Game Theory and John Nash

1 08 2007

Ken Binmore in American Scientist Magazine reviews A Beautiful Math: John Nash, Game Theory, and the Modern Quest for a Code of Nature by Tom Siegfried

Game theorists have won five Nobel Prizes in recent years. The best known of these laureates by far is John Nash, whose remarkable life was the subject of Sylvia Nasar’s best-selling 1998 book, A Beautiful Mind. A movie with the same name starring Russell Crowe then made Nash into a modern folk hero.

The highs and lows of Nash’s life are out of the range of experience of most human beings. As an undergraduate, he initiated the modern theory of economic bargaining. His graduate thesis formulated the idea of a Nash equilibrium, which is now regarded as the basic building block of the theory of games. He went on to solve major problems in pure mathematics, using methods of such originality that his reputation as a mathematical genius of the first rank became firmly established. But at the age of 30 he fell prey to a serious schizophrenic illness, which persisted for many years, during which time he languished in obscurity. By the early 1990s, he was no longer delusional, although this fact was not widely appreciated. Fortunately, his recovery was brought to the attention of the Nobel committee just as they were deciding who should get a Nobel Prize for game theory, which had by degrees totally transformed the face of economic theory while Nash was out of action.

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