John Nash: Why the late mathematician had such A Beautiful Mind

The Nobel Prize-winner, who was the subject of the Oscar-winning film, led an illustrious career

Helen Nianias
Sunday 24 May 2015 17:12

Mathematician John Nash belongs to that very niche club of great thinkers to have been a major influence in the world of mathematics and the arts.

Nash died on May 23 after a car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. His wife Alicia Nash, who cared for him, also passed away in the collision. It is believed that the couple had not worn their seatbelts.

Here's a very brief history of what made him so important.

Nobel Prize

In 1994, Nash was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences as a result of his game theory work. His more recent work continued to look at advanced game theory.

Game theory is based on study of social interaction and strategy. Nash specialised in noncooperative game theory.


The mathematician worked for the National Security Agency of the US government. He helped to break enemy codes and establish ones for the US to use that could not easily be broken. In his early correspondence with the agency in 1955, Nash asks for his ideas to be properly considered, saying he hopes his letters "do not give the impression I am just a crank or circle-squarer."

A Beautiful Mind

Nash inspired first the biography by Sylvia Nasar, and then the 2001 Oscar-winning film starring Russell Crowe. The film portrays Nash when he arrived at Princeton and his work cracking codes for the Pentagon.

It documents his struggle with mental illness. The early signs of Nash's illness was paranoia, and he was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He did not think that medication was the correct solution. Instead, as encouraged by his wife, he lived in a communal home where his behavioural quirks were accepted.

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