Nobel Prize Laureate Mathematician. The recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Economics Sciences and the subject of Sylvia Nasar's 1998 biography "A Beautiful Mind" as well as the 2001 the Academy Award winning movie of the same name in which he was portrayed by Russell Crowe, he shall be remembered for developing the 'Nash Equilibrium', an explanation of non co-operative game theory which has provided the basis of a large portion of business marketing strategy since the early 1950s. The child of an electrical engineer for Appalachian Electric Power and of a teacher, he was raised in Bluefield, a railroad city at the southern tip of West Virginia; obviously bright from his earliest years, he was a mediocre student and was always a bit strange, a child of the 'does not play well with others' type, in retrospect a foreshadowing of his later problems, though his physical strength spared him the trauma of overt bullying and his later memories of childhood were for the most part happy ones. While attending Beaver (now, Bluefield) High School, he took classes at Bluefield College, a then-junior college in neighboring Bluefield, Virginia. One particular tragic tale from his high school years has become legendary: when a teenager, John and two friends, Herman Kirchner and another young man, used to perform 'experiments' in the Kirchner garage, building pipe bombs out of homemade gunpowder which they would then detonate around town, though there was never any vandalism involved. Once John manufactured nitroglycerin which, thankfully, turned out to be a dud, but the fun stopped in January of 1944 when Herman, while working alone, blew himself up. In the end, John gave up chemistry, sales of chemistry sets in the local area dropped to nil, and Bluefield probably did not produce a chemical engineer for a generation or more. Following his 1945 graduation, he attended Pittsburgh's Carnegie Tech from which he received both bachelor's and master's degrees in 1948. Accepted at Harvard, he chose instead to pursue his doctorate at Princeton University, partially because it is closer to Bluefield than is Cambridge, but more so because it was then America's premier mathematical program. Led by department chairman Solomon Lefschetz and home to game-theory pioneer John von Neumann, the school provided an ideal training ground; Nash invented a board game called 'Nash' which became popular in Fine Hall's common room and which was later sold by Parker Brothers as Hex, and worked on game theory, a branch of mathematics which at that time dealt mostly with 'zero-sum' games, a winner-takes-all approach to the problem which works quite well for things such as baseball. Utilizing non-linear parabolic partial differential equations, he produced the 'Nash Equilibrium', a discovery that he elucidated in his 1950 28 page doctoral dissertation which over the next decades had wide implications for the world at large even as he himself struggled to survive. Essentially, he postulated that not every situation has to be win-or-lose, thus providing the basis of much of modern business marketing strategy. With differing approaches for different products, for example, recognizing the seemingly obvious point that while an ordinary person can not have as nice a car or watch as can a millionaire, he can have just as good a bottle of soda. Companies target audiences based on what they are selling, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" a sharp contrast to the manner in which Rolls Royce automobiles and Rolex watches are advertised. Dr. Nash's discoveries had effects far beyond the business world and were used by governments as the Cold War dragged on to develop diplomatic and military strategies that would allow both the United States and the Soviet Union to save-face and at the same time refrain from blowing each other up. Upon receiving his Ph.D., he accepted a faculty position at M.I.T. and moved to Boston; he taught undergraduate classes, though according to reports of the time he was not very good at it, and continued his research. He also fathered a son by nurse Eleanor Stier, the child eventually becoming a mathematician of note, and was for a time loaned to the RAND Corporation in California, though he was to leave and lose his security clearance under circumstances deliberately kept cloudy. During the mid 1950s, he worked on Hilbert's Nineteenth Problem, his treatment utilizing elliptic partial differential equations to achieve results that many then and now feel should have garnered him the 1956 Fields Medal, a sort-of mathematics Nobel Prize. In 1957, he married Alicia Lopez-Harrison de Larde, a beautiful Salvadoran aristocrat who would care for him, often under unlivable circumstances, for the rest of his days. In 1959, during Alicia's only pregnancy, he suffered his first complete psychotic break; diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he was hospitalized for the first of many times suffering from a multiplicity of delusions. At various times, he would announce that he had solved the Reimann Hypothesis, a classic impossible problem in mathematics, that either the Communists or alternatively the C.I.A. were after him, Communist men identifiable by their red ties, or that he had been named Emperor of Antarctica. Alicia divorced John in 1963 but remained with him, their lives hard when John was on his medication and impossible when he was not. Fortunately, Princeton University kept him on, though he did little or no work in return and was frequently confined to mental hospitals, his quiet presence on campus earning him the unofficial title of "The Ghost of Fine Hall" as young men were told "he was a better mathematician than you'll ever be". Eventually, by some process probably impossible to explain, he simply chose to get well, stopping his medicines and either banishing or ignoring his bizarre ideations by force of will. Dr. Nash began performing meaningful mathematical research, an achievement beyond men of his age even without his psychiatric history. He was awarded the 1979 John von Neumann Prize and in 1994 shared the Nobel Prize in Economics with Reinhard Selten and John Hasanyi, accorded the honor despite fears that he would somehow make a fool of himself in Stockholm. In the event, John and Alicia performed magnificently and the professor was to spend the rest of his life receiving the acclaim long denied him. Dr. Nash lectured the world over, his acumen for a man of his years a marvel to audiences, and was bestowed multiple honorary doctorates. In 2001, he and Alicia remarried; though they had lived as a couple all along, they had delayed formalizing the relationship as the Social Security system would have reduced their benefits. In later years, previously classified documents were released which confirmed that his work in the 1950s had laid the foundation of modern cryptography; in 2015, he received the Abel Prize for his research utilizing partial differential equations for geometric analysis. John and Alicia were killed in South Jersey when a taxi in which they were riding crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Bio by: Bob Hufford
Alicia Esther Lopez-Harrison de Larde Nash
1933–2015 (m. 1957)