Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

1623 On the 19th of June, Clermont-Ferrand, France (Auvergne area nowadays) Blaise Pascal was born, a future French mathematician, physicist and philosopher. He was the third child of Etienne Pascal and the only son. Blaise’s mother died when he was only three years old and the little boy suffered a lot. Auvergne is the place of his childhood; it is said that Pascal was a sickly man and that he could not support to look at the water. But, within his researches, water and generally all liquids constituted the subject of the experiences. The law that bears his name shows that the liquids that are in closed dishes fully transmit the external pressure on them.

1632 Etienne and the four children left Clermont and moved to Paris, and the father, a mathematician with unorthodox perspectives upon education, decided that Blaise would not study anything about Maths until 15 years old. Boosted by this interdiction, when he was 12 years old, Blaise started to learn geometry by himself, discovering that “the sum of a triangle’s angles is equal with two right angles”. When his father found out, he appeased and allowed Blaise to have a copy of “Elements” by Euclid. He proved a great interest for the causes of different natural phenomena and if the arguments he was given were not enough, he searched them by himself. It is told that his genius was enough to be said a mathematic or physic field in order to interfere with his creative force. So, when to the question: “What are the mathematics?” his father answered that they teach us to create correct figures and to find out the connections between them, Pascal, starting with this indication, reconstructed Euclid’s geometry until the 32nd sentence from book I of “Elements”, even if he did not know the “circle” and the “beeline”; some indications upon Torricelli’s experiences led him to the theory about atmospheric pressure and fluids balance; a funny problem said by a friend regarding gambling constituted the starting point for probability calculation creation; having some imprecise data on Cavalieri’s indivisibility calculation he was able to create it again and to successfully apply to “cycloid”.

1637 When he was 14 years old, Blaise Pascal started to accompany his father to Mersenne’s meetings at Paris, where Roberval, Auzout, Mydorge, Desargues were also; the last became a model for young Pascal.

1639 Being 16, Blaise presented within these meetings, some theorems about projective geometry including Pascal’s mystic hexagon.

On December, Pascal family left Paris to live to Rouen where Etienne was called tax collector for Upper Normandy and where Blaise published on February 1640 “Essay on Conic Sections.”

1642-1645 After working 3 years, Pascal invented the first mechanical calculator, Pascaline, in order to help his father regarding his work as tax collector, the first automatic calculation tool which could perform the four arithmetic operations.

1646 His father had his leg wounded and he must have recovered at home, being cared by 2 younger brothers of a religious motion, who influenced young Pascal that became very religious. During this period the first attempts of studies about atmospheric pressure were done.

1647 He demonstrated the existence of vacuum, after he had a contradiction with Descartes on this thing on the 25th of September.

1648 Pascal noticed that atmospheric pressure decreases with the height and deduced that the vacuum is over atmosphere.

1651 On September, his father, Etienne Pascal, died and within a letter for one of the sisters he wrote about the general deep Christian meaning of death and especially about his father’s, ideas that are the bases of his philosophical work “Thoughts”.

1653 Starting with May, Pascal wrote “Treatise on Fluid Balance” where he explained the pressure law.

1654 Due to correspondence with France, he established the bases of probability theory. During this period he had also health problems, but he continued his work until October 1654.

On the 23rd of November, after a religious experience, he dedicated his life to Christianity. After that, Pascal visited Jansenista Port-Royal des Champs Monastery, 30 km Southwest far of Paris.

1656 He published anonymous reunited works within “Provincial Letters.”

1656-1658 He wrote “Thoughts”, Pascal’s most famous theological work.

1662 He died being 39 years old, on the 19th of August, because of the expansion of malignant tumour of the stomach and was buried at St. Etienne-du-Mont, Paris. Pascal had the idea to create the watch, but the most spectacular invention was omnibus that he launched at Paris at the end of his life. Building a barometer, Pascal indicated the most interesting of his applications: heights measuring.

Even if he dealt a lot with Physics problems, Pascal did not forget geometry and elaborated “Treatise on Conics” and “Treatise on Arithmetic Triangle”. Seven of the 39 years of life were consecrated to sciences. His work is reduced as volume, but its value is huge.[1]