I thought of the voices as … something a little different from aliens. I thought of them more like angels … It’s really my subconscious talking, it was really that … I know that now. John Forbes Nash Jr
I later spent times of the order of five to eight months in hospitals in New Jersey, always on an involuntary basis, and always attempting a legal argument for release. John Forbes Nash Jr
People are always selling the idea that people with mental illness are suffering. I think madness can be an escape. If things are not so good, you maybe want to imagine something better. John Forbes Nash Jr
John Forbes Nash Jr., the Princeton University mathematician who, along with his wife, Alicia, died 23rd May, 2015 in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike aged 86 years.
The main chapters of Nash’s extraordinary life are well known: born in 1928, in Bluefield, West Virginia; recognized as a math genius in his early 20s; for more than 3 decades soon after he turned 30 he experienced mental health issues and recovered later in his life. Yet, as things turned out, he lived long enough to enjoy wide recognition for his work as a young man.
Nash won the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics for his work in game theory—an event that became the redemption scene in the 2001 biopic about Nash, A Beautiful Mind. He also won the Abel Prize that celebrated Nash’s accomplishments in geometry, which Mikhail Gromov, another Abel Prize winner, described as “incomparably greater than what he has done in economics, by many orders of magnitude.”
Nash’s “hallucinations” were exclusively auditory, and not both visual and auditory as shown in the film “A Beautiful Mind”. The film also has Nash saying at the time of his Nobel acceptance speech in 1994 “I take the newer medications”, when in fact Nash didn’t take any medication from 1970 onwards.
Nash began hearing voices in 1964, he said:
I thought of the voices as … something a little different from aliens. I thought of them more like angels … It’s really my subconscious talking, it was really that … I know that now.
“In many cases,” Nash insisted, “[mental health] has a voluntary element. When I was mentally disturbed, I went on strike. I wasn’t available to do my regular work. At MIT [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a member of the mathematics faculty in the 1950s], I was supposed to have functions at various levels: administrator, computer research, teaching, and so on. I just didn’t want to continue all the work.
“When people are well, they’re behaving as we desire. When they’re unwell, they’re not doing their work—maybe any work. There are some subtleties about mental health, sanity, and insanity, and how you look at it.”
In other words, however bizarre Nash appeared to others during his illness, from the “inside,” as he reconstructed it, he was in control. See more about John Forbes Nash here.
See John Nash, mathematician – obituary in The Telegraph, 24th May 2015 here.