A Beautiful Mind

Last month, the national news headlines included a sad story of an elderly couple killed in a tragic accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. My family members, all avid moviegoers, recognized the husband as John Nash, the somewhat fictionalized subject of the move “A Beautiful Mind.”

For me, his name brought back memories of economics and game theory coursework in graduate school. In particular, I recall the “Nash equilibrium,” an expansion of win/lose or zero-sum models. Nash also broadened the concept of multiple people maximizing the benefits when they act in their own self interest, which is known as the “prisoner’s dilemma.” Over the years, I have used this model and drawn dozens of matrices along these lines:

My daughters had a bit of Nash’s theories as part of their high school math coursework—they tend to have a bit of “math nerd” in them just like Mom and Dad. After the news story broke we had a lively and interesting discussion about Nash and his work. I think my daughters were impressed that, for once, I could actually discuss the subject of a movie. This led to the later exchange of  articles written about John Nash’s life and work, including:

Nash was a Nobel Prize winner, a unique feat given his long history with mental illness and absence from traditional academics and academic research. However, his key insights were just that impactful. R.I.P.

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