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A doodle for the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot, the "father" of fractals

 Benoit Mandelbrot : An innovative slogan is drawn by mathematician , "father" of fractals

Born on November 24, 1924, mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot is honored with the Google Doodle. The inventor of the theory of fractals gave a long interview twenty years ago to the magazine La Recherche , now available in free access on the web.

Benoit Mandelbrot 2021

An extraordinary mathematician, Benoît Mandelbrot died on October 14, 2010 of cancer, at the age of 85. He is honored by the Google Doodle, on November 24, 2020, the anniversary of his birth in 1924. This scientist leaves in our memories fantastic images, which popularized a complex branch of mathematics: fractals. Born in 1924 in Poland, Benoît Mandelbrot and his family fled Nazism in 1936 and found refuge in France, with an uncle, a mathematician at the Collège de France.

Researcher at IBM

The young man himself became a mathematician at the CNRS, before migrating to the United States after the war. Very quickly, he found a job as a researcher at IBM. In 1975, he published a book, Fractal Objects (Flammarion), which would then continue to be reissued. The term "fractal", created for this book, designates an astonishing property of certain objects: whatever the scale at which one looks at them, the same details are found. As for the relief of a maritime coast, the outline of a snowflake, or the ramifications of pulmonary bronchioles. The concept will flourish in math, economics or physics.


Twenty years ago, Benoît Mandelbrot gave journalist Marc Lesort a long interview published by La Recherche , which we reproduce in free access on the web . "With a lot of humor, and undoubtedly a little complacency", "sealed from childhood because it is considered a" talent, "" the great scientist recounts his athletic training, "this of knowing how to transform almost everything into a geometric figure . Where most people, including my teachers, saw analysis or algebra problems, I saw geometric things ... It was a spontaneous gift, which I did not cultivate deliberately " .

Happy to have escaped because of the war to the formation of the preparatory classes - which allows him to cut to the "taupinal hammering" - Mandelbrot nevertheless knows great successes in the study of mathematics which opened the doors to him of IBM then from Harvard, where fractals begin to take shape as he works as an economics professor:"I had introduced an idea which seemed arbitrary, taken in isolation, but which would turn out to be the basis of fractal theory. The idea was that in the study of prices there was no difference in nature between short and long term variations One can describe, for example, the changes in the price of a commodity like cotton over a few weeks or over several years as two statistically identical phenomena, except that they occur over two different scales. This went against the popular belief that daily variations are due to speculation, and long-term changes to the fundamental laws of economics. "

Hence a theory that immediately knew a resounding success,“It turns out that the 'fractal thing' and figures based on self-similarity have a very deep resonance on most people, including those who have no scientific knowledge. It shocks them or pleases them; theirs. The reaction, in any case, is not only intellectual, but sensual. And I like that mathematics, which is a science deemed dry and almost monstrous, can become something very practical and close to the senses ".

Olivier Lascar

Critique of mathematical models used by finance

At the time of his death, Sciences et Avenir recalled that Benoît Mandelbrot had long been interested, not to say attacked, in the field of finance. Thus, he formulated in 2005 in his book A Fractal Approach to Markets a severe criticism of the mathematical models used by the main market players: "The models are not simply false. They are dangerously false, " he wrote in a paper published by our magazine in August 2005.

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