Who Was John F. Nash, Jr.?

Who Was John F. Nash Jr.?

John F. Nash, Jr., was an American mathematician who won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics, along with John Harsanyi and Reinhard Selten, for his development of the mathematical foundations of game theory. Nash was also a pioneer in the study of differential geometry and partial differential equations. He also developed an equilibrium theory known as the Nash Equilibrium (of which the prisoner's dilemma is a well-known example).

John F. Nash Jr.

Investopedia / Lara Antal

Early Life and Education

John F. Nash, Jr., was born in Bluefield, West Virginia, in 1928. He trained not as an economist but as a mathematician, earning his Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton at the age of 22. He taught math at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for the RAND Corporation, but his paranoid schizophrenia negatively affected his career for more than two decades.

By the early 1970s, Nash received treatment that allowed his condition to improve to the point that he was able to begin teaching again at Princeton. It was there that he served as senior research mathematician for the last 20 years of his life. There, he later became known as the "Phantom of Fine Hall" for his habit of filling blackboards with complex equations during the night when no one else was around.

Notable Accomplishments and Deeds

Among Nash's other groundbreaking math theories: the Nash-Moser inverse function theorem, the Nash–De Giorgi theorem, the Nash embedding theorems, which the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters said were "among the most original results in geometric analysis of the twentieth century”.

The 2001 Nash gained worldwide popular recognition thanks to the Academy Award-winning film "A Beautiful Mind," which chronicles the lives of him and his wife, Alicia, as they struggled between his genius and his mental illness. It was based on the 1998 biography by Sylvia Nasar.

In 2015, John and Alicia Nash were killed when the taxi they were riding in crashed in New Jersey. He was 86 and she was 82. They had been returning from Norway, where Nash had been awarded the prestigious 2015 Abel Prize from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

Twenty years earlier, upon accepting the Nobel Prize for Mathematics, Nash offered a speech that looked back on his tumultuous but accomplished life and concluded:

"Statistically, it would seem improbable that any mathematician or scientist, at the age of 66, would be able through continued research efforts, to add much to his or her previous achievements. However I am still making the effort and it is conceivable that with the gap period of about 25 years of partially deluded thinking providing a sort of vacation my situation may be atypical. Thus I have hopes of being able to achieve something of value through my current studies or with any new ideas that come in the future."

Article Sources

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  1. The Nobel Prize. "Press Release: The Prize in Economics 1994." Accessed Nov. 10, 2020.

  2. The Nobel Prize. "John F. Nash Jr., Biographical." Accessed Nov. 10, 2020.

  3. Princeton University. "A 'Tragic But Meaningful' Life: Legendary Princeton Mathematician John Nash Dies." Accessed Nov. 10, 2020.

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