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Mathematical Genius, Insanity, Frustration, and the Nobel Prize

Mathematical Genius, Insanity, Frustration, and the Nobel Prize

Posted February. 03, 2002 01:48,   


"He is calmer, tougher, hesitates less, and never fears what others think of him. He rejects the virtues and respect that the herds uphold. He would rather go alone if he does not lead. If he is not speaking to himself, he always wears a mask. In his inner world lies a solitude that is neither admirable nor accusable."

The `ubermensche` that Friedrich Nietzsche speaks of in his `The Will to Power` goes well with John Forbes Nash (74), the greatest mathematician in the 20th century. Should Nietzsche read this book about Nash, he will willingly rewrite `ubermensche` as `A Beautiful Mind`.

A mathematical genius with innumerable achievements in his 20s, schizophrenia in his 30s, dissociation and frustration for 30 years after, and miraculous recovery and winning Nobel Prize in economics . . . . The human drama of a man rising from Hades to Heaven was finally told to the world with the publication of this book written by a New York Times journalist in 1988.

The groups of people impressed by this book surpass even that by Holly Woods. In the movie `A Beautiful Mind` which will be released across the country on the 22nd, has a cast of superstars including Russell Crowe, who portrays the victorious story of Nash with his prominent performance.

Real life is often more dramatic than the movies. The biographical story of the book is several times more impressive than that in the movie, which over-dramatized Nash`s overcoming of his schizophrenia. This book was translated into Korean and published in July last year with the title `A Beautiful Mind`, but only 3,000 readers with discerning taste sought it out.

As the movie portrays, Nash was actually an odd genius who did not attend classes or read books but `protested against the belief of the majority and put his bets on his own intellect`. Habitually chewing a paper cup, he was a solitary man full of conceit and easily sulked when he lost an argument. The genius that he was, he had to endure the alienation.

But the Nash in the movie is quite different from the real man. For example, the movie portrays the cause of Nash`s fall into schizophrenia as the terror of the Cold War, with which he was seized when he decoded the Russian message. He was not a prominent decipher and there is no evidence that he was involved in a secret government project. The cause of the illness was complex and may have been due to teasing in his childhood, the death of his father, an inferiority complex due to not getting the Fields Awards, which is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in mathematics, and stress from worrying about being conscripted for the Korean War.

What is Nash who came before the world with hair full of gray doing now? As if to disprove the proverb that "no mathematician formed a theory after the age of 40." he continues to study in the library of his alma mater Princeton University, carrying his lunch with him. Feeling that there is much that he must research, he refused the proposal from his university publishing house to publish his complete works for a large sum of money.

What is `a beautiful mind?` The book testifies that it is not an extraordinary brain but the will to overcome one`s limits. It is worth recalling the words of Leonardo Da Vinci who said `Human existence is one in which one cannot possess either more or less power over that which controls him`.

Translated by Shin Hyun-Yong

Original title `A Beautiful Mind`(1998)

Written by Sylvia Nasar

Jeong-Hoon Yun digana@donga.com