A Brilliant Madness | American Experience | PBS (2024)

Harold Kuhn:Mathematicians have the propensity to be eccentric more than most people, but there was no hint that it would shade over into fully delusional, psychotic behavior. We were all aware that he had a great career that was shattered in a few minutes.

Felix Browder:It was a very disastrous fall of someone who was promising beyond any reasonable limit.

Herta Newman:He was so incredibly himself, so special and so unusual. He was just an oddity and there was something sweet about it.

Sylvia Nasar:The idea that someone who had been mentally ill and impoverished and really on the fringes of society for decades was being considered for a Nobel Prize, I thought that was amazing.

John Nash:Madness can be an escape. If things are not so good, you may be want to imagine something better. In madness, I thought I was the most important person of the world and people like the Pope would be just like enemies, who would try to put me down in some way.

Narrator:In September 1949, the world learned that the Soviet Union had joined the United States as a nuclear power. The shocking news intensified fears in the U.S. —and put a premium on mathematicians. Mathematicians had helped win WWII, now there was hope they could protect America's strategic edge.

Narrator:Princeton University boasted the most elite math department in the world; each of its graduate students was handpicked. That year, one stood out —a 20-year-old from West Virginia named John Forbes Nash.

Sylvia Nasar:These young mathematicians were all pretty co*cky, but he towered over them in arrogance and confidence and also in eccentricity.

Mel Hausner:John Nash was always an entity unto himself. When John walked into the room you knew that John walked into the room. I think he thought of himself as superior, intellectually, mathematically superior. We thought highly of ourselves and each other, but with John it was double. John was just very clearly above it.

Narrator:Nash rarely attended class, claiming it would blunt his originality. He was obsessed with making a name for himself, and was always on the hunt for problems that had defeated other mathematicians.

John Nash:There is something of that in my approach to mathematics. I have tended to think that the thing to do is to get away from what other people are doing and not to follow directly in anyone's recent work.

Felix Browder:He didn't study anything. He didn't assimilate other people's work. What he did was to try to find his own way of solving very difficult problems. And he thought he had the talent to fulfill these ambitions of being the world's greatest mathematician.

Narrator:Nash soon acquired a reputation for being both brilliant and odd. In the quadrangle, he rode a bicycle in figure-eights, over and over, and paced the hallways obsessively whistling Bach¹s Little Fugue.

Paul Samuelson:Fine Hall is where the mathematicians met. I went there, and I looked around. I knew a number of the people but I didn't know them all, and I thought this is the strangest group of people in the world! Not only was Nash not an exception to that but I think he was quite far off the chart.

Felix Browder:He obviously irritated some people by what I think they regarded as extremely eccentric behavior. He was certainly not a conformist to anyone's standard.

Narrator:Even as a boy growing up in Bluefield, West Virginia, deep in the Appalachian Mountains, John Nash stood out.

John Nash:I was in grade school. I would be doing arithmetic, and I found myself working with larger numbers than other students would be using. I would have several digits, and they would have maybe two or three digits.

Martha Nash Legg:One time one of the teachers had said he couldn't do the math —this was like fourth grade. And my mother laughed, because it was, obviously the point was he was doing it differently. I think my parents always knew that John was bright.

Narrator:His father, John, Sr., was an electrical engineer; his mother, Virginia, a former teacher, tutored John at home, and had him skip a grade in school.

John Nash:One time, somebody suggested that I was a prodigy. Another time it was suggested that I should be called "bug brains," because I had ideas, but they were sort of buggy or not perfectly sound.

Don Reynolds:He took his share of abuse from certain groups. The brain working a little bit faster than anybody else's so everybody else felt like they had to ridicule it a little bit.

Narrator:His senior year in high school John won a Westinghouse scholarship, one of only ten awarded nationally. Three years later, he graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology with a master¹s degree in math. His advisor wrote him a one-sentence recommendation: "This man is a genius."

Sylvia Nasar:The first thing that he did at Princeton, which wowed everyone and made his reputation, was he invented this game which was known around the common room as "Nash."

Narrator:Nash¹s deceptively simple game of strategy swept the math department. Before long, he applied his interest in games to a new field of mathematics called game theory. Game theory attempted to explain the dynamics of human conflict by analyzing strategies used in games.

Sylvia Nasar:Nash was interested in everything in mathematics. But what he was really interested in were the big problems. At that moment in time game theory was the sexy, glamorous field. If you wanted to make a splash, it was a good place to be.

Narrator:Just a year after arriving at Princeton, he began work on an idea that challenged the conventional thinking in game theory.

Mel Hausner:Classical game theory was basically two people playing against each other, a two-person game, in which if one person wins the other person loses. Suppose you have many players, game theory got into a phase that people couldn't really deal with it. They didn't know how to state the problem.

Harold KuhnIf: we could make a theoretical model that would answer questions of "Why do you bluff in poker?" "Why would you bet when you have a low hand?" "Why would you fail to bet if you have a high hand?" If we could analyze things like that, then we could handle real life problems in economics, in business, in politics. He had that vision.

Narrator:Nash¹s insight was another deceptively simple one: he proved that in every game there is a best strategy for each player given the strategies chosen by the other players. He called it "the equilibrium point." In the spring of 1950, Nash presented his elegant proof. He was only 21.

Narrator:Years later, what became known as the "Nash equilibrium" would revolutionize economics. But when it was first completed, nobody recognized its potential. Not even Nash.

Narrator:After receiving his Ph.D., Nash moved to Boston and joined the faculty of MIT. Students called him the Kid Professor. But he considered himself head and shoulders above his colleagues.

Felix Browder:Basically John was a out and out and uninhibited and shameless elitist. He was only interested in people who could operate more or less on the same mental level that he was at.

Zipporah Levinson:He was very brash, very boastful, very selfish, very egocentric. His colleagues did not like him especially, but they tolerated him because his mathematics was so brilliant.

Donald Newman:I was thinking about a problem, trying to get somewhere with it, and I couldn't and I couldn't and I couldn't. And I went to sleep one night and I dreamt. I did not dream directly of the solution to that problem. Rather, I dreamt that I met Nash and I asked him the problem, and he told me the answer. When I did finally write the paper, I gave him credit. It was not my solution; I could not have done it myself.

Herta Newman:He was part of this group of friends that Donald, my husband, had. This was a crew who were extremely competitive, and Nash was at the top of the heap. He was the best.

Narrator:The following year, Nash began his first serious relationship. Eleanor Stier was a shy, compassionate nurse five years his senior. Two months after they started dating, Eleanor discovered she was pregnant.

Narrator:She gave birth to a baby boy and named him John. Nash refused to pay for the delivery, wouldn't even add his name to the birth certificate. Unable to support her son on her own, Eleanor was forced to place him in foster care for much of his childhood.

John Stier:She was pretty hurt, she was very hurt. I think she was quite fond of my father and things didn't happen the way she had expected them to.

Narrator:The couple drifted apart. Nash kept the affair a secret. His parents and colleagues didn¹t even know he had a son.

Narrator:Not long after breaking up with Eleanor, Nash met Alicia Larde, a 21-year-old from El Salvador and one of his students. A physics major, she was one of only 16 women in a class of 800 at MIT.

Herta Newman:She was an extremely attractive girl, and not American. And I somehow think that that was significant, that she was not your ordinary college girl, that she had also come from a very different place.

Alicia Nash:At the time, he was a little bit like the fair-haired boy of the Math Department. He was, I think, considered very young for his position. And, he was very nice looking, you know.

Sylvia Nasar:When she was younger she wanted to be another Madam Curie. John's ambition was one of the things that attracted Alicia to him. She had that desire, and she transferred it to him.

Narrator:In February 1957, Alicia and John Nash were married in a small, private ceremony in Washington, DC.

Martha Nash Legg:John was marrying somebody who was intelligent, and that he cared for. And she obviously cared for him. Everything was great.

Narrator:Since arriving at MIT, Nash had solved a series of imposing problems in mathematics, ranging from algebraic geometry to partial differential equations. Unlike his work in game theory, these groundbreaking proofs dazzled the mathematical world.

Donald Newman:We would all be climbing the mountain, the mountain being mathematical perfection. He had a different approach. We came up this way and he came this way.

Narrator:In July 1958, Fortune magazine featured him as one of the brightest stars in mathematics. He had just turned 30.

Sylvia Nasar:For a mathematician turning 30 is a lot like for a ballet dancer or an athlete. Age is your enemy.

Narrator:By his own standards, Nash had fallen short. For a decade, he had pursued the Fields Medal, mathematics highest honor; that year, he failed to win it again.

Paul Samuelson:He was an intensely ambitious person. He was extremely competitive and he was very bitter that he didn't get it.

John Nash:At the time, I had some recognition. I was making some progress professionally, but I wasn't really at the top I didn¹t have top-level recognition.

Narrator:He threw himself into solving the Riemann Hypothesis, the Holy Grail of mathematics. The work was mentally and physically exhausting and ultimately proved futile. He began to worry that his best years were behind him. At the same time he learned that Alicia was pregnant.

Louis Sass:A psychotic break is usually precipitated by some stressful experiences. Often these stressful experiences involve a demand that the person who becomes psychotic take on greater responsibility.

Narrator:Below his brash and confident surface, John Nash now hid another side of himself, one filled with anxiety, self-doubt, even fear. It would mark the beginning of a strange and tragic metamorphosis.

Narrator:On New Year's Eve 1958, the Nashes attended a costume party at the home of a colleague. John went dressed as a baby. He wore a diaper and spent much of the night curled up in Alicia's lap. Even to those used to his eccentricities, it was a disturbing scene.

A few weeks later, Nash rushed into the common room at MIT and claimed that powers from outer space were sending him coded messages in the New York Times.

Another incident soon followed. He interrupted a lecture to announce that he was on the cover of Life magazine -- disguised as Pope John XXIII. He knew this, he said, because 23 was his favorite prime number.

Then he began noticing a curious pattern on the MIT campus -- men wearing red ties. He was sure they were members of a secret communist organization.

When the University of Chicago offered him a prestigious position, Nash turned it down. He was already scheduled, he said, to become Emperor of Antarctica.

Harold Kuhn:John talked about the people from outer space who were destroying his career and the international organizations that were attacking him. Somebody you've known for a long time, to hear this kind of news is very unsettling.

Alicia Nash:Truly his personality seemed to change in a period of a week or so. It was very fast.

Paul Samuelson:I mean, you're seeing a mind disintegrate in front of you. I felt shocked.

The math department chairman thought Nash was having a nervous breakdown, and relieved him of his teaching duties in February. Still, Nash continued to unravel. One night, he painted black spots all over the bedroom wall.

Sylvia Nasar:(v/o) Alicia tried to handle it herself, but at a certain point, it overwhelmed her. And when she turned to psychiatrists, she was ultimately advised that he should be hospitalized. Here was this genius and you were going to clap him into a hospital where god knows what might happen. I think it was very tough.

John Nash:I didn¹t feel that I belonged locked up. I never went voluntarily.

Narrator:Nash was taken to McLean Hospital, a private psychiatric facility outside Boston known for treating the wealthy and famous. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and given an injection of Thorazine to calm him down. His treatment consisted of psychoanalysis; the staff called him "professor."

Peter Weiden:In those days, many doctors thought schizophrenia was related to problems in childhood, problems in mothering. They didn't know it was a real brain disease and that people are born with a vulnerability to that brain disorder.

Louis Sass:Conventionally, we define it as a severe mental illness, characterized by hallucinations, delusions or peculiar forms of thinking. For example, a schizophrenic may feel that when he looks at you, he may believe that it's not himself who's looking out his own eyes. Somehow, someone else is actually having his experiences.

John Nash:A delusional state of mind is like living a dream. Well I knew where I was, I was there on observation, but I was able to think that I was like a victim of a conspiracy.

Louis Sass:The delusions have often a cosmic quality, a feeling of ominousness. Everything that happens around you takes on a tremendous significance.

John Nash:In madness, I saw myself as some sort of messenger, or having a special function. Like the Muslim concept with Muhammad, the messenger of Allah.

Sylvia Nasar:Someone who visited him in the hospital asked him, how could you, a mathematician, someone who is committed to rationality, how could you believe that aliens from outer space were communicating with you? Nash's response was, these ideas came to me the same way my mathematical ideas did, so I believed them.

Narrator:Virginia visited John at McLean, but could hardly bear to see her son in such a state.

Martha Nash Legg:It broke her, I guess. It was devastating. You can imagine that every day she would wake up and everyday she would go to bed, and she would have this on her.

Narrator:Alicia urged his colleagues to visit, hoping their support would help John get back on his feet.

Zipporah Levinson:All the mathematicians were very upset, because this was a great genius that was lost.

Donald Newman:He said, "Newman, they are not going to let me out until I'm normal, but that'll never be. I never was."

John Nash:I began to realize that I would not be getting out of the hospital unless I conformed and behaved normally. So I, in part I would do that as if I would be sweeping the delusions under a rug and they were able to come out later on, and could be triggered, and I would move very quickly to accepting it again.

Narrator:Nash retained a lawyer, who secured his release after 50 days of hospitalization. Within weeks, he resigned from MIT, withdrew all the money from his pension fund and announced he was leaving for Europe.

Narrator:Alicia, who had given birth while John was in McLean, felt she had no choice but to go with him. They left behind their newborn son with Alicia¹s mother.

In July 1959, the Nashes arrived in Paris to find the city in turmoil. The streets reverberated with strikes, explosions and mass demonstrations against the nuclear arms race. A week later, Nash suddenly took off on his own.

He went to Luxembourg and announced he wanted to give up his American citizenship. He was turned away.

John Nash:I got to Geneva and I thought of a way of being a refugee. They had a slogan, "city of refuge." I envisioned a hidden world where the Communists and the anti-Communists were really the same, they were sort of schemers. I had the idea that some of the people, like Eisenhower and the Pope and the powers that be might be unsympathetic to me. These thoughts on the surface are not rational, but there could be a situation where there were -- things were not what they might seem.

Louis Sass:If to be mad is to be in error, there's a kind of contradiction there, isn't there, between what it is to be mad in the eyes of the world and what it is to have these experiences in which you¹re having a sense of revelation and you're noticing features of the world that other people seem to be too stupid or too blind to recognize.

Felix Browder:Most of the time when he was trying to give up his citizenship, he was being followed around by the naval attaché, who had as his commission to get his passport back and give it to Alicia. And so he chased him around Europe.

Alicia Nash:I went to the American Embassy in Paris, and I asked for help. I said, "I don¹t know what to do, you know. But I don't want him to get into trouble."

Narrator:Nash wandered Europe for nine months before embassy officials arranged to have him deported. French police seized him and took him to the airport. Nash later claimed that he was sent back on a ship, "in chains, like a slave."

Narrator:The Nashes moved to Princeton. To support her family, Alicia took a job with a research division of RCA. She hoped that with the help of the math community, they could start over again.

Harold Kuhn:When John moved back to Princeton, we offered him work with no real heavy responsibilities, just to get him back into the society. Those efforts foundered when he refused to sign W-4 forms. He was paranoid schizophrenic. He wouldn't sign a document for the government because he still thought there was a conspiracy out there against him.

Narrator:Nash was still in the grips of his illness. He became obsessed with unrest in the Middle East, and made countless phone calls to friends and family using fictitious names.

Martha Nash Legg:He would call me would you accept a collect call from some strange name? And I didn't because I didn't want to validate that he was this other person.

Narrator:One day, he showed up on campus covered with scratches and visibly terrified. "Johann von Nassau has been a bad boy," he said. "They're going to come and get me now."

Less than two years after his release from McLean, Nash was hospitalized again. Alicia, Virginia, and his sister Martha committed him to Trenton State Hospital, the former New Jersey Lunatic Asylum.

Martha Nash Legg:At this point, we didn't know whether this was going to be a very long, very expensive process. And we had been advised that Trenton was a good hospital.

Sylvia Nasar:McLean Hospital had been kind of a country club. Trenton was a crowded, open ward. When he arrived at Trenton State Nash was assigned a number and was mocked and told to sweep up and it was a terrible thing.

Narrator:When his colleagues heard where Nash was, many were outraged. "Who's going to figure out what is wrong with a genius there?" asked one. "It is in the national interest," warned another, "that everything possible be done to protect Nash's exceptional mind."

Narrator:Trenton State was known for its aggressive treatments, including insulin coma therapy, which by 1961 had been phased out in all but a few hospitals.

Peter Weiden:Insulin coma was developed under the mistaken notion that schizophrenia was caused by a metabolic problem, by the way the body regulates glucose. Insulin coma was one of the more popular and unfortunately one of the more notorious treatments in its day.

John Nash:I don't remember all the details. It's the sort of thing like if you go under anesthesia you remember only the process up to the anesthesia.

Narrator:A nurse would wake patients early in the morning and give them an injection of insulin. Their blood sugar would drop and soon they would be comatose. Some patients would suffer spontaneous seizures.

Peter Weiden:Insulin coma deliberately puts the body into total shock. This was done under supervised circ*mstances because if you do that too aggressively you can die.

John Nash:I remember some of the surrounding events. There would be a group of people that would be getting it and then afterwards, they would go out on the grounds and pass the time and drink sugar water. I got to thinking of the cruelty to animals. I became a vegetarian at the time that I was in the Trenton Hospital. I sort of thought that one could protest against this sort of treatment.

Narrator:Nash endured insulin treatments five days a week for six weeks. His symptoms diminished and after six months of confinement, he was finally discharged. No one knew what the long-term effects of his treatment might be.

Herta Newman:He came to visit us, and it was after this awful treatment. And he looked like he had been battered and through some devastating something, and spoke of it a little bit himself. And it was, you know, it was kind of heartbreaking.

Don Reynolds:He said these treatments that he had gone through had wiped out his early memory. So I think what he was doing, he was visiting me and different people to see if he could get his memory back.

Narrator:In 1961, Nash was 33 and unemployed. Former Princeton colleagues secured him a research position and he managed to publish a paper on fluid dynamics, his first piece of work in four years.

He seemed to be better, but inside Nash felt a sense of loss. "Rational thought," he wrote, "imposes a limit on a person's relation to the cosmos." He later called his remission periods "interludes of enforced rationality."

John Nash:To some extent, sanity is a form of conformity. People are always selling the idea that people who have mental illness are suffering. But it's really not so simple. I think mental illness or madness can be an escape also.

Narrator:The following summer, he left for Europe alone, once again obsessed with asylum. Before long, friends and family began receiving letters and postcards.

John Stier:It wasn't the type of letter you would expect to receive from a father, how you doing or what have you been up to. It was unbelievable how these things were supposed to mean something.

Herta Newman:They were frightening, in a way, the letters. And they made use of all the things that had been in his life. Mathematics was a kind of numerology and politics mixed with paranoia.

Narrator:Distraught after three years of turmoil, Alicia filed for divorce in December 1962. Her complaint charged that Nash resented her for committing him and had deserted her without support.

Narrator:Mathematicians from MIT and Princeton found Nash an academic position in Boston. They got him an apartment, and arranged for him to meet weekly with a psychiatrist, who prescribed anti-psychotic medication. Gradually, he seemed to improve. "He was pretty sane," recalled a colleague. "He was a much nicer person. The old ego stuff was gone."

He began seeing Eleanor and their son John again.

John Stier:We had gotten into a pattern of going out every Saturday. I started to grow more fond of him as he was around more. And then he went as quickly as he came.

Narrator:Less than a year after moving to Boston, Nash stopped taking his medication and his symptoms resurfaced.

Peter Weiden:These medicines interfere with vitality, with drive, with thinking, so the price that many patients had to pay for being on these medicines was that they felt lifeless. Like it takes away their soul.

Martha Nash Legg:He was afraid of anything that would alter the quality of his mind. And as anyone doesn't want to be forced to do something they don't want to do, that they don't choose to do. And John had always been very independent about what he chose to do.

Narrator:His delusions were now joined by a chorus of voices in his head.

Louis Sass:The kinds of hallucinations that are most common in schizophrenia are auditory hallucinations. Of voices of a certain kind. One kind would be two or more voices which are talking about the ongoing behavior of the patient. So if I were schizophrenic, I might hear John and Mary saying, "Okay, so why is Louis doing that now?" and them Mary would say to John, "Oh, he's just a jerk, he always does that kind of thing." They go back and forth, but sort of a commentary, often critical, on my ongoing behavior.

John Nash:You're really talking to yourself is what the voices are.

Herta Newman:He said he understood that there was something that went on between people that was alien to him. That he was sort of enclosed in a bubble. That he felt lonely.

Narrator:In 1970, Alicia Nash had a change of heart. She felt John¹s repeated hospitalizations had been a mistake. Alicia decided to let him move back in with her and promised never to commit him again.

Alicia Nash:I didn¹t think he should just be hospitalized in an institution and left there. And I just felt it was best for him to be on the outside.

Zipporah Levinson:She took him back not as her husband but as somebody who needed help and nobody else would have him. Giving him shelter and meals and protection made a tremendous difference in his well-being.

Sylvia Nasar:If she hadn't taken him in, he would have wound up on the streets. I think that Alicia saved his life.

Narrator:Princeton students began noticing a strange sight on campus: entire blackboards filled with minutely written formulas and secret codes. Rumors spread it was the work of a mysterious figure who wore red sneakers and kept to himself. They called him the Phantom.

Sylvia Nasar:There were all kinds of myths about him. The students would tell each other that he had gone mad because of a too-difficult problem he tried to crack, or after a rival beat him to the punch. And students were aware that the powers that be were protecting him.

Erhan Cinlar:From time to time, you would see in your office under the door sort of a huge number of sheets that¹s been worked out the night before, computing the probabilities of certain coincidences. Very detailed computations. He was into proving the existence of God.

John Nash:I felt that I might get a divine revelation by seeing a certain number. A great coincidence could be interpreted as something, a message from heaven.

Felix Browder:I did see him several times. He didn't recognize me. I didn't press the matter. I didn't have the sense I could have any contact with him, so I didn't try.

Narrator:Year after year, for more than a decade, the Phantom roamed the Princeton campus -- unaware that the work he had done as a student had finally sparked a revolution. Beginning in the 1960s, economists began to successfully apply game theory to real-life situations.

Paul Samuelson:Mergers, strikes, collective bargaining, these situations of conflict and cooperation are part of the backbone of practical economics.

Narrator:Auctions, farm subsidies, monetary policy, international trade -- all were now seen as strategic games. By the late 1970s, game theory had become one of the foundations of modern economics. And at the center was the Nash equilibrium.

Sylvia Nasar:There are not more than 10 ideas, in the post-war period, which you could say are equivalent. It had a huge impact in economics. It made economics a much more useful subject.

John Nash:I knew it was good work, but you cannot know how much something will be appreciated in the future. You don't have that crystal ball.

Narrator:By the 1980s, economists expected that game theory would be recognized with the Nobel Prize. Year after year, it didn't happen.

Paul Samuelson:The committee in Stockholm could not conceivably dream of giving a Nobel Prize if they couldn't include John Nash as one of the deserving people.

Members of the Nobel committee worried that Nash was unstable and wouldn't be able to handle the pressures of the ceremony. Some even feared he might do something that would embarrass the Academy and tarnish the prize.

Narrator:Beginning sometime in the 1980s, after three decades of struggling with mental illness, John Nash experienced his second transformation.

John Nash:I don't really remember the chronology very well, exactly when I moved from one type of thinking to another. I began arguing with the concept of the voices. And ultimately I began rejecting them and deciding not to listen.

Narrator:His descent into madness had been sudden; his reawakening was gradual, almost imperceptible.

Louis Sass:A portion of schizophrenics, after a long period of time, often do seem to get better, and how that occurs remains a mystery.

John Nash:I don't know what leads to what. I don't want to try to inquire too deeply myself.

Slowly, he became more engaged and lucid. Word of his remarkable recovery spread. Those around him assumed new antipsychotic drugs were helping, but Nash had stopped taking medication in 1970.

Harold Kuhn:I said, "John, how in the devil have you recovered?" He said, "I willed it. I decided I was going to think rationally."

Martha Nash Legg:He has said that he more or less put his hallucinations aside, like a conscious decision. I mentioned that to somebody, and she said, well, why didn't he do it sooner?

Sylvia Nasar:The fact that people did not abandon him, that there were people who treated him like a human being, made it possible for him to re-emerge.

Herta Newman:This wonderful thing that happened to John could only happen in this little mathematical community that is very, very tolerant of certain aberrations, and also at the same time incredibly admiring of gift or genius. That was what was important about Nash in that world, not that he was ill.

NPR Radio Announcement:"Two American professors and a German researcher have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. The Royal Swedish Academy cited" (audio dissolve to) "The three winners of today's Nobel Prize played major roles in bringing the principles of game theory to economics. Princeton's John Nash was cited for developing what has become known as the Nash equilibrium, a pioneering theory"

Don Reynolds:My wife said, "John Nash! You don't think that's the John Nash that we know?" I didn't know John was still alive.

Martha Nash Legg:I remember clearly, I heard it on the radio, and I said, "That's John!" And I cried. All I could thinks was, "I wish my parents could know this."

Narrator:On December 10, 1994, at the age of 66, John Nash received the Nobel Prize in Stockholm.

King Of Sweden:"Dr. John Nash, your analysis of equilibrium non-cooperative games and all your other contributions to game theory have had a profound effect on the way economic theory has developed in the last two decades."

Donald Newman:I was delighted. I was absolutely ecstatic and so was my wife. It was so wonderful.

Herta Newman:Jubilant. We danced around our kitchen. I mean, it was such a marvelous vindication. That after all this time, this incredible acknowledgement, it's great.

Erhan Cinlar:He shined very brightly as a young man. Then he had his illness. And he's now a very pleasant, accomplished gentleman. It feels right somehow.

Narrator:John Nash lives in Princeton with Alicia and their son Johnny, who is also a mathematician and suffers from schizophrenia.

After a long estrangement, Nash has reconnected with his eldest son, John Stier.

In the spring of 2001, 38 years after their divorce, John and Alicia remarried.

At Princeton, Nash has returned once again to his work in mathematics.

Louis Sass:I think it teaches us that we have to appreciate the particular talents of people who may be very eccentric, and look at things in very peculiar ways. Those are often the people who will really have the most stunning insights.

Sylvia Nasar:Here was someone who had been lost. I think that's the inspiration; that people can triumph over this disease. I think it's incredibly inspiring.

John Nash:I'm not thinking anything crazy but I there are different possibilities. I don't know what the future holds exactly, even if it's not such a long future, for me. Of course, the future in general is presumably long unless things really go bad or unless some miracle happens.

A Brilliant Madness | American Experience | PBS (2024)
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