Game Theory – Where Have You Been All My Life?

A Beautiful Mind

Took a few days off from writing to re-watch a movie and then read a book about the person the movie was based on. The movie was “A Beautiful Mind” starring Russell Crowe (pant, pant…fans self and flutters eyelashes).  It’s loosely based on the life of John Forbes Nash, Jr.  In 1984 Nash won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The prize was based on his game theory work as a graduate student at Princeton University.

I missed that decade because I wasn’t paying attention, evidently. I didn’t pick up the implications when watching the movie for the first time, several years ago.  Game theory? There is game THEORY?  A theory that scientists actually take seriously, and spend time thinking about. All my life I have been fascinated by games. Why people play, is life a big game, how do they apply life in general, is there really such a thing as a no-win scenario or a win-win scenario?  It is a humbling, to the point of extreme embarrassment, to reach the realization that this study has been going on longer than my time on the planet and I didn’t know about it. I feel almost as silly as I would if I had just independently discovered fire 10,000 years after the fact. Every day I discover more reasons to believe that I don’t know jack squat in relation to the huge wide world out there.

john nash

John Forbes Nash, Jr.

Nash began to unravel in the 50’s and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He endured several involuntary hospitalizations over the next decade and received shock treatments and insulin therapy. He suffered from this debilitating affliction for the next 30 years and pretty much dropped off the map. Many thought he was dead. He gradually came back to “normal” (whatever that is) and re-joined the scientific community, going on to win a Nobel Prize. He claims that he did not recover so much as he learned to discern what was “real” from the voices and people in his head. Current psychiatric thinking is that remission from schizophrenia is extremely rare.

Wiki snip

Nash has suggested hypotheses on mental illness. He has compared not thinking in an acceptable manner, or being “insane” and not fitting into a usual social function, to being “on strike” from an economic point of view. He has advanced evolutionary psychology views about the value of human diversity and the potential benefits of apparently nonstandard behaviors or roles.

I find it a bit scary to discover that my lifelong passion for games and the theory behind them was pioneered by a person with schizophrenia. But the law of averages indicates that my own interests are shared by a huge cross-section of the population, including ax murderers and crazy cat ladies. It does however validate my hypothesis that calculus was invented by a crazy person. My excuse for why I suck at it! I took calculus 3 times in college, 2 times with a flaming F, the 3rd time and with tears of joy, I passed with a C. I sometimes suspect it was a mercy C because my professor got tired of me crying from frustration in his office during tutoring sessions. But I passed and that’s what I’ll take away.

Am I cocky enough after learning Nash’s story to think that I can throw my own head meds in the trash today or even tomorrow? Uh, that would be a negatory. But I do understand that feeling of having to fight the things going on in my head when having a bad day.  A diagnosis of clinical depression sounds so boring. It’s like being labeled a lump of cookie dough with artificial sweetener and no chocolate chips. I do harbor a secret shame about it from time to time. My logical mind knows this is baloney, but the emotional mind is not so happy about it.  Ah well, life rocks on.

2 responses

  1. I saw that movie a number of years ago, when I was still largely symptomatic. I need to watch it again. Which book did you read? I mean, is it also called “A Beautiful Mind?” Thanks for reminding me about this film.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    1. Book is “A Beautiful Mind” by Sylvia Nasar

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