Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist, Chapter 13: Life as a Grad Student and Philips Electronics Employee, 1950–52



“Unlike Szolem, I enjoy intellectual fencing and occasionally showing off. Otherwise—like Szolem—I absolutely stopped having patience for their games.”

Like Tversky and Kahneman – there had to be a base rate. Mandelbrot needed to engage with his peers and barb with them in order to realize that the games they were playing were silly. Without the base rate – what it was those peers were going to accomplish – then the prodigy was unable to see that he wanted more. Mandelbrot couldn’t articulate a clear destination, but he could put himself among an exceptional group of peers, hold his own intellectually, and while evaluating their goals say, “More than that!”

Mandelbrot recognized he did not fit, and he developed a system – albeit a loose one – to help refine what he wanted to do to truly excel. He knew what not to do. He trained himself to find the things he should do.

Best Quote(s)

The role of a mentor who has done what you want to do is highlighted by Kastler’s advice in Mandelbrot’s choice of thesis;

“This man was attuned to nuance and comfortable with living between two cultures.” Mandelbrot, Chapter 13 – Location 2324

As Mandelbrot reflects on the lives of his parents following the 1951 passing of his father;

“Their explanation was that less fortunate persons would have perished early in one of the catastrophes that they had managed to sail through.” Mandelbrot, Chapter 13 – Location 2331

Page by Page

Page by Page, Swipe by Swipe, Location to Location

2161

2166

“These exceptional conditions were freewheeling from any viewpoint, and it was a perfect fit for me.”

2171

“Many thésards and professors bemoaned it, but for me, disorder was a godsend. Serious teachers and enlightened guides might have done far more harm than good.”

2184

Uncle Szolem

“Too many good students are nothing but well-trained monkeys; they know everything they are taught—and nothing more. …”

“…. You can do better. If you want to amount to anything, hurry up and find out what you can do. Settle down—now!”

2190

“Unlike Szolem, I enjoy intellectual fencing and occasionally showing off. Otherwise—like Szolem—I absolutely stopped having patience for their games.”

Like Tversky and Kahneman – there had to be a base rate. Mandelbrot needed to engage with his peers and barb with them in order to realize that the games they were playing were silly. Without the base rate – what it was those peers were going to accomplish – then the prodigy was unable to see that he wanted more.

2190

“Also, the Keplerian style of research that I came to practice happens to be powerfully assisted by flipping through reference books and forgotten texts. The goal is not to copy them passively into one’s memory but to link them to one another over high intellectual walls or across wide intellectual abysses.”

2202

“The first part of the dissertation concerned George Kingsley Zipf’s universal power law distribution for words.”

Zipf, who would serve as the gateway to Mandelbrot’s thesis and eventual description of fractals and roughness – is first mentioned in this chapter..

2207

“The stretch across the abyss between fields was too extreme.”

2229

“… Alfred Kastler (1902–84), a close friend of Szolem and an exceptionally nice man, whom I had met when I was twelve. Later in life, after receiving the Nobel, he proclaimed that a lifelong collaborator deserved equal honor. Splitting the medal was not possible, but he gave Szolem half of the money.”

2234

“This man was attuned to nuance and comfortable with living between two cultures.”

2266

“At no time did I feel that any member of my Ph.D. committee gave serious thought to the content of my thesis.”

2271

“On several occasions in my life, an element of freewheeling in the system proved a blessing.”

2277

“The choice of a Ph.D. label was one of many critical decisions I faced in my life with no precedent to help. In each instance, a wrong choice might have thrown my life orbit in a totally different and possibly very unfortunate direction. Furthermore, those critical choices had steadily increasing consequences. As a result, the great promise I had held at age twenty had largely dissipated. In between, I suffered many bruises and not a few indignities. But in hindsight, I was the only one to blame, or to praise, since my lowly dissertation turned out to be the germ of all I went on to accomplish.”

2315

2321

“On a dime, he could turn between science, technology, management, and corporate or national policy, and he instantly got the point of every presentation. His visits to check on us were irregular but rumored not to be random.”

2331

1951 – Father dies

“Their explanation was that less fortunate persons would have perished early in one of the catastrophes that they had managed to sail through.”

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1 Response to Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist, Chapter 13: Life as a Grad Student and Philips Electronics Employee, 1950–52

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

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