In 1948, a Princeton professor walks in on Nash—“the new graduate student from West Virginia”—lying on a table in the Professors’ Room in Fine Hall, “obviously lost in thought.” This event comes to epitomize Nash’s reputation with the other students and professors: he is young and arrogant (and “handsome as a god,” according to one student) and a “self-declared free thinker.” Nash later stops attending classes, though he regularly meets with others for discussions; he seems to spend most of his time “simply thinking,” pacing the corridors of Fine Hall. Nash “overflows” with ideas, and he is determined to learn on his own—a quality that betrays his own self-importance.
At Princeton, Nash becomes convinced of the powers of his own mind, choosing to focus on his own development and ideas instead of collaborating with others (or taking his classes seriously). Though at first, Princeton’s faculty and graduate students find Nash’s behavior amusing and even somewhat charming, these quirks will later lead to significant problems for Nash’s career and relationships with other mathematicians.
Nash often catches glimpses of Albert Einstein walking near the Princeton campus and wonders how he might be able to forge a connection with the renowned scientist. At this point, Einstein is hard at work on a theory uniting the phenomena of light and gravity, his second major project after his groundbreaking development of the theory of relativity. A few weeks into his first semester, Nash arranges an appointment with Einstein, and the two meet in Einstein’s office: Nash has an idea about “gravity, friction, and radiation,” which Einstein gently rebuffs, telling him, “You had better study some more physics, young man.”
Throughout A Beautiful Mind, Nasar draws a parallel between Nash and Einstein. Both were eccentric, somewhat antisocial geniuses who worked on innovative solutions to difficult problems. Nash, though, was also overconfident as a young mathematician, as evidenced by his somewhat disastrous meeting with Einstein; this overconfidence often created issues for him throughout his career.
Despite his arrogance, Nash occasionally takes an interest in learning from his fellow students and exchanging ideas, though he is “choosy” about whom he engages in discussion. In general, Nash is “respected but not well liked,” due to his awkward demeanor and childish, eccentric sense of humor. Though several of the Princeton faculty members support him, others believe that he doesn’t belong at the university at all, including Emil Artin. Though Lefschetz and Albert Tucker, Lefschetz’s right-hand man, defend Nash, his unpopularity with the faculty will become a problem later in his life, when he tries to join the department as an assistant professor.