John Nash - A Selfless Struggle

by Zahir Ahmed from San Diego, California in United States

“‘The superhero - more than even the ordinary fiction hero - has to represent the values of the society that produces him’” (Fleming 1). As illustrated by James Fleming in his article “Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Our Society,” heroes represent the ideological morals of a society - they portray the apex of human actions and characteristics. In past eras, they were the pinnacle of human behavior but differed slightly in characteristics based on their respective culture and chronology. However, in modern times, the definition of a hero has been clouded, as people have begun to analyze others based on physical appearance and prejudices. And yet, there are still few appreciable characteristics that depict modernistic heroism, be it of any magnitude. Acts ranging from the determination to uphold what one believes is just to producing a cure to save thousands of lives from a disease are all heroic, albeit in differing senses. These actions, whether small or large, allow for a positive ripple in the fabric of society. As showcased by their actions, true contemporary heroes have a few underlying similarities: altruism, perseverance, and the selfless use of one’s talents. Heroism is defined as such, and only a few can achieve this mantle. These people stand out as the epitome of social ideals and pioneer the forefront of current knowledge and ideals by exhibiting both determination and the benevolent utilization of their unique prowess.

121289A picture of Nash taken close to the time of his receiving of the Nobel Prize such person who demonstrates the key characteristics of constant determination and uses his notable abilities for the benefit of society is John Nash. Nash was a notable mathematician who eventually won a Nobel Prize in economics for his work. He was born on June 13, 1928 in Virginia and displayed interest in mathematics and electronics from an early age. As a child he was constantly solving and proving complex theorems in differing ways than typical, causing his genius to remain unrecognized until college. John Nash received his Ph.D. in Princeton at an early age, and his 1950 doctoral thesis eventually earned him a Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, in the midst of applying for jobs in 1959, he developed a case of schizophrenia that severely handicapped him for thirty years. This period in his life was a constant battle with his mental condition, and he was mostly unable to produce meaningful work during this span. Through sheer willpower and determination he overcame the disease in the late 1980s, just in time to receive the Nobel Prize in 1994 for the paper he wrote forty-four years earlier. He continued to publish research papers and further the boundaries of math and science until his death in May 2015. Nash showcased his self-sacrificing use of genius to benefit the world by vitally contributing to the study of mathematics and human behavior in spite of schizophrenia and numerous other struggles. Instead of using his intelligence for selfish means, Nash strived to benefit humanity to his greatest capability. Furthermore, Nash illustrates the concept of determination and perseverance, as demonstrated through his continual fight through schizophrenia and his ceaseless drive of innovative learning. Because of his selfless use of intelligence to contribute to the academic world and his individualistic drive to both shape intellectual society and persevere through mental and physical hardships, John Nash embodies the idealistic nature of true heroes and is thus worthy of respect and modern recognition.

Instead of egocentrically exploiting his intelligence, Nash selflessly used it to better the world of knowledge. Throughout most of his life, John Nash waged a constant war against schizophrenia, a disease which severely inhibits psychological and cognitive processes. Even during this personal struggle, Nash strived to benefit the academic world whenever he was able: "In these interludes of, as it were, enforced rationality, I did succeed in doing some respectable mathematical research. Thus there came about the research for… the idea that Prof. Hironaka called ‘the Nash blowing-up transformation’; and those of ‘Arc Structure of Singularities’ and ‘Analyticity of Solutions of Implicit Function Problems with Analytic Data’" (John F. Nash Jr. - Biographical). Despite his debilitating disease, Nash continued to research and publish useful papers, allowing for the expansion of scientific boundaries. Even though Nash knew that straining his mind would cause him to relapse into the depths of insanity, he disregarded his own self and continued to evolve and shape academic society. Nash’s trait of utilizing his intelligence to help the world despite personal problems constitutes one of the dominant traits of a hero. By contributing to academic research in ways others could not, even when under the influence of a mental condition, Nash elevated himself above the caliber of other mathematicians. Furthermore, Nash’s Nobel Prize-winning concept, the Nash equilibrium, and its wide-reaching consequences illustrate how Nash contributed his intelligence towards the advancement of greater society: "In 1950, John Nash contributed a remarkable one-page PNAS article that defined and characterized a notion of equilibrium for n- person games. This notion, now called the ‘Nash equilibrium,’ has been widely applied and adapted in economics and other behavioral sciences. Indeed, game theory, with the Nash equilibrium as its centerpiece, is becoming the most prominent unifying theory of social science" (Holt). Nash’s work in the field of mathematics had unquestionable effects on academia as a whole, illustrating his selfless, contributing nature as a person. Though schizophrenia had already begun to affect his mind by this point, Nash used his intelligence to push forward human general knowledge. He could have either decided to leave his logical competence to rust or use it for selfish incentives, but he utilized it for the good of academic society. He knew that the deterioration of the mind may be accelerated by his rigorous use of it, but he sacrificed his time and himself to help the advancement of knowledge and understanding in the world. Nash’s use of logic and reasoning, not the trait itself, depict him as a nonpareil heroic figure. Like a hero, he selflessly contributed to the world without thought of fame or wealth. This ideological trait of using one’s gifts for the good of humanity manifests itself in Nash, and without his altruistic contributions, humanity would not be where it is today. Nash embodies the concept of a hero because of his selfless utilization of personal skills to beneficially contribute to both academic and moral society.

121290Nash's graduation from Princeton in 1950, of where he received his doctorate’s determination to mentally prosper and contribute to intellectual institution allowed him to prevail over disease and conceive necessary innovation. Nash’s determination is amply illustrated throughout his entire life, as showcased by his insistence of radical change: “One consistent element of Nash’s work was that he was always going in directions that were either thought to be impossible, or actively discouraged… Nash suffered for that; he was really a mathematician that pushed his mind to go far, far beyond where other peoples’ would dare to go” (Dijkgraaf 1). Nash was constantly trying to push the boundaries of knowledge, regardless of whether people approved or not. His determination to succeed was an important attribute that led to his various contributions to sociology and mathematics. Without this drive, Nash never would have been able to make as great of an impact as he did. Furthermore, he was mentally tortured and physically teased for both his ideas and mental state, yet he still went forward with his convictions. His perseverance through strife stemmed from his determination to learn and was the major factor driving his innovative work. Nash surmounted hardship and pioneered game theory, a fundamental research of human behavior, through his sheer determination. Like a true hero, he followed his personal ideals and perceptions to the fullest, regardless of social or mental pressures, and this drive eventually helped him uniquely change the world. In addition, Nash’s perseverance through illness highlights his determination and will to mold the fabric of society: “In the late 1950s, Nash's mental illness began to become unmanageable. He suffered from delusions and hallucinations that seemed as real to him as his mathematical theories… [but] by…1994… he had made an impressive recovery from illness and was once again engaged in advanced mathematics work” (John Nash). Nash was able to overcome adversity while continuously working for the benefit of the world. His drive, as shown by his return to his work directly after his recovery, illustrates his need to help expand the boundaries of academic society. In fact, his drive for contribution may have been a factor behind his miraculous recovery from schizophrenia after a thirty-year-long struggle. Nash’s mental perseverance and gradual eradication of hallucinations allowed for his eventual rehabilitation without the aid of medicine. As a hero would, he continuously strived to both continue his work for the benefit of academic progress and conquer his mental illness. Nash’s ability to self-recover, through both pure mental strength and selfless determination, allows him to be a person worthy of admiration. Nash held steadfast to his beliefs and was driven through hardships by selfless cause, thus characterizing him a hero.  

As highlighted by both his utilization of his unique abilities and his determination to radically alter academic thought and mentally prosper, Nash clearly reflects the characteristics of a hero. He used his intelligence for good cause, altruistically striving to better the world. He was able to fight an illness for thirty years and eventually overcome it with little medical assistance through sheer force of will and selfless determination. Nash’s constant combat to continue his work and eradicate his disease showcases his perseverance, which in turn illustrates his selfless need to contribute to society. This need, along with perseverance in its purest form, makes him heroic. In spite of his mental strife, he continued to develop his ideas and research so that the academic world could benefit. Personally, I found Nash’s achievements and characteristics to be a true inspiration. As illustrated by “Notable Scientists from 1900 to the Present” in a synopsis of John Nash’s struggles:  “Nash was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 30 and spent the greater part of what could have been his most productive years in and out of mental institutions. In 1966, during a period of remission, Nash published a continuation of his work on the isometric embedding theorem” (John Forbes Nash).  After his illness had subsided, Nash quickly began publishing work again, though it could have lead to a relapse. He was able to triumph over schizophrenia, which by itself is rare, and continue to drive himself, a truly inspiring and incredible feat. Nash’s selfless mindset of continuing his work despite his disabilities prove him to be an inspirational figure, both to myself and the general population. The determination depicted by Nash has motivated me - it demonstrated how one can accomplish anything as long as they have both perseverance and a well-meaning drive. He inspired me to develop and cultivate a passion outside the boundaries of school campus instead of accomplishing the bare minimum. He taught me how to look at problems from different perspectives and to persevere through hardships to maintain a fascination, concepts which govern my every action.  Furthermore, his notable mathematical and scientific research stemmed my passion for physics, an interest which has continued to this day.

121291John Nash and his wife Alicia Nash pictured in 2012 hero embodies the characteristics of the society he or she comes from - they represent the idealistic view of a person. They all have flaws, as they are all human, but they are able to develop these flaws to become strengths. They selflessly use their unique abilities to make the world a better place for all, no matter the breadth of their actions. They have a drive to follow their passion and reach their ultimate self, a determination to contribute in any way they can. This is what defines a hero in modern society. Though John Nash may be imperfect, he contributed to society in whichever way he could and persevered through hardships for the benefit of others. He strived to use his unique intelligence to help the world, a goal in which he succeeded. Nash’s tenacity through strife for the cause of benefiting society, rather than his tangible accomplishment of receiving a Nobel Prize, is what makes him an inspiration. His use of ingenuity to benefit society and his drive to overcome obstacles and finish his work make him an inspiring figure worthy of the heroic mantle.

Works Cited

Dijkgraaf, Robbert. “John Nash: Colleague Recalls 'Beautiful Mind' Princeton Mathematician.” Time, Time, 24 May 2015,

Fleming, James R. “Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Our Society.” English Department Website,

Holt, Charles. “The Nash Equilibrium: A Perspective.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Acad Sciences, 28 Jan. 2004,

"John F. Nash Jr. - Biographical". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 23 Jan 2018. <>

"John Forbes Nash." Notable Scientists from 1900 to the Present, edited by Brigham Narins, Gale, 2008. Biography in Context. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

"John Nash." Newsmakers, vol. 4, Gale, 2017. Biography in Context. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

Page created on 2/21/2018 2:00:36 AM

Last edited 8/2/2018 11:51:31 PM

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Related Links

Non-Cooperative Games - Nash's actual Ph.D thesis, written in 1950, for which he won the Nobel Prize.
Equilibrium Points in N-Person Games - The paper in which Nash laid the groundwork for both his future research and the field of game theory.