Mandelbrot’s Fractalist: 00 Beauty and Roughness, Introduction – Chapter by Chapter Review

Introduction: xi – xvii

This is the fourth page-by-page review I’ve published, and it is the first where I was reading the book for the first time.  Mandelbrot’s Misbehavior of Markets is one of my favorite finance books and his work on power laws and other non-Normal distributions are powerful tools for explaining the modern world.

His autobiography The Fractalist– published posthumously – is a masterpiece.  The writing is clear and direct.  The information is valuable.  His voice is unique, and his study of roughness – which came to be called fractals – is used as a tool in his storytelling style shining brightest in Chapter 23.

The introduction functions like most writer’s introductions, setting up the reader with the story they are about to encounter.  Mandelbrot introduces his tone, scope and field of study from the outset and it is their unique combination that make the chapter, the book, and his life so interesting.

Best Quote(s)

“NEARLY ALL COMMON PATTERNS IN NATURE are rough.”

Could this be the best opening sentence of any book ever?

“For centuries, the very idea of measuring roughness was an idle dream. This is one of the dreams to which I have devoted my entire scientific life.”

Mandelbrot’s commitment to (i) finding a deep life-long problem that was novel, and then (ii) once determining it was roughness, seeing it through to resolution.

“Could some other number measure the “overall roughness” of rusted iron, or of broken stone, metal, or glass?”

Mandelbrot found a field of tremendous value and novelty – then committed to quantifying it.

“Kepler used his knowledge of two different fields—mathematics and astronomy—to calculate that this motion of the planets was not an anomaly.”

Kepler serves as Mandelbrot’s North Star, the scientist that found a new field and resolved it for humanity by combining two previously disparate fields.

“Within the purest of mathematics, my unabashed play with abandoned “pathologies” led me to a number of far-flung discoveries.”

Play, combined with the inherent roughness of life, led Mandelbrot down this path.  Let’s follow and enjoy his delightful narration.

Page by Page

“NEARLY ALL COMMON PATTERNS IN NATURE are rough.”

“For centuries, the very idea of measuring roughness was an idle dream. This is one of the dreams to which I have devoted my entire scientific life.”

“Could some other number measure the “overall roughness” of rusted iron, or of broken stone, metal, or glass?”

“Kepler used his knowledge of two different fields—mathematics and astronomy—to calculate that this motion of the planets was not an anomaly.”

“For a thinking person, the most serious mental illness is not being sure of who you are. This is a problem you do not suffer from. You never need to reinvent yourself to fit changes in circumstances; you just move on. In that respect, you are the sanest person among us.”

“All those contributors to different fields were easiest to study when recognized as “peas in a pod,” pearls of all sizes from a very long necklace.”

“Every key facet of fractal geometry suffers from a quandary that physicists of the early 1900s called a “catastrophe.””

“He found fulfillment as a sharply focused establishment insider, while I thrived as a hard-to-pigeonhole maverick.”

“There I was introduced to a world of images through outdated math books filled with illustrations.”

“Half a century before I was born, Georg Cantor (1845–1918) claimed that the essence of mathematics resides in its freedom.”

“Within the purest of mathematics, my unabashed play with abandoned “pathologies” led me to a number of far-flung discoveries.”

“It appears that, responding to that ancient invitation of Plato, I have extended the scope of rational science to yet another basic sensation of man, one that had for so long remained untamed.”

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