23 October 2010

R.I.P. Benoit Mandelbrot

Benoit Mandelbrot, pioneer of fractal geometry -- indeed, the man who coined the term "fractal" -- died of pancreatic cancer on October 14, 2010.

My heart goes out to his friends and family. They may take some comfort in the fact that he changed the way much of our species sees the world, an impact in depth of a sort that few can boast. The ubiquity of images like the one above these words is just a piece of it, fascinating and beautiful as such "Mandelbrot set" images can be.

I had the honor of reviewing one of his final books The (mis)Behavior of Markets in 2006.

In that book, Mandelbrot explains the nature of fractals from the beginning, for those of his readers who hadn't caught on yet even in 2006. He quotes Jonathan Swift in service of this cause. Swift wrote:

So, Nat'ralists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller Fleas to bit 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.

Mandelbrot, at any rate, is now free of the world of fleas-biting-fleas. And he is no doubt explaining the geometry of clouds to Saint Peter.

You can find my review of Mandelbrot's 2006 work here.

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