SciShow’s “Game Theory: The Science of Decision-Making”

On this Day:

In 2001, “A Beautiful Mind” based on the book by Sylvia Nasar, directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe premiered in Los Angeles (Best Picture 2002).

A Beautiful Mind is a 2001 American biographical drama film based on the life of the American mathematician John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics and Abel Prize winner. The film was directed by Ron Howard, from a screenplay written by Akiva Goldsman. It was inspired by the bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-nominated 1997 book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar. The film stars Russell Crowe, along with Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Judd Hirsch, Josh Lucas, Anthony Rapp, and Christopher Plummer in supporting roles. The story begins in Nash’s days as a graduate student at Princeton University. Early in the film, Nash begins to develop paranoid schizophrenia and endures delusional episodes while watching the burden his condition brings on his wife Alicia and friends.

A Beautiful Mind was released theatrically in the United States on December 21, 2001. It went on to gross over $313 million worldwide and won four Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. It was also nominated for Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, and Best Original Score.

In 1947, John Nash arrives at Princeton University as co-recipient, with Martin Hansen, of the Carnegie Scholarship for mathematics. He meets fellow math and science graduate students Sol, Ainsley, and Bender, as well as his roommate Charles Herman, a literature student. Determined to publish his own original idea, Nash is inspired when he and his classmates discuss how to approach a group of women at a bar. Hansen quotes Adam Smith and advocates “every man for himself”, but Nash argues that a cooperative approach would lead to better chances of success, and develops a new concept of governing dynamics. He publishes an article on his theory, earning him an appointment at MIT where he chooses Sol and Bender over Hansen to join him.

In 1953, Nash is invited to the Pentagon to study encrypted enemy telecommunications, which he manages to decipher mentally. Bored with his regular duties at MIT, including teaching, he is recruited by the mysterious William Parcher of the United States Department of Defense with a classified assignment: to look for hidden patterns in magazines and newspapers to thwart a Soviet plot. Nash becomes increasingly obsessive in his search for these patterns, delivering his results to a secret mailbox, and comes to believe he is being followed.

One of his students, Alicia Larde, asks him to dinner, and they fall in love. On a return visit to Princeton, Nash runs into Charles and his niece, Marcee. With Charles’ encouragement, he proposes to Alicia and they marry. Nash fears for his life after surviving a shootout between Parcher and Soviet agents, and learns Alicia is pregnant, but Parcher forces him to continue his assignment. While delivering a guest lecture at Harvard University, Nash tries to flee from people he thinks are Soviet agents, led by psychiatrist Dr. Rosen, but is forcibly sedated and committed to a psychiatric facility.

Dr. Rosen tells Alicia that Nash has schizophrenia and that Charles, Marcee, and Parcher exist only in his imagination. Alicia backs up the doctor, telling Nash that no “William Parcher” is in the Defense Department and takes out the unopened documents he delivered to the secret mailbox. Nash is given a course of insulin shock therapy and eventually released. Frustrated with the side effects of his antipsychotic medication, he secretly stops taking it and starts seeing Parcher and Charles again.

In 1956, Alicia discovers Nash has resumed his “assignment” in a shed near their home. Realizing he has relapsed, Alicia rushes to the house to find Nash had left their infant son in the running bathtub, believing “Charles” was watching the baby. Alicia calls Dr. Rosen, but Nash accidentally knocks her and the baby to the ground, believing he’s fighting Parcher. As Alicia flees with the baby, Nash stops her car and tells her he realizes that “Marcee” isn’t real because she doesn’t age, finally accepting that Parcher and other figures are hallucinations. Against Dr. Rosen’s advice, Nash chooses not to restart his medication, believing he can deal with his symptoms himself, and Alicia decides to stay and support him.

Nash returns to Princeton, approaching his old rival Hansen, now head of the mathematics department, who allows him to work out of the library and audit classes. Over the next two decades, Nash learns to ignore his hallucinations and, by the late 1970s, is allowed to teach again. In 1994, Nash wins the Nobel Prize for his revolutionary work on game theory, and is honored by his fellow professors. At the ceremony, he dedicates the prize to his wife. As Nash, Alicia, and their son leave the auditorium in Stockholm, Nash sees Charles, Marcee, and Parcher watching him, but looks at them only briefly before departing.

John Forbes Nash Jr. (June 13, 1928 – May 23, 2015) was an American mathematician who made fundamental contributions to differential geometry, game theory, and the study of partial differential equations. Nash’s work has provided insight into the factors that govern chance and decision-making inside complex systems found in everyday life.

His theories are widely used in economics. Serving as a senior research mathematician at Princeton University during the later part of his life, he shared the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with game theorists Reinhard Selten and John Harsanyi. In 2015, he also shared the Abel Prize with Louis Nirenberg for his work on nonlinear partial differential equations. John Nash is the only person to be awarded both the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and the Abel Prize.

In 1959, Nash began showing clear signs of mental illness, and spent several years at psychiatric hospitals being treated for schizophrenia. After 1970, his condition slowly improved, allowing him to return to academic work by the mid-1980s. His struggles with his illness and his recovery became the basis for Sylvia Nasar’s biographical book A Beautiful Mind in 1998, as well as a film of the same name directed by Ron Howard, in which Nash was portrayed by Russell Crowe (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Math puns are the first sine of madness…

Second, a Song:

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Here is SciShow’s “Game Theory: The Science of Decision-Making” hosted by Hank Green. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“I would not dare to say that there is a direct relation between mathematics and madness, but there is no doubt that great mathematicians suffer from maniacal characteristics, delirium, and symptoms of schizophrenia.” – John Forbes Nash, Jr.

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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