Benoît Mandelbrot, arguably the most important mathematician since Einstein, was finally subsumed into the chaos this morning. I first heard the news of his death via Twitter, the only source being a pithy tribute on Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s blog. The news was confirmed a few hours later by a message from Jacques Mandelbrot, Benoît’s cousin, distributed via the Computer Arts Society mailing list. At the time of writing it has still not made any of the conventional news channels.
Okay, so an 85 year old academic reaching the end of a long distinguished life may not be enough to hold the front page, but in a world where a Wikipedia page can be updated a lot faster than an obituary is written, it is clearly a sign that the old media is as dead as the great mathematician.
The popular media has always been focussed upon the novel, the unusual and the narratively compelling. This very rarely equates to what is the most important or most relevant. Mandelbrot is one of only a handful of people in the last 50 years who radically changed the way we see our world. He did this over a lifetime’s work, none of which was particularly newsworthy.
Today, every cloud that passes overhead is tribute to the father of fractal geometry. RIP.
UPDATE 5/11 – Thanks to those who have now made me aware of The Long Now Foundation’s “Long News” initiative; perhaps the only news channel with an appropriate sense of perspective.