Tuesday, May 26, 2015

John Nash (1928 - 2015): a founder of game theory

John Nash and his wife, Alicia, tragically died in a car crash on the weekend. There is a New York Times obituary He was a brilliant young pure mathematician who laid foundations for game theory in a 27 page Ph.D thesis. Nash became widely known outside academia through the movie A Beautiful Mind, that tells his life story, focusing on his struggle with severe mental illness. It is based on an excellent biography by Sylvia Nasar. It is less sanitised than the Hollywood version.

Tragically Nash's life also illustrates the importance of mental health issues in academia, and so I mention him in talks I give about mental health for scientists.

I have a strange personal connection with Nash. When I was a graduate student at Princeton I often saw a middle aged man reading Scientific American in the Maths/Physics library. He was often there and I wondered why he was there. Didn't he have a job? Yet I don't remember ever asking anyone about him. Also, sometimes in the Physics building there were strange scribblings all over the chalk boards.

One day in 1994 I got a shock when I received a copy of The Princeton Alumni Weekly. There on the cover was a photo of the man I often saw in the library with the headline "John Nash wins Nobel Prize in Economics". Finally I found out who he was and learnt his story.

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