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War; move to Correze and continued education


Move from Poland to France; High School
Benoît Mandelbrot Mathematician
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The major event occurred when I was eleven approximately, when we moved from Poland to France. My father had had this business in Poland, which was destroyed by the Depression. The Depression was bad in the US, bad in Germany, bad in England - in Poland it was simply desperate. I can remember as a child my parents showing me whole boxes of IOUs from various sources and those people who owed my father money were not to be found. In 1931 he decided that the situation was hopeless and moved to France five years before we did. Why to France? Because his younger brother, the one who had been studying mathematics during the civil war in Krakówow, had in the meantime come to Paris and had become extremely successful. He came to France in 1919 or so, a young man very seasoned by events of various sorts, but not broken by World War I like many people in France and Britain were. France was lacking energetic young people. He was very much in the style of the mathematics that was in fashion in France. He became rapidly very well regarded, and received a professorship and, in due time, later on, when I was already in France, he became professor at the College de France, which is the highest institution of learning in Paris. I'm going a bit too fast. My uncle was an important figure in all of these affairs. But moved to France, and then another very strange interruption occurred in my schooling. First I went to elementary school to finish learning French - we spoke French but not very well - so by the time I was finished with that year of studying I was twelve and half, say thirteen, and the normal age to enter high school was eleven. Therefore I started two years behind. And in the same way as my first two years were very strange and irregular, the schooling at high school was strange and irregular. For example, I went to a Lycee in Paris, I was two years older than most students, I was much taller, I was, I think, rather brash, and the teachers had an uncanny propensity, I felt, to pay as much attention to me as to all the rest of the class. Once again, I remember high school not as a kind of very regulated and difficult and tedious exercise, which many people remember it to be at that time in France. But a time where very bright people were there just to talk sometimes about mathematics, sometimes about Latin, sometimes about French, or sometimes about some other interesting subjects. The professor of French and Latin in my first year at high school was a very scholarly man, who otherwise would have been a university professor I imagine . He had a passion for Paris and every Sunday took the class, or whoever wanted a class, on a tour in Paris. His idea was that Paris was worth a tour per year. Thus when it was finished he started again with a different group, and that provided me with knowledge of the older, nicer parts of Paris in extraordinary detail; much more than any guidebook could provide. Because he would explain the history, the people who lived there, the ups and downs of different neighbourhoods and how the life of the city would move from one place to the other. That came to very good use later on, on many occasions. But again, the main feeling was of being in school but not quite connected to school.

Benoît Mandelbrot (1924-2010) discovered his ability to think about mathematics in images while working with the French Resistance during the Second World War, and is famous for his work on fractal geometry - the maths of the shapes found in nature.

Listeners: Daniel Zajdenweber Bernard Sapoval

Daniel Zajdenweber is a Professor at the College of Economics, University of Paris.

Bernard Sapoval is Research Director at C.N.R.S. Since 1983 his work has focused on the physics of fractals and irregular systems and structures and properties in general. The main themes are the fractal structure of diffusion fronts, the concept of percolation in a gradient, random walks in a probability gradient as a method to calculate the threshold of percolation in two dimensions, the concept of intercalation and invasion noise, observed, for example, in the absorbance of a liquid in a porous substance, prediction of the fractal dimension of certain corrosion figures, the possibility of increasing sharpness in fuzzy images by a numerical analysis using the concept of percolation in a gradient, calculation of the way a fractal model will respond to external stimulus and the correspondence between the electrochemical response of an irregular electrode and the absorbance of a membrane of the same geometry.

Duration: 4 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: May 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008