The Islands of Benoît Mandelbrot Fractals, Chaos, and the Materiality of Thinking
Published by the Bard Graduate Center, 2012
Distributed by Yale University Press
In recent decades the computer’s capacity to produce visual representations has prompted a “pictorial turn” in the natural sciences. Of particular interest is the way in which scientific images have come to function not merely as illustrations of work done by other means, but as tools for experimental discovery in their own right. This book argues that images actively generate knowledge with their own particular logic. The work of Benoît Mandelbrot (1924–2010), one of the best-known producers of digital images in scientific and industrial research, is a particularly revealing example for the different ways in which the materiality of scientific representations has influenced the development of the ideas and abstractions they embody.
Drawing on images and objects found in Mandelbrot’s office, this book investigates the complex relationship between visual and scientific reasoning in fractal geometry and chaos theory, both of which are well-known for using digital scientific imagery. These previously unpublished materials offer new connections between the material world and that of mathematical ideas. One of the most important and astonishing results is the insight that hand drawing still played an essential role as a mode of thinking during the first years of experimentation with computer graphics. Works by Adrien Douady and Otto E. Rössler provide historical depth to the analysis.