‘Fractalist’ Benoît Mandelbrot dies

We are NES are fascinated by the Fractal nature of the Universe. As a tribute to Mandelbrot, who died last week, take a look at this article posted in the NewScientist:

And also the interview on the excellent TED website:

Benoît Mandelbrot, who died a month shy of his 86th birthday on Thursday, wanted to be remembered as the founding father of fractal geometry – the branch of mathematics that perceives the hidden order in nature.

He became a household name, thanks to the psychedelic swirls and spikes of the most famous fractal equation, Mandelbrot set. (Recently, a 3D version of the set was discovered, called theMandelbulb.)

Fractals are everywhere, from cauliflowers to our blood vessels. No matter how you divide a fractal nor how closely or distantly you zoom in, its shape stays the same. They have helped model the weather, measure online traffic, compress computer files, analyse seismic tremors and the distribution of galaxies. And they became an essential tool in the 1980s for studying the hidden order in the seemingly disordered world of chaotic systems.

By his own admission, Mandelbrot spent his career trawling the litter cans of science for fractal patterns and found them in the most unusual places. His job title at Yale University in New Haven, Conneticut, was deliberately chosen with this diversity in mind. “I’m a mathematical scientist,” he told me. “It’s a very ambiguous term.”

I met Mandelbrot in 2004 when he was promoting The (Mis)behaviour of Markets, the book he’d written with financial journalist Richard L Hudson. After a long detour through other fields of science, Mandelbrot turned the tools of fractal geometry to financial data and had a stark warning for economists. “We have been mismeasuring risk,” he said. “Brokers who ask why we should even think about ‘wild events’ where one bad event in the stockmarket can wipe out everything are misleading themselves.”

Mandelbrot’s hope was that by thinking about markets as scientific systems, we might eventually build a stronger financial industry and a better system of regulation. He also challenged Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and other financiers to set aside $20 million for fundamental research into market dynamics.

He called himself a maverick because he spent his life doing only what he felt was right and never belonging to a particular scientific community. And he enjoyed the reputation of someone who was happy to disturb ideas.

Back in 2004, Mandelbrot showed few signs of slowing down. He was writing his memoir – The Fractalist: Memoir of a Geometer – which was set to be published in 2012.

He worked every day except Sunday and enjoyed going to conferences (watch his talk at the 2010 TED conference below). This year, he even co-authored two papers in the Annals of Applied Probability. “What motivates me is the feeling that these ideas may be lost if I don’t push them any further,” he told me of his desire to continue his research.

Mandelbrot may be gone. But the beauty of his fractals live on. You only have to look around you to be reminded of his insights. In his own words: “Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”


One thought on “‘Fractalist’ Benoît Mandelbrot dies

  1. Long before Mandelbrot the history of African math with regard to fractals has never been studied…in his absence a new focus can pick up that work.

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