|Famous as||French Mathematician, Physicist, Inventor, Writer and Catholic Philosopher|
|Born on||19 June 1623|
|Born in||Clermont-Ferrand, France|
|Died on||19 August 1662|
|Works & Achievements||Invented mechanical calculator, hydraulic press and wrote famous religious works like "Lettres provinciales and the Pensees".|
Blaise Pascal Childhood & Early Life
Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont-Ferrand on June 19, 1623. His father, Etienne Pascal was a local judge and member of the "Noblesse de Robe". His father himself was known for his interest in science and mathematics. Pascal’s mother, Antoinette Begon died when he was only three. He had two sisters, Jacqueline and Gilberte. In 1631, his family moved to Paris. His father never married, instead he devoted his whole life in the education of his children especially Blaise, who showed great aptitude for scientific studies. At the tender age of eleven, junior Pascal amazed his father with his mathematical abilities when he constructed a short note on sounds of vibrating bodies. Within a year, he wrote an independent proof that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. Impressed with his mathematical interests, his father took him to the gatherings of greatest mathematicians and scientists in the monastic cell of Père Mersenne. These scientists and mathematicians included Roberval, Desargues, Mydorge, Gassendi, and Descartes.
At the age of sixteen, Pascal wrote a short treatise on the “Mystic Hexagram”, based on the work of Desargues on conic sections. This short treatise later led to the famous Pascal’s theorem, which states that a hexagon inscribed in a circle (or conic) makes three intersection points of opposite sides on a line. Desargues, when shown the work, adamantly believed that it was the work of the senior Pascal and not his son. But when assured by Mersenne, he scoffed it off. Meanwhile, in 1631, Pascal’s father, Étienne sold his position as second president of the Cour des Aides for 65,665 livres and invested the sum in a government bond which provided the Pascal family a comfortable income. The family thus, moved to Paris. However, in 1638, his father had to flee from Paris after opposing the fiscal policies of then cardinal,Cardinal Richelieu. Pascal and his sister were left in the care of a friendly neighbor Madame Sainctot. After resolving his differences with cardinal, in 1639, Étienne was made the king's commissioner of taxes in the city of Rouen.
To ease off his father’s burden of overtiring and exhausting calculations and re-calculations of taxes owed and paid, Pascal in 1642 constructed a mechanical calculator. This mechanical calculator had the ability to perform addition and subtraction and was called Pascal’s calculator or the Pascaline. Due to its expensive nature and large size, Pascaline couldn’t become a financial success. It rather became a status symbol for the cream of the society in France and Europe. Pascal, however, determined to make his invention a mass product, spent the next decade in improvising the design and thus, made around twenty calculating machines. Today, the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris and the Zwinger Museum in Dresden, Germany, exhibit two of his original mechanical calculators.
Contribution In Mathematics & Science
Pascal always remained an influential mathematician throughout his life. His convenient tabular presentation of binomial coefficients described in his Traité du triangle arithmétique, released in 1653, later became famous as Pascal’s triangle. In 1654, following a friend,the Chevalier de Méré’s interest in gambling problem, Pascal discussed this subject with Fermat, which later led to the foundation of mathematical theory of probabilities. One of the gambling problems was of two players who wanted to finish a game early, and given the then condition of the game, wanted to share the stakes fairly, based on the fact that each player had equal chances of winning the match from that point. In this context, Pascal used a probabilistic argument also known as Pascal's wager. The work done by Pascal and Fermat later helped Leibniz formulate infinitesimal calculus. Pascal also made important contribution to the philosophy of mathematics with his works like De l'Esprit géométrique and De l'Art de persuader.
Pascal contribution to the physical sciences includes his works in fields of hydrodynamics and hydrostatics which were mostly based on hydraulic principles. He also had the credit of inventing syringe and hydraulic press. Following the views of Galileo and Torricelli, he opposed the Aristotelian notion which says that a creation is a thing of substance, whether visible or invisible. He advocated the presence of vacuum in substances. He said that it is the vacuum which keeps the mercury floating in a barometer and even fills the space above the mercury in the tube. In his work in 1647, “Experiences nouvelles touchant le vide” he gave more experiments regarding his statement on vacuum. These experiments performed by Pascal were praised throughout the Europe and established his principle and also the value of barometer.
In the winter of 1646, Pascal’s father injured himself from falling on an icy street in Rouen. His condition went critical and was treated by Doctor Deslandes and Doctor de La Bouteillerie. These fine doctors were followers of Jean Guillebert and Jansenism. Blaise came in contact with Jansenism through these men and even borrowed works by Jansenist authors from them. This period was marked as the first exposure to his religious conversion. The death of his father in 1651 and Jacqueline’s departure to a Jansenist convent of Port-Royal affected Pascal deeply and worsened his health condition. On the fateful day of October 1654, Pascal had a near death accident at the Neuilly Bridge, where the horses plunged over the parapet and the carriage nearly followed them and hung the coach halfway over the edge. Though Pascal and his friend survived, this incident affected him mentally and affected his religious beliefs.
In January 1655, Pascal made trips to convents at Port-Royal and regularly traveled between Port-Royal and Paris for following years. This religious conversion inspired him to write his first famous literary work on religion, “the Provincial Letters”. Pascal, in “the Provincial Letters”, very cleverly attacked on casuistry. In this creation, Pascal had combined the fervor of a convert with the wit and polish of a man of the world. Pascal published this 18 letter series during the period between 1656 and 1657 using the pseudonym Louis de Montalte. “The Provincial Letters” outraged Louis XIV and the Jansenist school at Port-Royal was closed down over the formulary controversy. Even Pope Alexander VII publicly criticized Pascal’s work but he was impressed by his arguments.
Since his eighteenth birthday, Pascal was suffering from a nervous ailment that caused him regular pain. In 1647, following a paralytic attack he went on crutches, his head ached frequently, his bowels burned and his feet and hands remained continuously cold. Pascal fell seriously ill in 1659 and in span of three years, his conditioned worsened. Death of his sister Jacqueline in 1661 made his illness more violent. After receiving extreme unction on August 18, he died next morning on August 19, 1662.
1623: Born in Clermont-Ferrand.
1631: His family moved to Paris.
1639: Wrote a short treatise on the “Mystic Hexagram”; Étienne was made the king's commissioner of taxes in the city of Rouen
1642: Constructed a mechanical calculator.
1647: Came out with “Experiences nouvelles touchant le vide”
1651: His father died.
1653: Came up with Traité du triangle arithmétique now called Pascal’s triangle
1654: Faced a near death accident at the Neuilly Bridge
1655: Pascal made trips to convents at Port-Royal
1656: Appearance of the first of “the Provincial Letters”.
1656-57: Published this 18 letter series
1659: Fell seriously ill
1661: His sister, Jacqueline died.
1662: Died at Paris on August 19.