for his work on Nash Equilibrium and the Nobel Prize ceremony.
This is just one side of the story. The other side of the story is that John Nash suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, a mental illness for a very long time. In fact, the early onset of the disease were seen as early as 1959. During this period, it was reported that Nash believed that people wearing red colored ties were conspiring to form communist government and were against him. He was in and out of psychiatric hospitals and by 1964 he started hearing voices, which is the classical sign of schizophrenia.
Slowly, Nash started to consciously avoid these voices and ignore them. In fact, he did learn to ignore them and reject them, slowly but steadily. He decided that thinking about such things is a waste of time and thus started ignoring them.
Putting John Nash’s mental illness episode aside, Nash has embraced both success and failure equally and has been an inspiring figure for millions. Not only this, he has made great contributions to the field of economics through global trade negotiations and labor relations and also in the field of cryptography which include ways of new encryption and decryption methods. This is a small tribute to John Forbes Nash Jr, who is no longer with us. Let’s remember him for his great contributions.