Mandelbrot and the question – How long is the coast of Britain?

For the Powers of Ten workshops, I have often shown the short film on fractals on the Scale is the New Geography DVD.   Sad news to read of the passing of Benoit Mandelbrot (the founder of fractal geometry) at the age of 85  in the New York Times.  His way of looking at things has expanded all of our horizons.

“Dr. Mandelbrot traced his work on fractals to a question he first encountered as a young researcher: how long is the coast of Britain? The answer, he was surprised to discover, depends on how closely one looks. On a map an island may appear smooth, but zooming in will reveal jagged edges that add up to a longer coast. Zooming in further will reveal even more coastline.”

Even when describing his own career, it was not a simple direct line.  “When asked to look back on his career, Dr. Mandelbrot compared his own trajectory to the rough outlines of clouds and coastlines that drew him into the study of fractals in the 1950s.  ‘If you take the beginning and the end, I have had a conventional career,’ he said, referring to his prestigious appointments in Paris and at Yale. ‘But it was not a straight line between the beginning and the end. It was a very crooked line.’ ”

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