A Beautiful Mind: Window Art?

Im a high school junior in calculus and i think i have a descent understanding of a lot of math but i have two questions that have been hard to find the answer to; they pertain to topics in the movie A Beautiful Mind.

When the young John Nash is scrawling out numbers and lines and circles on the windows, what is it? Specifically when he referrers to a group playing touch football. How is he drawing or expressing this on the window? that question could be tricky but any idea would be nice… If you haven’t seen the movie, he is looking out a window into a yard and he must be describing their movements i think?

A simpler question… John Nash says he is trying to find an algorithm for the movement of pigeons. I think i have a general idea of what an algorithm is, but how is an algorithm written out, expressed, graphed, or mapped etc. I don’t know what the term would be called for expressing an algorthim.
I know these are really weird questions but they’ve just been stuck in my head for a while and any help is appreciated… =) thanks


A very slight hijack - what is he writing with?

An algorithm is a sequence of steps for solving a more complicated problem. One method of visually expressing the steps in an algorithm is through the use of a flowchart, a series of boxes connected by arrows. The shape of the box represents what sort of step it is, and the answers to the simple steps determine which box is the next step. Nash appears to have been representing algorithms by flowcharts, although whether or not the movie window flowcharts (if that’s what they were) were anything in reality is beyond my meager ken.

A grease pencil.

You do realize, don’t you, that much of the movie is pure fiction? Much of the story of Nash’s life as given in the movie is completely made up. I’m not talking about the fantasy sequences that are supposed to be part of his schizophrenia, but the other scenes that are supposed to be true, but which aren’t. (And the fantasy sequences aren’t like the true story of his schizophrenia, either.) We’ve discussed this is several threads already.

I think the question posed isn’t so much as to whether the movie itself depicted events that were true or fictional. I think the question at hand bears more on whether the filmakers used a real scientific notation in depicting Nash’s doodlings on the windows, a much more precise question.

I think it’s unlikely that the stuff that Nash (in the movie) is drawing on the window corresponds to any real mathematical expressions. I believe that the window-drawing is another of the made-up parts of the film. You might want to get a copy of A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar, the book that the film is based on to check on this. Even in the unlikely case that the filmmakers hired a mathematician to serve as a consultant on the window-drawings, it still has nothing to do with Nash’s actual life.

I actually recall that someone posted here that these equations did mean something, but I’ve forgotten what it was. Possibly I read it at rec.movies or so.

At best, I would assume he ACTUALLY was working on some formulas to explain elements of chaos theory, I WAG. It is said his findings have applications in the sciences as well as in business. As for the drawings in the movie, don’t believe everything you see. This is only done for effect to show how obsessed he was with his work - having no time to grab paper. And, if he actually did draw on windows, it could be patterns he saw amongst the chaos (among the pigeons, for one) from which he could then find a governing equation to model the pattern(s) he observed.

I’m not a mathematician, but I have studied far enough math to know that the name of the game is to find equations that model your observations. And, if it can be expressed visually as a drawing or graph, then it helps in the overall thought process to find the governing equation. - Jinx

Nash had nothing to do with the development of chaos theory. Nash’s last significant mathematical work was in the late 1950’s and chaos theory didn’t even begin till the 1960’s. I can’t find any evidence that Nash’s work was even close to chaos theory.

It may not be that unlikely a case. Anecdotally, I have heard of a Hollywood production hiring a physics grad student to scribble vaguely plausible looking equations on blackboards for lecture scenes.
In the case of A Beautiful Mind, the IMDb credits Prof. Dave Mayer as “consultant: maths”. Given the level of accuracy in the script, goodness knows what else they might have been using him for.

[I abandoned my hopes of any accuracy after the second scene. A double helix on someone’s tie in 1948 ?]

I read something similar about Good Will Hunting- the “unsolvable” problems Will solves are (or were) current puzzlers in the mathematics community, and Will’s answers were based on proposed solutions.

Take a look at this website “Math in the Movies”: