Ground-breaking Princeton University mathematician John Nash Jr. and his wife died in an automobile accident on Saturday, according to New Jersey State Police. The report states that Nash, 86, and Alicia Nash, 82, were riding in a taxi near Monroe Township when it swerved off the road into a guardrail.
Regarded as one of the most brilliant math minds of his generation, John Nash’s life inspired the blockbuster film “A Beautiful Mind,” starring Russell Crowe.
Nash struggled with paranoid schizophrenia much of his life. Alicia Nash, an MIT physics major from a well-known family in El Salvador, helped Nash immensely after schizophrenia tore apart his life in the 1960s. She continued taking care of him even after they divorced back in 1963.
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More on the accident
According to the police report, the couple were traveling southbound in the left lane when their taxi lost control in the passing lane. The taxi hit the guard rail, and both passengers were thrown from the vehicle. The couple were pronounced dead at the scene.
The taxi driver was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital with non-life threatening injuries. One passenger in the other vehicle was also transported to the hospital.
The accident is still under investigation, and no charges have been been filed to date. Apparently neither Nash nor his wife were wearing a seat belt.
Academic accomplishments of John Nash
John Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994, and earlier this year he received the Abel Prize, sometimes called math’s Nobel Prize.
John Nash’s academic achievements crossed many fields in the mathematical sciences, but he was best known for the development of game theory. According to Nobel Economics laureate Roger Myerson, Nash’s work:
“… had a fundamental and pervasive impact in economics and the social sciences which is comparable to that of the discovery of the DNA double helix in the biological sciences.”
Several scientific luminaries have already commented that it is hard to overstate the impact of Nash on probably the most wide-ranging branch of 20th-century applied mathematics. Of note, five of the last ten Nobel Prizes in Economics have awarded to game theorists, and they discipline has become a key theoretical construct in the life sciences, and has led to important discoveries in evolutionary biology and studies animal behavior.
Example of Nash equilibrium in animal behaviors
The Nash equilibrium can explain the behavior of meerkat communities. Given that meerkats are constantly under threats from large predator, the safety of every individual in the community is guaranteed if at least one meerkat remains on lookout at all times.
However, there is a food supply which is shared between all members of the group together except those individuals on lookout. It is assumed that getting a share of the food is a small advantage over getting none, but potentially getting killed by the predator is a far worse negative than the food is a benefit.
So what should each meerkat do to optimize their situation?
If no one is on lookout, then the best move for every meerkat is to go to lookout so that they don’t get eaten. However, if two or more are on lookout, the best move for each is leave lookout duty and return to the food, given at least one remains on lookout.
This situation results in two Nash equilibria. Those in the group with extra food can only make their own situation worse by going on lookout, and also he last remaining individual on lookout can only make its own position worse by going to eat food and leaving everyone at risk.