A Study of the Professor Nash of a Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind

A study of the professor Nash of “A Beautiful Mind”.


Schizophrenia is said to be a severe disturbance of the brain’s functioning. Current evidence concerning the causes of schizophrenia is varied. The data suggests that there are multiple factors involved. These factors include changes in the chemistry of the brain, changes in the structure of the brain, and genetic factors. Head injuries, as well as viral factors, may also be involved. Some theories suggest that schizophrenia is a group of related diseases caused by different factors. It may develop so gradually that the family and even the person with the disease may not realize that anything is wrong for a long period of time. This was evident in the case of John Nash and his wife. This slow deterioration is referred to as gradual-onset or insidious schizophrenia. A gradual build-up of symptoms may or may not lead to an acute or crisis episode of schizophrenia. An acute episode is short and intense, and involves hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder, and an altered sense of self. I have decided to write about John Nash, a true story presented in the titled movie “A Beautiful mind.” This story is just too good to pass up as it presents a man who was brilliant, yet had a darker side that pulled his mind into an imaginary world that at times appears to be as genuine as the material world. Along with John’s story, I will explore the various misconceptions concerning schizophrenia

Student years

A Beautiful Mind relates the story of a man who develops, through his struggle with schizophrenia, an alternate underworld of subterfuge, and imaginary people, who seemingly coexist with him during his rise from student at Princeton to Nobel Prize winner in the field of mathematics. When he first arrives at Princeton one is immediately introduced to two major problems that separate John from his fellow classmates; lack of social interaction, as well as a sense of his overblown ego. The chess game highlights both his contempt for games with no clear logical conclusion, and his inability to admit defeat. At first one would see this as a character flaw, but further analysis would reveal this as a man with a sense of logic that many people may not or would not want to possess. The difficulty is that there are a number of different solutions for nonconstant sum games, and no one is clearly the “right” answer in every case. Hence, Nash’s possible frustration with the traditional game of chess. (McCain Roger A., “Solutions” to Nonconstant Sum Games, retrieved Oct 3 ) .

It is no surprise that many famous writers were frustrated with mental illness. World famous writers, poets, and artists, battled mental illness throughout their lives: Michelangelo, Lord Byron, Coleridge, T.S. Elliot, and Robert Lowell as well as many others. Van Gogh, Hemingway and Virginia Woolf committed suicide because of it. (NMAI, Famous People, retrieved Oct 5).

Perhaps the reality that there were other artistic students gifted with similar intelligence, or even the deep fear of power without capability, served to solidify John’s fears of normalcy. All that intelligence and there seemed to be no way to actively bring a final world peace. I recall a part in the movie where John interacts with his imaginary roommate by throwing his desk out the window from his frustration with his mathematical theorems.

His obsession with paper seemed to bare a kinship with a little known emperor of San Francisco – Norton I. Norton enjoyed the powers and privileges befitting an emperor, but he did more than simply accept the tribute of his subjects. Norton was a working monarch. While much of his time was spent inspecting his domain, he never neglected his paperwork. During his reign, Norton issued a wide variety of royal documents, and, as loyal subjects, newspaper editors followed his command and printed them. Hence, as I stated prior, perhaps John Nash felt deeply his power without the capability.(Carr, Patricia E., Emperor Norton I, retrieved Oct. 4).

The added frustration of his fellow students’ success serves to fuel John Nash’s decision to stop going to classes, but instead opts to work solely on his power through his mathematical theorems.

Strangely, the movie ignores John Nash’s real life encounter and obsession with meeting Albert Einstein. Somehow he must have seen a soul mate in the character of Albert Einstein, who shared a common bout of marriage trouble, as well as lack of finesse with the opposite sex. Love is more emotional than logical at times, and it is quite an interesting moment in the film where John’s encounter with the blonde woman in the bar actually allows a seed to germinate toward his eventual success. Through this encounter germinates the concept in which he is able to show how, without a government to set rules, a small number of business rivals could reach a stable solution that would benefit each. To his baffled classmates, he explains: “Adam Smith said the best result comes from everyone in the group doing what’s best for himself, right? Adam Smith was wrong!” The message: Sometimes it’s better to cooperate. (Landsburg, Stephen E., Mindless, retrieved Oct 5).

Teaching years

John was eventually inducted into the real world of MIT, where, through cooperation among other things, he was expected to teach as well as do research. Was it the Cold War that motivated him to seek a solution to the unsolvable? How could countries with nuclear arms truly be safe? Like the theory he eventually created, equilibrium was never a clear solution. His theories saw through the economics as a guide to keeping the possibility of a nuclear war at a very low risk. This struggle must have plagued an otherwise balanced mind. While John’s subconscious mind struggled with the hidden threat of nuclear war, his conscious was suddenly awakened to the sometimes illogical workings of love.

His student, Alicia, finally breaks through his often preoccupied mind, bringing him to the realization that even famous scientists deserve to love. But alas, his desire to safeguard the world drove his mind to even inner deeper delusions of grandeur. His subsequent marriage to Alicia brought love, but a garage became the elemental Pandora’s Box that seemed to hide his so-called contact with his former illusion – William Parcher. Parcher was a substance of his subconscious that fueled his urge to continue the fight of possible foreign dangers through code breaking.

Perhaps in a way, John’s Schizophrenia was a product of his human need to decode life itself. The real world, after all, is actually filtered through our own conscious mind. His interest in Adam Smith’s theory of economics may well have been driven with the question of a solution to the “General Grand Unification Problem,” where the scientific model shows specifically that within the nonstandard physical world the behavior of all natural world systems are related logically. These results solve the pre-geometry problem of Wheeler.

In general, the model predicts that when these Universe creating processes are viewed globally, they are similar to how an infinitely powerful mind would behave. As a student of psychology I can only surmise that maybe Nash’s mathematical theory was so far advanced that when he discovered a possible tie-in to Einstein’s theory of relativity, he saw how intelligent design seemed to be built into the very framework of the universe, hence Nash’s mind headed for an emotional meltdown.

The movie misses Nash’s real life delusions of extraterrestrial aliens and the religious delusions that primarily troubled him in real life. (Herrmann, Robert A. Solutions to the General Grand Unification Problem, and the Questions How did our Universe Come Into Being? And of What is Empty Space Composed? Retrieved Oct 6).

Nash’s equilibrium and the nuclear threat may have either been illusion or theory, but Princeton was then home to legendary thinkers such as Robert Oppenheimer and John von Neumann, heroes who had helped win World War II and were deeply involved in the Cold War. Sadly, there may be some relevance to the environment affecting a person’s mental state. In reality, although many great minds are eccentric and some are manic-depressive, very few are schizophrenic. Nasar calls Nash the “tragic exception” to this rule. Nash was the rare prodigy who had already proven his genius before he began hearing from space aliens at the age of thirty. (Sailer, Steve., A Beautiful Mind, retrieved Oct 6).

His fictional battle against The Cold War Soviet spy ring finally comes to a head as his Schizophrenia is finally discovered through his frequent late night drop-box of decoded information. Only through his wife’s intervention is he able to come to grips with the fact that the unopened so-called Top Secret information was a product of his illusions.

The movie highlights the fact that although he recognizes some aspects of his disease, others, such as Charles’ illusionary niece, seems to be a sort of comfort to him, until his final realization that she is always the same age. Nash has one superbly tragic moment in the movie where he realizes that his anti-psychosis medicine has left him too dim-witted to do mathematics. Later, at the age of sixty-six, two important events take place – remission of his illness, and the sudden award of the Nobel Prize for his contribution to the game theory. (Nasar, Sylvia, A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash, retrieved Oct. 6).

The Real John Nash

John Nash was influenced by a religious upbringing, or at least a small community in the Appalachian Mountains. His mother was a schoolteacher, his father an electrical engineer. Nash’s interest in math, and his real life encounter with Albert Einstein, must have hinged on his interest in proving the isometric embeddability of abstract Riemannian manifolds in flat, or “Euclidean” spaces, along with the Grand Unification Theory. (Nash, John F. Autobiography, retrieved Oct 7).

Imagine his frustration in understanding that the very scientific principle behind the atom bomb could theorietically be used to convert water directly into electricity. ” ‘They use a “hot” design and are not based upon “cold” fusion.” ‘ (Nordberg, Thomas John, Time: Grand Unification of Physics, Solar Activity, Fusion & Earthquakes, retrieved Oct. 7).

There have always been the stereo-typical mad scientists of monster movies, but in my research on John Nash I have found a very interesting paradox of his so-called schizophrenic episodes – to him, they were part of his creative side. He reiterates in his autobiography that he had his most inventive thoughts when he was delusional.

There are some artists who claim to have been doing their best work while in some drug induced state of mind. Was this how he actually accomplished his more abstract thinking? I believe his description of his creative genius tells it best. “But after my return to the dream-like delusional hypotheses in the later 60’s I became a person of delusionally influenced thinking but of relatively moderate behavior and thus tended to avoid hospitalization and the direct attention of psychiatrists. Thus further time passed. Then gradually I began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation.”

One aspect of this is that rationality of thought imposes a limit on a person’s concept of his relation to the cosmos. For example, a non-Zoroastrian could think of Zarathustra as simply a madman who led millions of naive followers to adopt a cult of ritual fire worship. But without his “madness” Zarathustra would necessarily have been only another of the millions or billions of human individuals who have lived and then been forgotten. (Nash, John F. Autobiography, retrieved Oct. 7).

This example I gave concerning his creative side explains his reasons well. Contrary to the movie, John Nash actualy stopped taking medication. Furthermore, in real life he never actually experienced visual hallucinations as part of his schizophrenia, rather auditory hallucinations that he was receiving messages from space. Apparently, these so-called messages dealt with political messages. (Pimms, Lettuce. John Forbes Nash Mathematician, retrieved Oct. 7).

Abnormal Behavior

I believe that socially, Nash could function in the outside world, but he became engrossed in his science to the point where he became distracted. His abnormality was clear in the movie where he is shown to talk to illusionary individuals. Clearly, to some, his behavior was maladaptive, but to a fellow scientist in the same field, perhaps they could relate to the method in which John Nash received his inspiration.

It seems it is often the case that writers, scientists, and researchers are known to be a bit eccentric; hence Einstein sometimes displayed abnormal behavior as well. All vocations attract certain personality types; academe appeals particularly to introspective, narcissistic, obsessive characters who occasionally suffer from mood disorders or other psychological problems. Often, these difficulties go untreated because they are closely tied to enhanced creativity. (Brottman, Mikita. Nutty Professors, retrieved Oct. 8).

The film shows John Nash throwing furniture out his window, and clandestine trips to an imaginary drop off point for his decoded messages. The movie also leads one to believe that Nash felt people were out to harm him. Our text tells us that adaption is a dynamic process. Each of us responds to our environment and to the changes that occur in it. (Sarason & Sarason, 2005, p. 8).

In real life, Nash always felt that his demeanor was his cross to bear in order for his creative mind to thrive. Therefore, he felt when he was forcefully hospitalized; it was not by choice that he changed his abnormal behavior, but to placate the psychiatrists. “When I had been long enough hospitalized, 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.” ( Nash, John F. Autobiography, retrieved Oct. 5).

Classification of Nash’s abnormal behavior

Maladaption ranges from chronic fears that are troubling but not disturbing to severe distortion of reality and inability to function independently. (Sarason & Sarason, 2005, p. 8).

In A Beautiful Mind, Nash became so delusional that his wife must have felt he could do harm to his baby son. Clearly, John Nash had some sort of hereditary problem of the brain that could be passed on to his son, whom it was said was also hearing voices. Research shows that there is much that is physical in mental disorders and vice versa. (Sarason & Sarason, 2005, p. 20).

Nash could consciously control some aspects of his problem by ignoring the voices in real life and controlling any activities which psychiatrists would interpret to mean he needed more forced hospitalization. The interactional approach called for behavior to be considered in terms of operation of biological, psychological, and social variables. (Sarason & Sarason, 2005, p. 200).

Although genetic disorders may play an important role in schizophrenia, psychological and social factors must still be considered. In the case of Nash, the pressure of competition from fellow students, and then the new role of fatherhood, may have been the precursor to his ultimate hospitalization. Love and responsibility was a new thing for a logician. Perhaps his retreat into his fantasy world was partly a result of his subconscious trying to escape the ultimate responsibility of husband and fatherhood.

Often we hear of some guy with numerous degrees and responsibilities who loves nothing more than to go home and play video games over the responsibility of family. Romance and family can be a responsibility for some men that takes too much time and is far more complicated than just going directly to the point of life. Hence Nash displayed this rational, and disdain of true romance by approaching the blonde and asking directly for sex.

His lack of true emotion is consistent with some of the problems related to someone with schizophrenia, a disease that is characterized by profound disruption in cognition and emotion, affecting the most fundamental human attributes: language, thought, perception, affect, and sense of self. The array of symptoms, while wide ranging, frequently includes psychotic manifestations, such as hearing internal voices or experiencing other sensations not connected to an obvious source (hallucinations) and assigning unusual significance or meaning to normal events or holding fixed false personal beliefs (delusions). (The Surgeon General. Mental Health: A Report on the Surgeon General, retrieved Oct. 8).

Lifelong Disease or Fallacy

Is Nash’s schizophrenia a lifelong disease that can never be cured, or is that just a fallacy of this disease made famous by movies and mad scientists? In my research he did not display real symptoms until he was into his early thirties. This in itself causes me to wonder if the theory using the Interactional approach is indeed a valid conclusion in his case. Nash heard voices in real life that advised him concerning political subjects. They were said to be from space aliens. Later in life he makes a remarkable recovery. Mounting evidence contradicts the theory promulgated a century ago by Sigmund Freud and his contemporaries, that the serious thought and mood disorder is a relentless, degenerative illness that robs victims of social and intellectual function, invariably dooming them to a miserable life in a homeless shelter, a prison cell or, at best, a group home. (Boodman, Sandra G. Beautiful – but not Rare Recovery, retrieved Oct. 9).

Some of the symptoms displayed by Nash in the film include talking to someone unseen, riding his bike in strange figure eight patterns in front of Princeton, and displaying little or no emotion when dealing with his family. As he slowly digressed into his fantasy world, his interest in teaching his class waned. Although hearing voices is a common symptom of a schizophrenic, in some cases, such as portrayed in the film, hearing voices or seeing an illusionary person can become comforting to the person. Nash developed a deep relationship with the illusionary niece of Charles. Hallucinations aren’t always menacing. “I find some people find what they have to say familiar and comforting, even sweet. And, in fact, another voice I think I heard (I can’t be sure) came when I was hanging out by the nurse’s station in the ICU. I heard one of the nurses ask me an inconsequential question and I answered her only to be surprised to find her looking down at her desk, ignoring me. I
think now she hadn’t addressed me at all, that the question I heard was one of my voices speaking to me.” (Healthyplace. Living with Schizoaffective Disorder, retrieved Oct. 8).

The genetic tie-in to Nash seems to be there with his son, but not from his father or mother. Perhaps it skips certain generations or as presented in the interactional approach, behavior to be considered in terms of operation of biological, psychological, and social variables (Sarason & Sarason, 2005, p. 200).

There can be various causes of schizophrenia, but in Nash’s case I believe it is the stress related to his studying such a deep and abstract subject. Besides the fact that Nash did not display stereotypical symptoms early on, there is mounting evidence that these and other hypotheses of schizophrenia have been frustratingly vague, and although they provide clues to proximal causes of symptoms, they do not specify the causal molecular events. The situation, however, is now changing rapidly as several putative susceptibility genes have been discovered. Evidence for associations between DNA polymorphisms and schizophrenia has been reported and, more importantly, replicated for some of these genes. (Owen, Michael J. Schizophrenia: A Genetic Disorder of the Synapse? Retrieved Oct. 9).

Since Nash developed the disease later on in life, and his son appeared to be developing similar symptoms, one may theorize that there is at least some genetic link, possibly set off by stress. As stated earlier, the stress of competing to find some great discovery, and his marriage and subsequent birth of his child, may have been more than enough to send him into a schizophrenic episode.

The risk of the disease returning, besides genetics, may have prevented by his ability to manage illness that accompanies age coupled with the natural decline, beginning in the mid-forties, in the levels of brain chemicals that may be linked to schizophrenia. (Kirby, Barbara, L. What is Asperger Syndrome? Retrieved Oct. 9).

The causes that relate to Nash getting it are not certain, but because it was controllable, even without medication, gives some hope to many afflicted with this disease.

Can schizophrenia be a combination of various diseases of the body, which can be grouped under that label? Individuals with Asperger Syndrome (AS) or (Asperger’s Disorder) can exhibit a variety of characteristics, and the disorder can range from mild to severe. Persons with AS show marked deficiencies in social skills, have difficulties with transitions or changes, and prefer sameness. They often have obsessive routines and may be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest. Often, like Nash, they become the brunt of teasing by those who don’t understand their odd behavior. The article states that one woman was arrogant like Nash. She was also arrogant, petty-minded, and obsessed with such matters as the relative size of her office and quality of its furniture. In the second case, the new star revealed himself to be an abstemious hermit and hypersensitive to imaginary slights; he was also a compulsive hoarder, and frugal to an unusual extreme. He was discovered to be actually living, Bartleby-like, in his office. (Kirby, Barbara L. What is Asperger Syndrome?, retrieved Oct. 9).

Because the symptoms of schizophrenia did leave Nash, perhaps one must rethink the theory that it is a life-long disease. The belief that recovery from schizophrenia occurs only occasionally is believed by at least seven studies of patients who were followed for more than 20 years after their discharge from mental hospitals in the United States, Western Europe and Japan. In papers published between 1972 and 1995, researchers found that between 46 and 68 percent of patients had either fully recovered – they had no symptoms of mental illness, took no psychiatric medication, worked and had normal relationships or were, like John Nash, significantly improved but impaired in one area of functioning. (Boodman, Sandra, G. Beautiful – but not Rare Recovery, retrieved Oct. 9).


I must admit, prior to the study of John Nash I had the stereotypical idea that schizophrenia was a disease in which the person was highly dangerous and could never actively participate in normal life. The film, A Beautiful Mind, actually opened the curtain and exposed the misconceptions of the disease called schizophrenia. John Nash’s quest to achieve was not only inspiring; it revealed that even great men and women can have this disease. His re-emergence from schizophrenia to a Nobel prize winner reveals that love, and commitment from ones peers can eventually bring a person back from the brink.


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