The Fractalist

What do you get when you cross Henry Kissinger with Art Garfunkel?

A brilliant Jew whose voice fades over time.  All of us experience the notion that as time goes on, our voice is less audible, or at least less influential.  One specific brilliant Jew has been occupying my thoughts of late.  One whose influence continues to grow even though he’s gone, and who happens to look like a clone of Kissinger and Garfunkel, at least to my eyes.  If you doubt my judgement, take a look at his posthumously published autobiography, The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick.

The FractalistMandelbrot, one of the brightest mathematicians to have lived, hailed from Poland – singlehandedly dismantling the stereotype promulgated by “Polack Jokes“.  You know, the ones like this:

A Polack goes to the eye doctor. The bottom line of the eye chart has the letters:

S T A C Z.

The Optometrist asks, “Can you read this?”

“Read it?” the Polack replies, “I know the guy.”

(Hey, don’t take issue with me – it’s amended slightly from the catalogue here.)

Memoirvilna-gaonBenoit’s grandfather is the second from your right in the photo above – the gentleman with the long white beard, who could pass for a visage of the Vilna Gaon.  Actually Benoit’s grandfather was from Vilna, a hotbed of intellectual activity that was once a powerful grand duchy extending to the Black Sea that became linked with Poland.  As Benoit shares with us, Napolean Bonaparte, on his ill-fated journey to conquer Moscow in 1812, referred to Vilna as (or Wilno, as the Poles spell it) as the Jerusalem of the North.  I suppose their is irony in the visage of a Jewish Caucasian male, face flowing with a white beard, being emblematic of the North Pole.


Fractals occur ubiquitously throughout nature.  This tree from the back view of my office exhibits exquisite fractal geometry.  The same holds true for a variety of natural phenomena from  the biology of networks of blood vessels or the branching area of the lungs, to unnatural phenomena like the economic patterns of financial markets.  All part of the family of roughness, in particular nonlinearity rooted in complexity, a peculiarity in which each part of the shape is like the whole, but smaller.  What a fascinating read this book is, and you can get sneak previews about it from many fine sources, among my favorite being:

The New York Review of Books

The Wall Street Journal

and …

The Curious Wavefunction

About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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