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Meeting at Courchevel (Part 2)

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Meeting at Courchevel (Part 1)
Benoît Mandelbrot Mathematician
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My book, The Fractal Geometry of Nature, was supposed to be out in the spring of 1982. It was a little delayed, but I came with Xeroxes of proofs of that book to a meeting, which had been organised in Courchevel. It was organised by IBM Europe in a series run by Herb Bud on a variety of topics. At Courchevel, it was the first year that this IBM Europe Institute was being held and nobody knew about it. I had nobody to help me organise it. I invited a number of people, then I asked them to invite other people. It was a very informal operation. Many of the participants, when they arrived, said they didn't believe until the last minute that the thing was for real because the field didn't exist, the place seemed to be never-to-be found, it was like something being created out of nothing in front of our eyes. Smallish but very miscellaneous groups of people were present and everybody who was there remembers it, I think, as I do, as an extraordinary experience. It had never been tried on any large group simultaneously. IBM made a big effort to bring computers up the mountain, into the room. At that time no-one had had computers to play with, to make pictures, and the pictures we are describing could be played with immediately. Therefore what now occurs for children when they first do fractals on a computer, was then the case for adults with this plaything. The organiser came one day at 10p.m. and was amazed to see that everybody was busily repeating the days work at ten p.m. under the help of my assistants and associates. The programme was very difficult to make and half of the speeches were supposed to be given by me, not because I intended to give them but because I had to make a programme. But I was changing it constantly because as soon as someone in the audience was showing up with some interesting thing, I'd say, "I give up, you speak." It was a feeling of discovery, of something getting together, of creating friendships, many of which have lasted forever, and of realising that again the construction of a field out of what had seemed to be miscellanies had been put on a good path.

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: Daniel Zajdenweber Bernard Sapoval

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

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.

Duration: 2 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: May 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008