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Irrational Numbers

In response to:

Varieties of Madness from the April 23, 1998 issue

To the Editors:

The undersigned and all mathematicians of their acquaintance were outraged by Joan Didion’s attempt to link Ted Kaczynski and John Nash [NYR, April 23]. Their similarities are superficial, their differences enormous.

John Nash, during the first ten years of his life as a mathematician, has obtained four results that have deeply influenced the field and will continue to serve as basic tools and notions. When he fell prey to mental illness, he wandered through the world harming not a single soul. When, miraculously, his sanity was restored, he was showered with honors—the Nobel Prize, membership in the National Academy of Sciences. He enjoys the admiration of his colleagues and the love of his friends.

And Kaczynski?? He left the field in which he had shown talent before he had made his mark. He became a hermit filled with murderous feelings for the world; he killed and maimed scores of people and exulted in their death and suffering. Should he ever regain his sanity, he will realize that he has thrown away his God-given talent, and that he has become a monster.

Peter D. Lax
Anneli Lax
Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences
New York University

Joan Didion replies:

As Mr. and Mrs. Lax of course understand, the piece in question was not an “attempt to link Ted Kaczynski and John Nash.” It was instead an attempt to suggest that much current discussion of the mystery of human behavior has been reduced by politicalization to a factitiously moralized rhetoric, a point that would seem supported by this letter.

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