Plotting the Mandelbrot Set

The video above gives a fantastic account of how we can use technology to generate the Mandelbrot Set – one of the most impressive mathematical structures you can imagine. The Mandelbrot Set can be thought of as an infinitely large picture – which contains fractal patterns no matter how far you enlarge it.  Below you can see a Mandelbrot zoom – which is equivalent to starting with a piece of A4 paper and enlarging it to the size of the universe!  Even at this magnification you would still see new patterns emerging.

The way the Mandelbrot set is formed in the first video is by using the following iterative process:

Zn+1 = Zn2 + c

Here Z is a complex number (of the form a + bi) and c is a constant that we choose.  We choose our initial Z value as 0.  Z1 = 0. We then choose a value of c (which is also a complex number) and see what happens when we follow the iterative process.

Let’s choose c = 2i +1. Z1 = 0

Zn+1 = Zn2 + 2i +1
Z2 = (0)2 + 2i +1
Z2 = 2i + 1

We then repeat this process:
Z3 = Z22 + 2i +1
Z3 = (2i+1)2 + 2i +1
Z3 = (2i)(2i) + 2i + 2i + 1 + 2i +1
Z3 = 6i-2 (as i.i = -1)

As we continue this process Zn spirals to infinity.

What we are looking for is whether this iterated Z value will diverge to infinity (i.e get larger and larger) or if it will remain bounded. If diverges to infinity we colour the initial point 2i+1 as blue on a complex axis. If it remains bounded we will colour it in black. In this case our initial point 2i+1 will diverge to infinity and so it will be coloured in blue.

So, let’s use Geogebra to see this is action.  The Geogrebra online program for this is here.

We choose a value for c.  Let’s say c = 0.23 + 0.42i.  Z1 = 0
Zn+1 = Zn2 + 0.23 + 0.42i.
Z2 = (0)2 + 0.23 + 0.42i.
Z2 = 0.23 + 0.42i.

Z3 = Z22 + 0.23 + 0.42i.
Z3 = (0.23 + 0.42i.)2 + 0.23 + 0.42i.
Z3 = 0.1065 + 0.6132i
Z4 = (0.1065 + 0.6132i)2 + 0.23 + 0.42i.
Z4 = -0.13467199 + 0.5506116i

We carry on with this iterative process and plot the points that we get each time.  We can see the (0.23, 0.42), (0.1065, 0.42) and (-0.13467199, 0.5506116) correspond to the first coordinates on the spiral after (0,0).  We can see that as this process continues we see a convergence to a point close to (0.05, 0.45).

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 3.09.17 PM

If we choose another starting value for c: c = 0.17 + 0.56i we get the following diagram:

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 3.09.33 PM

Again we have a stable spiral which spirals around a geometric shape and does not diverge to infinity.

If we choose another starting value for c: c = -0.25 + 0.64i we get the following diagram:

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 3.10.04 PM

If we choose another starting value for c: c = 0.11 + 0.59i we get the following diagram:

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 3.09.43 PM

However, If we choose another starting value for c: c = 0.3 + 0.68i we get the following diagram:

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 3.10.12 PM

This time we can see that the orbit of points does not converge, but instead it diverges to infinity.

We can then colour in each point – simply categorising whether the value of c leads to an orbit which diverges or remains bounded.  Black means it remains bounded, blue that it has escaped to infinity.  So, below we can see that when we do the iterative process with c = 0.39+ 0.63i our orbit will escape to infinity (as it is coloured blue)

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 3.13.45 PM

If we do this exercise in much finer detail we arrive at the following picture:

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 3.14.02 PM

This is the Mandelbrot Set – and will keep producing fractal patterns as you zoom in to infinity.