RIP Benoit Mandelbrot

Desirée Glanville

Alkmaar, Netherlands

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Escher&Perspective Art
The World as We See it

The godfather of fractals has passed to another dimension…..

BENOIT Mandelbrot, a French-American mathematician who explored a new class of mathematical shapes known as “fractals”, has died aged 85.
His wife Aliette told the New York Times today he died of pancreatic cancer at a hospice in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Thursday.

His seminal book, The Fractal Geometry of Nature, published in 1982, argued that irregular mathematical objects once dismissed as “pathological” were a reflection of nature.

The fractal geometry he developed would be used to measure natural phenomena like clouds or coastlines that once were believed to be unmeasurable.

He applied the theory to physics, biology, finance and many other fields of study.

“Fractals are easy to explain, it’s like a romanesco cauliflower, which is to say that each small part of it is exactly the same as the entire cauliflower itself,” Catherine Hill, a statistician at the Gustave Roussy Institute, said.
“It’s a curve that reproduces itself to infinity. Every time you zoom in further, you find the same curve,” she said.

David Mumford, a professor of mathematics at Brown University, told the Times that Mandelbrot had effectively revolutionised his field.

“Applied mathematics had been concentrating for a century on phenomena which were smooth, but many things were not like that: the more you blew them up with a microscope the more complexity you found,” the Times quoted him as saying.

“He was one of the primary people who realised these were legitimate objects,” Mumford said.

Mathematicians and economists were among those who reacted swiftly to Mandelbrot’s death on the internet.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the statistician and philosopher best known for the book The Black Swan, turned over his website to mourn Mandelbrot’s passing.

The page featured only the words: “Benoit Mandelbrot, 1924-2010, A Greek among Romans.”

Chris Anderson, the organiser of the TED conferences that feature addresses from prominent thinkers drawn from a variety of fields, offered his condolences on his Twitter page.

He described Mandelbrot, who addressed the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference earlier this year, as “an icon who changed how we see the world”.

A professor emeritus at Yale University, Mandelbrot was born in Poland but as a child moved with his family to France where he was educated.

In the US and around the world, his work attracted the attention of academics, but also pop culture because the fractals he uncovered could be illustrated in stunningly beautiful, multi-coloured representations.

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