As a 21-year-old, Nash’s mathematical genius is beginning to flourish, but as an individual, he is still isolated: his fellow students believe that he “had felt nothing remotely resembling love, friendship, or real sympathy.” Yet Nash does long for friendship, and at the beginning of his second year at Princeton, he finds the first of a series of intense “emotional attachments” he would come to form with other men, mostly mathematicians, throughout his life—with Lloyd Shapley.
Though Nash places a high value on his own independence, he also begins to long for human connection, though his intensely aloof, self-centered behavior makes it difficult for him to form lasting bonds with others. Throughout his life, Nash would struggle to reconcile these two warring factions of his personality.
Shapley is a veteran and Harvard graduate who had also worked at the RAND corporation, a think tank in Santa Monica using game theory applications for work on military problems. Shapley is somewhat neurotic, with a temper and a “harshly self-critical streak”—unlike Nash, who is self-assured by contrast. Yet Shapley finds Nash and his “keen, beautiful, logical mind” intriguing. Nash, meanwhile, is drawn to Shapley, too, attracted by his intelligence and popularity with the other students and professors. Nash expresses his attraction to Shapley by playing cruel pranks on him and his friends, whom he views jealously. Nonetheless, Shapley remains loyal to Nash, helping him to come up with convincing examples for his equilibrium concept.
Shapley is the first of several men Nash comes to love throughout his life, though the ways in which Nash expresses this love hardly appear healthy or positive. Tormented by his own desires, Nash kept most of his feelings private and could only prove his attraction to Shapley in cruel ways.
Though Nash’s thesis idea attracts a great deal of attention, it is Shapley who is viewed as “the real star of the next generation” of mathematicians, by von Neumann and other Princeton professors. However, while Nash publishes three important papers in one year, Shapley finds himself unable to formulate a thesis topic; 50 years later, Shapley would deny that he and Nash “had ever been close friends.”
Throughout A Beautiful Mind, Nasar makes note of other mathematicians who, though seemingly destined for success, did not become as eminent as Nash. Nasar suggests that Nash’s intense ambition and self-centeredness helped him to succeed, while other mathematicians, who lacked similar drives, failed.