Posted by: goatberg | February 21, 2008

Fractals: The Colors of Infinity, with Arthur C. Clark

This 1995 documentary made for British television is simply a must watch:

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

A few highlights: In part four Clark addresses the fractal nature of the universe and concedes that reality may indeed go on forever, and in part five he is audacious enough to mention the existence of fractal geometric hallucinations that occur under the influence of certain psychedelics. Early in part six Mondelbrot himself tempts us to ask whether the brain might contain cells that have the power of fractal computation. Michael Barnsely – my favorite of the mathematicians interviewed – describes how he discovered the secret to fractal image compression-ing in a dream! And late in part 3 he drops this impassioned nugget:

Fractal geometry is already being applied throughout the physical sciences as a way of describing data in a new way, and the dream is that a fractal geometer can describe a cloud as simply as an architect can describe a house. He can use his intricate and repeatable formulas, simple formulas, to describe these unimaginably complex and beautiful shapes and then communicate them from me to another scientist to you. Not ‘here’s my straight line build it straight,’ but ‘here’s my ragged formula that is very simple, go build it wild like this.’ And sort of think that there might even be this sort of semaphore of nature, of the physical world; how it tells itself what it’s supposed to be.

In the end, this little documentary posits that a paradoxical world where free-will and determinism exist side-by-side is actually possible and perhaps real. It captures the wonder and mystery that is sometimes missing from the science related media we consume in our culture.  The airy David Gilmour riffs over mesmorizing computer generated fractal animations aren’t half-bad either. 

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