“My life seemed to be a series of events and accidents. Yet, when I look back, I see a pattern.”
So said Benoit Mandelbrot, mathematics legend and the father of fractal geometry. A self-described “wandering scientist,” pursuing what he called “unpredictable interests,” he moved across many disciplines at once to find new insights.
The things he wanted to investigate were not of interest to anyone, so he spent much of his life as an outsider, seeking to extract an element of order from physical, mathematical, or social phenomena that were otherwise characterized by wild variability. The chaos and irregularity of the world, Mandelbrot believed, is something to be celebrated.
Behind the veil of apparent complexity, Mandelbrot recognized that many of the seemingly disordered patterns of nature are highly ordered, following simple rules. He coined the term “fractals” in 1975 to describe a geometric shape that can be separated into parts, each of which is a reduced-scale version of the whole.
For instance, the veins in leaves look like branches; branches look like ti...