Every Nerd Will Love This Errol Morris-Benoit Mandelbrot Interview

"A formula can be very simple and create a universe of bottomless complexity."

Perhaps it's because they create an infinity of interesting from simple equations.

Perhaps it's because they suggest that many seemingly chaotic phenomena have an underlying order. 

Perhaps it's because they were great early screensavers.

But nerds love fractals. 

Especially the fractals of the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, whose Mandelbrot set was included in the After Dark screensaver package, right next to the flying toasters. 

IBM, where Mandelbrot worked, knows nerds love fractals. And so, today, they released a video featuring an interview of Mandelbrot by the iconoclastic filmmaker Errol Morris. It may be the best company propaganda I've ever seen. Who wouldn't want to go work for Big Blue after seeing Mandelbrot's émigré charm? 

From the first moment, the video is amazing.

Morris says, "The fractal stuff... What was the origins of that?" We watch Mandelbrot hear the question. As it finishes, we watch emotion flicker over his face for just a second longer than you expect. "The fractal stuff" was the most notable discovery of his life, which ended 19 days later.

The video has a poignance that marketing should practically be barred from deploying. Here's Mandelbrot on publishing his book on fractals: 

And then I wrote a little book. It was in French actually. And it had no title because in a certain sense, I had not felt the need of a word for fractal. And the publisher, he told me, "Ridiculous! You must invent a word if you wish for that." I thought and thought. I went to my son's study room. He had a Latin dictionary and I was looking for a word which somehow fit the idea of something I was doing. It was 'fractal.' Giving it a word gave the topic a certain reality. It's now in every dictionary. 

It wasn't the word that made fractals real for me. It was seeing them generated by the screensaver. I would become mesmerized, watching the computer spit out infinity. 

Times haven't changed too much: there are thousands upon thousands of fractal videos on YouTube. Not to mention fractal generators for every platform on earth. 

Nerds still love fractals. Rest in peace, Benoit Mandelbrot.

 

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In