John Forbes Nash Jr, a mathematical genius whose struggle with schizophrenia was chronicled in the 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind, has died along with his wife in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. He was 86.
Nash, 86, and Alicia Nash, 82, of Princeton Township, were killed in a taxi crash on Saturday, state police said.
A colleague, New York University mathematician Louis Nirenberg, who had received an award with Nash in Norway earlier in the week, said they had just flown home and the couple had taken a cab home from the airport.
Nash was widely regarded as one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century, known for the originality of his thinking and for his fearlessness in wrestling down problems so difficult few others dared tackle them. A one-sentence letter written in support of his application to Princeton’s doctoral program in math said simply: “This man is a genius.”
Known as brilliant and eccentric, Nash was associated with Princeton University for many years, most recently serving as a senior research mathematician. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994 for his work in game theory, which offered insight into the dynamics of human rivalry. Just a few days ago, Nash had received the Abel Prize from the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in Oslo with Nirenberg, who said he had spoken with the couple for an hour at the airport in Newark before they got in a cab.
New Jersey State Police said the Nashes were both ejected from the cab in the crash around 4:30pm on Saturday in Monroe Township, about 24km northeast of Trenton. The cab driver was hospitalized.
Nash had worked on his equilibrium theory at Princeton and in 1950 received his doctorate with a dissertation on non-cooperative games. The thesis contained the definition and properties of what would later be called the Nash equilibrium. It provided a conceptually simple but powerful mathematical tool for analyzing a wide range of competitive situations, from corporate rivalries to legislative decisionmaking.
Nash’s approach is now pervasive in economics and throughout the social sciences and is applied routinely in other fields, like evolutionary biology.
Economist Roger Myerson of the University of Chicago once compared the impact of Nash equilibrium on economics “to that of the discovery of the DNA double helix in the biological sciences.”
Additional reporting by NY Times News Service
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