SRP 435: F. Fajardo-Acosta
Home Page: http://mockingbird.creighton.edu/english/fajardo/
A Beautiful Mind
Background information: A Beautiful Mind (2001), directed by Ron Howard, starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, loosely based on Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind: A Biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr. (1999). Both the film and the book deal with the life and ideas of John F. Nash, Jr. (1928- ), an American mathematician who made major contributions to game and economic theory. Nash was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work analyzing the nature of non-cooperative games.
The following comments and questions refer to the opening scenes, about 30 minutes, of the film (from the beginning up until just before the scene at the Pentagon).
What are the "governing dynamics" that John Nash seeks to uncover? How are the governing dynamics relevant to things-as-they-are and things-as-they-should-be? Is there any connection or point of contact between the two (the positive and the normative)? How may the governing dynamics be related to to the ideas of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (and their equivalents in Christian ethics and theology)?
What is the relevance of the historical backdrop in the United States around 1947, the Cold War, the competition between the US and the Soviet Union, the issue of atomic and other weapons, cryptography, etc? What about the contents of the speech of Professor Helinger to the new students at Princeton? What does he suggest should be the purpose of mathematics and scientific and scholarly research? What are the implications (and ironies) of statements of his such as "mathematicians won the war ...," "the stated goal of the Soviets is global communism," "in medicine, or in economics, in technology and in space, battle lines are being drawn," "who among you will be the next Morse, the next Einstein; who among you will be the vanguard of democracy, freedom and discovery?" "today we bequeath America's future into your able hands," etc.?
How about the scene of the cocktail party in the yard? Is it significant that the student's are arguing over the splitting of the "Carnegie Prize" between two winners, Nash and Hansen? Why does Bender complain that now that the prize has been split it is bent? Why the emphasis on the drinking crystal glass? How about the light? Why is the light traced and followed from the glass to the platter of oranges to the punch bowl to his classmate's tie? Why does Nash claim there has got to be a mathematical explanation for how bad the tie is? What does the tie represent? How does it fit in with the other images to which it is linked? What is the meaning of the light? How about Martin Hansen's mistaking John for a waiter and asking for a drink? Why does John claim there is absolutely no innovation in Martin's research in weapons technologies? In what senses is Martin not an innovator?
What about the scene in John's dorm room. What sort of music is playing on the record player? What historical period does the music belong to? How is that important? What issues does it raise? How about the bay window with three panels that John places his desk in front of? What may be the symbolism of this niche where John does his work?
What is the meaning and role of Charles the roommate? As you know if you have watched the whole film, John is schizophrenic and Charles is only imaginary. What is the significance of John's schizophrenia? How is it related to other issues in the film? What does Charles represent? What values or aspects of life does he emphasize? What are Charles' interests in life? How do those contrast with John's own tendencies and values? How is the friendship and conflict between Charles and John related to other issues in the film? Why does Charles say that having a hangover is like being thirsty? Why is drinking in excess connected to the idea of dying of thirst? What images from mythology does this situation recall? How are they connected to the concerns of the film? Why does John refuse to share his cookies but Charles offers his flask of alcohol to John? How is this encounter between John and Charles an expression of an internal conflict in John? A conflict over what?
Is it important that John is of humble social and economic background and could not afford to go to prep schools like Exeter and Andover? Why does he say he has a chip on each shoulder and is hence balanced? Why does he say he does not like people and people don't like him much either? Is he justified in not liking people? Why does Charles say math cannot take you to high truth because math is boring? What is Charles interested in? Does Charles play a role in leading John to his discoveries? What are the governing dynamics that John is after?
Why is John interested in mathematical modeling of the behavior of pigeons? How is the behavior of creatures of nature relevant to the theories he will develop? How do animals behave compared to people? What does that say about nature and people?
What is the meaning of the board game scene (the game is "Go")? Is the bet important (the loser has to do laundry for the winner for the rest of the semester)? What does that suggest? Why does Martin claim that John is afraid of competing? Why does John say he is "petrified," "mortified" and "stupefied" by Martin? After losing to Martin, why does John claim the game is flawed? What does the game symbolize?
What is John scribbling on the panes of the bay windows (in his room and in the library)? What are the similarities in the models of a football game, pigeons fighting over crumbs and a lady having her purse snatched by a thief? What do those scenarios illustrate? What is common to the behavior of creatures in nature and in human life? How come then John wants to argue against competition? What do the "governing dynamics" have to do with competition and conflict scenarios?
What sort of a theory is John developing? How does his theory contrast with so-called "zero-sum," non-cooperative games when someone wins and someone loses? What new sort of game does he want to develop? Why does he want to find an "equilibrium"?
Is it significant that Charles credits John with having discovered "window art"? What does that suggest? How is what John is doing a kind of art work? What is a window anyway? What sorts of windows is he writing on? What old kind of window art does this resemble? Where does one normally see highly ornamented window panes which are also intended to convey an idea or a vision (any connections to the kind of music that John listens to?).
What about the first scene at the bar? How about images of drinking, sharing drinks, bars, drinking vessels (glasses, cups, bottles, etc) throughout the film? What is the symbolism embodied in those images? How about sexuality, mating practices, and the strategies and negotiations that go along with them? How do those fit in with the rest of the concerns of the film? Why do his friends encourage John to approach a girl by using expressions like "bombs away," "fortune favors the brave," and such? What is the significance of the conversation between the girl and John? Is it important that she wants for him to buy her a drink? What about him? What do his bluntness and excessive directness suggest? Why is he trying to bypass the familiar negotiations involved in courtship? What kind of an exchange is he trying to establish? What happens when he refuses to play the game and shows his real intentions? How is that related to the theory of exchange, game theory, commerce and the kind of thinking John is doing about human interactions? What notions of exchange is he trying to encourage instead of the prevailing ones?
What about the fact that John is not producing anything but his classmates are publishing papers? Is it significant that, by midterm, he is clearly told by Professor Helinger that he has no prospects or chances of placement? What issues does that highlight? Who is rewarded and who is punished in the world in which John lives? What happens to the quality of the work under those conditions? What kind of work prevails, what kind perishes? What about the scene where a professor is being honored by the others who each give him their pens? What is the effect of the image of the man sitting at the table with a dozen pens in front of him? What does that suggest?
What about the despair of John as he cracks under the pressures of academic competition? What may be the meaning of the scene where Charles and John fight and they throw the desk out the window? Why does Charles insist that the situation is not his or John's problem but rather the problem of others? Who or what is faulted for the despair of John and its consequences? Who or what will suffer because of the despair of John? Is it important that Charles points out that Isaac Newton was right (after throwing the desk out the window)? What chains of action and reaction, cause and effect are relevant in this situation?
What is the significance of the second bar scene? Is it important that John tells his friends he will not buy them a drink? How is the blond girl that walks into the bar important? What does she represent? How about the arguments that Martin Hansen makes about Adam Smith as the others join him in a chorus, saying "Adam Smith said that in competition individual ambition serves the common good." What does John object? What does he discover in the course of that conversation? Why does he go from saying "Adam Smith needs revision" to "Adam Smith is incomplete" to "Adam Smith was wrong"? What is the fundamental flaw with the idea that self-interest is identical with the common good and that competition is good for the economy and for society? How do the images of the film illustrate John's findings? What is the significance of the men approaching the blond and puffing out of existence? What is the significance of the men agreeing in advance not to fight and finding each a mate? What does the blond symbolize? (you might want to recall Greek mythology and a famous battle that took place over the most beautiful woman in the world). What goal does she represent? Why must that goal be rejected?
After discovering his original idea, what sorts of graphs does John draw to support his paper? What do his diagrams look like? What issues do they address? How about images of John working at his window but this time seen from the outside of the building? What about the possible significance of architectural details and the structure of the building itself? Why does Professor Helinger point out that John's findings "fly in the face of 150 years of economic theory" and that they are "presumptuous"? Is it important that, despite those observations, Helinger has to accept the validity of the work? Are there ironies and/or problems in the fact that John, after making his discoveries, is going to work for Wheeler Labs and that he later will be a consultant working for the Pentagon?
What about the third bard scene when the students are celebrating John's accomplishment? Is it significant that John offers Martin a drink? How is that a symbolic completion of the ideas developed in the first thirty minutes of the film? What is represented thereby?
Ultimately, what is the "governing dynamics"? What is that concept symbolic of? What governs the world? In what sense? John suggests that competition and self-interest are not the essence of the governing dynamics. But if competition and conflict are all we see in nature and in human life, what does the governing dynamics have to do with anything, with things as they actually are? And if the governing dynamics does not seem identical with the world as we see it, then what aspect of the world is it relevant to? What kind of a vision did John have when he discovered the governing dynamics? How is it related to the light that runs through things in the opening scenes of the film, the music that plays in the background, the windows that make the vision possible? What exactly did John see and hear that the others cannot hear or see?
How can the insights of John Nash be related to the concerns and terminology of Socratic/Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, as well as Christian ethics and theology?
What is implied by the title "A Beautiful Mind" regarding such issues as beauty and reason, the mind and the body, the intellectual and the aesthetic, the earthly and the spiritual, etc?
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