Nobel Memorial Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. and his wife Alicia died Saturday, May 23, from injuries sustained in a car accident. He was 86.
Nash, born in West Virginia in 1928, finished undergraduate studies in engineering, chemistry and mathematics at Carnegie Institute of Technology. He later pursued graduate work at Princeton University, where he laid the groundwork for one of his most famous theorems, known now as the Nash Equilibrium.
In 1959, while working at MIT, Nash exhibited the first symptoms and signs of what would later be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. His battle with the disease, which plagued him throughout his life, was the primary subject of the 1998 book A Beautiful Mind, and the 2001 film of the same name. Despite the challenges of his illness, Nash continued his work in mathematics and was highly regarded for his later work in calculus and algebraic geometry.
My personal interest in Nash, much like many others, was spurred on by the aforementioned film. At the time of its release, I was in college and very interested in Game Theory and Social Economics. The Nash Equilibrium, as it became known, influenced much of my thinking on social justice and even crystallized many of my interpretations of Darwinian evolutionary biology. I was also intrigued by how he coped with mental illness and still became a teacher and thinker. Nash was a living example that the impediments in our lives don’t have to be the end of our usefulness.