Saturday was a sad day in the world of mathematics: the renowned mathematician and a Nobel prize winner John Forbes Nash along with his wife Alicia died in a tragic car crash. To remember this unique personality, here are 10 facts about John Nash that you’ve probably never heard before.
1. Nash was an introverted individualist as a child
Long before John Nash exhibited any interest in mathematics, he already had certain unique features that, one might argue, predicted his success in later life. His sister Martha remembered her brother being a unique and introverted child:
Johnny was always different. [My parents] knew he was different. And they knew he was bright. He always wanted to do things his way. Mother insisted I do things for him, that I include him in my friendships. … but I wasn’t too keen on showing off my somewhat odd brother.
2. One of Nash’s inspirations — E.T. Bell’s Men of Mathematics
When Nash was 14 years old he showed first signs of passion for mathematics. One of the biggest inspirations was E.T. Bell’s classic book titled The Men of Mathematics, which tells the story of some of the greatest mathematicians throughout history. The book is also famous for inspiring another great future mathematician — Freeman Dyson.
3. Nash’s first passion was chemistry
Before finding one’s way as a mathematician, Nash had a profound interest in chemistry. In 1941 he entered Bluefield College, where he enjoyed studying science subjects, especially chemistry. This passion interestingly lead to another eccentric hobby — practical jokes.
4. Nash was a renowned prankster
John Nash’s way of letting his steam off was pranking other people. It appears that the aspiring mathematician had a special talent for coming up with unique ways of tricking people. He is famous for using his chemistry knowledge to make explosives or tying his sister to a chair wired with batteries.
5. Nash used to have long discussions with Einstein
While studying in Princeton, Nash had many opportunities to meet renowned aspiring mathematicians and physicists. There he also became interested in tensors and general relativity. He even had a chance to meet Albert Einstein himself and to discuss his ideas regarding gravity.
6. Nash met his future wife Alicia in an advanced calculus for engineers class
Alicia, besides being renowned for her talents in mathematics, was a cosmopolitan coming from an aristocratic family, which spoke French and English as well as Spanish, often traveled abroad and valued intellectual prowess as well as art. Nash found these features very appealing and later wrote: She was one of the few girls that attracted my attention.
7. Nash was a bit of a legend in Princeton
Despite his mental problems Nash was allowed to come back to work in Princeton, where he became a bit of a local legend. He would wander around the campus with his red sneakers, write mysterious equations on blackboards and was liked by many students.
8. Nash credits logical thinking for his recovery
John Nash quit taking anti-psychotic medication in the early 1970s. Despite this, however, he was able to make an impressive recovery, especially in the early 90s, when he received the Nobel prize in economic sciences. Nash himself often said that his recovery was due to the ever-going struggle between his logical mind and delusional thinking in which clear thinking came on top.
9. Even at an old age Nash preserved his intellectual abilities and curiosity
Despite long years of mental illness, Nash always expressed his wish to come back to mathematical research. Among his beloved topics of game theory and economics, he also expressed great interest in cosmology and gravitation.
10. John and Alicia remarried in 2001
Despite many ups and downs in their relationship and Nash’s mental health, John and Alicia always stayed close. Due to relationship problems they got divorced in 1963, but later in the early 70s Nash lived in Alicia’s house as a boarder, where she took great care of him. According to Nash, his wife’s care and love was another major factor in his recent recovery.