Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662), was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father. 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.
In his famous Traite du Triangle Arithmetique or Treatise on the Arithmetical Triangle, written in 1654 and published in 1665, Pascal described in words a general formula for the sum of powers of the first n terms of an arithmetic progression (Pascal, p. 39 of “X. Potestatum numericarum summa”), of which the sum of powers of the first n positive integers is a special case.
Although he devoted the majority of his adult life to religion and philosophy, Pascal's genius lies in mathematics and science. Étienne was an accomplished mathematician who refused to allow his son to study mathematics. This was because he, being a mathematician himself, felt that it would take away from his other studies since math was such a fulfilling subject and it ``fills and greatly satisfies the mind.'' (Cole) Étienne wanted his son to first learn the humanities and later learn math and science.
Pascal is famous for the statement known as Pascal’s Wager in which he applied his thinking in terms of probabilities to the question of salvation. Pascal’s Wager paraphrased is:
‘How can anyone lose who chooses to become a Christian? If, when he dies, there turns out to be no God and his faith was in vain, he has lost nothing—in fact, he has been happier in life than his non-believing friends. If, however, there is a God and a heaven and hell, then he has gained heaven and his skeptical friends will have lost everything in hell.’
Blaise Pascal always tried to make his work in science and mathematics of practical use to mankind. While still a teenager, he invented the first machine to do calculations—an arithmetic machine which could add and subtract. This machine involved a set of wheels, each with the numbers zero through to nine on them.
French mathematician Blaise Pascal famously pondered ROE in the spiritual-investment quandary called Pascal's Wager. It's an exercise in game theory. A rationalist, Pascal thought about how he might bet against God's very existence and behave accordingly: more rosé, fewer rosaries. But he also knew that had he pursued a hedonistic lifestyle and God existed, a negative outcome would ensue. And he'd be totally, eternally screwed. Better to believe, he reasoned.
Overlapping his work on the roulette machine was Pascal's correspondence with mathematical theorist Pierre de Fermat, beginning in 1654. Through their letters discussing dice problems, and through Pascal's own experiments, Pascal discovered that there is a fixed likelihood of any certain outcome when it comes to the roll of the dice. This discovery was the basis of the mathematical theory of probability, the eye-opening realization that events and their outcomes did not occur randomly.
Pascal's solution was to endorse an interpretation of Augustine's theory of grace, and to re-describe as ‘free’ the choice of a human will that is ‘infallibly’ motivated by God's efficacious grace. ‘Human beings, by their own nature, always have the power to sin and to resist grace, and since the time of their corruption they always have an unfortunate depth of concupiscence which infinitely increases this power of resistance. Nevertheless, when it pleases God to touch them with his mercy, He makes them do what he wants them to do and in the manner in which he wishes them to act, without this infallibility of God's operation destroying in any way the natural freedom of human beings … That is how God disposes the free will of human beings without imposing any necessity on them, and how free will, which can always resist grace but does not always wish to do so, directs itself both freely and infallibly towards God’
While it would be anachronistic to describe Pascal as an existentialist, one of the most prominent features of his work is the philosophical reflection on the radical contingency of human affairs that emerges especially in the final years of his life. He used these reflections to puncture the pride, arrogance, and self-love of those who thought of themselves as superior to the vicissitudes of human life.
Around 1646, he began a series of atmospheric pressure experiments to test the theories of Galileo and Galileo's student Evangelista Torricelli (the Italian physicist who identified the principle governing barometers). Cobbling together his own mercury barometers, Pascal undertook expanded versions of his predecessors' experiments, producing findings that helped lay the foundations for hydrodynamics and hydrostatics [source: Britannica; "Blaise Pascal"]. Eventually, he even got a unit of pressure measurement named after him, the Pascal.
Pascal is best known today for other achievements: an early calculating machine and work on atmospheric pressure (Pascal's Law). He also contributed numerous theorems in geometry and binomial mathematics, laying the groundwork for Fermat, Leibniz and Newton, and inspiring the name of a 20th-century programming language. His letters and philosophical works are still read, studied and admired.
While experimenting, Pascal invented the syringe and created the hydraulic press, an instrument based upon the principle that became known as Pascal’s law: pressure applied to a confined liquid is transmitted undiminished through the liquid in all directions regardless of the area to which the pressure is applied. His publications on the problem of the vacuum (1647–48) added to his reputation.
Inventor, mathematician, physicist and theological writer Blaise Pascal, born on June 19, 1623 in Clermont-Ferrand, France, was the third child and only son to Etienne and Antoinette Pascal. His mother, Antoinette, passed away when he was just a toddler.
His early essay on the geometry of conics, written in 1639, but not published till 1779, seems to have been founded on the teaching of Desargues. Two of the results are important as well as interesting. The first of these is the theorem known now as ``Pascal's Theorem,'' namely, that if a hexagon be inscribed in a conic, the points of intersection of the opposite sides will lie in a straight line.