It is difficult enough to deal with one’s body dysfunctiol or failing, even if the mind is forceful and whole. The deaf-blind Helen Keller’s titanic struggle to become a great writer and activist is a testament to the human will, the phenomel powers of the mind. But what if the mind is divided unto itself, split into multiple persolities speaking in a cacophony of voices? When John Forbes sh Jr descended into his mental hell in 1958, he had the world at his feet. A mathematical prodigy, he had already earned a doctorate at the age of 21 from Princeton University. His 28 page doctoral thesis was a groundbreaking extension to game theory, the mathematical study of decision-making. Going farther than the simplistic ‘zero sum games’ in which one player’s gain is another’s loss, sh saw the problem in its real-life complexity — that the players’ interests are not always opposed to each other, that there are opportunities for mutual gain. In situations of conflict and co-operation, each and every player could maximize his benefits, which explained phenome in stock markets, corporate mergers, auctions and other market situations. But the idea of sh Equilibrium was so powerful, it went beyond economics to find applications in fields as diverse as computing and artificial intelligence, space sciences, evolutiory biology, geo-political relations, legislative decision-making and even studies of corruption. As a pure mathematician of the first rank who took on intractable problems with gusto, sh made significant contributions in differential geometry, non-linear differential equations and other fields before paranoid schizophrenia struck him down at age thirty.
With his mind disintegrating, sh underwent frequent hospitalisations and electro-shock therapy. Reduced to a shadow of his former self, he became practically dead to the academic world. But like a ghost he still haunted the libraries, classrooms and semir halls of his beloved Princeton, where his old colleagues and friends ensured he had continued free access. Nearly three decades were to pass before a miraculous redemption began to unfold. sh simply decided to return to ratiolity, doggedly using whatever mental powers that still remained, to recognize and block out delusions. “I emerged from irratiol thinking, ultimately, without medicine other than the tural hormol changes of aging,” he would write to a colleague later. His resurrection came with a spectacular blaze of glory — return to classroom teaching in the early Nineties followed by the 1994 Nobel prize in Economics with two others for game theory. His later papers showed he still had that fearlessness to select problems and apply his origil mind. But it was the story of his life that burst on to global consciousness through Sylvia sar’s moving biography ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and the film by same me adjudged the best in the 2002 Oscars. His advocacy of mental health issues raised him higher in public esteem. sh seemed to embody the ‘Invictus’ with head bloody but unbowed in William Henley’s stirring poem. In his youth, sh was sad at not being considered for the Fields Medal, the highest honour in mathematics. One week before his death in a tragic road mishap, he received the prestigious Abel prize from the Norwegian Academy for semil contributions to pure mathematics. In his 86 years, John Forbes sh paid heavily as his mind went into a long nightmarish slumber, then inspired millions around the world in the manner he woke up. He may yet be waking up in an ideal Platonic realm far beyond the reach of the human mind, revelling in its perfect mathematical constructs.