One of my favorite books is A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar, the biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr., the mathematical genius and inventor of the theory of rational behavior. The fields of economics and game theory were fundamentally changed because of his work.
Sadly, underneath the brilliant surface of his life, chaos reined. Nash was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age thirty. According to Nash, there were two voices in his head, both equally valid: the voice of reason and the voice of aliens.
The voice of aliens produced persistent, scary, debilitating delusions. At one point he saw men at MIT running around in red neckties signaling him. He came to see himself as a religious prophet of great importance with an alternating sense of megalomania and impotence. This voice was extremely disturbing, creating within him a sense of apathy, persecution, and social isolation.
To cope with the problem, he tried psychotherapy. He was hospitalized six times, often involuntarily. He received all sorts of drug treatments, shock therapy, and insulin coma therapy where he was placed in an insulin induced coma. Nash described this last treatment as torture.
None of these therapeutic approaches worked. The voice of aliens was sometimes temporarily reduced, but it kept coming back. This horrible disease ruined his career and marriage.
But there is a happy ending to the story. In 1970, Alicia, his divorced wife, took him back. Because stress often triggers schizophrenic attacks, she offered him a normal life in the academic community of Princeton University, which was relatively stress free. Nash did the rest. Over the years he had come to understand the processes of the disease, which enabled him to recognize the voice of aliens and to reject it. He decided not to listen to this disturbing voice in his head. It was a constant policing operation. His mind was beautiful because he was able to will his own recovery.
I love this book because Nash's story is my story. I too am a prisoner of two voices in my head—a voice of love and goodness and a voice of ego focused self-centeredness. My goal in life has been to live the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. The problem is my ego focused voice has often gotten in the way.
I have tried prayer. I have asked God to quiet this voice, but it hasn't worked. You would think this would be the type of prayer God would answer. I'm not asking to be rich, but to live more like his son. But God has not listened, and I have stopped praying.
Thankfully, there is also a happy ending to this story. Like Nash, through a constant focus on the problem, I have come to recognize and understand how ego operates in my life. Inspired by the great mathematician, I'm learning to ignore and reject it. When I succeed in this effort, a voice of goodness and love becomes more clear and insistent within my head. Though there is no way to provide absolute proof, I assume this voice of goodness comes from God. Responding to this voice, puts me on the side of God. It enables me to work with God to make the world a better place. That's a really exciting prospect.
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