Glimpses of Benoît B. Mandelbrot

The AMS Notices has an article this month with personal recollections about Mandelbrot; mathematical recollections will be saved for another article. He comes across as deeply curious and knowledgeable about almost every subject imaginable.

He was sometimes known for being “strangely vain”, but it is hard to not have the impression that this was the defense mechanism of someone who worked in solitude and obscurity for so many years before his ideas were finally recognized as important.

Mandelbrot gave the closing address of the 2006 International Congress of Mathematicians. He congratulated Werner on his Fields Medal, and suggested that this was the third time a mathematician had won a Fields Medal for proving one of his conjectures.

Yoccoz won a Fields Medal, I believe in part for proving a big piece of the conjecture that the Mandelbrot set is locally connected. Apparently the full conjecture is still open. I don’t know enough about the subject to know if this was something that Mandelbrot originally conjectured though.

Also I wonder who he had in mind as the third Fields Medalist? Does anyone know?

A poetic quote from the article, by Michael Frame:

Years ago, when asked if he was a mathematician, a physicist, or an economist, Benoît replied that he was a storyteller. After Benoît died, I saw another interpretation of his answer. By emphasizing how an object grows, a fractal description of the object is a story. Twists and turns of a snowflake in a cloud, rough waves sculpting a jagged coastline, my lungs growing before I was born, the spread of galaxies throughout the deep dark of space. These share something? Benoît told us they have similar stories. Benoît told us science should tell more stories.

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One thought on “Glimpses of Benoît B. Mandelbrot

  1. David Savitt says:

    Curt McMullen, I think, but I’ll also have to defer to someone else on whether what he proved was properly a conjecture of Mandelbrot.

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