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A Beautiful Mind Analysis

Below is an analysis of the book A Beautiful Mind, about the life of John Nash. If you need to use A Beautiful Mind in a research paper or book review, have the writers at Paper Masters help you with a sample on Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind.

Aside from the factual matter of recounting John Nash's life, Sylvia Nasar's biography A Beautiful Mind deals with the philosophical question of what determines a person's moral value. Nash is a tortured genius, one of the century's most important mathematicians and economists but also, for much of his life at least, a functional schizophrenic. Perhaps not entirely related to his condition is the fact that, for the most part, Nash seems a fairly unpleasant individual who shows little respect for others.

Nash's Schizophrenia

A Beautiful Mind AnalysisNash’s disorder began to become evident in 1959. Suffering a nervous breakdown, Nash would recoil into decades of dementia and mental torment. These issues would cost him his marriage, his money and nearly his life. An implied question throughout the book is whether a person's intellectual greatness and the importance of his academic contributions can outweigh what would otherwise be considered a bad character. Additionally, there is the question of how much of a person's behavior we can blame on a condition like schizophrenia, and to what degree that person might be considered responsible for some of it. This is an especially difficult issue in a case like Nash's since he experienced varying degrees of delusional conditions throughout his life, even concluding with going on two decades of apparent remission.

Nash's Perspective

Nash's own perspective, in fact, recognizes that he had some measure of control over how he was influenced by his delusions. In Nasar's A Beautiful Mind, analysis of these questions is implied rather than explicit but substantive and interesting nonetheless.

  • From 1948 until 1959, John Nash would see himself graduate from Princeton
  • Nash would then become one of the youngest mathematics instructors at MIT
  • Nash had already written a very well respected treatise on mathematics by the time he reached MIT
  • His work would land him a job working for a secretive government think tank called RAND, in 1950

The beginning of Nash’s spiral into dementia was noticed by his wife, Alicia, in the spring of 1959. “By New Year’s Day, […] Alicia was sure that something was wrong. Nash’s behavior had become more and more peculiar.” Nash’s mood would shift from a manic stage of hypersensitivity and irritability to a depressive state of withdrawn solitude. Alicia also became worried as John began to stay up late nights to write strange letter to the United Nations. Her search for a cause first focused on John’s everyday life. John had several pressing issues at the time, professionally. He was seeking tenure at MIT and Alicia had recently found out that she was pregnant with the couple’s first child (John’s second). However John’s strange behavior and letter writing would escalate to include letters, not only to the U.N. but also to various foreign ambassadors, the FBI and even the pope.

Though his tenure was eventually granted, the university received word about his worsening condition and relieved Nash of his teaching duties for the summer of 1959. His sessions of lucidity, at this time, were more common than that of his manic-depressive events – leading his colleagues to believe that there was littler more wrong than exhaustion. However, around Easter of 1959, a particularly bad event convinced Alicia that there was little choice but to seek outside help in dealing with John’s growing mental problems.

John Nash would be committed to the Carrier Clinic in Princeton, in 1964. Alicia, though planning on leaving John, felt obligated to ensure that he would receive the best psychological treatment that was possible – also insisting that there be no electroshock therapy attempted on John.

By 1964, Nash had become estranged from Alicia and living alone in Boston. He was working at Princeton, when his health would allow, which, it appeared, was doing quite well. However things would begin to change for the worse. As Nash would write in his letters home, he was thinking of accepting a job with a man named Grothendieck, in Paris, France. Nash set out to France to meet with this man – but to no avail. With his failure in Paris, Nash would head to Rome. While there, Nash visited the Forum. It was at this time that Nash began to hear voices within his head. Like “telepathic phone calls from private individuals” which seemed to him, as he would relate in 1996, as “mathematicians opposed to his ideas.”

This would come to signify a spiral in John Nash’s life that would leave him, in 1970, penniless and homeless. However, his then ex-wife, Alicia would become the saving grace to Nash’s years of hardship. As he turned up on her door, it was in her nature that, despite now being divorced, she felt it necessary to offer him shelter and comfort.

Nash would spend the rest of the 1970’s attempting to recover his life. In 1977, his first son would reappear and the family would be united for the first time. However, it would not be until the mid-1980’s that Nash would make his full recovery.

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