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Post-doctoral studies: Weiner and Von Neumann


My big fight with my uncle
Benoît Mandelbrot Mathematician
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My big fight with my uncle was a matter of dates. I was telling him, I was very free with comment towards him, and conversely he was insulting me all the time, I was insulting him all the time - we were the best of friends!! I was telling him that I was horrified that his greatest pleasure was to add another layer to a question asked by Watson, who was answering a question asked by Hardy, who was reacting to this, and so on, and it went back to Euler -" Ah! - Euler," he said, "That's the great joy. If I could add something to an idea started by Euler!" That for him was the supreme pleasure. He forgot immediately the sources of the problems. For example, later on he was to criticise me for using spectral analysis in a manner he found a bit free, and I reminded him it's called spectral analysis because of a spectrum of light, or harmonic analysis because of harmonic properties of sound; it didn't come out of a Platonic idea: it came from light and sound, and it is a property of these hard things, or soft things, and that's what makes them understood, perhaps. But for me I found I could not stand the idea of working in this fashion. Of course I was punished for my belief because several of my papers later on did answer very old questions, but not questions which had been constantly being studied in which I'd be the last person.

Benoît Mandelbrot (1924-2010) discovered his ability to think about mathematics in images while working with the French Resistance during the Second World War, and is famous for his work on fractal geometry - the maths of the shapes found in nature.

Listeners: Bernard Sapoval Daniel Zajdenweber

Bernard Sapoval is Research Director at C.N.R.S. Since 1983 his work has focused on the physics of fractals and irregular systems and structures and properties in general. The main themes are the fractal structure of diffusion fronts, the concept of percolation in a gradient, random walks in a probability gradient as a method to calculate the threshold of percolation in two dimensions, the concept of intercalation and invasion noise, observed, for example, in the absorbance of a liquid in a porous substance, prediction of the fractal dimension of certain corrosion figures, the possibility of increasing sharpness in fuzzy images by a numerical analysis using the concept of percolation in a gradient, calculation of the way a fractal model will respond to external stimulus and the correspondence between the electrochemical response of an irregular electrode and the absorbance of a membrane of the same geometry.

Daniel Zajdenweber is a Professor at the College of Economics, University of Paris.

Duration: 1 minute, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: May 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008