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NOVA: Fractals - Hunting the Hidden Dimension

4.7 out of 5 stars 226 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

What do movie special effects, the stock market, and heart attacks have in common? They are connected by a revolutionary new branch of math called fractals, which changed the way we see the world and opened up a vast new territory to scientific analysis and understanding. Meet the mathematicians who developed fractals from a mere curiosity to an approach that touches nearly every branch of understanding, including the fate of our universe.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Directors: Michael Schwarz, Bill Jersey
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    G
    General Audience
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: March 10, 2009
  • Run Time: 56 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (226 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001IBCS3C
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,456 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By ChristineMM TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 2, 2010
Format: DVD
I stumbled across this Nova documentary at the public library. It looked interesting, so I watched it with my two sons, who I homeschool, aged twelve and nine. I found the show to be fascinating. As a non-math person I found the show engaging and completely understandable. My twelve year old seemed to understand everything also. The show was not that dumbed down, as while watching it, it was apparent that some of it was going over the head of my nine year old but some of it stuck. (This is not a documentary for elementary grade aged children.)

If you don't know what it is, fractal geometry is a different geometry than classic or plane geometry. Fractal geometry is applied to three dimensional objects. That's about the simplest explanation I can give.

One thing I loved about the content and production of the show is that at first it seemed very abstract and possibly unimportant to the layperson's life but the show clearly showed how fractal geometry is relevant to modern living and has applications in the real world. When they explained that fractal geometry principals were used to create a new cell phone antennae that makes them more usable for customers around the world it was made clear that knowledge of fractals is important to daily life. It was said that engineers can use this new information in daily applications. Any time I can show my sons that math has applications in the real world that affect people's daily lives, I'm happy.

Another story of interest was that the tallest tree in a rainforest was studied. Measurements were taken of its trunk and branches and the fractal geometry calculations were in alignment with its size of growth.
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Format: DVD
This is an interesting and entertaining introduction to fractal geometry. It illustrates how the Julia and Mandelbrot sets were devised. Benoit B. Mandelbrot himself was dismissed and scoffed at by mathemeticians until he authored "The Factal Geometry of Nature", they then realized the connection of fractals & math and nature, even our bodies use it for economy of construction. There is order in so-called disorder except in cases of cancer. But computers were necessary to utilize the full potentials of fractals. This film offers graphic demonstrations. The spinoffs of B.Mandlebrot's book include the first ever computer generated special effects for Star Trek movies, some medical research applications, a quantum leap in design for antennaes for cell phones. Ships now from WGBH Boston.
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Format: DVD
On one hand, NOVA: Fractals - Hunting the Hidden Dimension is a fascinating introduction to fractals. Even those with weak backgrounds in mathematics or geometry (me!) will enjoy it. On the other hand, it is an attempt to tell the history of Mandelbrot's discoveries and their impact on the modern world. It's this second element that I found unsatisfying.

LACK OF HISTORICAL CONTEXT
--------------------------------
I think the producers of should have called it a tribute to Benoit B. Mandelbrot, because they did not really dig into the history of the fractals very well. We get a sense that there was a controversy about Mandelbrot, but never any details about his critics. The opposition appear in the movie as "straw men" who failed to recognize the work of a genius.

In fact, however, the history of the fractal seems to have been far more complex and interesting than a lone, rebel mathematician fighting the establishment. To be sure, Mandlebrot made groundbreaking progress with the application of his insights about fractals to nature, especially with the aid of the newly available technology of computers, but there is a historical context that the producers could have provided for us.

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING
--------------------------------
You can read Mandlebrot's own book to get a sense of the historical context. It is geared toward a general audience, and I found Mandlebrot to be quite willing himself to acknowledge the work of others:
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
"The book of nature is written in mathematics." Galileo

A tree, a bush, a cauliflaur, a brain, a lung system, what all these organic structures share in common is the use of repeating patterns to create a whole that in its macroscopic view is just like its microscopic view.

Called fractals they have also been employed mathematically to describe forces of nature and also knowledge itself.

In one of my very favorite quotes of all time, the late Isaac Asimov observed that "Knowledge has a fractal like structure. No matter how much we learn, whatever remains, no matter how seemingly small, is infinitely complex."

Amazingly though artists had already informally discovered them, fractals came to the fore mathematically only in 1979 when Benoit Mandlebroit began writing about them and their ubiquity in nature. Mandlebroit had been a Jew trapped in France during WWII. He had survived to quickly earn his Phd. and then acquire a reputation as an academic very willing to follow his own hunches.

Lucky for us Mandlebroit overcame early disdain for his discovery and pursued fractal research zealously. As alluded earlier in this notice, examples of both organic and inorganic uses of fractals have dominated research since 1979.

For its part this DVD does an excellent job of discussing the history and various applications of fractals and it also inspires the viewer to further study and exploration of this important area of mathematics which actually turns out to be an example of creation itself.

While nature's "book" may be written in mathematics, this DVD at least allows you to view a synopsis of this chapter on film.
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