from the world's big
From an Uneven Life, a Theory of Roughness
Question: As you write your memoirs, which memories are the most fun and the most difficult to look back on?
Benoit Mandelbrot: Well, my life has been extremely complicated. Not by choice at the beginning at all, but later on, I had become used to complication and went on accepting things that other people would have found too difficult to accept. I was born in Poland and moved to France as a child shortly before World War II. During World War II, I was lucky to live in the French equivalent of Appalachia, a region which is sort of not very high mountains, but very, very poor, and Appalachia we are poorer even, so poorer than Appalachia of the United States. And for me, I was in high school where things were very easy. It was a small high school way up in the hills and had mostly a private intellectual life. I read many books; there were many books, a very good library. I had many books and I had dreams of all kinds. Dreams in which were in a certain sense, how to say, easy to make because the near future was always extremely threatening. It was a very dangerous period. But since I had nothing to lose, I was dreaming of what I could do.
Then the war ended. I had very, very little training in taking an exam to determine a scientist’s life in France. There were two schools, both very small. One tiny, and one small, which in a certain sense was the place that I was sure I wanted to go. I had only a few months of finding out how the exam proceeded, but I took the exam and perhaps because of inherited gifts, I did very well. In fact, I barely missed being number one in France in both schools. In particular I did very well in mathematical problems. The physics I could not guess, other things I could not guess. But then I had a big choice, should I go into mathematics in a small and **** school. Or should I go to a bigger school in which, in a certain sense would give me time to decide what I wanted to do?
First I entered the small school where I was, as a matter of fact, number one of the students who entered then. But immediately, I left because that school, again, was going to teach me something which I did not fully believe, namely mathematics separate from everything else. It was excellent mathematics, French mathematics was very high level, but in everything else it was not even present. And I didn’t want to become a pure mathematician, as a matter of fact, my uncle was one, so I knew what the pure mathematician was and I did not want to be a pure – I wanted to do something different. Not less, not more but different. Namely, combine pure mathematics at which I was very good, with the real world of which I was very, very curious.
And so, I did not go to École Polytechnique. It was a very rough decision, and the year when I took this decision remembers my memory very, very strongly. Then for several years, I just was lost a bit. I was looking for a good place. I spent my time very nicely in many ways, but not fully satisfactory. Then I became Professor in France, but realized that I was not – for the job that I should spend my life in. Fortunately, IBM was building a research center, I went there for a summer thing, for a summer only. I knew this summer, decided to stay. It was a very big gamble. I lost my job in France, I received a job in which was extremely uncertain, how long would IBM be interested in research, but the gamble was taken and very shortly afterwards, I had this extraordinary fortune of stopping at Harvard to do a lecture and learning about the price variation in just the right way. At a time when nobody was looking, was realizing that either one needed, or one could make a theory of price variation other than the theory of 1900 at which Bachelier had proposed, which was very, very far from being representative of the actual thing.
So, I went to IBM and I was fortunate in being allowed – to be successful as to go from field to field, which in a way was what I had been hoping for. I didn’t feel comfortable at first with pure mathematics, or as a professor of pure mathematics. I wanted to do a little bit of everything and explore the world. And IBM let me do so. I touched on far more topics than anybody would have found reasonable. I was often told, “Settle down, stay in one field, don’t go all the time to another field.” But I was just compelled to move from one thing to another.
And fractal geometry was not an idea which I had early on, for something was developed progressively. I didn’t choose to go into the topic because of any compelling reason, but because the problems there seemed to be somehow similar to the ones I knew how to handle. I had experienced this kind of problem and gradually realized that I was truly putting together a new theory. A theory of roughness. What is roughness? Everybody knows what is roughness. When was roughness discovered? Well, prehistory. Everything is roughness, except for the circles. How many circles are there in nature? Very, very few. The straight lines. Very shapes are very, very smooth. But geometry had laid them aside because they were too complicated. And physics had laid them aside because they were too complicated. One couldn’t even measure roughness. So, by luck, and by reward for persistence, I did found the theory of roughness, which certainly I didn’t expect and expecting to found one would have been pure madness.
So, one of the high points of my life was when I suddenly realized that this dream I had in my late adolescence of combining pure mathematics, very pure mathematics with very hard things which had been long a nuisance to scientists and to engineers, that this combination was possible and I put together this new geometry of nature, the fractal geometry of nature.
Recorded on February 17, 2010
Interviewed by Austin \r\nAllen
As the celebrated mathematician writes his memoirs, he reflects on the combination of good luck, hard luck, and constant dreaming that made his life a success.
Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.
A time for sleep<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Mt29uUqI" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="931343dee3c02121445e51e94ba22446"> <div id="botr_Mt29uUqI_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Mt29uUqI-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Previous studies had already suggested a link between persistent nightmares in childhood and psychosis and borderline personality disorder (BPD) by adolescence, but researchers at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology wanted to see if a similar connection existed between these mental disorders and other childhood behavioral sleep problems.</p><p>To do this, they scoured data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a longitudinal cohort study that followed approximately 14,000 children born in Avon, England, in the early 1990s. The study followed the children for more than 13 years. During that time, mothers filled out questionnaires asking about the children's lives. Factors looked at included housing, parenting, nutrition, physical health, mental wellbeing, environmental exposures, and so on. </p><p>The cohort study inquired about sleep routines, sleep duration, and awakening frequency when the children were 6, 18, and 30 months old, and then again at 3.5, 4.8, and 5.8 years. It also assessed mental health in adolescence using semi-structured interviews, such as the Psychosis-Like Symptom Interview.</p><p>"We know that adolescence is a key developmental period to study the onset of many mental disorders, including psychosis or BPD. This is because of particular brain and hormonal changes which occur at this stage," <a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/psychology/marwaha-steven.aspx" target="_blank">Steven Marwaha</a>, professor of psychiatry at Birmingham and senior author on the study, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200701125431.htm" target="_blank">said in a release</a>. "Sleep may be one of the most important underlying factors—and it's one that we can influence with effective, early interventions, so it's important that we understand these links."</p><p>After compiling the data, the researchers discovered an association between children with irregular sleeping patterns and teenagers with <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/about-psychosis/" target="_blank">psychotic experiences</a>—that is, episodes when the person perceives reality differently than those around them. Even when depression at 10 years old was considered as a mediating factor, their findings still suggested "a specific pathway between these childhood sleep problems and adolescent psychotic experiences." </p><p>Toddlers with shorter nighttime sleep duration and late bedtimes were likewise associated with a <a href="https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml" target="_blank">borderline personality disorder</a>—a disorder marked by a pattern of varying moods, self-images, and behaviors—in their teenage years. Depression at age 10 did not mediate this particular association, suggesting a separate and more specific pathway. </p>
A more restful tomorrow<p>While the sample size was large and mental health was assessed with a validated interview, there nevertheless remain limitations to this data. For starters, sleep habits were based on mothers' reports. Because they came from memory, versus a more direct observation method such as actigraphy, these data may be prone to imperfect recollection and reporting error. There are also many confounders that could be secretly nudging the results, such as family conditions, prenatal medicines, and a host of environmental factors. Finally, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024884/#:~:text=Sleep%20difficulties%20in%20youth%20with,fear%20of%20dark%20%5B13%5D." target="_blank">the relationship between sleep problems and mental disorders</a> is both complex and two-way.</p><p>As such, the study shows an association between poor childhood sleep later mental disorders but does not prove a causal link. Parents need not worry that a string of nightmares or the eternal struggle settle into bed will be the first ingredients in a witches' brew of debilitating mental disorders. The goal of the study, the researchers point out, is not to create undue worry but improve our ability to recognize the signs of at-risk children and deliver necessary interventions earlier.</p><p>"The results of this study could have important implications for helping practitioners identify children who might be at higher risk for psychotic experiences or BPD symptoms in adolescence, and potentially lead to the design of more effectively targeted sleep or psychological interventions to prevent the onset or attenuate these mental disorders," Isabel Morales-Muñoz, the study's lead researcher, <a href="https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20200702/childhood-sleep-problems-linked-to-adolescent-psychosis-borderline-personality-disorder#:~:text=Sleep%20problems%20during%20early%20childhood,study%20published%20in%20JAMA%20Psychiatry." target="_blank">told Healio Psychiatry</a><u>.</u></p><p>If a parent reading this is worried that their child's sleep patterns are deleterious, the take away should not be despair over an unyielding fate. It should be to seek professional help as soon as possible to begin improving sleep duration and quality. Even if you aren't worried, it's worth remembering that childhood experiences lay the foundation for a lifetime of salubrious sleeping habits. It's so much more than beauty rest.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.