Magazine
Latest Issue

Lab report

Mandelbrot’s insight into financial crises; how stem cells develop; counting genomes

By Philip Ball   December 2010

If bankers had heeded Benoît Mandelbrot’s discovery in the 1960s that economic fluctuations and the risks they entail are not governed by bell-curve statistics, they might not have been caught off-guard by the credit crunch. In his seminal 1982 book The Fractal Geometry of Nature, the Polish-born mathematician, who died in October aged 85, argued that fractals describe everything from cracks to the crazy convulsions of the markets.

Fractal objects look the same at different magnifications—forking branch tips, for example, echo the whole tree—so you cannot gauge any size scale by shape alone: they are “scale-free.” The mathematical fractal pictured…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to letters@prospect-magazine.co.uk

More From Prospect