A disturbed yet witty Russell Crowe stars as John Nashi alongside a fetching yet stoic Jennifer Connelly, who plays his wife Alicia Nash, in this hollywoodised biopic of the life and times of mathematician John Nash.ii A Beautiful Mind, for those of you for whom a 14-year-old movie is very old indeed, can think of it as the precursor to 2014’s The Imitation Game.iii There’s math, there’s love, there’s social stigma, there’s drama – it’s a whole package.
Spanning Nash’s life beginning with his entrance into Princeton in 1947, when the campus was but a few suit-clad young men casually smoking in class, playing football in quad, and solving centuries-old math conjectures with a grease pencil on the windows of the library, to 1994, when Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize for his development of the Nash Equilibrium, which had come to be widely used in the increasingly charlatanised and platonically quantified field of economics in the interim. Unlike so goddam many of the universally acclaimed products and “solutions” of the 20th century, to say nothing of the atomic-powered IoT vapourware, the Nash Equilibrium, also known as the Nash Solution, is actually useful – that is, it actually applies outside of the conscripted confines of Soviet-Harvard acadaemia.
You see, Nash’s Solution states that no player may change their strategy despite knowing the actions of their opponents. This can be said to apply to everything from labour bargaining to automobile traffic to, yes, even the existence of a single blockchain in the face of 2.0 pretenders and altcoins galore. It’s essentially a specific type of win-win scenario for potentially asymmetrically beneficial competitions.
This obviously doesn’t apply to every competitive situation, the world is simply too complex and too interdependent for stability to reign supreme in every single environment. After all, in the words of Charles, one of Nash’s schizo-phantoms in the film, “Nothing’s ever for sure, John. That’s the only sure thing I do know.”
The prize-winning game theories developed by John Nash were only part of those explored in the film, however, as Alicia Nash’s character presented herself as a case study in mate selection as game theory. Alicia, rather than throw her considerable talents in the direction of one of her classmates or at just another boy in her Princeton peergroup, thereby risking the most precious years of both her physical and mental flexibility on sailing ships of uncertain providence and destination, Alicia directs her energies towards the proven quantity of Nash, a distinguished professional and professor who needed no introduction and whose success was very much established.iv
That Alicia still found her fate tied to a paranoid schizophrenic who threatened her life and the life of their child on more than one occasion, was unable to support their family for several years, and was incapable of meeting even her modest sexual demands while on his medication demonstrates that even +EV moves can fail, and that Nash equilibria are nigh on impossible when mental illness is thrown in the mix and your opponent doesn’t even know their own strategy, much less yours and how you might find a mutually beneficial state.
Now how’s that for game poetic justice ?
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- John Nash actually just passed away recently : on May 23, 2015 in fact. [↩]
- 2001, directed by Ron Howard. Also starring Ed Harris and Christopher Plummer. The film won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. [↩]
- I half-watched The Imitation Game on the plane a few months back and I have to say that Keira Knightley really is tough to take seriously. She’s about on par with Rachel McAdams in my book for actresses who always come off as who they are IRL rather than their ostensible character. Knightley’s performance in A Dangerous Method being the only exception to this rule of those performances of hers that readily come to mind. [↩]
- In another time, Alicia may have found herself using (and being used by) slapped together hackjob websites like Avid Life Media’s Established Men. Because sleeping with your university prof is bad but trusting online scammers isn’t, mkay. [↩]