This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

“John Nash Was A World Class Troll” – Student Recalls His Week With The Math Genius

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Jon Hersh:

In 2007 I spent a week with John Nash in Barcelona. Ostensibly I was assisting with a paper he was writing (The agencies method for coalition formation in experimental games) but in practice I was his bit of American familiarity in a sea of Barcelonan otherworldliness.

john Nash

Here’s John and me attending a conference during that week (I’m sporting the ridiculous sideburns and proto-mullet). The woman to his left is his wife, Alicia, and that’s Reinhart Selten on the far right. Those who have had the pleasure of reading his book will note Andreu Mas-Colell to my right. For a candid shot that’s not a bad group of micro-theorists.

Prior to meeting Mr. Nash I only knew him through his work and of course through lore. He has some stunningly brilliant work in mathematics which has been overshadowed by a book and movie which details some very eccentric behavior. I was expecting someone who behaved like the movie, and was prepared to lead around a ghost of a person, or at least someone very disturbed. Throughout the week I found him to be good natured, introverted and rather banal. More like your favorite math professor from college than a man who talks to himself as a hobby.

Every day that week I would go and meet John at his hotel in l’eixample and we would go to Starbucks or to the lobby of his hotel and work on the paper. After working in the morning we would have lunch, usually with his family, and then return to work on the paper a bit more. We would take breaks to do some sight-seeing–taking a bus tour around Barcelona or walking the streets–but our days were focused around the paper. In the evenings we would have dinner with his family usually and dine and discuss economics, mathematics, or whatever the topic was at hand.

I think the best way to organize my anecdotes is to use to them to describe the conclusions I came to over the week. To be clear, I can only speak about the brief time I spent with him, and can’t speak about the other periods of his life. Really I’m only marginally qualified to speak about him at all, but here we go.

John Nash is normal math genius eccentric, but not crazy crazy.

John doesn’t act like you or me. Then again, we don’t possess the kind of brain-power he has and haven’t spent a life creating abstract proofs alone in a library. Most really good mathematicians I know share this same trait: a limited, almost muted outward persona that masks mental fireworks happening somewhere inside. If you have not been accustomed this kind of person, it can be very jarring, and you might conclude that this person is “crazy” or at least severely disturbed. But I could sense little difference in affect between him and my Russian analysis professor, both of whom would shock anyone unaccustomed to such behavior, but neither of whom are really crazy.

John Nash has a complicated family life

John was traveling with his wife, Alicia and his son, John Jr. Alicia was always pleasant, quick to smile but was relatively passive in conversation. His son, John Jr., would spend entire meals entering numbers into a cheap calculator, then jotting down simple arithmetic equations line by line into a worn notebook.

One day Prof. Nash’s son didn’t eat lunch at the restaurant with the rest of us, instead opting for McDonald’s down the street. After lunch, and trying to be social, I asked John Jr. how his lunch was. He responded, “I had a breakthrough. I was contemplating my illusions and think I understand them now.” “Oh,” I said. “That’s…good.” Then he took out his calculator and went back to adding numbers. I’m not an expert, but it struck me as if he was playing someone crazy.

John Nash seemed to have a slight internet addiction

Maybe he was bored with our discourse, but whenever there was a break he would ask to see my laptop so he could check his email. I noticed that kind of twitching restlessness you see so often with people these days. But this was before the ubiquity of internet enabled cell phones, so John would just reach for my laptop, and load up Quora (just kidding! He was reading math papers or news usually.)

John Nash isn’t anti-semitic

I mentioned to a friend I was going to meet John Nash. My friend said, half-jokingly “Better not tell him you’re Jewish!” I laughed, but this was before I met John and so I was legitimately worried about revealing this information. During dinner one night he asked me “Jon, tell me where is your family from?” I decided to hedge my answer. “Well, you know, Russia and Romania mostly.” But then I thought of all the holocaust films my parents made me watch as a child so I quickly blurted out: “We’re Jewish.” He nodded and we went to the next topic of conversation. The idea that he’s anti-semitic is pretty ridiculous. I can’t speak for the past, but he seems to have no problem interacting with Reinhart Selten, who is himself Jewish, and about 13% of Princeton which is Jewish as well.

John Nash is a world class troll.

This is entirely subjective, but I think it it’s illustrative. John would sometimes do or say strange things that he could get away with saying because people thought he was crazy. For example, at one point during the conference a student asked to have his picture taken with John. He agreed and the student handed me the camera, and when I pointed the camera at the two, John turned to the left, obscuring himself in the frame so that only his profile would be showing in the photo. I looked at him when he turned around and John seemed to wink at me, or acknowledge that he had played a joke. Perhaps this was his way of diffusing the attention, or some personal game he was playing because he could.

Another anecdote, when we were working on the paper we had to do some quick calculations and add three numbers: 30, 40 and 50. Obviously the answer is 120, but for some reason John said it was 100. Why did he make such an obvious arithmetic mistake? Was it just to see if we were paying attention? Or maybe he was only half paying attention.

The best parts were spending time with John and just shooting the shit with him. I asked about what it was like to go from West Virginia to Princeton, since I had made a similar move from Kansas to Chicago. He said they made fun of him for saying “ya’ll” so he quickly dropped that from his pattern of speech.

The one regret I had from the week was that I had to back out of a hike to Mont Juic with John and Prof. Selten. I had an exam the following week (in micro no less) and needed to spend the weekend studying. In fact, whenever we had a spare moment I would break out MWG and look over pages of proofs, some of which John himself had proven decades ago. I remember looking over one such proof in the lobby of his hotel, where we sat waiting to go to dinner. There was a particularly thorny part I couldn’t understand, and it was in game theory no less, so I lean over to John and ask him if he could explain it to me.

His response was most telling: “No. I have no idea how that’s solved.”

Originally published on Quora by Jon Hersh.

You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Imran Khan

By Ritwik Trivedi

By Jenne Maxwell

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below