A Beautiful Mind is a story about one man’s triumph over adversity after the triumph of adversity over the man. Based (mostly) on a true story, the movie is full of the suspense filled spy scenes that schizophrenia conjured up for Nash. Ironically, just last year, the NSA released previously classified information revealing that John Nash did in fact correspond with the agency. He developed an encryption machine that is now recognised as being decades ahead of its time. Like most “based on a true story” movies, this one contains its share of embellishment.
It’s true that Nash was awarded the Nobel prize in Economics in 1994 for his contributions to Game Theory. It is also true that he suffered from schizophrenia.
Three noted differences from the movie
- He had auditory hallucinations exclusively. He did not have visual hallucinations.
- In the movie, new aytipical medications are credited with playing a major role in Nash’s recovery. In reality, his Hospital admissions, and treatment (including medications and electro convulsive therapy) were always involuntary. He attributes his recovery to a change in his beliefs about the voices.
- In the movie he gives an inspiring and tear jerking Nobel acceptance speech. In reality, he was not permitted to give an acceptance speech out of concerns regarding his mental condition.
How Nash Overcame His Illness
Nash learned to refute delusional thinking. He eventually recognised political thinking as a signal of impending delusional thinking. Ultimately, he recognised his thoughts in relation to politics as unproductive and even destructive. In an interview with PBS he states, “Initially I did not hear any voices… ultimately I began rejecting them and deciding not to listen… I found myself able to criticize this thinking — that it wasn’t very valuable… then I could say, I don’t want to listen to that.”
Nash only relied on medications in order to appease those around him. He would report that he recovered completely and had no delusional thoughts simply to free himself from the confines of an involuntary hospitalisation.
The key component is that Nash developed a reason for moving beyond his auditory hallucinations. Though medications may be effective, they are rarely effective unless a belief accompanies medical treatment. Nash’s strategy, ignoring voices, allowed him to achieve a success beyond simply “living”. He fortunately did not have to endure any debilitating side-effects. His will power allowed him freedom from involuntary commitment. He forced himself to appear well. He “faked good.” Recognising the destructive nature of voices, recognising the negative impact it had on himself and his family, that created real intrinsic motivation.
A Brilliant Madness – PBS Documentary on YouTube
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