“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
Blaise Pascal (June 19, 1623 – August 19, 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher.
A child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen, 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 by generalising the work of Evangelista Torricelli. Pascal also wrote in defence of the scientific method.
In 1642, while still a teenager, he started some pioneering work on calculating machines. After three years of effort and 50 prototypes, he built 20 finished machines (called Pascal’s calculators and later Pascalines) over the following 10 years, establishing him as one of the first two inventors of the mechanical calculator.
Pascal was an important mathematician, helping create two major new areas of research: he wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of 16, and later corresponded with Pierre de Fermat on probability theory, strongly influencing the development of modern economics and social science. Following Galileo Galilei and Torricelli, in 1647, he rebutted Aristotle’s followers who insisted that nature abhors a vacuum. Pascal’s results caused many disputes before being accepted.
In 1646, he and his sister Jacqueline identified with the religious movement within Catholicism known by its detractors as Jansenism. His father died in 1651. Following a religious experience in late 1654, he began writing influential works on philosophy and theology. His two most famous works date from this period: the Lettres provinciales and the Pensées, the former set in the conflict between Jansenists and Jesuits.
In that year, he also wrote an important treatise on the arithmetical triangle. Between 1658 and 1659 he wrote on the cycloid and its use in calculating the volume of solids.
Pascal had poor health, especially after the age of 18, and he died just two months after his 39th birthday.