The Fractalist

French-American mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot was born in Warsaw (Poland) on this day: 20 November 1924. He died in 2010.

He is known as the “father of fractal geometry”, which, according to him “is not just a chapter of mathematics, but one that helps Everyman to see the same world differently. He also said that “a fractal is a way of seeing infinity”. (1)

He coined the word “fractal ” in 1975: it derives from the Latin “fractus”, the past participle of “frangere”, which means to break. It denotes a never-ending pattern that repeats itself at different scales. There are a lot of examples in nature where the entire shape is mostly built up from the same basic shape repeated over and over again at ever smaller scales. For instance, fern (whose leaves are shaped like little copies of the branches) or Romanesco (a vegetable related to broccoli and cauliflower where the whole head is made up of smaller heads that mimic the shape of the larger head, and each of those smaller heads is made up of even smaller ones).

Mandelbrot said: “An extraordinary amount of arrogance is present in any claim of having been the first in “inventing” something. It’s an arrogance that some enjoy, and others do not. Now I reach beyond arrogance when I proclaim that fractals had been pictured forever but their true role remained unrecognized and waited for me to be uncovered.” (2)


(1) Il frattale non è solo un capitolo della matematica, ma uno che aiuta l’uomo comune a vedere lo stesso mondo in modo diverso.” – “Un frattale è un modo di vedere l’infinito”.

(2) “C’è una straordinaria quantità di arroganza in ogni pretesa di essere stato il primo a” inventare “qualcosa. È un’arroganza che ad alcuni piace e ad altri no. Io vado oltre l’arroganza quando proclamo che i frattali erano stati raffigurati da sempre, ma il loro vero ruolo è non è stato riconosciuto e ha aspettato che io lo scoprissi “.

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