The Mandelbrot set is defined using an iterative function



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Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010) is known as the “father of fractal geometry.” He invented the term “fractal,” and used the new field of computation and digital computers to explore complex mathematical objects that had previously only been studied in the abstract.

  • Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010) is known as the “father of fractal geometry.” He invented the term “fractal,” and used the new field of computation and digital computers to explore complex mathematical objects that had previously only been studied in the abstract.

  • The Mandelbrot set is defined using an iterative function: xt+1 = xt + c, where xt = 0.

  • The magnitude of a complex number a + bi, is the Euclidean distance of that point from the origin of the complex plane, i.e., √a2 + b2

  • For a given value c, it turns out that the magnitude of xt+1 will do one of two things:

    • It will always be smaller than 2 (no matter how large t gets), or
    • It will eventually diverge (i.e., xt will go to ∞ as t goes to ∞).
  • The Mandelbrot set is defined as the set of values c for which xt+1 remains smaller than 2.



The Mandelbrot set contains those values of c for which the magnitude xt remains smaller than 2 for all t.

  • The Mandelbrot set contains those values of c for which the magnitude xt remains smaller than 2 for all t.

  • But we have no easy way to know whether the Mandelbrot series diverges for a given value of c!

    • If we compute the Mandelbrot series for some value c and the magnitude of xt ever becomes greater than 2, that value c is definitely not in the Mandelbrot set. (It is a property of the series that if xt is greater than 2, then subsequent values will always increase.)
    • But a Mandelbrot series may remain below 2 for arbitrarily long before diverging, and the only way to tell if it will diverge is to compute the sequence for long enough.




Long before Mandelbrot, Gaston Julia (1893-1978) had studied a similar function. (In fact, Mandelbrot started out by studying the Julia set...) Here, c is fixed complex number (so we talk about “the Julia set for c = some value”) and x1 is the point being examined (i.e., the point that is plotted in a display of the Julia set as belonging to that Julia set (or not)).

  • Long before Mandelbrot, Gaston Julia (1893-1978) had studied a similar function. (In fact, Mandelbrot started out by studying the Julia set...) Here, c is fixed complex number (so we talk about “the Julia set for c = some value”) and x1 is the point being examined (i.e., the point that is plotted in a display of the Julia set as belonging to that Julia set (or not)).

  • Julia examined what happens to the series for a given c and x1 as i increases. As with points in the Mandelbrot set, each such series either diverges, or it does not.

  • Without the aid of computers, Julia could only sketch relatively crude drawings of these shapes. Today, we can compute the Julia set for any value, to an arbitrary degree of resolution.



c = -0.375 + 0.61875i

  • c = -0.375 + 0.61875i



c = -1.16875 - 0.2875i

  • c = -1.16875 - 0.2875i



c = -0.04375 + 0.9875i

  • c = -0.04375 + 0.9875i



Some Julia sets consist of infinitely many disconnected regions; others are a single contiguous region (although they may be connected only by arbitrarily fine “filaments”).

  • Some Julia sets consist of infinitely many disconnected regions; others are a single contiguous region (although they may be connected only by arbitrarily fine “filaments”).

  • The Mandelbrot set serves as a “map” of all the Julia sets.

  • If a point is inside the Mandelbrot set (colored black), then the corresponding Julia set is contiguous.

  • The closer a point is to any border area of the Mandelbrot set, the more complex that Julia set will be.

  • Julia sets often seem to share similar visual characteristics to the corresponding point in the Mandelbrot set.

  • The NetLogo model posted on the course page lets you explore the Mandelbrot set and corresponding Julia sets: http://www.csee.umbc.edu/~mariedj/complexity/2012/Mandelbrot.nlogo









The Mandelbrot set is perhaps the most complex object in mathematics.

  • The Mandelbrot set is perhaps the most complex object in mathematics.

  • One could spend a lifetime exploring it and never see all of it.

  • It contains infinitely many imperfect copies of the set within it, none of them matching any other copy.

  • YouTube user ckorda spent 5 months with about 15 PCs all rendering a video of a Mandelbrot zoom to a depth of 2316 (about 1095):

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QskAoLIzuI

  • One can zoom as far as your computing power and patience holds up: the NetLogo model can do up to a one-billion zoom, depending on the region.





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