Math That Makes You Stop and Stare

When Benoit Mandelbrot first began the work that led to the birth of fractal geometry, there was "an explosion of interest" from his colleagues. "Everybody in mathematics had given up for 100 years or 200 years the idea that you could...from looking at pictures, find new ideas. That was the case long ago in the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance, in later periods, but by then mathematicians had become very abstract." By contrast, the complex mathematical shapes called fractals were not only available to the senses, they were downright beautiful.


They didn't just turn mathematicians' heads, either, as Mandelbrot recounts in his Big Think interview. Fractals have become beloved by non-mathematicians around the world, to the point of entering the popular culture. There is now not just one but a whole genre of "fractal nightclubs" (he doesn't know what kind of clubs they are, but says he has a guess), as well as a popular rock song named after the most famous fractal of all, the Mandelbrot set.

Mandelbrot admits, however, that while he may have been the first to discover the mathematics behind the rough, self-similar shapes known as fractals, he was by no means the first to notice their prevalence in nature. As he points out, fractals have had a long distinguished history of appearing in the works of great artists, from the French landscape painter Poussin to the Japanese master Hokusai. And as you might expect, modern digital artists are now doing them one better: through the power of fractal equations, for example, computers can now generate clouds so photorealistic, they're indistinguishable from the real thing.
Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

7 fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Here are 7 often-overlooked World Heritage Sites, each with its own history.

Photo by Raunaq Patel on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites are locations of high value to humanity, either for their cultural, historical, or natural significance.
  • Some are even designated as World Heritage Sites because humans don't go there at all, while others have felt the effects of too much human influence.
  • These 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites each represent an overlooked or at-risk facet of humanity's collective cultural heritage.
Keep reading Show less

Following sex, some men have unexpected feelings – study

A new study shows that some men's reaction to sex is not what you'd expect, resulting in a condition previously observed in women.

Credit: Pixabay
Sex & Relationships
  • A new study shows men's feelings after sex can be complex.
  • Some men reportedly get sad and upset.
  • The condition affected 41% of men in the study
Keep reading Show less

Scientists discover how to trap mysterious dark matter

A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.

Surprising Science
  • Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
  • Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
  • The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
Keep reading Show less