John Nash, the mathematician who advanced game theory by showing that cooperation can be mathematically advantageous compared to the “every man for himself”, zero-sum approach to winning, died in an auto accident May 29 in New Jersey. Dr. Nash and his wife, Alicia, 82, were in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike in Monroe Township around 4:30 p.m. when the driver lost control while veering from the left lane to the right and hit a guardrail and another car. I live in California, but I was attending an educational conference in New York on the day John Nash died. The title of my talk at the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) conference was “Cooperative Games for a Warm and Loving School Climate”. I, and others interested in cooperative games, owe a thankful acknowledgment and fond farewell to Nash since he was the first to recognize that, mathematically speaking, maximum benefit for all players can be obtained through cooperation in many situations as opposed to competition. Nash’s work was the first to question the me-versus-you paradigm of zero sum games.
As we stand here now in 2015, many of us long for a new cultural paradigm such that cooperation is deeply valued, as opposed to an ethos based on so-called “rational self-interest”. Global problems abound. To avoid authoritarianism on the one hand and anarchy on the other, in the face of current problems cooperation is imperative. Putting it simply, we now understand that we are all in this together. John Nash played a major role in establishing the validity of cooperation as a means of maximizing everyone’s self interest in games, including the game of life.
As we bid a fond farewell to John Nash, Nobel prize winner whose story is the subject of the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, we thank him for helping us transition from the relentless, self-aggrandizing “me” to the abundant “we.” Nash’s work in mathematics proved that “rational self interest” is not always rational nor is it automatically in the best interest of oneself after all. In many situations the win-win way is the optimal way for all concerned. John Nash, thank you and May you rest in peace!