# Blaise Pascal: biography of this mathematician and thinker.

**A review of the life and intellectual legacy of Blaise Pascal, French physicist, thinker and theologian.**

**Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, philosopher, physicist, and theologian** who contributed to science with the invention of what would later become the calculator, as well as laying the foundations of computing.

As a person of his time, the 17th century, he touched various aspects of science and philosophy, gaining some popularity and going down in history for his great mathematical contributions, as well as being a great advocate of the scientific method. Let's take a look at his life and contributions.

In this article we will see **a biography of Blaise Pascal** in abridged format.

## Blaise Pascal summary biography

Pascal's life, although short, is very interesting, considering his great advances in computing, mathematics and improvement of barometers. Let's see how it was.

### Early years

**Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont-Ferrand, France, on June 19, 1623.**He was the son of Antoinette Begon, who died when he was 3 years old, and his father Etienne Pascal, who was a local judge, president of the tax court of Montferrand and a member of the petite nobility.

Although a man of law, Blaise Pascal's father was very interested in science and mathematics, something that aroused curiosity in the little boy and his two sisters, and it is of special mention one of them, Gilberte Perie, who in his adulthood would write a biography of Blaise.

### Trip to Paris and scientific awakening

**In 1631 the father decided to move with his three children to Paris, where he decided to educate them on his own.**. The little Pascals, from a very young age, showed good intellectual aptitudes, especially Blaise who, at the age of eleven, wrote a small treatise on the sounds emitted by vibrating bodies.

The young Pascal's interest in mathematics was such that his father decided to forbid him to continue studying it, fearing that it would have a negative impact on his studies of Latin and Greek, languages that at the time determined social prestige.

But **But preventing him from studying mathematics was really counterproductive, and so Mr. Pascal allowed the young Blaise to study Euclid, especially after seeing, one day, that he had been able to study mathematics.**He was not only a student of Euclid, especially after seeing, one day, that his son was secretly writing on a wall a proof that the angles of a triangle add up to two right angles.

It also allowed him to attend lectures given by great scientists and mathematicians of the time, such as Girard Desargues, Claude Mydorge, Gilles de Roberval, Pierre Gassendi and, of course, René Descartes. They all held their assemblies in the monastic cell of Father Marin Mersenne.

At the age of sixteen, **Blaise Pascal was interested in a work by Desartes on conic sections.**. It was at that age that he wrote his first serious work on mathematics, called *Essai pour les coniques*. ("Essay on conics").

### Problems with Richelieu

In 1638, due to France's financial situation and its involvement in the Thirty Years' War, Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu and French statesman, decided to freeze payments on various services.

This had a negative impact on the Pascal family, since the patriarch Etienne had invested his money in treasury bonds. The family's wealth plummeted, **Etienne Pascal was forced to leave Paris, leaving his children in the care of a neighbor.**. The flight was not only economic, since Etienne had become deeply estranged from Cardinal Richelieu.

With the passage of time, the relationship between Etienne Pascal and the cardinal would be sustained, **and he was pardoned and appointed to be in charge of tax collection in Normandy.**.

### Life in Normandy and the invention of the pascaline

The patriarch's life, once readmitted to public life, became much more pleasant than when he was on the run, but yes he was now much busier. In 1642, Blaise Pascal, seeing the difficulties his father was having in doing accounts in his job as a debt collector, decided to make a machine that would enable him to speed up arithmetic calculations.

This is when Blaise Pascal built the Pascaline, **the first adding machine in history, which would basically be the precedent of the modern calculator and computers.**. Its operation was mechanical and consisted of gears.

Although it greatly helped the calculation, something never seen in French society until then, the machine was not commercially successful: it was extremely expensive and difficult to manufacture.

**It was also in the capital of Normandy, Rouen, that Blaise Pascal began to take an interest in physics, especially hydrostatics, and undertook his first studies and experiments.**He undertook his first studies and experiments on the vacuum, intervening in the controversy over the existence of "horror vacui" in nature.

### First and second conversion

In 1645 Pascal had already embraced the Jansenian doctrine, a Catholic reformist movement initiated by Corneille Jansen, based on the doctrine of St. Augustine of Hippo on grace and original sin. It advocated greater moral rigorism.

**In 1647, due to his weak health, the doctors recommended him to return to Paris.**. What Blaise Pascal did not know with this period of rest is that there he would have a kind of Second Conversion, following the one he had already made when he discovered the Jansenist theses.

Pascal became convinced that the way to God lay in Christianity, and not in philosophy. At this point Pascal completely suspended his scientific work.

### Last years and death

**The last 10 years of his life are focused on trying to address how to make people believe in the need to believe in God.**. Regardless of its existence or not, according to Pascal it was better to believe than not to believe because, in case it exists but one does not believe, one cannot gain access to heaven.

Pascal's health had always been bad: depressions, toothaches, general weakness are some of the medical problems diagnosed in Blaise Pascal throughout his life.

**His death occurred when he had just turned 39 years old, on August 19, 1662.**August 19, 1662, from stomach cancer.

## Intellectual legacy

As a great figure of his time, Blaise Pascal was a mathematician, philosopher, Catholic theologian and polymath. **He made important contributions in the field of mathematics, as well as posed, logically, the benefits of believing in God.**.

### Pascal's Triangle

In 1653 he published "Traité du triangle arithmétique" ("Treatise on the arithmetic triangle") in which he sets out the approach of what would later be called Pascal's triangle.

**This triangle is made up of integers, is infinite and asymmetrical.**. In the first row, starting from the left, the number 1 is placed. In the following rows the numbers are placed in such a way that each one is the sum of the two numbers above it. It is assumed that the area outside the triangle, that is, outside the edges, contains zeros, so that the sum between the outside of the triangle and the first row gives 1.

This triangle satisfies the following properties:

1. First property

**The sum of the elements of any row is the result of raising 2 to the number defining that row, starting from 0.**. That is to say, raising 2 to the square, to the third, to 4...

For example, the sum of the elements of the fourth row (1, 3, 3, 3, 1) is 8, a value that also obtains 2^3.

Another longer example, the sum of the elements of the seventh row (1, 7, 21, 35, 35, 35, 21, 7, 7, 1) is equal to the value obtained from 2^7.

Second property

If the first number of the row is prime, **all the numbers in that row will be divisible by it, except the number 1.**.

For example, in row 9, the numbers that follow it are divisible by itself: 36, 84, 126....

Third property

**Any diagonal line starting at one end of the triangle,** of any length, satisfies that the sum of all the numbers that compose it are below the last of them, but on the opposite diagonal.

That is, the row of the number 4 on the left side can also be found on the right side and, if you follow both down, you will see that they coincide in a common value, in this case, 20.

### Pascalina: the first calculator

**The Pascalina is considered the first modern calculator.**. Inside it were eight cogwheels connected to each other, which represented the decimal system. Each wheel was marked by 10 numbers, from 0 to 9.

**One pair of the 8 wheels of the machine, namely those on the far left, were used to represent the decimals, and the other six were used to represent the decimals.**and the other six were used to represent integers.

This meant that this machine could handle values from 0.01 to 999,999.99, which may seem like a trifle today, but at a time when long calculations required several sheets of paper and the confidence of not having made a calculation error, this machine could have been of great help.

### Pascal's Theorem

Pascal's theorem states that if a hexagon of any shape is inscribed inside a conic section, that is, if the shape of the hexagon suggests a kind of cone, and the opposite pairs of sides are extended until they intersect, the three points at which they coincide will be located on a straight line, **the three points at which they coincide will be located on a straight line.**. This straight line is called Pascal's line.

### Probability and theology: Pascal's wager

Pascal's wager is **a theologico-philosophical reflection on the belief in God, based on probabilistic considerations**which holds the following:

- You believe in God. If he exists, you go to heaven.
- You believe in God. If he exists, you gain nothing.
- You don't believe in God. If he doesn't exist, you gain nothing.
- You do not believe in God. If he exists, you don't go to heaven.

With these four approaches, Pascal comes to indicate that it is better to believe in God than not to believe in him, because, in case he does not exist, nothing is lost, simply the belief that he existed.

On the other hand, if it turns out that God exists and one has not believed in him, on the basis of the fundamentals of the Catholic religion, which was the one in which Blaise Pascal believed, **not having believed in him and not having accepted his existence minutes before his death implies a sinful act.**and therefore there is no option to enter heaven.

### Contribution to physics

Pascal worked on hydrodynamics and hydrostatics, **focusing on the principles of hydraulic fluids.**. Among his inventions that are still in use today are the hydraulic press and the syringe.

In 1646 the Italian Evangelista Torricelli's experiments with barometers were already known. After Pascal replicated one of these barometers, he began to wonder what force was causing the mercury to stay inside the tube, and what was filling the space between the liquid metal and the end of the tube.

At that time there was a deep debate about the existence of an absolute vacuum. Many scientists thought, deepening their thinking in Aristotelian notions, that in the world there was an invisible, unquantifiable and imperceptible matter, which occupied the space of that which was not occupied by quantifiable substances.

Following a series of works and experiments, Blaise Pascal **published his work Experiences nouvelles touchant le vide** ("New Experiments on the Void"). Here he detailed a series of rules describing to what extent various liquids could be supported by air pressure, and offered reasons for what might be above the column of liquid, which should be a vacuum.

**His idea of a vacuum, although a great milestone for his time, brought him into conflict with other important scientists of the time, such as René Descartes.**.

## Honors

The figure of Blaise Pascal has not gone unnoticed, and has been the inspiration for several milestones in science that have been named in his honor.

In 1970, **Swiss professor Niklaus Wirth published a programming language he named Pascal, in honor of the French scientist.**. This language has some peculiarities that make it unique, such as the fact that the assignment is done by the command ":=" instead of "=", the latter being the most common in programming languages.

Blaise Pascal has also been remembered by naming celestial objects after him. On the Moon there is the Pascal crater in his honor and a satellite (4500) has also been named after Pascal.

(Updated at Apr 14 / 2024)