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Benoit Mandelbrot (1924 – 2010)


Poland-born French-American mathematician known as the "father of fractal geometry".
Benoit Mandelbrot
I conceived, developed and applied in many areas a new geometry of nature, which finds order in chaotic shapes and processes. It grew without a name until 1975, when I coined a new word to denote it, fractal geometry, from the Latin word for irregular and broken up, fractus. Today you might say that, until fractal geometry became organized, my life had followed a fractal orbit.
Mandelbrot quotes
My life seemed to be a series of events and accidents. Yet when I look back I see a pattern.
Mandelbrot
For many years I had been hearing the comment that fractals make beautiful pictures, but are pretty useless. I was irritated because important applications always take some time to be revealed. For fractals, it turned out that we didn't have to wait very long. In pure science, fads come and go. To influence basic big-budget industry takes longer, but hopefully also lasts longer.




Mandelbrot Benoit quotes
There is a saying that every nice piece of work needs the right person in the right place at the right time. For much of my life, however, there was no place where the things I wanted to investigate were of interest to anyone. So I spent much of my life as an outsider, moving from field to field, and back again, according to circumstances. Now that I near 80, write my memoirs, and look back, I realize with wistful pleasure that on many occasions I was 10, 20, 40, even 50 years "ahead of my time.
Mandelbrot Benoit
There is no single rule that governs the use of geometry. I don't think that one exists.
Benoit Mandelbrot quotes
If you have a hammer, use it everywhere you can, but I do not claim that everything is fractal.
Benoit Mandelbrot
Fractal geometry is not just a chapter of mathematics, but one that helps Everyman to see the same world differently.
Mandelbrot Benoit quotes
I claim that many patterns of Nature are so irregular and fragmented, that, compared with Euclid — a term used in this work to denote all of standard geometry — Nature exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity ... The existence of these patterns challenges us to study these forms that Euclid leaves aside as being "formless," to investigate the morphology of the "amorphous."
Mandelbrot
It is beyond belief that we know so little about how people get rich or poor, about how it is they come to dwell in comfort and health or die in penury and disease. Financial markets are the machines in which much of human welfare is decided; yet we know more about how our car engines work than about how our global financial system functions. We lurch from crisis to crisis. In a networked world, mayhem in one market spreads instantaneously to all others—and we have only the vaguest of notions how this happens, or how to regulate it. So limited is our knowledge that we resort, not to science, but to shamans. We place control of the world's largest economy in the hands of a few elderly men, the central bankers.
Mandelbrot Benoit
There is a problem that is specific to financial markets. In most fields of research, when someone makes an important finding, they publish it. In the case of prices, they set up a firm and sell advice about their discovery. If they can make money from it, they will. So the research into market dynamics is a closed field.
Benoit Mandelbrot
Engineering is too important to wait for science.




Benoit Mandelbrot quotes
Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.
Benoit Mandelbrot
Contrary to popular opinion, mathematics is about simplifying life, not complicating it. A child learns a bag of candies can be shared fairly by counting them out: That is numeracy. She abstracts that notion to dividing a candy bar into equal pieces: arithmetic. Then, she learns how to calculate how much cocoa and sugar she will need to make enough chocolate for fifteen friends: algebra.
Mandelbrot quotes
Britain for a long time had a reflection of its class structure which meant that people like, well, J. B. S. Haldane who was the nephew of Lord Haldane, or Bertrand Russell who became Lord Russell, could do what they pleased, and it's interesting to think that Bertrand Russell never had a job, he never had to compete for a job. Haldane had four or five different jobs in his life, totally different. He probably could have — if he had been bothered — have just abandoned his job and went on to live otherwise. ... But this no longer exists. IBM no longer exists. I don't see a place now where somebody like myself who combined, let's say, unusual gifts and unusual tastes and, who everybody said has promise, was certainly a misfit of the worst kind could find a position at this point and I think that a tragedy.
Mandelbrot Benoit
My book, The Fractal Geometry of Nature, reproduced Hokusai's print of the Great Wave, the famous picture with Mt. Fuji in the background, and also mentioned other unrecognized examples of fractality in art and engineering. Initially, I viewed them as amusing but not essential. But I changed my mind as innumerable readers made me aware of something strange. They made me look around and recognize fractals in the works of artists since time immemorial. I now collect such works. An extraordinary amount of arrogance is present in any claim of having been the first in "inventing" something. It's an arrogance that some enjoy, and others do not. Now I reach beyond arrogance when I proclaim that fractals had been pictured forever but their true role remained unrecognized and waited for me to be uncovered.
Mandelbrot Benoit quotes
When you seek some unspecified and hidden property, you don't want extraneous complexity to interfere. In order to achieve homogeneity, I decided to make the motion end where it had started. The resulting motion biting its own tail created a distinctive new shape I call Brownian cluster. ... Today, after the fact, the boundary of Brownian motion might be billed as a "natural" concept. But yesterday this concept had not occurred to anyone. And even if it had been reached by pure thought, how could anyone have proceeded to the dimension 4/3? To bring this topic to life it was necessary for the Antaeus of Mathematics to be compelled to touch his Mother Earth, if only for one fleeting moment.
Benoit Mandelbrot
Smooth shapes are very rare in the wild but extremely important in the ivory tower and the factory, and besides were my love when I was a young man. Cauliflowers exemplify a second area of great simplicity, that of shapes which appear more or less the same as you look at them up close or from far away, as you zoom in and zoom out.
Before my work, those shapes had no use, hence no word was needed to denote them. My work created such a need and I coined "fractals."
Benoit Mandelbrot quotes
To appreciate the nature of fractals, recall Galileo's splendid manifesto that "Philosophy is written in the language of mathematics and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometric figures, without which one wanders about in a dark labyrinth." Observe that circles, ellipses, and parabolas are very smooth shapes and that a triangle has a small number of points of irregularity. Galileo was absolutely right to assert that in science those shapes are necessary. But they have turned out not to be sufficient, "merely" because most of the world is of infinitely great roughness and complexity. However, the infinite sea of complexity includes two islands: one of Euclidean simplicity, and also a second of relative simplicity in which roughness is present, but is the same at all scales.
Benoit Mandelbrot
A branch of physics that I was working in for many years has lately become much less active. Many problems have been solved and others are so difficult that nobody knows what to do about them. This means that I do much less physics today than 15 years ago. By contrast, fractal tools have plenty to do. There is a joke that your hammer will always find nails to hit. I find that perfectly acceptable. The hammer I crafted is the first effective tool for all kinds of roughness and nobody will deny that there is at last some roughness everywhere.
Mandelbrot Benoit
Unfortunately, the world has not been designed for the convenience of mathematicians.


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