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When Did You Last See A Movie About Math or a Mathematician?

It's a very rare event indeed for me to go to a movie theater. I have always found the discomfort of sitting in an uncomfortable chair with my neck craned for the better part of two hours not to be an overly appealing form of entertainment. However, part of my distaste for the environment of the theater is largely due to a cervical spine injury which doubles my level of discomfort. Why then was I so compelled to see A Beautiful Mind? A few reasons actually; I'm an avid biography reader, I have a tremendous respect and admiration for mathematicians and I'm extremely interested in mental illness and those fascinating places the brain can lead one to, if only in one's mind. Coupled with the fact that a close family member is afflicted with a similar illness and has encountered delusional states of mind, certainly made this movie a 'magnet' for me.

A Beautiful Mind is a story based on the life of the famous mathematician John Forbes Nash. His contributions to mathematics are outstanding. When he was an undergraduate, he proved Brouwer's fixed point theorem. He then broke one of Riemann's most perplexing mathematical problems and became famous for the Nash Solution. Game Theory From then on, Nash provided breakthrough after breakthrough in mathematics. In 1958 John Forbes Nash was described as being 'the most promising young mathematician in the world'. John solved problems in mathematics that many mathematicians deemed not solvable. On the threshold of such a promising and outstanding career, he then went on to suffer through three decades of a devastating form of paranoid schizophrenia. He lost his teaching professions and his job. He refused all medical treatment and spent years in and out of dilusional states. Remarkably, in 1994 John won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science for his work on Game Theory, (Game theory is an analytical tool(s) to guide us to understand the phenomena behind the way decision-makers interact e.g., voting, elections, dating), he was only 21 when he wrote his paper. In 1999 he was awarded the Leroy P Steele Prize by the American Mathematical Society. Did this fascinating mathematician slowly analyze, apply logic and reason his way back to a semblance of sanity and reality?

A Beautiful Mind opens with John Nash in graduate school at Princeton. He is almost obsessed to be recognized for original work and begins writing his formulas on windows and napkins while slapping his colleagues with many insulting, yet witty comments. Nash's work on Game Theory in the early stages has Nash comparing it to football, pigeon feeding habits and picking up women. It's the bar scene where Nash has his big 'Ah Ha' moment. While Nash and his friends all have their eyes on the same Blonde woman, you begin to sense his 'genius moment'. He surprises his colleagues with the question that if we all want the same woman, nobody wins, if we all go after her friends, nobody wins, thus there must be a solution to ensure that everyone wins. With that, Nash writes a formula on a napkin, rushes out of the bar and works feverishly on his new theory.

The first portion of A Beautiful Mind focuses extensively on Nash's mathematical life. As the movie progresses, we see the devastating impact that the paranoid schizophrenia has on this brilliant mathematician. Nash believes that he's cracking code for the Pentagon, he sees bizarre and twisted messages in newspapers and magazines and invisible algorithms everywhere, the imaginary people become more and more prevalent and we see his overall descent into madness. In time; however, he learns to live with his demons and return to teaching mathematics.

For me it was refreshing to see the emphasis on mathematical correctness. Even though many parts of Nash's life are missing, Math enthusiasts won't want to miss this superior film. It was one of the best movies I have seen in a very long time. Despite my 'pain in the neck', I'm glad I finally took the plunge to see this one at the theater.

"John Nash has attracted enormous popular interest over the past few years. In many ways, the notion of equilibrium in game theory that bears his name is the central concept in game theory, which has led to a revolution in the field of economics."
David M. Kreps, Stanford Business School

"John Nash's creative work in game theory has of course had the most profound influence on both its mathematics and its practical applications in economics."
Kenneth J. Arrow, 1972 Nobel Laureate in Economics

Also see:
Information on the Book "A Beautiful Mind" by Sylvia Nasar

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