It is highly unlikely, however, that many people outside this intellectual
Olympus would have become privy to these developments, dramatic as they appeared
to Princeton insiders, if not for another scene, which also took place on these
grounds at the end of the first week of October 1994.
A mathematics seminar was just breaking up. Nash, who now regularly attended
such gatherings and sometimes even asked a question or offered some conjecture,
was about to duck out. Harold Kuhn, a mathematics professor at the university
and Nash's closest friend, caught up with him at the door. Kuhn had telephoned
Nash at home earlier that day and suggested that the two of them might go for
lunch after the talk. The day was so mild, the outdoors so inviting, the
Institute woods so brilliant, that the two men wound up sitting on a bench
opposite the mathematics building, at the edge of a vast expanse of lawn, in
front of a graceful little Japanese fountain.
Kuhn and Nash had known each other for nearly fifty years. They had both been
graduate students at Princeton in the late 1940s, shared the same professors,
known the same people, traveled in the same elite mathematical circles. They had
not been friends as students, but Kuhn, who spent most of his career in
Princeton, had never entirely lost touch with Nash and had, as Nash became more
accessible, managed to establish fairly regular contact with him. Kuhn is a
shrewd, vigorous, sophisticated man who is not burdened with "the
mathematical personality." Not a typical academic, passionate about the
arts and liberal political causes, Kuhn is as interested in other people's lives
as Nash is remote from them. They were an odd couple, connected not by
temperament or experience but by a large fund of common memories and
Kuhn, who had carefully rehearsed what he was going to say, got to the point
quickly. "I have something to tell you, John," he began. Nash, as
usual, refused to look Kuhn in the face at first, staring instead into the
middle distance. Kuhn went on. Nash was to expect an important telephone call at
home the following morning, probably around six o'clock. The call would come
from Stockholm. It would be made by the Secretary General of the Swedish Academy
of Sciences. Kuhn's voice suddenly became hoarse with emotion Nash now turned
his head, concentrating on every word. "He's going to tell you, John,"
Kuhn concluded, "that you have won a Nobel Prize."
This is the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. It is a story about the mystery of
the human mind, in three acts: genius, madness, reawakening.
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