The Work and Intelligence of John Forbes Nash, Jr. in a Beautiful Mind, a Film by Ron Howard

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John Forbes Nash, Jr., popularly known as John Nash, was an American mathematician from Bluefield, West Virginia. He was a recipient of Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994 for his work “mathematics of game theory.” He started working on this since the 1950s and when he finally proved this theory, it became a study which has been used mainly in economics up to this day. John Nash was considered a genius, particularly a Math genius but in 1959, he was diagnosed for having paranoid schizophrenia (Morris, 2015). His work and intelligence became the inspiration of the award-winning film “A Beautiful Mind.”

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Basically, the main character in the film who was John Nash had a very interesting personality. While he was very smart and was considered a genius, Nash found it difficult to deal with other people. Instead of talking and having fun with other students in the university, he was busy solving equations. In the film, Nash admitted that he did not like people and he thought people did not like him. Nash was also disheartened as he heard about other students publishing their own paper while he could not even find a topic for his doctorate.

However, he came up with a great idea one day and from here, he started working on his theory which took him decades to finalize. Like what John Nash said to one of his colleagues in the university, he was patient and such patience led his work to being recognized. Though Nash was afraid of social interaction at first, he eventually made friends but he got attached to only two persons: his wife Alicia and his Charles Herman.

Adler’s theory of personality may explain the personality of John Nash. In some parts of the film, he became aggressive because his need to excel in class or achieve something was not satisfied. Because of his desire to come up with his original idea, Nash started having delusions which made him violent later in his life. Kelly’s personal construct theory can also help explain the behaviour of John Nash. Kelly believed that alternative interpretations are always available and Nash behaved based on his interpretation of things. Because he thought he was being chased by Russian spies, he ran away and started being paranoid.

Maslow’s theory about the hierarchy of needs can be associated to the main character in the film, John Nash. According to this theory, there are certain needs that people are motivated to achieve. The basic needs of a person are physiological needs including food, water and shelter. People work hard to satisfy these needs and apparently, John Nash did not lack any of these physiological needs. Hence, he had to move on to the next level which is the need for safety. As shown in the movie, Nash worked for the government by deciphering codes in the Pentagon. When he met Alicia and fell in love with her; he thought about marrying her so he wanted to quit this job. When the doctor went to the university to take him to the hospital, he kept running away, thinking the doctor was a Russian spy (Milnor, 2008).

Apparently, John Nash got scared for his own safety as he thought they were chasing him because he wanted to quit his job. His case was different from other people; however. John Nash was delusional and his delusions led him to thinking someone was going to hurt him. He believed that someone was spying him and the Russians locked him in the hospital to stop him from doing his top-secret work for the government (Kuhn & Nasar, 2007).

Essentially, he wanted to achieve the second level of the hierarchy of needs and this need could explain his paranoia. Nash also said in his autobiography that he had mental disturbances when his wife got pregnant so he had to stay in the hospital to get treated again. His mental disturbances might have been caused by his fear of his wife’s safety. Again, his behaviour showed his need for safety not only for himself but also for his wife and their baby.

When he was diagnosed of paranoid schizophrenia, his doctor also found out that Charles Herman was actually his imaginary roommate. The doctor learned that Nash lived alone in Princeton University and that there was no Charles Herman studying there. When the doctor took Nash to the hospital, he saw Herman sitting there and Nash thought his “prodigal roommate” was the reason he was being locked up (Shorter, 2015).

The fact that Nash had an imaginary roommate only showed his need for love or belonging. In the beginning of the film, it was shown that Nash did not like socializing and his schoolmates often bullied him especially the guy whom he considered his competitor. Because of this, Nash often locked himself in his room, scribbling Mathematic equations in the window. This was when his imaginary roommate Charles appeared. This only showed that Nash wanted someone to talk to and someone who could understand him. Nash probably needed someone to affirm his ideas and encourage him while everyone else was shaming and turning him down (Capps, 2004). Through Charles Herman, Nash was able to satisfy his need for belonging, thinking he finally found someone who got his back and would not judge him.

When Nash started teaching, Charles disappeared in his life and appeared again one day. It only means that when Charles was not present, he was perfectly sane but when he saw and talked to him, Nash was not mentally well. Apart from Charles, Alicia also satisfied Nash’s need for love and belonging as she married him despite his mental condition and stayed with him until the end. Because of his illness, he found it difficult to achieve the fourth level in the hierarchy which was esteem. Fortunately, he surpassed all the mental challenges he faced and because of his patience, he finally came up with his own theory and more than that, it was recognized by everyone and he was even awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics after working on his ideas for four decades. This gave him self-esteem and after satisfying all the needs in the four levels of the hierarchy, he finally achieved self-actualization though it took a really long time.

Depending on what theory one will use, Nash’s behaviours may be interpreted differently. For instance, if someone will use the object relations theory, he is going to assume that Nash lacked personal contact or relationship at an early stage of life. This assumption will be held false because Nash had good relationships with his family and also had a normal childhood. Also, the symptoms of his mental illness only occurred when he was past 30 years old.

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Concisely, these three theories can address relevant factors influencing the behaviour of John Nash. Nash’s aggression eventually became motivation for John Nash to continue the idea he has been working on for many years. This produced great results which helped him achieved self-actualization. Kelly’s personal contract theory may also address the way Nash interpret certain things since Kelly believed that these interpretations can also be altered by taking a good look at the reality. If a person interprets things based on reality and only thinks about possible and realistic outcomes, delusions and mental disturbances can be prevented.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Work and Intelligence of John Forbes Nash, Jr. in A Beautiful Mind, a Film by Ron Howard. (2018, October 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 26, 2023, from
“The Work and Intelligence of John Forbes Nash, Jr. in A Beautiful Mind, a Film by Ron Howard.” GradesFixer, 26 Oct. 2018,
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