by SFI External Professor Fred Cooper
Among all my friends, Mitchell was the most unusual and brilliant. He viewed the world through the lens of a scientist. When he walked through the forest he wondered “at what distance do the trees merge and become inseparable?” When he looked at the moon he wondered “why does the moon appear larger when it is on the horizon?” He then needed to develop a theory to explain these phenomena “from scratch.” This led him to study how vision evolved from fish to humans and why optical illusions occur as a result of “mistakes” made by our sensory cognition. When he was asked by Pete Carruthers, “what is the origin of turbulence?” Mitchell looked at the simplest nonlinear system — the logistic map where bifurcations took place. This led to the famous Feigenbaum numbers, which were an essential part in understanding the onset of chaos.
Mitchell had a great love of music and again wondered how can one improve on digital technology so that the sound of the onset of a bow string could be captured. His interest in photography led him to write computer codes to undo the mistakes made by existing copying machines so that a perfect image could be printed. I found it fascinating that not only did he ask these questions, which were unusual to me, but then he dropped everything to figure out the answer. This also led to the production of maps with minimal distortion and computer codes for figuring out how to label maps in the clearest fashion.
Mitchell was a dear friend and he will be missed.
Editor’s note: Mitchell Feigenbaum died June 30, 2019, at age 74. Rockefeller University writes more about Feigenbaum’s life and career.