Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wild Side of Math Models

I had written about the late Benoit Mandelbrot in In the Mind’s Eye long ago because of his revolutionary and extremely visual approach to mathematics. More recently, I have been learning that he was almost certainly dyslexic -- which he had partly admitted to me in a joke during an MIT conference we both attended years ago. Then, more recently, I learned more of the extensive practical applications of his fractal concepts -- used, for example, in all cell phones.

But if that were not enough, I now read that he had warned against the mathematical models that crashed Wall Street in 2008. He is referred to several times in Scott Patterson’s book, The Quants -- How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It.

According to Patterson, “For years, critics on the fringes of the quant world had warned that trouble was brewing. Benoit Mandelbrot, for instance, the mathematician who decades earlier had warned the quants of the wild side of their mathematical models -- the seismic fat trails on the edges of the bell curve -- watched the financial panic of 2008 with a grim sense of recognition.” (p. 295)