Blaise Pascal: biography of this mathematician and thinker

Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, philosopher, physicist and theologian who contributed to science with the invention of what would later be the calculator, in addition to laying the foundations of computing.

As a person of his time, in the seventeenth century he dabbled in various aspects of science and philosophy, gaining popularity and going down in history for his great mathematical contributions, as well as being a great supporter of the scientific method. Let’s look at his life and his contributions.

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

    Brief biography of Blaise Pascal

    Pascal’s life, although short, is very interesting, given his great advances in computer science, mathematics and the development of barometers. Let’s see how it went.

    first years

    Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont-Ferrand, France, on June 19, 1623, Being the son of Antoine Bégon, who would die at the age of 3, and of his father Etienne Pascal, who was a local judge, president of the tax court of Montferrand and member of the gentry.

    Always a man of law, Blaise Pascal’s father was very interested in science and mathematics, which aroused the curiosity of the little one and his two sisters, and a special mention is one of them, Gilberte Perie, who, as an adult, would write a biography of Blaise.

    Travel to Paris and scientific awakening

    In 1631, the father decided to move with his three children to Paris, where he decided to educate them alone.. The little Pascals, from an early age, showed good intellectual aptitudes, especially Blaise who, at only eleven years old, would write a short treatise on the sounds emitted by vibrating bodies.

    Pascal’s interest in mathematics was such that his father decided to forbid him to continue to do so, fearing that this would have a negative impact on his studies of Latin and Greek, languages ​​which at the time determined his social prestige.

    But Keeping him from studying math was really counterproductive, and so Mr. Pascal allowed young Blaise to study Euclid.Especially after seeing, one day, that his son, in secret, was writing on a wall a demonstration that the angles of a triangle add up to two right angles.

    It also allowed him to attend conferences 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. All taught their assemblies in the monastic cell of Father Marin Mersenne.

    At sixteen-year-old, Blaise Pascal was interested in a work by Desartes on conic sections. It was at this age that he wrote his first serious work on mathematics, titled Essay for Conics. (“Test 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, as Patriarch Etienne had invested his money in treasury bills. The family’s wealth has plummeted, forcing Etienne Pascal to leave Paris leaving the children in the care of a neighbor. The escape was not only economic, because Etienne had become deeply hostile to Cardinal Richelieu.

    Over time, the relationship between Etienne Pascal and the cardinal would continue, pardon by arriving and being appointed responsible for the collection of taxes in Normandy.

      Life in Normandy and the invention of the pascalina

      The life of the Patriarch, once re-admitted to public life, became much more pleasant than when he was on the run, but he was now much busier. In 1642, Blaise Pascal, seeing the difficulties that his father had at the time to do accounts in his work as a collector, decided to build a machine that allowed him to speed up arithmetic calculations.

      This is where Blaise Pascal builds Pascalina, the first adding machine in history, which would essentially be the precedent for the calculator and modern computers. Its operation was mechanical and consisted of gears.

      Although this 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 is also in the Norman capital, Rouen, that Blaise Pascal began to take an interest in physics, in particular hydrostatics., Undertake his first studies and experiments on emptiness, 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 Saint Augustine of Hippo on original grace and sin. He advocated greater moral rigor.

      In 1647, due to his poor health, doctors recommended that he return to Paris.. What Blaise Pascal would not know with this period of rest is that there would be a sort of Second Conversion, a succession to which he had already made when discovering the Jansenist theses.

      Pascal was convinced that the way to God was yes or yes in Christianity, and not in philosophy. At this point, Pascal has completely suspended his scientific work.

      The last years and death

      The last 10 years of her life are focused on getting people to 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, if it exists but is not created, access to heaven cannot be obtained.

      Pascal’s health has always been poor: depression, toothaches, general weakness are some of the medical problems diagnosed in Blaise Pascal throughout his life.

      His death came when he had just turned 39, August 19, 1662, due to stomach cancer.

      intellectual heritage

      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 logically considering the benefits of believing in God..

      Pascal’s triangle

      In 1653, he published the Treaty of the arithmetic triangle in which he explained the approach to what would later be called Pascal’s triangle.

      This triangle is composed of integers, is infinite and asymmetric. In the first line starting, on the left, is placed the number 1. In the following lines, the numbers are placed so that each is the sum of the two numbers above. It is assumed that the area outside the triangle, i.e. outside the edges, contains zeros, so the sum between the outside of the triangle and the first line day 1.

      This triangle has the following properties:

      1. First property

      The sum of the elements in a row is the result of increasing 2 to the number that defines that row, starting with 0. That is to say raise 2 to the square, to the third, to 4 …

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

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

      2. Second property

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

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

      3. Third property

      Any diagonal line starting at one end of the triangle, of any length, make sure that the sum of all the numbers in it is less than the last of them, but on the opposite diagonal.

      That is, line number 4 on the left side is also on the right side, and if you follow both down, you will see that they correspond to a common value, in this case 20.

      Pascalina: the first calculator

      Pascalina is considered the first modern calculator. Inside were eight gears connected to each other, which represented the decimal system. Each wheel was marked with 10 digits, from 0 to 9.

      A pair of the 8 machine wheels, especially the ones on the far left, were used to represent the decimals, And the other six were used to represent whole numbers.

      This meant that this machine could handle values ​​between 01-999999.99, which, although it might seem trivial today, at a time when to get long calculations required several sheets of paper and did not count on committing any miscalculation, this machine could have been very helpful.

      Pascal’s theorem

      Pascal’s theorem states that if a hexagon of any shape is inscribed in a conical section, that is, the shape of the hexagon suggests some kind of cone and the pairs of opposite sides are extend until they cross, the three points where they coincide will be located on a straight line. This straight line is called the Pascal line.

      Probability and theology: Pascal’s bet

      Pascal’s bet is a theological-philosophical reflection on belief in God, based on probabilistic considerations, Which contains the following:

      • You believe in God. If it exists, you go to heaven.
      • You believe in God. If it exists, you earn nothing.
      • Don’t believe in God. If it doesn’t exist, you don’t earn anything.
      • Don’t believe in God. If it exists, you are not going to heaven.

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

      On the other hand, if it turns out that God exists and was not believed in him, on the basis of the foundations of the Catholic religion, what Blaise Pascal believed, not believing in him and not accepting his existence a few minutes before his death implies a culpable actSo there is no option to enter paradise.

      Contribution to physics

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

      And in 1646, the experiences of the Italian evangelist Torricelli with barometers were already known. After reproducing one of these barometers, Pascal began to wonder what force caused the mercury to remain inside the tube, and what filled the space left between this liquid metal and the last part of the tube. tube.

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

      After a series of works and experiments, Blaise Pascal published his work New experiences touching the void (“New experiments on the vacuum”). Here he details a series of rules describing how various liquid points could be supported by air pressure, and proposed reasons why there could be above the liquid column, which should be a vacuum.

      His idea of ​​the void, although a milestone for his time, brought him into conflict with other important scientists of the time. with René Descartes.


      The figure of Blaise Pascal did not go unnoticed, and inspired several milestones of science which received his name in his honor.

      In 1970, Swiss professor Niklaus Wirth released a programming language called 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 with the command “: =” instead of “=”, the latter being the most common in programming languages.

      Blaise Pascal is also remembered for naming celestial objects. On the Moon is the Pascal crater in his honor, and also a satellite (4500) was named Pascal.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Pascal, B. (1654) Treatise on the arithmetic triangle, p. 7, Consequence twelfth, The 1. und 2.
      • Loeffel, H. (1987), Blaise Pascal. 1623-1662, Basel
      • Adamson, D. (1995), Blaise Pascal: mathematician, physicist and thinker on God, London and New York

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