I was yet to finish Sylvia Nasar's biographical account of this Beautiful Mind that the news of Nash's life coming to an end, came. A car crash, and Nash was no more.
The great man of his discipline, theoretical math, could only count 82 by way of his life. I'm no student of mathematics, but the moment I came across his biographical account, I felt like drawn towards it. Some pages into the book, and I was hooked. The beauty of the mind called Nash proved irresistible. After all he was a great man and greatness is like gravity; you can't escape.
Nash's was an extra ordinary life. Those who inhibit the territory called theoretical maths know the enormity of this loss; it's like a prophet leaving his nation of faithful. But to us, math simpletons, Nash was no less important. We have lost a great man, and great men are not limited by the borders of discipline, faith, politics, geography, or time. They belong to all, everywhere, and all the time. They are the gifts of God to mankind. They inspire, enthuse, and guide. In this world when human mind fails to make its way through, in any discipline of life, people like Nash are the handholds. "A great golden boy", "a kid professor", "he was immature, he was obnoxious, he was a brat. What redeemed him was a keen, logical, beautiful mind" – that was Nash.
What do great men actually do. They push human history. They further the limits. They discover life beyond dead ends. As in the book about Nash they "continue punching the wall until the stone breaks." Great men resist many forms of gravity, and escape. If we have long standing questions, great men come and offer answers. If we have long held presumptions, great men come and raise questions. They agitate minds, chasing us away from our comfort zones. And when our minds are in a state of prolonged wandering, they offer shelter. They are the sign posts of human journey through time.
Great man makes silence speak. He makes sounds fall silent. He creates fresh meanings in the already present words. He creates an altogether different expression to carry the meanings he wants to convey. He discovers darkness in the dazzle of apparent. He fathoms direction in wilderness. He judges the bend in the presumed straight-direction. He sees light at the beginning of the tunnel. He informs us of the impending darkness when we are lost in sun-drenched celebrations. It is the greats who fight imbalances to establish equilibrium. We are, because they are.
What makes a great man great. Two things, love for thinking and patience for solitude. See what Nietzsche has to say: "the great man … is colder, harder, less hesitating, and without fear of "opinion"; he lacks the virtues that accompany respect and "respectability," and altogether everything that is the "virtue of the herd." If he cannot lead, he goes alone… . He knows he is incommunicable: he finds it tasteless to be familiar… . When not speaking to himself, he wears a mask. There is a solitude within him that is inaccessible to praise or blame." And Now Gibbon: "Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius." Both these quotes form epithets in the Nasar's biographical account of Nash. And now see how thinking and solitude were strikingly present in this man. Nasar writes:
His tolerance for solitude, great confidence in his own intuition, indifference to criticism — all detectable at a young age but now prominent and impermeable features of his personality — served him well. He was a hard worker by habit. He worked mostly at night in his MIT office — from ten in the evening until 3:00 A.M. — and on weekends as well, with, as one observer said, "no references but his own mind" and his "supreme self-confidence."
Someone who worked him -Melvin Hausner – recalls: "He was always buried in thought. He'd sit in the common room by himself. He could easily walk by you and not see you. He was always muttering to himself. Always whistling. Nash was always thinking… . If he was lying on a table, it was because he was thinking. Just thinking. You could see he was thinking."
His mind was his kingdom. He ruled it by the instrument of thinking, and defended it with the shield of solitude. At this moment I am reminded of two persons, one from East, another West. One an extra ordinary name in the field of theoretical physics, and very popular. Another a writer, and a civil servant from Pakistan, very little known. One is Stephen Hawking, another Mukhtar Masood. One celebrates the presence of greats around him, another mourns the absence of greats around him.
Hawking, begins the Introduction to his compilation, On the Shoulders of Giants, by this line of Newton: " If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." He ends the Introduction on this thought. " May be Newton should have said, ' I used the shoulders of giants as a springboard.'" Hawking refers to the relentless attempt to go farther, to take the "intellectual leaps".
Masood's is a wailing sound. Why the Muslim world is emptied of greats. In his book Awaz-e-Dost, he mourns over this absence of great men. When provisions are scare – Qahat– death comes in plenty. When thinking turns scarce – Qahat ur Rijaal – life is on the cheap.
People like Nash attach value to life. Thank you, and Good bye, Nash!