Fascinating facts about Blaise Pascal
of a mechanical adding machine in 1642.
invent. First practical.
1623 in Clermont-Ferrand, France
1662 in Paris, France
Blaise Pascal, French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist, considered one of
the great minds in Western intellectual history. Inventor of the first
mechanical adding machine.
Blaise Pascal was born in
Clermont-Ferrand on June 19, 1623, and his family settled in Paris in 1629. Under the
tutelage of his father, Pascal soon proved himself a mathematical prodigy, and at the age
of 16 he formulated one of the basic theorems of projective geometry, known as Pascal's
theorem and described in his Essai pour les coniques (Essay on Conics, 1639).
In 1642 he
invented the first mechanical adding machine. Pascal proved by experimentation in 1648
that the level of the mercury column in a barometer is determined by an increase or
decrease in the surrounding atmospheric pressure rather than by a vacuum, as previously
believed. This discovery verified the hypothesis of the Italian physicist Evangelista
Torricelli concerning the effect of atmospheric pressure on the equilibrium of liquids.
Six years later, in conjunction with the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat, Pascal
formulated the mathematical theory of probability, which has become important in such
fields as actuarial, mathematical, and social statistics and as a fundamental element in
the calculations of modern theoretical physics.
Pascal's other important scientific
contributions include the derivation of Pascal's law or principle, which states that
fluids transmit pressures equally in all directions, and his investigations in the
geometry of infinitesimal. His methodology reflected his emphasis on empirical
experimentation as opposed to analytical, a priori methods, and he believed that human
progress is perpetuated by the accumulation of scientific discoveries resulting from such
Pascal espoused Jansenism and in 1654 entered the
Jansenist community at Port Royal, where he led a rigorously ascetic life until his death
eight years later. In 1656 he wrote the famous 18 Lettres provinciales (Provincial
Letters), in which he attacked the Jesuits for their attempts to reconcile 16th-century
naturalism with orthodox Roman Catholicism.
His most positive religious statement appeared
posthumously (he died August 19, 1662); it was published in fragmentary form in 1670 as
Apologie de la religion Chrétienne (Apology of the Christian Religion). In these
fragments, which later were incorporated into his major work, he posed the alternatives of
potential salvation and eternal damnation, with the implication that only by conversion to
Jansenism could salvation be achieved. Pascal asserted that whether or not salvation was
achieved, humanity's ultimate destiny is an afterlife belonging to a supernatural realm
that can only be known intuitively. Pascal's final important work was Pensées sur la
religion et sur quelques autres sujets (Thoughts on Religion and on Other Subjects), also
published in 1670. In the Pensées Pascal attempted to explain and justify the
difficulties of human life by the doctrine of original sin, and he contended that
revelation can be comprehended only by faith, which in turn is justified by revelation.
Pascal's writings urging acceptance of the Christian life contain frequent applications of
the calculations of probability; he reasoned that the value of eternal happiness is
infinite and that although the probability of gaining such happiness by religion may be
small it is infinitely greater than by any other course of human conduct or belief. A
reclassification of the Pensées, a careful work begun in 1935 and continued by several
scholars, does not reconstruct the Apologie, but allows the reader to follow the plan that
Pascal himself would have followed.
Pascal was one of the most eminent mathematicians
and physicists of his day and one of the greatest mystical writers in Christian
literature. His religious works are personal in their speculation on matters beyond human
understanding. He is generally ranked among the finest French polemicists, especially in
the Lettres provinciales, a classic in the literature of irony. Pascal's prose style is
noted for its originality and, in particular, for its total lack of artifice. He affects
his readers by his use of logic and the passionate force of his dialectic.
from The Great Idea Finder
the Adding Machine
from The Great Idea
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Kid Who Invented the Popsicle : And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages (1999)
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident,
from animal crackers to the zipper.
of It All Pascal and the Meaning of Life
Thomas V. Morris / Paperback - 214 pages / Wm. B. Eeerdmans Pub.
His lucid reflections provide fresh, fertile insights and
perspectives for any thoughtful person journeying through life.
Pascal: The Great Philosophers
by Ben Rogers / Paperback: 58 pages / Routledge; 1 edition (July, 1999)
In just 64 pages, each author, a specialist on his subject, places the
philosopher and his ideas into historical perspective. Each volume
explains, in simple terms, the basic concepts, enriching the narrative
through the effective use of biographical detail. And instead of
attempting to explain the philosopher's entire intellectual history,
which can be daunting, this series takes one central theme in each
philosopher's work, using it to unfold the philosopher's thoughts.
ON THE WEB:
Pascal's Pascaline Calculator This offers an overview of the advances in
science that made desktop computers possible starting with the invention of counting.
The First Adding Machine
Adding machines date back to the 17th century. They started with simple machines
that could only add (and sometimes subtract.) Many were rather tricky to use and could
produce erroneous results with untrained users.
Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662)
From `A Short Account of the History of Mathematics' (4th edition, 1908) by W. W. Rouse
Invented one of the first mechanical calculators: the pascalinePascal,
genius by any measure, died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 39. From
The History of Computing Project.
The Calculators Museum
The Museum of HP Calculators displays and describes Hewlett-Packard calculators introduced
from 1968 to 1986 plus a few interesting later models. There are also sections on
calculating machines and slide rules as well as sections for buying and selling HP
calculators, an HP timeline, collecting information and a software library.
Blaise Pascal Biography
Pascal, Blaise (1623-62), French philosopher, mathematician, and
physicist, considered one of the great minds in Western intellectual
history. A student ThinkQuest project.
WORDS OF WISDOM:
"The heart has its reasons
that the mind knows nothing of. " - Blaise Pascal
"If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him, while
if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing." -
"Since we cannot know all that there is to be known about anything, we
ought to know a little about everything." - Blaise Pascal
DID YOU KNOW?
- The Zwinger museum, in Dresden,
Germany, exhibits one of his original mechanical calculators.
- Pascal continued to make
improvements to his design through the next decade and built fifty
machines in total.
- In honor of his scientific
contributions, the name Pascal has been given to the SI unit of
pressure, to a programming language, and Pascal's law (an important
principle of hydrostatics).
Sources in BOLD Type
page revised October 19, 2006.
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