What Mental Illness Did John Nash Really Have?
What Mental Illness Did John Nash Really Have? The psychiatrists treating John Nash came to an early conclusion and gave him a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia based on his very complex system of delusions which were both grandiose and persecutory. It is a conundrum then that while certain personality traits promote extraordinary achievement, some mental disorders are apparently associated with extreme genius.
Nash was certainly delusional and evidently hallucinated as well. He filled the blackboards of Fine Hall at Princeton with indecipherable scribblings and wandered about the campus in an apparent daze. He became known as “The Phantom of Fine Hall.”
But then he got better, looked back in astonishment at his own illness career, and was able to travel normally to Stockholm in 1994 to accept his Nobel Prize. Whatever it was that had seized his brain for this decades-long period had apparently lost its grip.
Now, this does not really happen in core adolescent-onset schizophrenia. Some of the patients don’t recover at all; others make only a “social recovery,” ending with what the Europeans call a “defect.” That you awaken magically from classical schizophrenia—often called “hebephrenia”—and go on to have a normal life: Maybe not.
So this is about the Nash case, that his psychoanalytically oriented clinicians in 1959 gave him the wrong diagnosis and ever since this has been unthinkingly accepted.
The American mathematician and Nobel Prize winner John F. Nash, for example, published his influential work on game theory in 1950 at age 22. He became a tenured professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1958, but bouts of mental illness caused him to resign his faculty position in 1959.
Bipolar disorder, the most commonly diagnosed disorder of creative geniuses, is characterized by extreme swings of mood, from exhilaration to depression, and has been particularly associated with artists, writers, musicians, and entrepreneurs. The American psychiatrist Kay Jamison suggested that, although most people who have this disorder are debilitated by it, there may be ways in which the extreme energy and expansiveness of a moderate manic state may contribute to the extraordinary feats of productivity that characterize many geniuses.
Even moderate amounts of depression, with its attendant criticality (i.e., danger or risk), may improve the capacity of geniuses to impose a strict evaluation of their work following a bout of creative production. Nevertheless, it does seem that, for the most part, geniuses with this disorder have struggled with it more than they have benefited from it.
John Nash, in full John Forbes Nash, Jr., (born June 13, 1928, Bluefield, West Virginia, U.S.—died May 23, 2015, near Monroe Township, New Jersey), American mathematician who was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize for Economics for his landmark work, first begun in the 1950s, on the mathematics of game theory. He shared the prize with John C. Harsanyi and Reinhard Selten. In 2015 Nash won (with Louis Nirenberg) the Abel Prize for his contributions to the study of partial differential equations.
Nash enrolled in chemical engineering at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (later Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh before he switched to chemistry and then to mathematics, in which he finally received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1948. Two years later, at age 22, he completed a doctorate at Princeton University.
In 1951 he joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he pursued research into partial differential equations. He resigned in the late 1950s after bouts of mental illness. He then began an informal association with Princeton, where he became a senior research mathematician in 1995.
While he was still in graduate school, Nash published (April 1950) his first paper, “The Bargaining Problem,” in the journal Econometrica. He expanded on his mathematical model for bargaining in his influential doctoral thesis, “Non-Cooperative Games,” which appeared in September 1951 in the journal Annals of Mathematics.
Nash thus established the mathematical principles of game theory, a branch of mathematics that examines the rivalries between competitors with mixed interests. Known as the Nash solution or the Nash equilibrium, his theory attempted to explain the dynamics of threat and action between competitors. Despite its practical limitations, the Nash solution was widely applied by business strategists.
Nash’s research into differential equations at MIT led to his seminal paper “Real Algebraic Manifolds,” which was published in Annals of Mathematics in November 1952. His other influential work in mathematics included the Nash-Moser inverse function theorem. The Nash–De Giorgi theorem (a solution to David Hilbert’s 19th problem, which Nash undertook at the suggestion of Nirenberg).
The Nash im/embedding theorems, which the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters described as “among the most original results in geometric analysis of the twentieth century”; the academy awarded Nash the Abel Prize. His other honors included the John von Neumann Theory Prize (1978) and the American Mathematical Society’s Leroy P. Steele Prize for a Seminal Contribution to Research (1999).
Nash’s research into game theory and his long struggle with paranoid schizophrenia became well known to the general public because of the Academy Award-winning motion picture A Beautiful Mind (2001), which was based on Sylvia Nasar’s 1998 biography of the same name. A more factually accurate exploration of Nash’s struggle with mental illness was offered by the public television documentary A Brilliant Madness (2002).