Advancing math and science: Benoit Mandelbroit, fractals and identifying new patterns

An absolutely fascinating episode of NOVA on fractals! Along with my general interest in science and — more recently — math, material like this always makes me think of how we can apply lessons from others fields to journalism. For example, Nate Silver and his statistical models becoming more prominent this election cycle.

Below are some quoted highlights from the show — re-ordered for better flow in this context.


For generations, scientists believed that the wildness of nature could not be defined by mathematics. But fractal geometry is leading to a whole new understanding, revealing an underlying order governed by simple mathematical rules.

Keith Devlin, whom you might recognize as NPR’s “math guy:”

The key to fractal geometry, and the thing that evaded anyone until, really, Mandelbrot sort of said, “This is the way to look at things, is that if you look on the surface, you see complexity, and it looks very non-mathematical.” What Mandelbrot said was that… “think not of what you see, but what it took to produce what you see.”


So this domain of growing, living systems, which I, along with most other mathematicians, had always regarded as pretty well off-limits for mathematics, and certainly off-limits for geometry, suddenly was center stage. It was Mandelbrot’s book that convinced us that this wasn’t just artwork; this was new science in the making. This was a completely new way of looking at the world in which we live that allowed us, not just to look at it, not just to measure it, but to do mathematics and, thereby, understand it in a deeper way than we had before.

On design


If we could understand more about how the eye takes in information, we could do a better job of designing the things that we really need to see.


Look out for one my favorite scientists — Geoffrey West! (Why? In short, read A Physicist Turns the City Into an Equation. I’m slightly obsessed with new ways of quantifying things, such as impact.)

If you can’t see the embed above, watch on You Tube.

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