John Nash (1928–2015) & Alicia Nash (1933-2015)

Our autobiographical book series, Moments Carved in Paper, has me spending a lot of time trying to remember, and then contemplating, past events as possible stories to include in the books. This story has a place in there somewhere.

The recent death of Nobel Prize winner, John Nash, reminded me of one of my favorite design projects and a beautiful evening. Bob Gill, one of my design heroes, said a good idea should be “Surprising. Original. Inevitable.” I think this idea for a poster promoting the event fits that rule quite nicely.

Nash’s Nobel-Prize-winning “equilibrium theory” presented in the movie A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe as John Nash and Jennifer Connelly as Alicia, his wife had me utterly absorbed. I probably showed the film in one of our Visual Communications Friday Sessions. Any former students remember if that is true? I also worked with Ari Garber on a VC Family Album page for the movie which was one of my favorites. I’m sure Ari's will pop up somewhere, as it is one of my favorite pieces of student work.

In the movie, Nash is at a bar with a group of friends when he begins to develop the theory of what is now called the Nash equilibrium, the idea that won him the Nobel Prize in 1994.

At the bar, he and his friends start to compete for a beautiful blonde in a group of five women. “If we all go for the blonde,” Nash says, “we block each other. None of us is going to get her, and the others will feel rejected. But, if no one goes for the blonde, and we only go for the other women, it’s the only way we win.

The best result comes from everyone doing what’s best for himself and the group.

Hendrik-Jan Francke, one of the other VC faculty, did some internet sleuthing and approached me with the name of Lynne Butler, a former Princeton professor of Mathematics where John Nash taught, who often lectured on the topic of The Collaborators’ Conundrum, an explanation of Nash’s theory. Lynne graciously accepted our invitation to speak.

Below is the poster Ivan Markos, Scott Gaston, Jessie Perlin, and I produced. The students did a great job on the photo to illustrate a complicated mathematical situation about doing what’s best for the individual, and at the same time, the group.


As a personal remembrance, if you asked me what I wanted to be for Visual Communications, it was that rope.

Below is a photo of Lynne Butler with Chris Mears (VC’03) talking at the end of the evening.


I bet I’ve wished 500 times since this night that I would have recorded the talk. Wouldn't hurt to understand the math, either.

I came home the afternoon I heard the news of their deaths and watched A Beautiful Mind. Sitting and watching as the “pens” scene happens at the end of the movie had me sitting alone in our living room with tears streaming down my checks into my beard. It was rather astonishing how close my feelings about how Visual Communications should function was in line with Nash's Equilibrium Theory, at least to the degree that I understand it.