A Genius In Istanbul

Bilgi University’s Santralistanbul Campus Welcomed Several Of The World’s Prominent, Nobel Laureate Economists And Mathematicians At The Games2012 Congress, July 22 To 26. John Nash Was Undoubtedly The Most Renowned Guest At The Event, Which Was Sponsored By Turkish Airlines.

How was your trip to Istanbul?
It went well, thank you. I met a lot of people from different countries coming for the congress.

Do you like to travel?
I actually don’t like the physical conditions of traveling. Sitting for long periods tires me. But still it’s nice to see different countries and meet different people.

You’ve probably seen many places in the world.
I’ve seen a few. There are places I still haven’t seen like Australia, Africa, South America, even Paris. It’s a big world and I don’t think a person should expect to see all of it.

This is your second visit to Istanbul, isn’t it?
Yes. My first trip was not for academic reasons but for pleasure. My wife and I spent a few days in Istanbul as the guests of Ali Riza Bozkurt, a Turkish businessman who lives in the U.S. The Galata Tower, Miniatürk and Topkapı Palace are some of the places we visited that have stuck in my mind.

You don’t like crowds… Do you prefer solitude?
It is my habit to think and work on my own rather than in close collaboration with other people. I have collaborated from time to time. Not for research but for developing, testing - things that require the help of other people.

You have no hobbies, I believe. Apart from music.
I love music. I listen to all kinds of music. I used to love Bach. Actually I would have liked to play an instrument but unfortunately I had no talent. My grandmother played the piano and I have a vague recollection of it.

I’ve read that As a child you were actually more interested in chemistry and physics...
I was interested in science in general. But you’re right. I was doing chemistry experiments at home at the age of 12. Accidents and all! My father was an electrical engineer. And though I considered that profession for a long time, I chose chemistry.

But you switched to mathematics while you were studying at Carnegie Mellon.
Yes, there were technical drawing classes in chemistry that I didn’t like, and the mathematics department said, Come to us. That’s how I went into math. And a good thing it was, too!

Is it true that you met Einstein?
Yes. I had a theory about physics and gravity. About how the universe is expanding. I had the idea not that the universe is expanding but that matter is coming in from another source. I went to see Einstein to discuss that subject.

Your Game Theory hypothesis has given the world the concept of ‘win-win’. So, is there a game in which everybody loses?
Possibly… It’s possible if everybody plays negatively. In other words, if every player focuses more on his opponent losing than on himself winning, it’s possible.

Do you think there’s a connection between mathematics and justice?
Of course, there is. And a direct one at that. Mathematics seeks only the truth and is based on proof (evidence). If you sincerely seek the truth, it’s easy to find it. It’s the same with justice. There are no lies in mathematics. There are laws in science, and in justice too…

So, is there such a thing as ‘incontrovertible evidence’? Evidence that is air tight?
There is the simple situation of whether something is true or not. There’s fact and substance. If a legal procedure works smoothly, without anyone interfering, there is no doubt it will get to the truth.

You’ve also designed games. Strategy games. Hex is one of them.
Yes, Hex is related to mathematics. You understand by means of mathematical sophistication that the first player has to win if he plays perfectly. There are other ways to get an idea for a winning strategy as well. If the game is one against one, the first player can win by a simple robotic strategy that doesn’t involve too much thinking. If it’s two against two, you know a winning strategy exists, but you can’t easily figure out what you should do. You can’t tell a person what to do either, so the game gets interesting.

Did you once say that marriage is a big game?
Not just marriage but human relations. All human relations are extremely complicated. For the sake of of diplomacy I prefer to remain silent on the subject of women!

The fascinating life of John Nash was adapted for the cinema in a film called A Beautiful Mind (2001) that played in Turkey under the title, Akıl Oyunları (Mind Games). It starred Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe as Nash, and Jennifer Connolly as his wife. The film earned Crowe an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and won Connolly the award for Best Supporting Actress. Capturing the award for Best Picture as well, it won four Oscars in all.

As I was talking with John Nash about games, the conversation came around to ‘tavla’ (backgammon), a game that combines luck and strategy. He said he had played it before but did not remember the rules, upon which I gave him a brief refresher.