John F. Nash Jr., a famous mathematician, who got the Nobel in economics, died in a car crash on Saturday at age 86. He was coming back from receiving the Abel Prize in Norway. That’s one of several Nobel-like prizes for mathematics.
The taxicab driver lost control of his vehicle, and collided with a guard rail and then a car frontally. Nash and his wife of sixty years or so, apparently did not wear seat belts. They were ejected, and died. Others survived. Conclusion: don’t be so crazy as not to wear seatbelts.
Nash was famous for contributions to game theory and other mathematics. He found something called the “Nash Equilibrium” in a type of games he studied. I will further here a bit what Nash said about mental illness, and its connection with mathematics.
“Economists” were no doubt delighted to have still a new abstruse field of mathematics behind which to hide their complete sell-out to plutocracy. Nash Equilibrium probably could be invoked to explain why High Finance should get all the money in the world, and ten times more. Hence the Nash idolatry?
Just another crazy idea of mine? Not so sure. In the period 1950-1955, John Nash volunteered to work for the NSA, and a correspondence exists (declassified on 2012). One can observe a mind anxious to please the establishment (just the type of minds the establishment loves).
Nash became most widely known because of his mental illness, as portrayed in the book and film “A Beautiful Mind.” Nash said he regained his health by simply rejecting irrational thought… and the neurohormonal changes due to aging (something I explained was at the root of the Dark Side).
However, Nash dared to reveal that an irrational mood could not be separated from mathematical ability. I will dare say that this is a general phenomenon: to be mentally creative means to become mentally disturbed, so that one can be mentally disturbing. Please don’t get disturbed by this perspective.
Nash: “Even when I was mentally disturbed, I had a lot of interest in numbers. I began to think more scientifically as to the years like the 80s, and maybe the later 70s. And so there’s a transition from really having more of an enthusiasm for the numbers, like maybe magical or representing a divine revelation, and just a more scientific appreciation of numbers, and these are not necessarily entirely far apart.” [PBS documentary “A Brilliant Madness.”]
Nash: “The ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously.”
[“A Beautiful Mind,” by Sylvia Nasar.]
Patrice Ayme: Most of my social experience, outside of family, has been with mathematicians. A striking fact, with the latter, is the quasi-divine status they confer to the (extremely theoretical) entities they work on. To most mathematicians, mathematical entities become like divinities to them, and mathematics the only universe worth knowing. It may be necessary to be as involved with something so abstruse.
Nash: “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.”
[In “The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics,” by Karl Sabbagh.]
Patrice Ayme: I would not dare say they are crazy, but, no doubt, they are? Once again, to progress in math, one has to attach extravagant importance to extreme subtleties, make them come to life.
Nash: “I can see there’s a connection between not following normal thinking and doing creative thinking. I wouldn’t have had good scientific ideas if I had thought more normally.”
[“Glimpsing Inside a Beautiful Mind,” The Irish Times.]
Nash: “I seem to be thinking rationally again in the style that is characteristic of scientists. However this is not entirely a matter of joy as if someone returned from physical disability to good physical health. One aspect of this is that rationality of thought imposes a limit on a person’s concept of his relation to the cosmos.”
[“Les Prix Nobel: The Nobel Prizes 1994,” edited by Tore Frangsmyr.]
How do new thoughts appear? According to me, thoughts are elements of brain geometry. New thoughts are new geometry. The more complex the thoughts, the more extensive the change of geometry. Thus brains which generate new thoughts are different, and the deeper the new thinking, the greater the difference.
The “green fairy”, absinthe, was excellent apparently to bring brains to operate under different “laws”. There is little doubt that it brought a lot of innovation in thinking, as particularly well illustrated by Van Gogh. Absinthe drove people a little bit too crazy, and became a threat to the establishment. Or, at least, that the way it was perceived.
New ideas, when able to explain, that is approximate, elements of reality, are contagious (through culture). They can change brains, thus society, ultimately making The Establishment unstable, or crazy. It fights back by pointing out that the new ideas are, obviously crazy (as it has interest to perceive them to be crazy, it makes sense).
Any really new idea is, or will be perceived, to be crazy. Thus insanity, this explorer of different laws, has to be respected (as long as it is not outright dangerous, that is injurious in a way which can be legally defined, and is not just a matter of trampled spirits).
So freedom of expression is not just about saying whatever, it is also about thinking whatever, as long as it is innocuous enough.
Absinthe was reauthorized in France recently (at lower concentration). Are creative thinkers crazy? They have to be. Any really true logic is not found in yesterday’s world. By yesterday’s standards, it’s completely crazy.
An example which made it to official science? The Lorentz-Poincare’ theory of “Local Time” (advertised by Einstein). Before 1900 CE, that would have been viewed as sheer insanity. But the philosophically motivated logic of Poincare’ is now viewed by theoretical physicists as simple common sense.
Crazy yesterday, obvious tomorrow: a metric to measure progress.