Benoit Mandelbrot, Father of Fractal Geometry, Dies

Former Big Think guest Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, has died of cancer at the age of 85, according to the New York Times. The newspaper describes him as "a maverick mathematician who developed an innovative theory of roughness and applied it to physics, biology, finance and many other fields."


When Mandelbrot first began the work that led to the birth of fractal geometry, there was "an explosion of interest" from his colleagues he told us during his Big Think interview: "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

The shapes didn't just turn mathematicians' heads, either, Mandelbrot recounted. 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 admitted, 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.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

This prophetic 1997 Jeff Bezos interview explains the genius behind Amazon

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, explains his plan for success.

Technology & Innovation
  • Jeff Bezos had a clear vision for Amazon.com from the start.
  • He saw the innovative potential of the online marketplace.
  • Bezos explains why books, in particular, make for a perfect item to sell on the internet.
Keep reading Show less
Promotional photo of Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones
Surprising Science
  • It's commonly thought that the suppression of female sexuality is perpetuated by either men or women.
  • In a new study, researchers used economics games to observe how both genders treat sexually-available women.
  • The results suggests that both sexes punish female promiscuity, though for different reasons and different levels of intensity.
Keep reading Show less

TESS telescope has found eight new planets, six supernovae

It has found several bizarre planets outside of our solar system.

NASA/Kim Shiflett
Surprising Science
  • The Kepler program closed down in August, 2018, after nine and a half years of observing the universe.
  • Picking up where it left off, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has already found eight planets, three of which scientists are very excited about, and six supernovae.
  • In many ways, TESS is already outperforming Kepler, and researchers expect it to find more than 20,000 exoplanets over its lifespan.
Keep reading Show less