Log in

No account? Create an account

Barbara Billingsley vs. Benoit Mandelbrot

Billingsley and Mandelbrot died within 2 days of each other...the former on the 16th, the latter on the 14th. Both contributed a lot to the world, but in very different ways. One was an actress, the other a mathematician.

I'm reminded of August 1995, when Jerry Garcia and Mickey Mantle died within 4 days of each other.
Both were American icons, but they were very different kinds of icons. The proximity of their deaths was interesting enough for Creative Loafing, a local alternative paper, to run a cover story called "Jerry Garcia vs. Mickey Mantle: Who Was Cooler?". The story was a transcript of a panel discussion, with almost all of the magazines regular contributors taking part.

Billingsley and Mandelbrot were at least as iconic as Garcia and Mantle.If you ask someone to name someone who played a mom on TV, most folks will say Barbara Billingsley. If you ask for the name of a mathematician who made important contributions to the area of fractal geometry and chaos theory, Benoit Mandelbrot will almost certainly be the response.

It's tempting, but ultimately churlish  to say that Mandelbrot's contributions were more substantive. He didn't touch nearly as many lives as Barbara Billingsley did. I'm not even sure that Mandelbrot was smarter than Barbara Billingsley. Yes, he was a mathematical genius, but as far as I know, he could not speak jive.