Sylvia Nasar Quotes in A Beautiful Mind
No one was more obsessed with originality, more disdainful of authority, or more jealous of his independence. […] In almost everything [Nash] did—from game theory to geometry—he thumbed his nose at the received wisdom, current fashion, established methods. […] Nash acquired his knowledge of mathematics not mainly from studying what other mathematicians had discovered, but by rediscovering their truths for himself.
He was beguiled by the idea of alien races of hyper-rational beings who had taught themselves to disregard all emotion. Compulsively rational, he wished to turn life’s decisions—whether to take the first elevator or wait for the next one, where to bank his money, what job to accept, whether to marry—into calculations of advantage and disadvantage, algorithms or mathematical rules divorced from emotion, convention, and tradition. Even the small act of saying an automatic Hello to Nash in a hallway could elicit a furious “Why are you saying hello to me?”
Underneath the brilliant surface of [Nash’s] life, all was chaos and contradiction: his involvements with other men; a secret mistress and a neglected illegitimate son; a deep ambivalence toward the wife who adored him, the university that nurtured him, even his country; and, increasingly, a haunting fear of failure. And the chaos eventually welled up, spilled over, and swept away the fragile edifice of his carefully constructed life.
Nash was always on the lookout for problems. “He was very much aware of unsolved problems,” said Milnor. “He really cross-examined people on what were the important problems. It showed a tremendous amount of ambition.” In this search, as in so much else, Nash displayed an uncommon measure of self-confidence and self-importance. On one occasion, not long after his arrival at Princeton, he went to see Einstein and sketched some ideas he had for amending quantum theory.
Nash was choosy about whom he would talk mathematics with. […] “You couldn’t engage him in a long conversation. He’d just walk off in the middle. Or he wouldn’t respond at all. I don’t remember Nash having a conversation that came to a nice soft landing. I also don’t remember him ever having a conversation about mathematics. Even the full professors would discuss problems they were working with.”
Today, Nash’s concept of equilibrium from strategic games is one of the basic paradigms in social sciences and biology. […] Like many great scientific ideas, from Newton’s theory of gravitation to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Nash’s idea seemed initially too simple to be truly interesting, too narrow to be widely applicable, and, later on, so obvious that its discovery by someone was deemed all but inevitable. […] Its significance was not immediately recognized, not even by the brash twenty-one-year-old author himself.
In this circle [at MIT], Nash learned to make a virtue of necessity, styling himself self-consciously as a “free thinker.” He announced that he was an atheist. He created his own vocabulary. He began conversations in midstream with “Let’s take this aspect.” He referred to people as “humanoids.”
There is no way of knowing what enables one man to crack a big problem while another man, also brilliant, fails. Some geniuses have been sprinters who have solved problems quickly. Nash was a long-distance runner. […] He went into a classical domain where everybody believed that they understand what was possible and not possible. […] His tolerance for solitude, great confidence in his own intuition, indifference to criticism—all detectable at a young age but now prominent and impermeable features of his personality—served him well.
More than a decade later, when he was already ill, Nash himself provided a metaphor for his life during the MIT years, a metaphor that he couched in his first language, the language of mathematics […] The equation represents a three-dimensional hyperspace, which has a singularity at the origin, in four-dimensional space. Nash is the singularity, the special point, and the other variables are people who affected him—in this instance, men with whom he had friendships or relationships.
Nash displayed a rather curious inconsistency in his attitude and behavior toward his son. At the time of his birth, he had reacted in neither of the ways one might have expected of a young man confronted with the pregnancy of a woman with whom he has recently begun sleeping, eschewing both the high road that would have led to a shotgun wedding, as well as the more commonly elected low road of flat-out denying his paternity and simply vanishing from his girlfriend’s life. He doubtless behaved selfishly, even callously […] But…it is natural to conclude that Nash, like the rest of us, needed to love and be loved, and that a tiny, helpless infant, his son, drew him irresistibly.
Despite Alicia Larde’s crush [on Nash], which seemed to have erased the earnest student of science, she was playing a serious game. Her romantic dreams of becoming a famous scientist herself hadn’t survived the harsh reality test provided by MIT. As she put it later, “I was no Einstein.” Pragmatically, she recognized that marriage to an illustrious man might also satisfy her ambitions. Nash seemed to fit the bill.
[Nash] began, he recalled in 1996, to notice men in red neckties around the MIT campus. The men seemed to be signaling to him. “I got the impression that other people at MIT were wearing red neckties so I would notice them. As I became more and more delusional, not only persons at MIT but people in Boston wearing red neckties [would seem significant to me].” At some point, Nash concluded that the men in red ties were part of a definite pattern.
Nash’s lifelong quest for meaning, control, and recognition in the context of a continuing struggle, not just in society, but in the warring impulses of his paradoxical self, was now reduced to a caricature. Just as the overconcreteness of a dream is related to the intangible themes of waking life, Nash’s search for a piece of paper, a carte d’identité, mirrored his former pursuit of mathematical insights.
A man experiencing a remission of a physical illness may feel a renewed sense of vitality and delight in resuming his old activities. But someone who has spent months and years feeling privy to cosmic, even divine, insights, and now feels such insights are no longer his to enjoy, is bound to have a very different reaction. For Nash, the recovery of his everyday rational thought processes produced a sense of diminution and loss. The growing relevance and clarity of his thinking, which his doctor, wife, and colleagues hailed as an improvement, struck him as a deterioration.
In particular, although Nash later referred to his delusional states as “the time of my irrationality,” he kept the role of the thinker, the theorist, the scholar trying to make sense of complicated phenomena. He was “perfecting the ideology of liberation from slavery,” finding “a simple method,” creating “a model” or “a theory.”
The prize itself was a long-overdue acknowledgment by the Nobel committee that a sea change in economics, one that had been under way for more than a decade, had taken place. As a discipline, economics had long been dominated by Adam Smith’s brilliant metaphor of the Invisible Hand. Smith’s concept of perfect competition envisions so many buyers and sellers that no single buyer or seller has to worry about the reactions of others. […] But in the world of megamergers, big government, massive foreign direct investment, and wholesale privatization, where the game is played by a handful of players, each taking into account the others’ actions, each pursuing his own best strategies, game theory has come to the fore.
It is a life resumed, but time did not stand still while Nash was dreaming. Like Rip Van Winkle, Odysseus, and countless fictional space travelers, he wakes to find that the world he left behind has moved on in his absence. The brilliant young men that were are retiring or dying. The children are middle-aged. The slender beauty, his wife, is now a mature woman in her sixties. And there is his own seventieth birthday fast approaching. […] The Nobel cannot restore what has been lost.
The truth, however, is that the research has not been the main thing in [Nash’s] present life. The important theme has been reconnecting to family, friends, and community. This has become the urgent undertaking. The old fear that he depended on others and that they depended on him has faded. The wish to reconcile, to care for those who need him, is uppermost.
The extraordinary journey of this American genius, this man who surprises people, continues. The self-deprecating humor suggests greater self-awareness. The straight-from-the-heart talk with friends about sadness, pleasure, and attachment suggests a wider range of emotional experiences. The daily effort to give others their due, and to recognize their right to ask this of him, bespeaks a very different man from the often cold and arrogant youth. […] In deed, if not always in word, Nash has come to a life in which thought and emotion are more closely entwined, where getting and giving are central, and relationships are more symmetrical.
The festive scene at the turn-of-the-century frame house opposite the train station might have been that of a golden wedding anniversary: the handsome older couple posing for pictures with family and friends, the basket of pale yellow roses, the 1950s photo of the bride and groom on display for the occasion.
In fact, John and Alicia Nash were about to say “I do” for the second time, after a nearly forty-year gap in their marriage. For them it was yet another step—“a big step,” according to John—in piecing together lives cruelly shattered by schizophrenia.