Blaise Pascal Biography
Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician whose genius shone brightly for too few years as his life was cut short due to chronic illness. He was a child prodigy borne to a well to do family and educated by his father who believed his son could learn more from his private tutelage.
His father Étienne, who was an accomplished mathematician, purposely avoided teaching Blaise maths and instead chose to tutor him in language, humanities and science. Ever curious about why he was not learning maths, Blaise posed many questions to his father who merely responded by stating:
"generally speaking, it was the way of making precise figures and finding the proportions among them". It was from this vague but crucial statement that Blaise Pascal gleaned enough information to light a spark in his mind that he found too irresistible to ignore.
Armed with a piece of charcoal and using a tiled floor as his canvas the young Pascal set about creating all the geometrical shapes he could imagine, he created the perfect circle, an equilateral triangle and then he experimented at finding the proportions. His experimentations took him all the way to reach the "thirty second proposition" of Euclids first book of the elements, all this was accomplished without any mathematical teaching, it was just something he automatically understood from his own intuition.
His father entered the room and was staggered by what lay before him as Blaise was engrossed in his creations, eventually his father interrupted and enquired as to how he could think of such geometrical drawings and he was stunned by the response as his 12 year old son explained that he was curious about one thing and his drawings happened upon other answers which in turn made him curious about the logic behind that which ultimately led to further experiments which were all reproducible as he enthusiastically demonstrated to his father.
Étienne Pascal realised then that his son was a genius and opened his locked library to allow Blaise to indulge in mathematically theory to his hearts content. Blaise read book after book and instinctively understood everything without the need to ask his father any enquiring questions about mathematical theory. His father was further stunned as it became clear that even if Blaise did not have access to these books he would have invented mathematics by himself anyway, it was as natural to him as talking, eating or walking.
By the time Blaise was 16 he had created what was to become known as Pascal's Theorem whereby he wrote about projective geometry by inscribing a hexagon inside a circle and described the three intersection points on opposite sides that lie on a single line as what he termed the Pascal line. Even the eminent mathematician René Descartes was impressed as he was initially convinced his father must have written such a progressive theory
His father had become a tax collector and Blaise invented a mechanical calculator called the Pascaline to assist in complex tax calculations. There were to be many more inventions to his name such as the syringe and the hydraulic press that he designed after many experiments in fluid mechanics which led him to devise Pascal’s law of pressure in 1653 and eventually the Pascal (Pa) was named as the SI unit of pressure after him.
His love of numbers led him to create what is now known as Pascal's Triangle, and although he was not the first mathematician to see the numerical patterns where each number is the sum of the two numbers directly above it, it is probably the thing he is most famous for.
When trying to resolve the probable outcome of a game of chance with dice he delved deep with many experiments which he shared in correspondence with the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat that was the first instance of the mathematical theory of probability.
The last eight years of his life were committed to philosophical and religious writings and considering he died at the relative young age of 39 it has led many scholars to speculate about what could have been. The 17th century had bestowed a genius onto France, but as sure as foresight is cynical, hindsight has recognised the insight of Blaise Pascal and placed him high on the mathematical pedestal of history he so richly deserves.
His later life philosophical writings are often cited for the deeper meanings they stir in the mind and he was good for a one liner also, so this is my compilation of 15 of the best Blaise Pascal quotes.
Quotes About Blaise Pascal
The Australian mathematician John Stillwell shared this observation:
"Pascal is the only great mathematician whose standing is equally great among writers"
The Hungarian historian Thomas Molnar gave this assessment:
"To philosophize is always to rehabilitate the essential importance of the human dimension, and hence the dignity of man. This was the meaning of the Socratic quest, and also the meaning of Pascal's anguish at the threshold of the Cartesian revolution in science"
The author Eric Hoffer spoke of human beliefs:
"What Pascal said of an effective religion is true of any effective doctrine: It must be contrary to nature, to common sense and to pleasure"
The mathematician Tobias Dantzig shared this irony:
"It is significant that we owe the first explicit formulation of the principle of recurrence to the genius of Blaise Pascal... Pascal stated the principle in a tract called The Arithmetic Triangle which appeared in 1654. Yet... the gist of the tract was contained in the correspondence between Pascal and Fermat regarding a problem in gambling, the same correspondence which is now regarded as the nucleus from which developed the theory of probabilities. It surely is a fitting subject for mystic contemplation that the principle of reasoning by recurrence, which is so basic in pure mathematics, and the theory of probabilities, which is the basis of all deductive sciences, were both conceived while devising a scheme for the division of stakes in an unfinished match of two gamblers"