Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont France on June 19, 1623, and died in Paris on Aug. 19, 1662. His father, a local judge at Clermont, and also a man with a scientific reputation, moved the family to Paris in 1631, partly to presue his own scientific studies, partly to carry on the education of his only son, who had already displayed exceptional ability. Blaise was kept at home in order to ensure his not being overworked, and it was directed that his education should be at first confined to the study of languages, and should not include any athematics.

Young Pascal was very curious, one day at the age of twelve while studying with his tutor, he asked about the study of geometry. After this he began to give up his play time to persue the study of geometry. After only a few weeks he had mastered many properties of figures, in particular the proposition that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. His father noticed his sons ability in mathematics and gave him a copy of Euclids’s Elements, a book which Pascal read and soon mastered.

At the young age of ourteen he was admitted to the weekly meetings of Roberval, Mersenne, Mydorge, and other French geometricians. At the age of sixteen he wrote an essay on conic sections; and in 1641 at the age of 18 he construced the first arithmetical machine, an instrument with metal dials on the front on which the numbers were entered. Once the entries had been completed the answer would be displayed in small windows on the top of the device. This device was improved eight years later. His correspondence with Fermat about this time shows that he was then hurning his attention to analytical geometry and physics.

At this time he repeated Torricelli’s experiments, by which the pressure of the atmosphere could be estimated as a weight, and he confirmed his theory of the cause of barometrical variations by obtaining at the same instant readings at different altitudes on the hill of Puy-de-Dome. A strange thing about Pascal was that in 1650 he stoped all he reasearched and his favorite studies to being the study of religion, or as he sais in his Pensees, “contemplate the greatness and the misery of man. Also about this time he encouraged the younger of his two sisters to enther the Port Royal society.

In 1653 after the death of his father he returned to his old studies again, and made several experiments on the pressure exerted by gases and liquids; it wasalso about this period that he invented the arithmetical triangle, and together with Fermat created the calculus of probabilities. At this time he was thinking about getting married but an accident caused him to return to his religious life. While he was driving a four horse carrige the two lead horses ran off the bridge. The only thing that aved him was the traces breaking.

Always somewhat of a mystic, he considered this a special summons to abandon the world of science and return to his studies of religion. He wrote an account of the accident on a small piece of paper, which for the rest of his life he wore next to his heart, to remind him of his covenant. Shortly after the accident he moved to Port Royal, where he continued to live until his death in 1662. Besides the arithmetical machine and Pascals Theorem, Pascal also made the Arithmetical Triangle in 1653 and his work on the theory of probabilities in 1654.


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