John Nash

Visit the Princeton computer center at night in the late ’70s and you’d find an oddball assortment: empirical economists, like me, incomprehensible physics grad students, computer music guys and one grownup, John Nash.  I don’t know how it worked out for the music guys (music guy with jobname growl35, where are you today?) or the physicists.  But I was there to make the first empirical models based on the theory of games.  That worked out okay — today, hundreds of economists use Nash Equilibrium as the centerpiece of their empirical models.  We’re almost 10% as numerous as the theoretical economists whose work derives from Nash’.

In those days of batch computing, we sat around waiting for output and talking. Professor Nash — maybe he was teaching, maybe he was just one of those Princeton fixtures — was wildly vacillating between brilliant and batshit.  My grad student colleagues were mostly dismissive.  Nash had a project which had brought him downstairs between the card reader and the line printers and us.  His project was widely interpreted among my colleagues as a desire to enumerate all the prime numbers.  (If you don’t know that’s impossible, you are probably reading the wrong obit.)  One fellow student said “we were having this intense math discussion and then he just looked away and said ‘Managua, Nicaragua’ over and over”.  In ten lucid moments, however, he gave me every encouragement to empirically test models of Nash Equilibrium.  My friends that is genuine science.  He gave us terrific tools to make these theories, and he believed, when he could, that we should test those theories against live data.  And, mathematician to the core, he believed everyone, undergrad to laureate, could make valid arguments.  Validity over pedigree even in the depths of his schizophrenia. Enormous contributions, enormous loss.