When it comes to the study of both human nature and the natural world, one must be willing to reckon with the fact that a certain degree of chaos will be present in whatever facets of this planet they choose to study. Benoit Mandelbrot, the subject of today’s semi-interactive Google Doodle, was a French and American mathematician who had a huge impact on how chaos could be organized and understood: Mandelbrot is credited with coining the phrase “fractal geometry” as a description of irregular and infinitely repeating mathematical patterns that can be found in many different phenomena. More specifically, Mandelbrot was known for finding a way to scientifically explain the “roughness in nature.”
Born in 1924 in Warsaw, Poland, Mandelbrot almost immediately distinguished himself as an intellectual talent as a child by quickly mastering chess and mathematics. However, the mathematician made his biggest contribution to global theory while he was working at the Watson Research Center at IBM in New York in 1958. There, he started studying strange repetitions in signal noise, and later managed to develop an algorithm that modeled natural landforms using nothing more than a basic computerized typewriter. This is a huge part of Mandelbrot’s genius: using rudimentary technology in ways no one had ever thought to use them before in order to make huge discoveries about Earth. Mandelbrot coined “fractal geometry” in 1975 in order to describe the mathematical phenomena he had encountered.
The mathematician’s instinctual understanding of the interconnectedness of all things also helped him in his technical work. “So much of science is about specializing, looking ever more closely at ever narrower parts of the world,” Mandelbrot’s son, Dr. Didier Mandelbrot, said in a statement to Google. “Benoit was a rare person who looked more broadly and by this, saw more deeply.” Below Mandelbrot’s Google Doodle, you can also interact with an interactive fractal viewer that can help you get a visual sense of his theorems. The results are just as visually striking as one might anticipate.