Does Mandelbrot Like the “Mandelbrot Set” Song?

Question: Which honor means more to you: your Légion d'Honneur medal or the “Mandelbrot Set” rock song?

Benoit Mandelbrot: Well, I happen to know this song, it was sent to me and I was very impressed by it and by its popularity.  In a certain sense, it is not which one, but the combination.  When people ask me what’s my field?  I say, on one hand, a fractalist.  Perhaps the only one, the only full-time one.  On the other hand, I’ve been a professor of mathematics at Harvard and at Yale.  At Yale for a long time.  But I’m not a mathematician only.  I’m a professor of physics, of economics, a long list.  Each element of this list is normal.  The combination of these elements is very rare at best.  And so in a certain sense, it is not the fact that I was a professor of mathematics at these great universities, or professor of physics at other great universities, or that I received, among other doctorates, one in medicine, believe it or not.  And one in civil engineering.  It is the coexistence of these various aspects that in one lifetime it is possible, if one takes the kinds of risks which I took, which are colossal, but taking risks, I was rewarded by being able to contribute in a very substantial fashion to a variety of fields.  I was able to reawaken and solve some very old problems.  The problems are just so old that in a certain sense, they were no longer being pursued.  And nobody – I didn’t know anybody who was trying to define roughness of ****. It was a hopeless subject.  But I did it and there’s a whole field by which has been created by that. 

In a certain sense the beauty of what I happened by extraordinary chance to put together is that nobody would have believed that this is possible, and certainly I didn’t expect that it was possible.  I just moved from step to step to step.  Lately I realized that all these things held together, and very lately I see that in each field very old problems could be if not solved, at least advanced or reawakened, and therefore gradually very much improved in your understanding.

Recorded on February 17, 2010
Interviewed by Austin \r\nAllen

\r\n

A rock tune celebrating his work has become an Internet hit. But did it please the professor himself?

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Matthew Yglesias and moderator Charles Duhigg explore the idea on Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower?

Keep reading Show less

Landau Genius Scale ranking of the smartest physicists ever

How Nobel Prize winner physicist Lev Landau ranked the best physics minds of his generation.

Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Nobel-Prize-winning Soviet physicist Lev Landau used a scale to rank the best physicists of the 20th century.
  • The physicist based it on their level of contribution to science.
  • The scale was logarithmic, with each level being 10 times more valuable.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Universe works like a cosmological neural network, argues new paper

    Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.

    Credit: sakkmesterke
    Surprising Science
    • Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
    • The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
    • The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
    Keep reading Show less

    Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

    A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

    ESA
    Surprising Science
    • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
    • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
    • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
    Keep reading Show less

    We studied what happens when guys add their cats to their dating app profiles

    43% of people think they can get a sense of someone's personality by their picture.

    Photo by Luigi Pozzoli on Unsplash
    Sex & Relationships

    If you've used a dating app, you'll know the importance of choosing good profile pics.

    Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast