Friday, May 23, 2014

Moments of Conception 006 -- The Red Dress Scene from A Beautiful Mind

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.

And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the bar scene of A Beautiful Mind:


So, what did they do right?

Environment is the user interface for your brain. Nash is working on math problems in a bar. A bar. Not exactly the most academic environment. And yet, this location is important for several reasons. First, changes in physical surroundings stimulate our senses and enhance our ability to generate new ideas. It’s a problem solving technique called displacement, whereby working in unusual settings helps you see patterns you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Nash never would have had his epiphany sitting in a library. Second, solving math problems in a bar gave him a more visceral and spontaneous contact with his work. By inviting nature as his creative collaborator, he visualized an application of governing dynamics from a real world perspective everyone could relate to­­. Lastly, the bar scene is foreshadowing. If you read the original screenplay of A Beautiful Mind, right before the girls enter the room, the math students are discussing the communist regimes of Soviet Europe, North Korea and Germany. Which is interesting, considering The Nash Equilibrium has been used to analyze hostile situations like war, arms races and the prisoner's dilemma.

Respond with the right organ. Nash’s friends are reacting to the situation emotionally, hormonally and egoically. They’re drunk and horny and ready to pounce. John reacts to the situation economically, strategically and logically. He’s focused and inspired and ready to work. And because of this temperamental distinction, it’s clear who the better man is. Nash could have taken the girl home that night. Easily. But a jedi craves not these things. The man was an artist and a genius and a schizophrenic. He was less interested in bedding and more interested in embedding. That’s why he thanked the blonde before running out of the bar. She wasn’t his conquest, she was his muse. She enabled the moment of conception, which solidified a theorem that would eventually create historic ripples in the fields currency crises, education processes, legislation, network traffic, game theory, even rock paper scissors. Who needs one night of carnal bliss when you could have a lifetime of mathematical immortality? There are ten million blondes in the world, but there’s only one Nobel Prize.

Carve your own path. Nash’s friends, like all good mathematicians of the day, were groomed and conditioned to follow Adam’s Smith’s sacred theory of competition, in which individual ambition serves the common good. Nash, on the other hand, followed his instinct, not his textbook. He was confident enough to question the standard, bold enough to suffer the ridicule of his friends, and presumptuous enough to execute on his idea. Even if did fly in the face of a hundred years of economic theory. Emerson famously said that we should not follow where the path may lead, but instead to go where the was no path and leave a trail. Nash exemplifies this remark. He literally creates a new path by running out of the bar, going straight home and fleshing out his new theory. He works through the night and through the seasons and doesn’t stop until he gets it right. Nash turns a seed into a forest before anyone else even realizes it’s raining. And he changes the world for the better.

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?