Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist 10: Pasadena: Student at Caltech During a Golden Age, 1947–49

This chapter documents the many remarkable minds and concepts that Mandelbrot encountered in his studies, all while he was searching for a remarkable topic to develop fully as his own.  His self reflection while wandering in a field of geniuses makes for great reading.

Best Quote(s)

“But freedom of choice was a negative asset; it set me on a wide sea without sufficient guidance.” Location 1762

Mandlebrot has succeeded and is at the top of the pecking order in France with his success at Polytechnique – and that success has brought freedom.  Freedom after the travails of WW2 is paralyzing and gives too much freedom to operate.

“I wanted to feel the excitement of being the first to find a degree of order in some real, concrete, and complex area where everyone else saw a lawless mess.” Location 1767

Mandlebrot curtails his immense freedoms by teasing out a personal and professional goal – and an audacious one at that.  This ‘Keplerian’ dream that he has outlined is bold and big.  In his autobiography, written later in life, he starts to see visions of this goal early.  As the reader, I wonder how much he felt early in life, and how much he portrayed backwards as he enjoyed success in later years.  Mandelbrot allows us to feel this mystery along with him without forcing the development of fractals as predetermined.

Page by Page, Location by Location

1762

“But freedom of choice was a negative asset; it set me on a wide sea without sufficient guidance.”

1767

“I wanted to feel the excitement of being the first to find a degree of order in some real, concrete, and complex area where everyone else saw a lawless mess. Of bringing to a field the element of rational mathematical structure that Kepler had brought to physics several centuries before. But that Keplerian dream remained stuck in a holding pattern. I was aware that the next step after Carva was going to be hard.”

1767

“Roger Brard (1907–77). A naval engineer,”

1778

“But I had a desperate need for someone with broad down-to-earth experience to help me carve a path. Brard was friendly and, to my surprise, made himself available.”

1784

“I viewed aeronautics not as my final field of work but as the best available path toward reaching my Keplerian dream.”

1795

“Their fathers—far more prosperous and worldly than mine—had also insisted that their sons study chemical engineering.”

1801

“Its four propeller-driven engines could not reach Los Angeles without a stop halfway at the TWA hub in St. Louis.”

1817

““Was that preacher any good?” His medical diagnosis was that my eyes were fine except for being overly sensitive to the smog. “What is smog?”

1828

“All too many of the stars who had made the older catalog so attractive were gone.”

1849

“Fluid mechanics as a whole had become an extremely competitive and “mature” field that was growing slowly and splitting.”

“Pure mathematicians and physicists had little to contribute, so it was left to engineers.”

1855

“Ivory tower theoreticians agonized in one world, and adventurers in another made immense amounts of money to fly unproven rocket-powered contraptions that might or might not take off, fly, or land safely.”

1861

“What is the cause and nature of turbulence?” was Fermi’s response.

1866

“Later, the theory of chaos contributed to fluid dynamics and brought me back to it for an important effort: developing a concept called multifractals.”

1894

“… evidence that airplane design has been since 1947 a “mature” field. Spending a lifetime on such details would have been a dreadful experience, and did not tempt me at any point.”

1905

“We always felt in tune but did not see each other often enough. A splendid man.”

Gossamer Condor, Paul MacCready (1925–2007),

1916

“I think you should not start on a Ph.D. with me because you don’t admire me enough.”

1947

“Max Delbrück (1906–81). ….” The father of molecular biology.

1953

“Eventually, molecular biology merged with biochemistry, and genomics took it to an industrial stage. Today’s practitioners complain of it being viewed as a mature field. But in 1949, nothing was further…”

“After the ordeal ended, he relaxed in his chair and, in a completely different tone of voice, concluded, “It was a very nice lecture. I learned a great deal.”

1986

“Theory of Games and Economic Behavior by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern.”

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1 Response to Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist 10: Pasadena: Student at Caltech During a Golden Age, 1947–49

  1. Pingback: Mandelbrot Part 2: Chapters 8 – 20, “My Long and Meandering Education in Science and in Life” | Fred Lybrand

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