Beautiful Mind mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. (1928-2015) and his wife Alicia were killed when their taxi hit a guard rail and another car on the New Jersey turnpike on May 23.
They were only 20 minutes from home after an exhilarating trip to Norway where Nash had just been awarded the prestigious million-dollar Abel Prize for his work on nonlinear partial differential equations. He valued the Abel Prize even more than his earlier Nobel Prize.
The Abel Prize is often described as the “Nobel Prize for Mathematics.” It’s named for the Norwegian algebraist Niels Henrik Abel (1802–1829) who first proved that no algebraic formula exists for solving 5th degree and higher polynomial equations, like the quadratic formula solves 2nd degree equations. Abel also invented group theory which has wide applications throughout mathematics and physics.
In 1994 Nash won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his 1950 Ph.D. dissertation in game theory (on the mathematics of decision-making) which is now a cornerstone of modern economic theory. He made seminal contributions to cryptography, algebraic geometry, differential geometry, and partial differential equations. His results are used in many fields including economics, computer science, artificial intelligence, accounting, politics, and military theory.
I remember studying some of Nash’s research papers in grad school, particularly the Nash Embedding Theorem on embedding manifolds in Euclidean space.
When he died Nash was a senior research mathematician at Princeton University. The 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe told his life story based on the 1998 book of the same title by Sylvia Nasar.
Nash suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He began to recover with the help of Alicia and friends when he decided to reject delusional thinking:
“I spent times of the order of five to eight months in hospitals in New Jersey, always on an involuntary basis and always attempting a legal argument for release. And it did happen that when I had been long enough hospitalized that I would finally renounce my delusional hypotheses and revert to thinking of myself as a human of more conventional circumstances and return to mathematical research. In these interludes of, as it were, enforced rationality, I did succeed in doing some respectable mathematical research. … Gradually I began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began, most recognizably, with the rejection of politically-oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort. So at the present time I seem to be thinking rationally again in the style that is characteristic of scientists.”
(Nash, Nobel Prize Autobiographical Essay, 1994.)
Schizophrenia is a devastating and complex affliction. Most with this diagnosis must seek multiple approaches to treatment, and in God’s mercy many do find improvement.
Although John Nash’s journey to mental stability is not typical, all of us can learn a lesson from it. Especially significant is Nash’s recovery through rejecting “delusional thinking.” The lesson is that it is essential to control one’s thinking. The Bible instructs us to think correctly and to meditate on the proper subjects. The Apostle Paul tells us what to think about:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
The Bible also specifically instructs us to reject what does not match eternal realities and the truth of Christ.
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
(2 Corinthians 10:5)
How can each of us have a truly Beautiful Mind?
Regularly read and meditate on God’s Word. Think on what is true, right, pure, and lovely. Think about things of good repute, excellence, and praise.
The deaths of John and Alicia Nash are tragic, and we mourn their passing. It is also sobering to face the fragile impermanence of even this beautifully brilliant mind.
The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath.
In contrast, contemplating the Eternal One Who created Nash’s beautiful mind and everything it studied, awestruck worship is the only rational response!
How great are Your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep….You, O LORD, are on high forever. (Psalm 92:5, 8)
Questions to Ponder
- What false ideas are influencing you today?
- What specific step can you take in the next hour to develop God’s kind of Beautiful Mind?
- What Scriptures have challenged you on the issue of godliness in mental processes?
Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.
Soli Deo Gloria.
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday June 3, 2015 A.D.
It is the Lord of hosts who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom, and by His understanding He stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 51:15)