The Game Theory: A Film about and a Tribute to John Nash

This genre of the week starts off with a quote: Sometimes the brightest minds happen to be the craziest, and even the craziest people are the ones that make the difference in our society. The genre also is a tribute to a fallen warrior, whose economic theory developed in college, reshaped the way we handle our affairs on the political, social and economic front.

John Forbes Nash, Jr. was a world-renowned mathmetician, economist and professor, whose theory of equilibrium, developed in 1950 and serving as a counterpart to the works written by Antoine Augustin Cournot in 1838, earned him international fame. He won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994, the Neumann Theory Prize in 1978 and the Abel Prize this year. In a nutshell, the theory states:

A Nash equilibrium exists if and only if  no player in a game or negotiation can do better by unilaterally changing his or her strategy. That means if the player does not change his strategy because his competitors have their stretagies etched in stone, then there is an equilibrium, for it implies that the strategies serve as the best response. If the player does change the strategy in an attempt to gain an advantage, then there is no equilibrium. This theory, as seen in the video, is based on the question: “Knowing the strategies of the other players, and treating the strategies of the other players as set in stone, can I benefit by changing my strategy?”


This scene comes from the film A Beautiful Mind, based on the book written by Silvia Nasar in 1998 and produced as a film by Universal Pictures in 2001, starring Russell Crowe. A simpler version  of Nash’s Game Theory can be found in the Stoplight example, presented below:



Both the book as well as the film about Nash focused on two key themes that dominated his life. One was the Game Theory, which he developed further after it was published in 1950, while holding teaching positions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Rand Corporation and lastly, Princeton University.

Yet the second aspect dealt with a very dark part of life, which doctors and scientists are still researching on in hopes to find treatment and even a cure: schizophrenia. He was first diagnosed with the disease in 1959, he spent the next decade in and out of hospitals, going through treatments before leaving the hospital to live a quiet life with the love of his life, Alicia. He had been married to her prior to being diagnosed, later divorced, but in the end, remarried in 2001, going through the worst of times before starting a long recovery that resulted in his schizophrenia being controlled and not interfering with his normal life. In the end, as depicted in the book and film,  Nash returned to his career as a teacher and mathmetician. While there were some discreptancies in the film, especially with regards to the scene with the use of medication to treat schizophrenia, Nash mentioned that he never took medication except during his stay in the hospital. It was only after he was released from the hospital for good in 1970 that he never took medication again. Although not noted in the film or book, he and Alicia eventually became advocates of mental health, especially after their son was diagnosed with the same disease. Over the years, they travelled around New Jersey and the region, talking to government officials and health care agencies to promote mental health care and help those affected by mental illness to carry on their normal lives instead of being institutionalized.

Nash’s life can be summed up into one sentence: He was the man whose rational thinking, mathematical genius and creative talents led him to conquering the power of oligarchy, delusion and ignorance. He had been locked up both literally and in his head, but found a way to escape, leaving a mark for people in both the fields of economics and social sciences on one hand, but also medicine on the other, to read about, research further on, and continue on with his work. For those who have yet to read the book or see the film, it is highly recommended, for they both cover the aforementioned fields in detail, while looking at and paying tribute to the man who will forever be one of the faces of math and science.

John Nash and his wife of 60 years, Alicia, were killed in an automobile accident on 23rd May. They had originally returned from Oslo, where he had received the Abel Prize and were heading home in a taxi when the accident happened. Neither of them wore a seatbelt and were thrown from the car. John (aged 86) and Alicia (aged 82) leave behind their son, John Jr. The passing was untimely, and they will be missed by those who knew him, from those in West Windsor Township, to those at Princeton, to Russell Crowe (who paid tribute to him upon hearing the tragedy) and the millions of others who considered Nash a hero.

Including the author, whose Genre of the Week, A Beautiful Mind, includes a homage to the man who left a mark for others to follow, despite going through the darkness of life before coming out into the light.


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