What if Mandelbrot were Einstein’s rightful heir?

After Michel Serres, Edgar Morin, Amartya Sen and Miguel Benassayag, I decided to dedicate this installment of “the day of the thinker” to someone who was a special guest at the TED conference in Palm Springs the other day, the amazing mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, inventor of “fractals”.  This concept has revolutionized multiple sectors and has put Mandelbrot in Albert Einstein’s line of succession.

Wikipedia tells us the following:

“Benoît Mandelbrot is a Franco-American mathematician who was born in 1924 in Warsaw, Poland.  In the beginning of his career he worked on original applications to information theory, but he is best known for developing a new class of mathematical objects: fractals.  In 1973, he noticed cases where, contrary to a classic paradigm, deviancies didn’t cancel out.  He found examples in systems at IBM, where he worked at the time, but also in other, unexpected places such as the flooding of the Nile River and the shapes of clouds.  He concluded that these fractal forms are much truer to the natural world and to our reality than the “acceptable” forms of Euclidean geometry.

In 1974, he published a book called Fractals: Form, Chance and Dimension, wherein he included various diverse examples of fractals in nature and in human activity, such as: hydrology, lung structure, Olber’s paradox, urbanism and even holes in Appenzell cheese!  All these examples shared a relative homothety, which Mandelbrot would later term “self-similarity”.

All illustrations in the book’s first edition were in black and white, due to budgetary reasons.  Since then, fractals have become an important tool in synthesizing complex images, and we now see them in bright colors.  In addition to being present in mathematics, fractals are also present in nature and in chaos theory, leading to new areas of research.

In February 2010, the French science magazine Sciences & Vie (“Science and Life” in English) published an article about the 3D modeling of fractals.  These beautiful models (known as “Mandelbulbs”) were created by two amateurs, Daniel White and Paul Nylander.  The below video is best described by a citation from Mandelbrot: “Bottomless wonders spring from simple rules repeated without end”.


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