Blaise Pascal

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Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal Versailles.JPG
Painting of Blaise Pascal made by François II Quesnel for Gérard Edelinck in 1691
Born(1623-06-19)19 June 1623
Died19 August 1662(1662-08-19) (aged 39)
Paris, France
ResidenceFrance
Nationality French
Era 17th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Jansenism
Main interests
  • Theology
  • Mathematics
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
Notable ideas

Blaise Pascal ( /pæˈskæl, pɑːˈskɑːl/ ; [3] French:  [blɛz paskal] ; 19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic theologian. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen. Pascal's earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences where he made important contributions to the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalising the work of Evangelista Torricelli. Pascal also wrote in defence of the scientific method.

Mathematician person with an extensive knowledge of mathematics

A mathematician is someone who uses an extensive knowledge of mathematics in his or her work, typically to solve mathematical problems.

Physicist scientist who does research in physics

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies.

Catholic Church Christian church led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's "oldest continuously functioning international institution", it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

Contents

In 1642, while still a teenager, he started some pioneering work on calculating machines. After three years of effort and 50 prototypes, [4] he built 20 finished machines (called Pascal's calculators and later Pascalines) over the following 10 years, [5] establishing him as one of the first two inventors of the mechanical calculator. [6] [7]

Pascals calculator mechanical calculator

Pascal's calculator is a mechanical calculator invented by Blaise Pascal in the early 17th century. Pascal was led to develop a calculator by the laborious arithmetical calculations required by his father's work as supervisor of taxes in Rouen. He designed the machine to add and subtract two numbers directly and to perform multiplication and division through repeated addition or subtraction.

Mechanical calculator mechanical machine for arithmetic operations

A mechanical calculator, or calculating machine, is a mechanical device used to perform automatically the basic operations of arithmetic. Most mechanical calculators were comparable in size to small desktop computers and have been rendered obsolete by the advent of the electronic calculator.

Pascal was an important mathematician, helping create two major new areas of research: he wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of 16, and later corresponded with Pierre de Fermat on probability theory, strongly influencing the development of modern economics and social science. Following Galileo Galilei and Torricelli, in 1647, he rebutted Aristotle's followers who insisted that nature abhors a vacuum. Pascal's results caused many disputes before being accepted.

Projective geometry Type of geometry

Projective geometry is a topic in mathematics. It is the study of geometric properties that are invariant with respect to projective transformations. This means that, compared to elementary geometry, projective geometry has a different setting, projective space, and a selective set of basic geometric concepts. The basic intuitions are that projective space has more points than Euclidean space, for a given dimension, and that geometric transformations are permitted that transform the extra points to Euclidean points, and vice versa.

Pierre de Fermat French mathematician and lawyer

Pierre de Fermat was a French lawyer at the Parlement of Toulouse, France, and a mathematician who is given credit for early developments that led to infinitesimal calculus, including his technique of adequality. In particular, he is recognized for his discovery of an original method of finding the greatest and the smallest ordinates of curved lines, which is analogous to that of differential calculus, then unknown, and his research into number theory. He made notable contributions to analytic geometry, probability, and optics. He is best known for his Fermat's principle for light propagation and his Fermat's Last Theorem in number theory, which he described in a note at the margin of a copy of Diophantus' Arithmetica.

Probability theory is the branch of mathematics concerned with probability. Although there are several different probability interpretations, probability theory treats the concept in a rigorous mathematical manner by expressing it through a set of axioms. Typically these axioms formalise probability in terms of a probability space, which assigns a measure taking values between 0 and 1, termed the probability measure, to a set of outcomes called the sample space. Any specified subset of these outcomes is called an event.

In 1646, he and his sister Jacqueline identified with the religious movement within Catholicism known by its detractors as Jansenism. [8] Following a religious experience in late 1654, he began writing influential works on philosophy and theology. His two most famous works date from this period: the Lettres provinciales and the Pensées , the former set in the conflict between Jansenists and Jesuits. In that year, he also wrote an important treatise on the arithmetical triangle. Between 1658 and 1659, he wrote on the cycloid and its use in calculating the volume of solids.

Jansenism Christian theological movement

Jansenism was a theological movement, primarily in France, that emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace and predestination. The movement originated from the posthumously published work of the Dutch theologian Cornelius Jansen, who died in 1638. It was first popularized by Jansen's friend Abbot Jean du Vergier de Hauranne, of Saint-Cyran-en-Brenne Abbey, and, after du Vergier's death in 1643, was led by Antoine Arnauld. Through the 17th and into the 18th centuries, Jansenism was a distinct movement away from the Catholic Church. The theological centre of the movement was the convent of Port-Royal-des-Champs Abbey, which was a haven for writers including du Vergier, Arnauld, Pierre Nicole, Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine.

The Lettres provinciales are a series of eighteen letters written by French philosopher and theologian Blaise Pascal under the pseudonym Louis de Montalte. Written in the midst of the formulary controversy between the Jansenists and the Jesuits, they are a defense of the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld from Port-Royal-des-Champs, a friend of Pascal who in 1656 was condemned by the Faculté de Théologie at the Sorbonne in Paris for views that were claimed to be heretical. The First letter is dated January 23, 1656 and the Eighteenth March 24, 1657. A fragmentary Nineteenth letter is frequently included with the other eighteen.

<i>Pensées</i> book

The Pensées ("Thoughts") is a collection of fragments on theology and philosophy written by 17th-century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal. Pascal's religious conversion led him into a life of asceticism, and the Pensées was in many ways his life's work. The Pensées represented Pascal's defense of the Christian religion. The concept of "Pascal's Wager" stems from a portion of this work.

Throughout his life, Pascal was in frail health, especially after the age of 18; he died just two months after his 39th birthday. [9]

Early life and education

Pascal was born in Clermont-Ferrand, which is in France's Auvergne region. He lost his mother, Antoinette Begon, at the age of three. [10] His father, Étienne Pascal (1588–1651), who also had an interest in science and mathematics, was a local judge and member of the "Noblesse de Robe". Pascal had two sisters, the younger Jacqueline and the elder Gilberte.

Clermont-Ferrand Prefecture and commune in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Clermont-Ferrand is a city and commune of France, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, with a population of 141,569 (2012). Its metropolitan area had 467,178 inhabitants at the 2011 census. It is the prefecture (capital) of the Puy-de-Dôme department. Olivier Bianchi is its current mayor.

Étienne Pascal was a French chief tax officer and the father of Blaise Pascal.

Nobles of the Robe

Under the Old Regime of France, the Nobles of the Robe or Nobles of the Gown were French aristocrats whose rank came from holding certain judicial or administrative posts. As a rule, the positions did not of themselves give the holder a title of nobility, such as baron, count, or duke, but they were almost always attached to a specific function. The offices were often hereditary, and by 1789, most had inherited their positions. The most influential of them were the 1,100 members of the 13 parlements, or courts of appeal. They were distinct from the "Nobles of the Sword", whose nobility was based on their families' traditional function as the knightly class and whose titles were usually attached to a particular feudal fiefdom, a landed estate held in return for military service. Together with the older nobility, the Nobles of the Robe made up the Second Estate in pre-revolutionary France.

In 1631, five years after the death of his wife, [2] Étienne Pascal moved with his children to Paris. The newly arrived family soon hired Louise Delfault, a maid who eventually became an instrumental member of the family. Étienne, who never remarried, decided that he alone would educate his children, for they all showed extraordinary intellectual ability, particularly his son Blaise. The young Pascal showed an amazing aptitude for mathematics and science.

Portrait of Pascal Blaise Pascal 2.jpg
Portrait of Pascal

Particularly of interest to Pascal was a work of Desargues on conic sections. Following Desargues' thinking, the 16-year-old Pascal produced, as a means of proof, a short treatise on what was called the "Mystic Hexagram", Essai pour les coniques ("Essay on Conics") and sent it—his first serious work of mathematics—to Père Mersenne in Paris; it is known still today as Pascal's theorem. It states that if a hexagon is inscribed in a circle (or conic) then the three intersection points of opposite sides lie on a line (called the Pascal line).

Pascal's work was so precocious that Descartes was convinced that Pascal's father had written it. When assured by Mersenne that it was, indeed, the product of the son and not the father, Descartes dismissed it with a sniff: "I do not find it strange that he has offered demonstrations about conics more appropriate than those of the ancients," adding, "but other matters related to this subject can be proposed that would scarcely occur to a 16-year-old child." [11]

In France at that time offices and positions could be—and were—bought and sold. In 1631, Étienne sold his position as second president of the Cour des Aides for 65,665 livres. [12] The money was invested in a government bond which provided, if not a lavish, then certainly a comfortable income which allowed the Pascal family to move to, and enjoy, Paris. But in 1638 Richelieu, desperate for money to carry on the Thirty Years' War, defaulted on the government's bonds. Suddenly Étienne Pascal's worth had dropped from nearly 66,000 livres to less than 7,300.

An early Pascaline on display at the Musee des Arts et Metiers, Paris Pascaline-CnAM 823-1-IMG 1506-black.jpg
An early Pascaline on display at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris

Like so many others, Étienne was eventually forced to flee Paris because of his opposition to the fiscal policies of Cardinal Richelieu, leaving his three children in the care of his neighbour Madame Sainctot, a great beauty with an infamous past who kept one of the most glittering and intellectual salons in all France. It was only when Jacqueline performed well in a children's play with Richelieu in attendance that Étienne was pardoned. In time, Étienne was back in good graces with the cardinal and in 1639 had been appointed the king's commissioner of taxes in the city of Rouen—a city whose tax records, thanks to uprisings, were in utter chaos.

In 1642, in an effort to ease his father's endless, exhausting calculations, and recalculations, of taxes owed and paid (into which work the young Pascal had been recruited), Pascal, not yet 19, constructed a mechanical calculator capable of addition and subtraction, called Pascal's calculator or the Pascaline. Of the eight Pascalines known to have survived, four are held by the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris and one more by the Zwinger museum in Dresden, Germany, exhibit two of his original mechanical calculators. [13] Although these machines are pioneering forerunners to a further 400 years of development of mechanical methods of calculation, and in a sense to the later field of computer engineering, the calculator failed to be a great commercial success. Partly because it was still quite cumbersome to use in practice, but probably primarily because it was extraordinarily expensive, the Pascaline became little more than a toy, and a status symbol, for the very rich both in France and elsewhere in Europe. Pascal continued to make improvements to his design through the next decade, and he refers to some 50 machines that were built to his design.

Contributions to mathematics

Pascal's triangle. Each number is the sum of the two directly above it. The triangle demonstrates many mathematical properties in addition to showing binomial coefficients. PascalTriangleAnimated2.gif
Pascal's triangle. Each number is the sum of the two directly above it. The triangle demonstrates many mathematical properties in addition to showing binomial coefficients.

Pascal continued to influence mathematics throughout his life. His Traité du triangle arithmétique ("Treatise on the Arithmetical Triangle") of 1653 described a convenient tabular presentation for binomial coefficients, now called Pascal's triangle. The triangle can also be represented:

0123456
01111111
1123456
21361015
3141020
41515
516
61

He defines the numbers in the triangle by recursion: Call the number in the (m + 1)th row and (n + 1)th column tmn. Then tmn = tm–1,n + tm,n–1, for m = 0, 1, 2, ... and n = 0, 1, 2, ... The boundary conditions are tm,−1 = 0, t−1,n = 0 for m = 1, 2, 3, ... and n = 1, 2, 3, ... The generator t00 = 1. Pascal concludes with the proof,

In 1654, he proved Pascal's identity relating the sums of the p-th powers of the first n positive integers for p = 0, 1, 2, ..., k. [14]

In 1654, prompted by his friend the Chevalier de Méré, he corresponded with Pierre de Fermat on the subject of gambling problems, and from that collaboration was born the mathematical theory of probabilities. [15] The specific problem was that of two players who want to finish a game early and, given the current circumstances of the game, want to divide the stakes fairly, based on the chance each has of winning the game from that point. From this discussion, the notion of expected value was introduced. Pascal later (in the Pensées) used a probabilistic argument, Pascal's Wager, to justify belief in God and a virtuous life. The work done by Fermat and Pascal into the calculus of probabilities laid important groundwork for Leibniz' formulation of the calculus. [16]

After a religious experience in 1654, Pascal mostly gave up work in mathematics.

Philosophy of mathematics

Pascal's major contribution to the philosophy of mathematics came with his De l'Esprit géométrique ("Of the Geometrical Spirit"), originally written as a preface to a geometry textbook for one of the famous " Petites-Ecoles de Port-Royal" ("Little Schools of Port-Royal"). The work was unpublished until over a century after his death. Here, Pascal looked into the issue of discovering truths, arguing that the ideal of such a method would be to found all propositions on already established truths. At the same time, however, he claimed this was impossible because such established truths would require other truths to back them up—first principles, therefore, cannot be reached. Based on this, Pascal argued that the procedure used in geometry was as perfect as possible, with certain principles assumed and other propositions developed from them. Nevertheless, there was no way to know the assumed principles to be true.

Pascal also used De l'Esprit géométrique to develop a theory of definition. He distinguished between definitions which are conventional labels defined by the writer and definitions which are within the language and understood by everyone because they naturally designate their referent. The second type would be characteristic of the philosophy of essentialism. Pascal claimed that only definitions of the first type were important to science and mathematics, arguing that those fields should adopt the philosophy of formalism as formulated by Descartes.

In De l'Art de persuader ("On the Art of Persuasion"), Pascal looked deeper into geometry's axiomatic method, specifically the question of how people come to be convinced of the axioms upon which later conclusions are based. Pascal agreed with Montaigne that achieving certainty in these axioms and conclusions through human methods is impossible. He asserted that these principles can be grasped only through intuition, and that this fact underscored the necessity for submission to God in searching out truths.

Contributions to the physical sciences

An illustration of the (apocryphal) Pascal's barrel experiment Pascal's Barrel.png
An illustration of the (apocryphal) Pascal's barrel experiment

Pascal's work in the fields of the study of hydrodynamics and hydrostatics centered on the principles of hydraulic fluids. His inventions include the hydraulic press (using hydraulic pressure to multiply force) and the syringe. He proved that hydrostatic pressure depends not on the weight of the fluid but on the elevation difference. He demonstrated this principle by attaching a thin tube to a barrel full of water and filling the tube with water up to the level of the third floor of a building. This caused the barrel to leak, in what became known as Pascal's barrel experiment.

By 1647, Pascal had learned of Evangelista Torricelli's experimentation with barometers. Having replicated an experiment that involved placing a tube filled with mercury upside down in a bowl of mercury, Pascal questioned what force kept some mercury in the tube and what filled the space above the mercury in the tube. At the time, most scientists contended that, rather than a vacuum, some invisible matter was present. This was based on the Aristotelian notion that creation was a thing of substance, whether visible or invisible; and that this substance was forever in motion. Furthermore, "Everything that is in motion must be moved by something," Aristotle declared. [17] Therefore, to the Aristotelian trained scientists of Pascal's time, a vacuum was an impossibility. How so? As proof it was pointed out:

Following more experimentation in this vein, in 1647 Pascal produced Experiences nouvelles touchant le vide ("New experiments with the vacuum"), which detailed basic rules describing to what degree various liquids could be supported by air pressure. It also provided reasons why it was indeed a vacuum above the column of liquid in a barometer tube. This work was followed by Récit de la grande expérience de l'équilibre des liqueurs ("Account of the great experiment on equilibrium in liquids") published in 1648.

The Torricellian vacuum found that air pressure is equal to the weight of 30 inches of mercury. If air has a finite weight, Earth's atmosphere must have a maximum height. Pascal reasoned that if true, air pressure on a high mountain must be less than at a lower altitude. He lived near the Puy de Dôme mountain, 4,790 feet (1,460 m) tall, but his health was poor so could not climb it. [18] On 19 September 1648, after many months of Pascal's friendly but insistent prodding, Florin Périer, husband of Pascal's elder sister Gilberte, was finally able to carry out the fact-finding mission vital to Pascal's theory. The account, written by Périer, reads:

The weather was chancy last Saturday...[but] around five o'clock that morning...the Puy-de-Dôme was visible...so I decided to give it a try. Several important people of the city of Clermont had asked me to let them know when I would make the ascent...I was delighted to have them with me in this great work...

...at eight o'clock we met in the gardens of the Minim Fathers, which has the lowest elevation in town....First I poured 16 pounds of quicksilver...into a vessel...then took several glass tubes...each four feet long and hermetically sealed at one end and opened at the other...then placed them in the vessel [of quicksilver]...I found the quick silver stood at 26" and 312 lines above the quicksilver in the vessel...I repeated the experiment two more times while standing in the same spot...[they] produced the same result each time...

I attached one of the tubes to the vessel and marked the height of the quicksilver and...asked Father Chastin, one of the Minim Brothers...to watch if any changes should occur through the day...Taking the other tube and a portion of the quick silver...I walked to the top of Puy-de-Dôme, about 500 fathoms higher than the monastery, where upon experiment...found that the quicksilver reached a height of only 23" and 2 lines...I repeated the experiment five times with care...each at different points on the summit...found the same height of quicksilver...in each case... [19]

Pascal replicated the experiment in Paris by carrying a barometer up to the top of the bell tower at the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, a height of about 50 metres. The mercury dropped two lines.

In the face of criticism that some invisible matter must exist in Pascal's empty space, Pascal, in his reply to Estienne Noel, gave one of the 17th century's major statements on the scientific method, which is a striking anticipation of the idea popularised by Karl Popper that scientific theories are characterised by their falsifiability: "In order to show that a hypothesis is evident, it does not suffice that all the phenomena follow from it; instead, if it leads to something contrary to a single one of the phenomena, that suffices to establish its falsity." [20] His insistence on the existence of the vacuum also led to conflict with other prominent scientists, including Descartes.

Pascal introduced a primitive form of roulette and the roulette wheel in his search for a perpetual motion machine. [21]

Adult life, religion, philosophy, and literature

For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées No. 72

Religious conversion

Pascal studying the cycloid, by Augustin Pajou, 1785, Louvre Pascal Pajou Louvre RF2981.jpg
Pascal studying the cycloid, by Augustin Pajou, 1785, Louvre

In the winter of 1646, Pascal's 58-year-old father broke his hip when he slipped and fell on an icy street of Rouen; given the man's age and the state of medicine in the 17th century, a broken hip could be a very serious condition, perhaps even fatal. Rouen was home to two of the finest doctors in France: Monsieur Doctor Deslandes and Monsieur Doctor de La Bouteillerie. The elder Pascal "would not let anyone other than these men attend him...It was a good choice, for the old man survived and was able to walk again..." [22] But treatment and rehabilitation took three months, during which time La Bouteillerie and Deslandes had become regular visitors.

Both men were followers of Jean Guillebert, proponent of a splinter group from Catholic teaching known as Jansenism. This still fairly small sect was making surprising inroads into the French Catholic community at that time. It espoused rigorous Augustinism. Blaise spoke with the doctors frequently, and after their successful treatment of his father, borrowed from them works by Jansenist authors. In this period, Pascal experienced a sort of "first conversion" and began to write on theological subjects in the course of the following year.

Pascal fell away from this initial religious engagement and experienced a few years of what some biographers have called his "worldly period" (1648–54). His father died in 1651 and left his inheritance to Pascal and his sister Jacqueline, for whom Pascal acted as conservator. Jacqueline announced that she would soon become a postulant in the Jansenist convent of Port-Royal. Pascal was deeply affected and very sad, not because of her choice, but because of his chronic poor health; he needed her just as she had needed him.

Suddenly there was war in the Pascal household. Blaise pleaded with Jacqueline not to leave, but she was adamant. He commanded her to stay, but that didn't work, either. At the heart of this was...Blaise's fear of abandonment...if Jacqueline entered Port-Royal, she would have to leave her inheritance behind...[but] nothing would change her mind. [23]

By the end of October in 1651, a truce had been reached between brother and sister. In return for a healthy annual stipend, Jacqueline signed over her part of the inheritance to her brother. Gilberte had already been given her inheritance in the form of a dowry. In early January, Jacqueline left for Port-Royal. On that day, according to Gilberte concerning her brother, "He retired very sadly to his rooms without seeing Jacqueline, who was waiting in the little parlor..." [24] In early June 1653, after what must have seemed like endless badgering from Jacqueline, Pascal formally signed over the whole of his sister's inheritance to Port-Royal, which, to him, "had begun to smell like a cult." [25] With two thirds of his father's estate now gone, the 29-year-old Pascal was now consigned to genteel poverty.

For a while, Pascal pursued the life of a bachelor. During visits to his sister at Port-Royal in 1654, he displayed contempt for affairs of the world but was not drawn to God. [26]

Brush with death

On 23 November 1654, between 10:30 and 12:30 at night, Pascal had an intense religious vision and immediately recorded the experience in a brief note to himself which began: "Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars..." and concluded by quoting Psalm 119:16: "I will not forget thy word. Amen." He seems to have carefully sewn this document into his coat and always transferred it when he changed clothes; a servant discovered it only by chance after his death. [27] This piece is now known as the Memorial. The story of the carriage accident[ clarification needed ] as having led to the experience described in the Memorial is disputed by some scholars. [28] His belief and religious commitment revitalized, Pascal visited the older of two convents at Port-Royal for a two-week retreat in January 1655. For the next four years, he regularly travelled between Port-Royal and Paris. It was at this point immediately after his conversion when he began writing his first major literary work on religion, the Provincial Letters.

The Provincial Letters

Beginning in 1656–57, Pascal published his memorable attack on casuistry, a popular ethical method used by Catholic thinkers in the early modern period (especially the Jesuits, and in particular Antonio Escobar). Pascal denounced casuistry as the mere use of complex reasoning to justify moral laxity and all sorts of sins. The 18-letter series was published between 1656 and 1657 under the pseudonym Louis de Montalte and incensed Louis XIV. The king ordered that the book be shredded and burnt in 1660. In 1661, in the midsts of the formulary controversy, the Jansenist school at Port-Royal was condemned and closed down; those involved with the school had to sign a 1656 papal bull condemning the teachings of Jansen as heretical. The final letter from Pascal, in 1657, had defied Alexander VII himself. Even Pope Alexander, while publicly opposing them, nonetheless was persuaded by Pascal's arguments.

Aside from their religious influence, the Provincial Letters were popular as a literary work. Pascal's use of humor, mockery, and vicious satire in his arguments made the letters ripe for public consumption, and influenced the prose of later French writers like Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Charles Perrault wrote of the Letters: "Everything is there—purity of language, nobility of thought, solidity in reasoning, finesse in raillery, and throughout an agrément not to be found anywhere else." [29]

The Pensées

Pascal's most influential theological work, referred to posthumously as the Pensées ("Thoughts"), was not completed before his death. It was to have been a sustained and coherent examination and defense of the Christian faith, with the original title Apologie de la religion Chrétienne ("Defense of the Christian Religion"). The first version of the numerous scraps of paper found after his death appeared in print as a book in 1669 titled Pensées de M. Pascal sur la religion, et sur quelques autres sujets ("Thoughts of M. Pascal on religion, and on some other subjects") and soon thereafter became a classic. One of the Apologie's main strategies was to use the contradictory philosophies of skepticism and stoicism, personalized by Montaigne on one hand, and Epictetus on the other, in order to bring the unbeliever to such despair and confusion that he would embrace God.

Pascal's Pensées is widely considered to be a masterpiece, and a landmark in French prose. When commenting on one particular section (Thought #72), Sainte-Beuve praised it as the finest pages in the French language. [30] Will Durant hailed the Pensées as "the most eloquent book in French prose". [31]

Last works and death

Pascal's epitaph in Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, where he was buried Epitaph Blaise Pascal Saint-Etienne.jpg
Pascal's epitaph in Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, where he was buried

T. S. Eliot described him during this phase of his life as "a man of the world among ascetics, and an ascetic among men of the world." Pascal's ascetic lifestyle derived from a belief that it was natural and necessary for a person to suffer. In 1659, Pascal fell seriously ill. During his last years, he frequently tried to reject the ministrations of his doctors, saying, "Sickness is the natural state of Christians." [32]

Louis XIV suppressed the Jansenist movement at Port-Royal in 1661. In response, Pascal wrote one of his final works, Écrit sur la signature du formulaire ("Writ on the Signing of the Form"), exhorting the Jansenists not to give in. Later that year, his sister Jacqueline died, which convinced Pascal to cease his polemics on Jansenism. Pascal's last major achievement, returning to his mechanical genius, was inaugurating perhaps the first bus line, the carrosses à cinq sols, moving passengers within Paris in a carriage with many seats.

In 1662, Pascal's illness became more violent, and his emotional condition had severely worsened since his sister's death. Aware that his health was fading quickly, he sought a move to the hospital for incurable diseases, but his doctors declared that he was too unstable to be carried. In Paris on 18 August 1662, Pascal went into convulsions and received extreme unction. He died the next morning, his last words being "May God never abandon me," and was buried in the cemetery of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. [32]

An autopsy performed after his death revealed grave problems with his stomach and other organs of his abdomen, along with damage to his brain. Despite the autopsy, the cause of his poor health was never precisely determined, though speculation focuses on tuberculosis, stomach cancer, or a combination of the two. [33] The headaches which afflicted Pascal are generally attributed to his brain lesion.

Legacy

Death mask of Blaise Pascal. 001Paskal.JPG
Death mask of Blaise Pascal.

In honour of his scientific contributions, the name Pascal has been given to the SI unit of pressure, to a programming language, and Pascal's law (an important principle of hydrostatics), and as mentioned above, Pascal's triangle and Pascal's wager still bear his name.

Pascal's development of probability theory was his most influential contribution to mathematics. Originally applied to gambling, today it is extremely important in economics, especially in actuarial science. John Ross writes, "Probability theory and the discoveries following it changed the way we regard uncertainty, risk, decision-making, and an individual's and society's ability to influence the course of future events." [34] However, it should be noted that Pascal and Fermat, though doing important early work in probability theory, did not develop the field very far. Christiaan Huygens, learning of the subject from the correspondence of Pascal and Fermat, wrote the first book on the subject. Later figures who continued the development of the theory include Abraham de Moivre and Pierre-Simon Laplace.

In literature, Pascal is regarded as one of the most important authors of the French Classical Period and is read today as one of the greatest masters of French prose. His use of satire and wit influenced later polemicists. The content of his literary work is best remembered for its strong opposition to the rationalism of René Descartes and simultaneous assertion that the main countervailing philosophy, empiricism, was also insufficient for determining major truths.

In France, prestigious annual awards, Blaise Pascal Chairs are given to outstanding international scientists to conduct their research in the Ile de France region. [35] One of the Universities of Clermont-Ferrand, France – Université Blaise Pascal – is named after him. The University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, holds an annual math contest named in his honour. [36]

Pascalian theology has grown out of his perspective that we are, according to Wood, "born into a duplicitous world that shapes us into duplicitous subjects and so we find it easy to reject God continually and deceive ourselves about our own sinfulness". [37]

Roberto Rossellini directed a filmed biopic, Blaise Pascal, which originally aired on Italian television in 1971. [38] Pascal was a subject of the first edition of the 1984 BBC Two documentary, Sea of Faith , presented by Don Cupitt.

In 2014, Nvidia announced its new Pascal microarchitecture, which is named for Pascal. The first graphics cards featuring Pascal were released in 2016.

The 2017 game Nier: Automata has multiple characters named after famous philosophers; one of these is a sentient pacifistic machine named Pascal, who serves as a major supporting character. Pascal creates a village for machines to live peacefully with the androids they're at war with and acts as a parental figure for other machines trying to adapt to their newly-found individuality.

Works

See also

Related Research Articles

Pascals wager Argument that posits that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or does not.

Pascal's wager is an argument in philosophy presented by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662). It posits that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or does not.

Wilhelm Schickard Computer pioneer

Wilhelm Schickard was a German professor of Hebrew and Astronomy who became famous in the second part of the 20th century after Dr. Franz Hammer, a biographer of Johannes Kepler, claimed that the drawings of a calculating clock, predating the public release of Pascal's calculator by twenty years, had been discovered in two unknown letters written by Schickard to Johannes Kepler in 1623 and 1624.

The year 1642 in science and technology involved some significant events.

Musée des Arts et Métiers museum

The Musée des Arts et Métiers is an industrial design museum in Paris that houses the collection of the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, which was founded in 1794 as a repository for the preservation of scientific instruments and inventions.

The year 1653 in science and technology involved some significant events.

Joseph Bertrand French mathematician

Joseph Louis François Bertrand was a French mathematician who worked in the fields of number theory, differential geometry, probability theory, economics and thermodynamics.

Antoine de Laloubère French mathematician

Antoine de Laloubère, a Jesuit, born in Languedoc, is chiefly known for an incorrect solution of Pascal's problems on the cycloid, which he gave in 1660, but he has a better claim to distinction in having been the first mathematician to study the properties of the helix.

Lucien Goldmann was a French philosopher and sociologist of Jewish-Romanian origin. A professor at the EHESS in Paris, he was a Marxist theorist.

The problem of points, also called the problem of division of the stakes, is a classical problem in probability theory. One of the famous problems that motivated the beginnings of modern probability theory in the 17th century, it led Blaise Pascal to the first explicit reasoning about what today is known as an expected value.

Science and technology in France has a long history dating back to the Acádémie des Sciences, founded by Louis XIV in 1666, at the suggestion of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to encourage and protect the spirit of French scientific research. France's achievements in science and technology have been significant throughout the past centuries as France's economic growth and industrialisation process was slow and steady along the 18th and 19th centuries. Research and development efforts form an integral part of the country's economy.

Pierre de Carcavi was born in about 1603, in Lyon, France and died in Paris in April 1684. He was a secretary of the National Library of France under Louis XIV. Carcavi was a French mathematician.

Marguerite Périer

Marguerite Périer was a French nun and follower of Jansenism. She was the niece of Blaise Pascal, and wrote a biography of her uncle that has been preserved.

Cornelis de Waard was a Dutch math teacher and a historian who specialized in researching science and mathematics of the seventeenth century.

References

  1. Vincent Jullien (ed.), Seventeenth-Century Indivisibles Revisited, Birkhäuser, 2015, p. 188.
  2. 1 2 O'Connor, J.J.; Robertson, E.F. (August 2006). "Étienne Pascal". University of St. Andrews, Scotland . Retrieved 5 February 2010.
  3. "Pascal". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary .
  4. (fr) La Machine d'arithmétique, Blaise Pascal, Wikisource
  5. Mourlevat, Guy (1988). Les machines arithmétiques de Blaise Pascal (in French). Clermont-Ferrand: La Française d'Edition et d'Imprimerie. p. 12.
  6. See Schickard versus Pascal: An Empty Debate? and Marguin, Jean (1994). Histoire des instruments et machines à calculer, trois siècles de mécanique pensante 1642–1942 (in French). Hermann. p. 48. ISBN   978-2-7056-6166-3.
  7. d'Ocagne, Maurice (1893). Le calcul simplifié (in French). Gauthier-Villars et fils. p. 245.
  8. "Blaise Pascal". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  9. Hald, Anders A History of Probability and Statistics and Its Applications before 1750, (Wiley Publications, 1990) pp.44
  10. Devlin, p. 20.
  11. The Story of Civilization: Volume 8, "The Age of Louis XIV" by Will & Ariel Durant; chapter II, subsection 4.1 p.56)
  12. Connor, James A., Pascal's wager: the man who played dice with God (HarperCollins, NY, 2006) ISBN   0-06-076691-3 p. 42
  13. A complete list of known Pascalines and also a review of contemporary replicas can be found at Surviving Pascalines and Replica Pascalines at http://things-that-count.net
  14. Kieren MacMillan, Jonathan Sondow (2011). "Proofs of power sum and binomial coefficient congruences via Pascal's identity". American Mathematical Monthly . 118 (6): 549–551. arXiv: 1011.0076 . doi:10.4169/amer.math.monthly.118.06.549.
  15. Devlin, p. 24.
  16. "The Mathematical Leibniz". Math.rutgers.edu. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  17. Aristotle, Physics, VII, 1.
  18. Ley, Willy (June 1966). "The Re-Designed Solar System". For Your Information. Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 94–106.
  19. Périer to Pascal, 22 September 1648, Pascal, Blaise. Oeuvres complètes. (Paris: Seuil, 1960), 2:682.
  20. Pour faire qu'une hypothèse soit évidente, il ne suffit pas que tous les phénomènes s'en ensuivent, au lieu que, s'il s'ensuit quelque chose de contraire à un seul des phénomènes, cela suffit pour assurer de sa fausseté, in Les Lettres de Blaise Pascal: Accompagnées de Lettres de ses Correspondants Publiées, ed. Maurice Beaufreton, 6th edition (Paris: G. Crès, 1922), 25–26, available at http://gallica.bnf.fr and translated in Saul Fisher, Pierre Gassendi's Philosophy and Science: Atomism for Empiricists Brill's Studies in Intellectual History 131 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2005), 126 n.7
  21. MIT, "Inventor of the Week Archive: Pascal : Mechanical Calculator", May 2003. "Pascal worked on many versions of the devices, leading to his attempt to create a perpetual motion machine. He has been credited with introducing the roulette machine, which was a by-product of these experiments."
  22. Connor, James A., Pascal's wager: the man who played dice with God (HarperCollins, NY, 2006) ISBN   0-06-076691-3 p. 70
  23. Miel, Jan. Pascal and Theology. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969), p. 122
  24. Jacqueline Pascal, "Memoir" p. 87
  25. Miel, Jan. Pascal and Theology. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969), p. 124
  26. Richard H. Popkin, Paul Edwards (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1967 edition, s.v. "Pascal, Blaise.", vol. 6, p. 52–55, New York: Macmillan
  27. Pascal, Blaise. Oeuvres complètes. (Paris: Seuil, 1960), p. 618
  28. MathPages, Hold Your Horses. For the sources on which the hypothesis of a link between a carriage accident and Pascal's second conversion is based, and for a sage weighing of the evidence for and against, see Henri Gouhier, Blaise Pascal: Commentaires, Vrin, 1984, pp. 379ff.
  29. Charles Perrault, Parallèle des Anciens et des Modernes (Paris, 1693), Vol. I, p. 296.
  30. Sainte-Beuve, Seventeenth Century ISBN   1-113-16675-4 p. 174 (2009 reprint).
  31. The Story of Civilization: Volume 8, "The Age of Louis XIV" by Will & Ariel Durant, chapter II, Subsection 4.4, p. 66 ISBN   1-56731-019-2
  32. 1 2 Muir, Jane. Of Men and Numbers. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1996). ISBN   0-486-28973-7, p. 104.
  33. Muir, Jane. Of Men and Numbers. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1996). ISBN   0-486-28973-7, p. 103.
  34. Ross, John F. (2004). "Pascal's legacy". EMBO Reports. 5 (Suppl 1): S7–S10. doi:10.1038/sj.embor.7400229. PMC   1299210 . PMID   15459727.
  35. "Chaires Blaise Pascal". Chaires Blaise Pascal. Archived from the original on 13 June 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  36. "CEMC – Pascal, Cayley and Fermat – Mathematics Contests – University of Waterloo". Cemc.uwaterloo.ca. 23 June 2008. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  37. Blaise Pascal on Duplicity, Sin, and the Fall. global.oup.com. Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology. Oxford University Press. 4 July 2013. ISBN   9780199656363 . Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  38. Blaise Pascal at the TCM Movie Database
  39. David Pengelley - "Pascal's Treatise on the Arithmetical Triangle"

Further reading