Fractal Geometry?Fractal Geometry is not just a chapter of mathematics, but one that

helps everyman to see the same old world differently”. – Benoit Mandelbrot

The world of mathematics usually tends to be thought of as abstract. Complex and imaginary numbers, real

numbers, logarithms, functions, some tangible and others imperceivable. But these abstract numbers, simply

symbols that conjure an image, a quantity, in our mind, and complex equations, take on a new meaning with

fractals – a concrete one. Fractals go from being very simple equations on a piece of paper to colorful,

extraordinary images, and most of all, offer an explanation to things. The importance of fractal geometry is that it

provides an answer, a comprehension, to nature, the world, and the universe. Fractals occur in swirls of scum on

the surface of moving water, the jagged edges of mountains, ferns, tree trunks, and canyons. They can be used to

model the growth of cities, detail medical procedures and parts of the human body, create amazing computer

graphics, and compress digital images. Fractals are about us, and our existence, and they are present in every

mathematical law that governs the universe. Thus,

fractal geometry can be applied to a diverse palette of subjects in life, and science – the physical, the abstract, and

the natural.

We were all astounded by the sudden revelation that the output of a very simple, two-line generating formula

does not have to be a dry and cold abstraction. When the output was what is now called a fractal, no one called it

artificial… Fractals suddenly broadened the realm in which understanding can be based on a plain physical basis.

A fractal is a geometric shape that is complex and detailed at every level of magnification, as well as self-

similar. Self-similarity is something looking the same over all ranges of scale, meaning a small portion of a fractal

can be viewed as a microcosm of the larger fractal. One of the simplest examples of a fractal is the snowflake. It

is constructed by taking an equilateral triangle, and after many iterations of adding smaller triangles to increasingly

smaller sizes, resulting in

a “snowflake” pattern, sometimes called the von Koch snowflake. The theoretical result of multiple iterations is the

creation of a finite area with an infinite perimeter, meaning the dimension is incomprehensible. Fractals, before that

word was coined, were simply considered above mathematical understanding, until experiments were done in the

1970’s by Benoit Mandelbrot, the “father of fractal geometry”. Mandelbrot developed a method that treated

fractals as a part of

standard Euclidean geometry, with the dimension of a fractal being an exponent. Fractals pack an infinity into “a

grain of sand”. This infinity appears when one tries to measure them. The resolution lies in regarding them as

falling between dimensions. The dimension of a fractal in general is not a whole number, not an integer. So a

fractal curve, a one-dimensional object in a plane which has two-dimensions, has a fractal dimension that lies

between 1 and 2. Likewise, a fractal surface has a dimension between 2 and 3. The value depends on how the

fractal is constructed.

The closer the dimension of a fractal is to its possible upper limit which is the dimension of the space in

which it is embedded, the rougher, the more filling of that space it is. Fractal Dimensions are an attempt to

measure, or define the pattern, in fractals. A zero-dimensional universe is one point. A one-dimensional universe is

a single line, extending infinitely. A two-dimensional universe is a plane, a flat surface extending in all directions,

and a

three-dimensional universe, such as ours, extends in all directions. All of these dimensions are defined by a whole

number. What, then, would a 2.5 or 3.2 dimensional universe look like? This is answered by fractal geometry, the

word fractal coming from the concept of fractional

dimensions. A fractal lying in a plane has a dimension between 1 and 2. The closer the number is to 2, say 1.9,

the more space it would fill. Three-dimensional fractal mountains can be generated using a random number

sequence, and those with a dimension of 2.9 (very close to the

upper limit of 3) are incredibly jagged. Fractal mountains with a dimension of 2.5 are less jagged, and a dimension

of 2.2 presents a model of about what is found in nature. The spread in spatial frequency of a landscape is directly

related to it’s fractal dimension.

Some of the best applications of fractals in modern technology are digital image compression and virtual

reality rendering. First of all, the beauty of fractals makes them a key element in computer graphics, adding flare to

simple text, and texture to plain backgrounds. In 1987 a mathematician named Michael F. Barnsley created a

computer program called the Fractal Transform, which detected fractal codes in real-world images, such as pictures

which have

been scanned and converted into a digital format. This spawned fractal image compression, which is used in a

plethora of computer applications, especially in the areas of video, virtual reality, and graphics. The basic nature of

fractals is what makes them so useful. If someone was

rendering a virtual reality environment, each leaf on every tree and every rock on every mountain would have to be

stored. Instead, a simple equation can be used to generate any level of detail needed. A complex landscape can be

stored in the form of a few equations in less than 1

kilobyte, 1/1440 of a 3.25″ disk, as opposed to the same landscape being stored as 2.5 megabytes of image data

(almost 2 full 3.25″ disks). Fractal image compression is a major factor for making the “multimedia revolution” of

the 1990’s take place.

Another use for fractals is in mapping the shapes of cities and their growth. Researchers have begun to

examine the possibility of using mathematical forms called fractals to capture the irregular shapes of developing

cities. Such efforts may eventually lead to models that would enable urban architects to improve the reliability of

types of branched or irregular structures… The fractal mapping of cities comes from the concept of self-similarity.

The number of cities and towns, obviously a city being larger and a town being smaller, can be linked. For a given

area there are a few large settlements, and many more smaller ones, such as towns and villages.

This could be represented in a pattern such as 1 city, to 2 smaller cities, 4 smaller towns, 8 still smaller villages – a

definite pattern, based on common sense. To develop fractal models that could be applied to urban development,

Barnsley and his collaborators turned to techniques first used in statistical physics to describe the agglomeration of

randomly wandering particles in two-dimensional clusters…’Our view about the shape and form of cities is that

their irregularity and messiness are simply a superficial manifestation of a deeper order’.

Thus, fractals are used again to try to find a pattern in visible chaos. Using a process called “correlated

percolation”, very accurate representations of city growth can be achieved. The best successes with the fractal

city researchers have been Berlin and London, where a very exact mathematical relationship that included

exponential equations was able to closely model the actual city growth. The end theory is that central planning has

only a limited effect on cities – that people will continue to live where they want to, as if drawn there naturally –

fractally.

There has been a struggle since the beginning of his existence to find the meaning of life. Usually, it was

answered with religion, and a “god”. Fractals are a sort of god of the universe, and prove that we do live in a very

mathematical world. But, fractals, from their definition of complex natural patterns to models of growth, seem to

be proving that we are in a finite, definable universe, and that is why fractals are not only about mathematics, but

about seemingly about humans.