Back in 2010 — a mere 19 days before his death — Benoît Mandelbrot gave a candid and moving interview describing his life's work and how he came to devise fractal geometry, the notion that the much of the natural world is organized according to elegant and predictable mathematical principles.

Mandelbrot is best known for his 1982 book, The Fractal Geometry of Nature. His computer experiments of the 1970s showed that self similar geometric shapes could be drawn and expanded such that each of the parts could share similarities with the whole. Through the use of fractals, mathematicians and physicists could explain "rough" shapes in the real world — everything from mountain ranges to the leafy nodes on a head of broccoli. And remarkably, these principles could be encapsulated and articulated within sets of mathematical proofs.

Here's the 5-minute short film, which was produced by documentarian Errol Morris (who also did A Brief History of Time):


Mandelbrot worked at IBM for 35 years, which explains the connection. More at IBM's page on Mandelbrot and fractal geometry, plus a fractal-themed Tumblr.


[ H/t Open Culture | Image: "The fractal shape form of a Romanesco broccoli" by Jon Sullivan. ]