At a costume-themed New Year’s Eve party at Nash’s colleague Jurgen Moser’s house on December 31, 1958, Nash and Alicia enter the house, causing a stir among the guests: Nash is “entirely naked” except for a diaper and a sash with the numerals 1959 written on it. Though by February of 1959, Nash will have deteriorated mentally, he seems to be in high spirits on New Year’s. Shortly thereafter, though, Nash begins to seem more “withdrawn,” and he begins ranting at people he encountered, sometimes about paranoid conspiracy theories about the government. His colleagues, though, take this as further evidence of the eccentricity for which he was already infamous.
Nasar carefully details the many warning signs that seem to show Nash on the brink of mental collapse. He begins to exhibit stranger behavior in public, becoming alternately paranoid and “withdrawn,” and excitable and exhibitionistic—clear signs that his mental state is quickly becoming precarious.
Nash is beginning to imagine that “men in red neckties” are following him around the MIT campus, flashing secret “signals” at him. He believes that these men are part of a “pattern,” a conspiracy against him. Nash begins to write to other mathematicians to inform them that “aliens from outer space” are ruining his career. Nash also write to the University of Chicago to refuse the offer of a prestigious chair, saying that he is “scheduled to become the Emperor of Antarctica” instead. MIT faculty members begin to realize that Nash is a “very sick man.”
Though Nash’s fear of “men in red neckties” is a fantasy, this delusion does not seem entirely far-fetched: government officials on the look-out for suspected Communists had policed MIT in the past. At first, Nash’s delusions seem to have some kind of a basis in reality, but they quickly become more unrealistic. Yet Nash seems to have lost his ability to think clearly and rationally, distinguishing fact from fiction.
In the middle of a MIT lecture given by Eugenio Calabi, a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Nash interrupts with nonsensical comments about being on the cover of Life magazine: he claims that he had been disguised as Pope John XXIII. Calabi, who knows Nash from Princeton, continues lecturing without acknowledging Nash’s comments. On February 28, Nash is scheduled to give his own lecture, sponsored by the American Mathematical Society, at Columbia University in New York City. The mathematicians who gather for the lecture quickly realize that Nash’s words aren’t fitting together: the math is “lunacy.” Later, Nash delivers a similarly “disastrous” lecture at Yale.
Nash’s string of “disastrous” lectures is the first clear sign that he is losing his grip on reality. Though his colleagues take notice of his mental decline, they are not immediately alarmed: Nash is well known for his eccentric behavior, though his personality has never before seemed to negatively affect his skills as a mathematician.