My parents were both science teachers, and my mom had taught math before moving on to science, and I was a nerd, and read way too much Crichton at a young age, and loved Feynman, Hawking, Curie, Pasteur, Franklin, and all things science- or math-related. And, yes, of course I loved Mandelbrot, too, so perhaps predictably, I went through a rather long phase where I was convinced I would be a mathematician when I grew up (and of course I was especially interested in chaos theory). I went through so many science and math phases, and they were all rather long, that it’s maybe a surprise that here I am, ordering books for libraries that other people pick out, and not having gone to graduate school. Or maybe not surprising, since my interests are so wide and varied and not having one specialized “career” means I have more free time to explore anything and everything that interests me. But that’s neither here nor there.
Benoit Mandelbrot passed away Thursday, and I’m a bit sad about that, because of course we’ve lost a great mind, but on a more personal, selfish note, I think fractals were really some of the first things that showed me there wasn’t necessarily a divide between the beautiful and the scientific. That math (and, by extension, science) could be not just a puzzle to solve or a challenge or mentally stimulating, but extremely elegant and aesthetically satisfying as well. I’m probably not putting that as well as I should, but there it is.
I pored over tons of pictures of fractals in my youth (and to be honest am not sure why I haven’t more recently, since they’re just as breathtaking as, say, the Pillars of Creation), but my favorite was always, always the initial image of the Mandelbrot set. Something about it is just inherently and ineffably pleasing to my mind. (And it also kind of looks like a horseshoe crab, although I don’t love them like I do the fractal.)