Mr. Yazad Maneck Udwadia
Andrew Morrison Stumpff in his 2013 writing, “Law is a Fractal – The Attempt to Anticipate Everything” has made an attempt to create and give a certain structure to all thoughts about legality. We see that there can be an endless amount of possibilities of interplay between laws and illegal and legal rules, which makes for loads of discussions and debates about the boundaries defining these limits. When read together, they form a coherent whole, but also have possibilities of a divide that can make them pull in different directions. This Article will refer to, as well as critique, the three figures of the fractal described by Stumpff, to point out the areas of legality and illegality.
Analyzing the Legality of Activities through the Fractals of Andrew Stumpff
Humans are full of ideas. Humans are cognitive beings. Humans are thinkers.
While we live our daily lives, there is always a sense for us to create some pattern in our lives. Such patterns can be for anything possible, be it the most basic level of understanding how to go about our daily work until it becomes a routine, or be it applying our minds to tricky situations that we often encounter.
While growing up, we have all studied Geometry in school. This intriguing subject is one which demands attention and makes us think logically and constructively, while trying to anticipate the next step during problem solving. It taught us a life lesson, i.e. to be prepared in advance with an answer, when needed. This same attempt to create and give a certain structure to all thoughts about legality is something that has been discussed by Andrew Morrison Stumpff in his 2013 writing, Law is a Fractal – The Attempt to Anticipate Everything.
The rules to be followed in the practice and execution of Law are penned down in various scriptures and statutes. It is our cognitive ability to understand how and from which angle to interpret them. While doing so, we see that various interpretations arise due to interpreters using permutations and combinations to arrive at decisions. However, it is also seen that a two-dimensional analogy better reflects intuition.[i] This article will refer to, as well as critique, the three figures of the fractal described by Stumpff, to point out the areas of legality and illegality.
It is common parlance that at the most basic level of intuition and reasoning, there are only two ways of doing things, i.e. the right way and the wrong way. Stumpff has been spot on in bringing this logic into the legal field as well, by stating that all conduct can be termed as either legal or illegal. This distinction is very clear cut, forthright and sets a tone for enabling readers to have a detailed discussion of the three images.
Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3
The figures display a fractal, which is a mathematical term first used by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in 1975, basing it on the Latin frāctus, meaning “broken” or “fractured”, while using it to extend the concept of theoretical fractional dimensions to geometric patterns in nature.[ii]
The fractal design that Stumpff has used shows three figures wherein the grey shaded areas display illegality. The first figure that he uses is one which completely encompasses all illegal activities. Whatever is outside the boundary is a legal activity. The possibilities are endless, i.e. there is an infinitely large number of relevantly different factual scenarios.
I personally believe that if there is a set boundary for types of illegal activities, then this is a very good distinction. This shows us two aspects, the first being that Law is definitely very strict about certain activities, which are outright illegal. The second being that there is a vast scope of activities that are legal, due to the fact that there is no set boundary for the same. All illegal activities are distinctly mentioned together, leaving full scope for discussion relating to the activities which are legal in nature and can be undertaken by the public at large. The biggest takeaway in terms of learning from the first figure is that it shows us how to fit socially “immoral” activities into the scheme of things. Leaving aside the straight jacket division between legal and illegal activities, we enter into the realm of moral and immoral activities as well. There are many activities which are not illegal, but are termed as “immoral” and the discussions regarding such activities has been on the increase in the past few years. The figure by Stumpff clears the debate about where these should fit in as he makes it crystal clear that as long as any activity is not illegal, it will be beyond the set boundary of the grey area and cannot be treated or looked at as an illegal activity. Therefore, as long as the activity is not illegal, any act that may be seen by even most of society as immoral, is still within the boundaries of being a legal activity.
The second figure displays a very interesting situation of some activities which are legal, but can still be a part of the illegal circle. In the author’s words, it is a way of making “certain things legal which otherwise would be illegal.” A simple student life example of the same is when a teacher declares a rule stating that attendance for a class has a window of 15 minutes from the scheduled starting time i.e. no attendance will be granted post 09:15 for a 09:00 class. This in specific meaning implies that anyone entering after 09:15 (illegal activity as per this rule) will not be granted attendance. An exception here is if the teacher himself/herself walks into class post the scheduled starting time, i.e. if the teacher enters at 09:05, then the rule for attendance can be looked at as 15 minutes from the ‘time of the teacher entering’ and students will demand for attendance until 09:20, which the teacher will agree to. In this way, it is seen that a time limit of 09:20 (illegal activity) has been made legal and within the boundary of the rule.
The third figure is my personal favourite. It poses a conundrum that totally describes an area within an area. The dimensions and range are very pertinent to pinpoint. Andrew Stumpff states that within the exception that has been made in Figure 2, there will have to be a further exception made. This is depicted by the small standing bump which increases the illegal grey area in Figure 3. This shows us that even within the area of legality of activities, there must be an exception to show certain illegal activities as part of it. Relating this to the students-teacher situation, we can say that even if the teacher arrives later than the scheduled starting time of 09:00, the time for the 15 minute window may still end at 09:15 itself and not get delayed, if the teacher sends a mail in advance to the class stating that all students have to start working on an assignment from the scheduled starting time itself. This shows that even though there is legality in the exception for the time window being extended beyond 09:15 when the teacher comes late, as seen above, there can be an ‘exception to that exception’ wherein it will still be illegal to come post 09:15 in spite of the teacher entering later than the scheduled starting time.
In this manner, Andrew Stumpff’s work can be interpreted and enjoyed by using a mathematical analogy of the topic of permutations and combinations and probability ratios to interpret thee three figures. We see that there can be an endless amount of possibilities of the interplays between laws and illegal and legal rules. This makes for loads of discussions and debates about the boundaries that define the limits, and when read together, they form a coherent whole but also have possibilities of a divide that can make them pull in different directions. To conclude, the three diagrams described above are of immense relevance to the times we live in, where we see information dissipating through various mediums because of the way in which they are able to strike a balance between two categories, but still being accepting towards each other.
Mr. Yazad Maneck Udwadia is a Fifth Year Law Student, B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.), at Jindal Global Law School.
[i] Andrew Morrison Stumpff, Law is a Fractal – The Attempt to Anticipate Everything. Page 653, Volume 44, 2013 Loyola University Chicago Law Journal.
[ii] Mandelbrot, B. B.: The Fractal Geometry of Nature. W. H. Freeman and Company, New York (1982); p. 15