What if Nash had an “indigenous” psychiatrist?
Russell Crowe's powerful portrayal of mentally ill mathematician John Nash invites
another look at orthodox psychiatry.
The movie "A Beautiful Mind" tells the story of Princeton mathematician John Nash
whose schizophrenic illness did not prevent his winning a Nobel prize.
Nash had three non-existent companions who exerted a powerful influence on his
life. There was Charles, who first appeared as an imaginary room-mate at
Princeton when Nash was doing his Ph.D. Later, after Nash’s work with the U.S.
government decoding Russian radio transmissions, another imaginary companion
Parcher arrived. Parcher was the organizer and director of an elaborate delusional
system in which the safety of America depended on Nash decoding secret messages
hidden in popular magazine articles, newspaper headlines and advertisements.
Then another imaginary person came into Nash's awareness, a little girl who was
After Nash broke down and fled in paranoid panic from a mathematics conference,
he was forcibly admitted to a mental hospital where he was treated with insulin
coma therapy. Later, his sanity was maintained by anti-psychotic medication.
However, Nash stopped taking his medication. The thorazine was too sedative and
made him impotent. Nash relapsed back into his delusions, but this time he refused
to go to hospital or to resume the medication.
He realised his imaginary companions never got older. Armed with this basic piece
of information, he firmly believed that if his mind had conjured up these false
beings, then it was possible to analyse the mental process which conceptualised
With his wife's support, Nash spent his days in the library at Princeton, placing
himself in familiar non-threatening surroundings, and trying to live a low-stress
lifestyle. Eventually, by choosing to ignore the interference of his hallucinated
companions, Nash resumed teaching at Princeton. From the arrogant, defensive
young man who scorned lesser mortals, Nash mellowed into a humble, helpful
tutor. At this point he was awarded the Nobel prize for his original work, which
had been usefully and widely applied.
Nash learned to ignore his imaginary companions, and they gradually faded from
What the film tells us about orthodox psychiatry
Orthodox psychiatry is based solidly on a premise that is not generally shared with
the rest of the world. The premise is that the human mind is nothing more than the
functioning of the human brain. Just as with a TV set, when the power goes off,
there is nothing. Psychiatry cannot consider the possibility that life can exist of its
own, and therefore there can be no living invisible God that never dies. And if a
benevolent God cannot exist, neither can negative spirits or demons. Psychiatry
believes that God did not create us, instead we created God to ease our pain as we
contemplate the certainty of suffering and death. Review of “A Beautiful Mind” by Dr William Wilkie Page 1
However, there are psychiatrists throughout the world who respect the spiritual
teachings of the great world religions and who live and work within a spiritual
Australian aborigines and native Americans claim that all life exists in three forms.
Before any life form comes into physical existence, it actually exists in a potential
form known as the “dreaming”. Then there is the life-form in its living state,
followed after death by half of the life-form returning to the dreaming and half of it
going to some place in the sky where it lives a spiritual existence with the spirits of
Orthodox psychiatry regards Nash's imaginary people and his delusional role as
saviour of the world, as symptoms caused by brain malfunction. Putting Nash
repeatedly into an insulin coma was like hitting your fist on top of the TV, shaking
up the circuits and hoping for the best. Nash's anti-psychotic medication worked by
denying his murky, quirky unconscious mind access to consciousness. The
unconscious mind where both Nash’s madness and his creativity originated.
Orthodox psychiatry could offer Nash a choice between a dulled but stable sanity,
versus a chaotic life stew with occasional brilliant flashes of insight.
Orthodox psychiatric treatment required Nash to acknowledge that his brain was
malfunctioning and to learn how to keep quiet about any unusual mental or spiritual
An alternative approach
How would a different psychiatrist handle Nash's case? A psychiatrist who sees the
world as do, for example, Australian Aborigines or Native Americans.
The indigenous view is that there can be no such thing as mental illness. The mind
cannot be ill, because the mind of each person is actually the mind of all of us. Each
individual person is like a computer terminal hooked up to a gigantic mainframe.
Each of us may think we are functioning as autonomous units but we are actually
just running programs from the central computer. What is called mental illness by
orthodox psychiatry is either some malfunction of the computer terminal electronics
or confusion over what programs to use to process various types of data.
For example, if you try to interpret a graphics image using word processor
software, you will just see a page of meaningless symbols and digits. Likewise if
you try to describe a spiritual process but you do not have enough vocabulary or
basic knowledge of the spiritual processes, the result can be what modern psychiatry
The young Nash used negativity to reduce uncertainty. He didn’t know what to say
to people, so he insulted them. That solved the problem and ensured he would be
left alone. However, belittling others and claiming to have superior intellect, made
Who and what were Parcher, Charles and the little girl?
When you lose something, it is a good idea to go back to where you last had it and
ask yourself what you were doing at the time. When did Nash first lose his sanity?
Review of “A Beautiful Mind” by Dr William Wilkie Page 2
Immediately after arriving at Princeton. The newness, the competition and the high
expectations of him were very stressful, and Nash could not handle stress.
What was Nash doing when the imaginary Charles first appeared? He was
searching the natural world for hidden patterns, hoping to find some process which
he could describe as a mathematical formula, an algorithm.
Would it be reasonable to suggest that Charles may have been a pre-existing pattern
in the dreaming that Nash perceived because he was open to perceiving such
patterns? And that the appearance of Charles at that time was not a symptom of a
malfunctioning brain at all, but an outcome of a highly efficient brain doing exactly
what it was told- find patterns in the dreaming that you can recognise and make
Most people with theological training recognise the potential danger of consciously
and deliberately making oneself available as a means for unborn life-forms to
manifest themselves. There is a real danger of being visited by unwanted spiritual
entities. Most cases of spiritual possession arise from deliberate invitation.
An indigenous psychiatrist taking Nash’s history for the first time and examining his
mental state, might assume that Parcher, Charles and the little girl were definite
entities that need to be understood. The question that would need to be answered
to clear Nash’s mental confusion was- who are these imaginary people, and what do
If Parcher, Charles and the little girl came out of the dreaming, given a chance at
existence via Nash’s mind, they could possibly have been people who once lived, but
who are lost and unable to move on because of attachments to worldly existence.
If these enities were in fact human souls, what did they want from Nash? Help to
move on. Human souls in purgatory cannot pray for themselves, and they need
someone to present a petition for mercy on their behalf.
Why choose Nash to help them? No reason, just that he was making his mind
A psychiatrist with some theological training might consider the possibility that
Parcher, Charles and the little girl were human souls, but would probably soon
reject this possibility because human souls are not capable of causing the havoc these
imaginary beings caused in Nash's life.
Could Parcher, Charles and the little girl be fragments of Nash's personality that he
had excluded from his everyday persona? If so, these people might represent the
self discipline, the risk-taking, and the childishness that Nash's adult personality
lacked. This possibility is not a likely explanation, however, because these imaginary
people never changed, never grew older. Personality fragments change and
mature, and would have been altered when Nash fell in love and married.
The most likely explanation would be that Parcher, Charles and the little girl were
familiar spirits. Familiar spirits are negative angelic entities masquerading as
friendly human souls, but whose aim was to undermine Nash and disable his
brilliant mind from being of benefit to the world. Review of “A Beautiful Mind” by Dr William Wilkie Page 3
How Nash might have been treated
What difference would it make to Nash’s treatment if the psychiatrist treating Nash
knew enough about the spiritual reality to make an intelligent differential diagnosis
of who and what were Nash’s hallucinated companions?
First of all, it is a fact that Nash was crazy, and his panic and confusion required him
to be admitted to a hospital where he could calm down in safety. He would require
anti-psychotic drugs. These days we have much more efficient anti-psychotic drugs
and there is less need for admission to hospital.
The fact that prior to his admission, Nash had been running on his will-power,
constantly in a state of crisis, meant that some of his neurotransmitter chemicals
were probably depleted, and his self-control mechanisms were in a state of
imbalance. The drugs administered might help to correct a chemical imbalance as
In this first stage of the treatment for Nash’s mental illness, there would be no
difference between the approach of orthodox psychiatry and that of a spiritually
sensitive or theologically trained psychiatrist.
However, in the next phase of treatment, there would be a totally different
approach between orthodox psychiatry and spiritually-sensitive psychiatry. The orthodox approach
Orthodox psychiatry regards the hallucinations and delusions as the symptoms of
the mental illness. Recovery involves forgetting the delusions and not experiencing
the hallucinations. The goal of treatment is reached when the patient no longer says
anything deluded or sees or hears anything that others can’t see or hear. Only the
patient can tell you if he is recovered. And when he is better he can go home.
Regardless of his actual progress, the patient soon learns not to tell the psychiatrist
about any unusual thoughts and learns not to reveal any hallucinations. That way
But more than this. The patient learns to distrust his own imagination and to keep
his distance from people who might see through his façade. Going to the
psychiatrist is like visiting the thought police. Because the patient is always the last
to know he is mentally ill, the psychiatrist will trust his relatives more than the
patient’s self-report when deciding on any changes to medication. The spiritually sensitive “indigenous” approach
By contrast the spiritually sensitive indigenous approach would involve working
closely with Nash to help him sort out what had gone wrong. Once Nash was
settled and had some insight into the fact that he had been acting inappropriately,
the goal of treatment was to work out why, and make sure it didn’t happen again.
Looking at the possibility that the first hallucinated companion Charles could have
been brought into existence by Nash’s brain seeking hidden patterns, therapist and
patient might focus on understanding what Charles wanted, and what he
contributed. Charles encouraging Nash to drink, and throwing his desk out of the
Review of “A Beautiful Mind” by Dr William Wilkie Page 4
window, could be seen as furthering Charles’ agenda of separating Nash from his
fellows and increasing Nash’s reliance on Charles for conversation and emotional
By analysing his response to Parcher and Charles, Nash might be able to see that his
life had gotten into a mess because he had been trying to make some meaningful
response to spiritual phenomena by inappropriately acting out dramas and false
conspiracies as if they were everyday realities. The therapist would aim to help
Nash get the three material, mythic and spiritual realities into better perspective.
This would involve educating Nash in the spiritual reality that he had neglected in
favour of his intellectual pursuits. Nash would be encouraged to think in this area,
in contrast to orthodox psychiatry, which would be aiming at suppressing his
Thus this stage in treatment would require a close working relationship with the
psychiatrist, in which Nash would be able to discuss any weird thoughts or urgings
or knowings that he would be unable to tell anyone else for fear of ridicule.
The spiritually-sensitive psychiatrist is the first person a psychotic patient will tell
about his latest delusions, while the orthodox psychiatrist is the last person he will
Because Nash was an original thinker, he would be unlikely to accept the
explanations of the indigenous psychiatrist, but that would not matter at all. The
ability to discuss, differ, agree and argue about spiritual phenomena is healthy and
would enhance an ongoing working relationship with the indigenous psychiatrist. Medication
Medication would be used to help Nash, not to control him. The dose of anti-
psychotic medication would be low enough to avoid troublesome side effects, and
high enough for Nash to feel comfortable. The patient’s comfort is the most
important issue. Whether he is hallucinating or slips back into his delusions is not as
important as the ongoing relationship with the therapist.
In cases like that of John Nash, the imaginary companions begin to show their true
colours after the patient has begun to develop a good relationship with the therapist.
They become jealous, more and more demanding and shrill, and their basically
destructive agenda becomes increasingly obvious to the patient.
The imaginary companions are no longer friends but enemies, as Parcher was
becoming later in the film. The patient may then choose to resist their interference.
At this point, differentiating clearly between the self and the interfering entities, the
patient is not far from being healed. This is the point reached by John Nash by the
In Nash’s case, the therapeutic goal of separating himself from his hallucinated
companions was reached by Nash the long way around. It may be tempting to try
the short cut and simply encourage the patient to suppress any signs or symptoms
of mental illness, but this rarely works with an intelligent, enquiring mind. Review of “A Beautiful Mind” by Dr William Wilkie Page 5
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