John Forbes Nash – A Brilliant Madness

English: John Forbes Nash, American mathematic...
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You may be more familiar with the hollywood movie “A Beautiful Mind” which inevitably romantices some parts of John Nashs story – notably the usefulness of antipsycotics in his recovery.

This documentary for  PBS includes Nash’s own words.

It tells of his early brilliance – a Masters graduate by age nineteen and his rise to prominence in the cloistered world of Mathematics at Princeton University, his descent into greater eccentricity and then madness;  the diabolical treatment he endured at the hands of “medicine” and then the recovery he willed.

“I never agreed to go into hospital , it was always against my will”

“…they said they’ll let me out when I’m normal , but that will ever be : because I never was.”

“I began to realise realise that I would not be getting out of the hospital unless I conformed and behaved normally and so I began to do that, in part as if I would be sweeping the dellusions under the rug , they would come out later on and I would move very quickly to accepting it again…..”

Nash engaged a lawyer who secured his release and he left for Europe: to be later sent back to US by French authorities and back to the fold of the mathematics community at Princeton. Still in the grips of his illness but gradually finding periods he could do some work….

“Rational thought imposes a limit on a person’s relation with the cosmos”

and of his remission periods..

“interludes of enforced rationality”

“To some extent sanity is a form of conformity. People are always selling the idea that people with mental illness are suffering,  but its really not so sinple. I think mental illness or madness can be an escape also”

Having  divorced years earlier his wife Alicia Nash had a change of heart and took him back into the home, not as a husband but as someone who needed help and because she felt he need not, nor ought not, be institutionalised.  She felt Johns repeated hospitalisatns had been a mistake and she promised never to commit him again.

“Giving him shelter and protection and meals made a tremendous difference in his well-being.”

By the 1980s the huge significance of his earlier work on game theory was coming to the fore in economics and other fields of human endeavour and expectation grew that the work would be recognised with a Nobel Prize but it didn’t happen because of the committee’s fears that Nash was unstable and would embarrass the institution. 

After three decades of living with mental illness Nash started a second transformation – his decent into madness had been sudden but his recovery would be gradual, almost imperceptable and slowly becoming more engaged at Princeton….

Those around him assumed the new antipsychotic drugs he was taking were what was creating the change but Nash had stopped taking them many years earlier.

“I willed it, I decided I was going to think rationally “

he put his hallucinations aside, like a conscious decision

“The fact tthat people did not abandon him, that there were people who treated him like a human being  made it possible for him to re-emerge”

“This wonderful thing that happened to John could only have happened 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.

In 1994 Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics for his contribution to game theory.

He returned to his work and 38 years after their divorce, in 2001 remarried Alicia .

“I think it teaches us we have to appreciate the particular  talents of people who may be very eccentric and who look at things in very peculiar ways – those are often the people who have the most stunning insights”

“he was someone who had been lost , I think that’s the inspiration people can triumph over this.

I’m not thinking anything crazy but there are  different possibilities . I do not know what the future holds but for me of course the future in general is presumably not very long for me..

Caution this is not hollywood -the footage and commentary contain sections that you may find upsetting and triggering.

including the segment at Trenton State Hospital where Nash endured  “insulin coma therapy”.



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3 Responses to John Forbes Nash – A Brilliant Madness

  1. garciajorgea says:

    “The fact that people did not abandon him” cannot be understated. In the face of nature or nurture, reveals that nurture can overturn nature.


    • Hi Jorge , with you on how the people around John Forbes stayed with him.we all need that, more so when troubled.
      I do belive the nature nurture thing is a battle made only in the minds of men, not in the world outside man’s ideas. we are all product of both nature and nurture.


  2. Earla says:

    This was a wonderful doc and it says what I believe, that we can change and be who we want to be –


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