Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist, Chapter 16: Princeton: John von Neumann’s Last Postdoc, 1953–54

The Chapter starts with the tale of a public lecture where Mandelbrot is excoriated – but then experiences a classic ‘Oppenheimer’ explanation. Following a fractal pattern, we then find Von Neumann providing another level of explanation on top of Oppenheimer. It is amazing how Mandelbrot’s career was so closely entwined with these brilliant titans of discovery.

Best Quote(s)

“No major turn in my entire life proceeded more smoothly.

Mandelbrot, Chapter 16 Loc 2664

If things are not smooth – then they are rough. Mandelbrot hints here at a ‘Fractal Strategy’ for life. If things are going smooth – then there are a certain set of rules. But when things are rough, be sure that your actions can scale up – and that they can also scale down. Big things build from small patterns repeated with consistency.

“As soon as he heard a field had become hot, he made himself an expert with a competitive edge and identified several key issues he could solve.”

Mandelbrot, Chapter 16, Loc 2631

In Finance this would be a convex strategy, where you follow the winners and keep winning provided they continue to be the winners in the next period.

Page by Page, Screen by Screen

2610

“This is the worst lecture I ever heard. Not only do I see no relation to the title, but what we have heard makes absolutely no sense at all!””

Otto Neugebauer (1899–1990)

2615

Oppenheimer, “If Dr. Mandelbrot will allow, I would like to make a few comments. … I am impressed, but also fear he may not have given full justice to his striking results. I would like to sketch what I remember.”

2620

Von Neumann, “If he allows me, I would like to sketch some points that Oppie did not mention.”

2631

“As soon as he heard a field had become hot, he made himself an expert with a competitive edge and identified several key issues he could solve.”

2647

“In truth, I disdained the nature of his interests and the fact that, while multiple unrelated interests made us fellow throwbacks, he was the precise opposite of a self-motivated solo scientist.”

2659

“On the forty-ninth floor of 49 West Forty-ninth Street, in New York City, the receptionist waved me toward Weaver’s secretary, who waved me into his office.”

2664

“No major turn in my entire life proceeded more smoothly.”

2680

“… the observation by the physicist Hans Bethe that “Oppie” could often understand an entire problem after he heard a single sentence, and the observation by the physicist Robert Wilson that in his presence, I became more intelligent, more vocal, more intense, more prescient, more poetic myself.”

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1 Response to Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist, Chapter 16: Princeton: John von Neumann’s Last Postdoc, 1953–54

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

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