Tag Archives: 10¹ m

Fractal Geometry, or “Humor Me”

My superfriend Fischer got me a subscription to Seed Magazine [“Science is Culture”—did you know that?] this past Christmas.  I truly enjoy Seed’s glossy pages, and science, and articles about the ocean floor, but its sometimes-hipness does–at times–make me feel vaguely squicky. This is a publication which more or less dedicates an entire page to photographs of its supercool-editor at swishy foreign conferences, talking to pretty girls. I always wonder what he’s saying. “Hey,” he might be saying. “Your eyes are as green as mesostigma algae.” I know what I sometimes want to say. “Hey,” I sometimes want to say. “Hey, Seed. Fewer bourbon ads, more stuff about the length of a giant squid [10¹ m].” In its latest issue, however, I read a piece which introduced me to the concept of


–which I didn’t know existed; now I DO.  And that is my favorite. It was, essentially, a conversation between Paola Antonelli, senior curator of Architecture and Design at MOMA, and Benoît Mandelbrot, “father of fractal geometry” [quoth Seed: “the curator and the mathematician discuss fractals, architecture, and the death of Euclid”—well! La dee DA! My God, my God, what am I doing with my life?] During this conversation, Benoît Mandelbrot said:

My solutions involved shapes. So I was taking these very dry questions that [his professor] asked, and without being particularly conscious of my thinking process, solving them all—near instantly—in terms of real shapes. This took no effort whatsoever. I had, how to describe it? A very freakish gift. In every mathematical question that was asked, I just saw something real that had the same properties.”

Can you IMAGINE? Landsakes. I wish that I could look at a geometric equation and watch it come to life in my head, “fleshed, fair, erected indivisible” [Elizabeth Bishop—la dee DA!].


Would look like this:

Or perhaps like this:


Actually, that’s the equation which represents the area of an equilateral triangle. Suckaaaah!

But I think you know what I mean.

A much more comprehensive explanation of fractals would test me beyond my capabilities, and that is because when the Good Lord passed out “the math”, I was in the back of a metaphorical ice cream truck, up to my elbows in Rainbow Pops. To that end, go here if you want to learn more about them: they are really, really cool. Oh, man.


This picture [I’m picture-y today, I know] has been breaking me into little pieces and then putting me back together this week. It’s part of the stained glass window display–they’re called the “Whitefriars windows”–at St. Thomas Church in NYC. They’re renovating the lot of it.


Keep it in your mind’s eye, as you go about the business of your life, trying to be good.

New Year

Blue January light, cold, scoured, clear.
From the Sandia foothills looking down
and back to where I came from, and the town
spread out below, then back to the past year,

or three or more years carrying this load,
how do I feel unburdened: free and light?
Unanchored, dizzy, my precarious tight-
rope lowered to a mere terrestrial road?

The blank new month requires divination.
Sword, wand, ship, sandal: at the Flying Star
(we talk our way along; improvisation),
the cards laid out spell struggle, choice, and pain;
also a white horse champing in a green
meadow; a maiden moving down a long dark stair.

Rachel Hadas



Filed under Math and Science: General, Poetry, Rachel Hadas