Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist, Chapter 23: On to Fractals: Through IBM, Harvard, MIT, and Yale via Economics, Engineering, Mathematics, and Physics, 1963–64

There are times when reading a book that every page, every sentence and every word come together to create a smile on the face of the reader. In Part 1 we’ve followed young Mandelbrot’s survival in the face of Nazi persecution and read with awe the names of the intellectuals he dealt with as he ‘drifted’ in Part 2. In Part 3 the tailor draws the thread, and in doing so we see the design pull together in satisfying way.

Each page in this chapter is great, each turn of phrase is memorable, and it is difficult to not envision an older Mandelbrot working on this document enjoying the time to recall his younger years.

Best Quote(s)

“This chapter’s title seems to make no sense. How can it possibly reflect reality?”

Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractalist, Chapter 23

Earlier in the book it became clear that the author was attempting to take his field of roughness and apply it to this text. Here he says so directly, implying that the path that took him to study roughness was itself fractal in nature. Of course.

“Numerous additional fields I visited also differ deeply yet share a key feature that to me matters more than any other: roughness.”

Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractalist, Chapter 23

If things are not smooth, then they are rough. The study of roughness, known as Fractals, shows common patterns to behavior and events that are not smooth.

“The fact that my life’s most productive season came late kept me in a constant hurry, and I could rarely take it easy.”

Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractalist, Chapter 23

From a life strategy standpoint – Dr. Mandelbrot never shies from the fact that he was late to gain the fame that he seemed destined from at an early age. He admits that this tension drove him and shaped his life.

In fact, a common thread of my work is that values far from the norm are the key to the underlying phenomenon.”

Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractalist, Chapter 23

In reading Charlie Munger’s Almanack (?) he goes to great pains to justify that his good decisions on ‘big days’ led to his fund performance. Mandelbrot points out that this is true of all things.

“Ultimately, my interests and achievements were viewed in Chicago as absurdly broad, and at Harvard as absurdly narrow! Unfortunately, I had to agree that those opinions were not entirely unreasonable.”

Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractalist, Chapter 23

Throughout his life – or at least in this autobiographical and elderly reflection – Mandelbrot is comfortable with who he is. He does not force himself into scenarios where he cannot prosper. There is a self confidence in these actions that is crucial to his finding and achieving his Keplerian dream.

“I had not a single identifying brand name for my activity. Ten more years went by until I gave up and coined the word “fractal.””

Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractalist, Chapter 23

Dr. Mandelbrot – because you haven’t been part of someone else’s laboratory, you really should make up a word and then use that to brand your work.

Page by Page, Screen by Screen, Swipe by Swipe

3439

“This chapter’s title seems to make no sense. How can it possibly reflect reality?”

3443

“Numerous additional fields I visited also differ deeply yet share a key feature that to me matters more than any other: roughness.”

“The phenomena I have studied are elusive and not yet covered by any proper quantitative science—pure or applied.”

3449

“I wanted to provide a consistently more faithful description of known facts—and hence help financial engineering out of its dismal and harmful state. The same goes for the developments that will be described in this chapter: no existing body of science could assist them.”

“The fact that my life’s most productive season came late kept me in a constant hurry, and I could rarely take it easy.”

3459

“A deep unity that had been present in my work all along was gradually revealed, then increased its presence and became my guide.”

3465

“Having worked in many fields but never wholly belonging to any, I consider myself an outlier. It does not hurt that the word “outlier” has an established technical meaning in statistics: it is an observation that is so very different from the norm that it may be due to accidental foreign contamination.”

Astronomical cats…

3465

“To the contrary, I have found that the so-called outliers are essential in finance. In fact, a common thread of my work is that values far from the norm are the key to the underlying phenomenon.”

3470

Title – Hydrology: The Biblical Joseph, Hurst, and Me

3476

“In a 1965 publication, I showed that while Hurst had no clue about what he had discovered, his formula indeed holds—and has unexpectedly far-reaching consequences.”

3481

“The study of rivers brought me to the distinction between two kinds of fractals: the self-similar (shapes scaled by the same amount in every direction, like coastlines) and the self-affine (shapes scaled by different amounts in different directions, such as turbulence).”

3498

“The title of a draft of my first paper on galaxy clusters implied that clustering is an illusion.”

“What you propose is that they may very well be right here.” He pointed to his temple. “Is that right?”

3509

“The point is that in some fractals, clusters are completely real because they have been included by construction; in other fractals, no clusters have been included by construction but the mind sees them anyhow.”

“Below are two images of galaxies: on the left, a real galaxy cluster from the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, and, on the right, a computer fractal model of galaxies.”

3514

“Helping Lady Luck Through Telephones”

3520

“Louis Pasteur is credited with the observation that chance favors the prepared mind. I think that my long string of lucky breaks can be credited to my always paying attention. I look at funny things and never hesitate to ask questions.”

3526

“As a result, I have sometimes been called the father of long tails. Whether long or fat, those tails are an intimate part of the fractal family. So it makes perfect sense that I have since been called the father of fractals.”

3531

Phone error clusters – “Once again, I brought together a problem from one world and a tool from a far-removed other world. A second major Kepler moment within a year.”

3536

“Of Galileo’s many gifts to scientific knowledge, here is an essential one that requires no formula. His world believed that the heavens were orderly, while everything on Earth was a mess. To the contrary, Galileo found plentiful messes on the moon—its craters. He also found order on Earth—the falling of stones pulled down by gravity.”

3542

“He [Zipf] believed that in the physical sciences, randomness follows the distribution called normal, Gaussian, or bell-shaped, while in the social sciences—word frequencies, personal income—the distribution is the so-called hyperbolic.”

3558

Snatched Up by Harvard Applied Sciences

3569

We rented the house of noted MIT physicist Victor Weisskopf,…

“At lunch, he complained about how hard it was for him to finish his memoir, and urged me not to write mine too early—certainly not as long as I still could do science. I promised, and now can only hope that my wait has not been too long.”

Teaching at Harvard Applied Sciences

Naval Officer compliment,

“I had been told that science was created by humans, but in all my other courses it seemed created by creaky machines. Your course made me watch science being created. Thank you, sir.”

3601

“No Permanent Position at Harvard”

3607

“Ultimately, my interests and achievements were viewed in Chicago as absurdly broad, and at Harvard as absurdly narrow! Unfortunately, I had to agree that those opinions were not entirely unreasonable.”

3618

A Rare Institute Lecturer at MIT

3640

“I contributed to each conclusion by being a truly dismal politician who preferred working to networking.”

“I had not a single identifying brand name for my activity. Ten more years went by until I gave up and coined the word “fractal.””

3645

Lady Luck Against the Mess of Turbulence

3662

“I developed a multifractal model that addressed the intermittence of turbulence and has also turned out to be fundamental to our understanding of the variation of financial prices.”

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1 Response to Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist, Chapter 23: On to Fractals: Through IBM, Harvard, MIT, and Yale via Economics, Engineering, Mathematics, and Physics, 1963–64

  1. Pingback: Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist, Part 3: Chapters 21 – 29, “My Life’s Fruitful Third Stage” (1958 – 2010) | Fred Lybrand

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