10 julio, 2024

Blaise Pascal: who he was, biography, contributions and inventions

Who was Blaise Pascal?

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and theologian. He revolutionized the world from an early age, with inventions ranging from the first calculator to the first public transportation service.

His main contributions include Pascal’s theorem, the pascaline, the existence of a vacuum or his experiments on atmospheric pressure. He was a man whose purpose was to change the way the world worked and turn all its knowledge into the hands of science.

Biography of Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal was born on June 19, 1623 in the Auvergne region, specifically in Clermont. This region is located in the center-south of France.

His family was of noble origin. His father was a magistrate of high rank and his main function was to be a vice-president judge in the Clermont tax collection agency. Years later he was a leading mathematician.

The roots of Pascal’s mother, named Antoinette Begon, were from a well-to-do family of bourgeois origin whose members were engaged in trade. She died giving birth to the youngest daughter of the marriage, when Blaise was three years old.

Transfer to Paris

In 1631, at the age of 8, the family moved to Paris. Étienne Pascal’s intention was that his children would have more opportunities to access quality education and other advantages that they could only get while in the capital.

This desire of Étienne included all his children, but especially Blaise, who from a young age had already shown himself as someone whose intellectual gifts were above average.

According to the biography of Blaise Pascal made by his sister Gibert, once his mother died, the father decided to take charge of his son’s education, keeping him away from formal education.

first invention

In 1640, Blaise’s father was appointed chief of collection and tribute and royal commissioner in Normandy.

It was in this context when, in 1641, Blaise Pascal invented Pascal’s wheel or pascalina for his father, which is considered the oldest calculator on record.

This machine could not do addition, but in the following 10 years Pascal managed to improve this invention, so that it was also possible to perform subtraction.

Pascal patented this artifact, but it cost a lot of money to produce it, since it was made one by one and completely by hand. Pascal only produced 50 machines, and of these nine copies are still preserved.

Introduction into the religious world

In 1646 Blaise’s father had a serious accident, which led him to spend some time recovering. At that time, the entire family approached religion through the teachings of Bishop Cornelio Jansenio, a reformer of Dutch origin.

Despite the fact that Pascal’s family had not been characterized until then by being of a believing nature, the words of this bishop were influential on all members of the family.

The influence reached such a point that his sister Jacqueline became a nun, and Pascal attributed the series of ailments he constantly had in his legs to divine punishment. Following this conception, Pascal decided that he would lead an austere life.

Pascal could be seen as somewhat of an extremist in his religious fervor, as he even once pressured the Archbishop of Rouen to rebuke a seminarian who had espoused a more rationalist view of religion.

Despite this, Pascal always considered that his scientific inclinations and his thirst for knowledge in this area were not negatively influenced by the religion he professed and in which he lived.

Father’s death and social environment

In 1649 the so-called Fronde took place in Paris, which was a set of demonstrations that took place in the capital of France. In this context, the Pascal family moved to Auvergne, and two years later, in 1651, Pascal’s father died.

At this time, Pascal’s sister, Jacqueline, finally entered a Jannesian convent called Port-Royal des Champs as a nun.

After his father passed away, Pascal began to focus more heavily on being part of Parisian society. He did not have a lot of money but he maintained his noble status, so he could perfectly participate in the so-called Paris society.

In this context, he was in contact with great thinkers of the time who introduced him to areas such as modern philosophy, as well as how to function properly in Parisian society.


Pascal continued with his research, being very productive in these years. In 1653 he published a treatise in which he discussed atmospheric pressure. It is considered that this is the first treatise in which the topic of hydrostatics is developed in a fairly descriptive way.

In the same way, that same year he began to study the characteristics of probability theory, thanks to his fondness for gambling, very common among the nobility of the time.

A year later, in 1654, he dedicated himself to publishing different works related to the demonstration by mathematical induction and to the combination and order of numbers.

Isolation from Parisian society

After having been linked to Parisian society for a long time, in 1654 he suffered a depressive state and decided to distance himself from these characters.

She even preferred to move to a more remote area and began to visit her sister frequently at the convent.

Some sources indicate that on November 23, 1654, Pascal had an accident in his carriage, which led to the following events. Although this information is not confirmed, the truth is that on this day he wrote a note in which he reflected a rebirth experience of a religious nature.

From that moment on, Pascal permanently cut ties with Parisian society and devoted himself to his religious fervor. His new circle of friends was made up of theologians and scholars who lived near the convent of Port-Royal des Champs, with whom he talked regularly.

Around this time, in 1656, her niece Marguerite Périer had an eye abscess, had visited the convent and was immediately cured.

This fact helped Pascal to feel even more of a believer and he began to dedicate himself to writing theological and religious texts. This was done by the hand of his colleagues Pierre Nicole and Antoine Arnauld.

Relationship with the Jesuits

Between 1656 and 1657, Pascal anonymously published a series of satirical pamphlets in which he criticized the religious approach shown by the Jesuits, who had problems with the Jansenists.

This writing was called provincial letters and it had a lot of impact, which made it very popular in the society of the time. This work is considered one of the most emblematic of French prose, and even a literary classic of France.

In this conflict the Jesuits showed superiority and placed themselves above the Jansenists, being supported by the pope and the king. Despite the fact that the greatest power rested at that time with the Jesuits, Pascal did not stop defending his ideas, even when several of his companions joined the Jesuits.

So 1658 was the year in which he began writing what he considered his greatest apologetics relating to the Christian religion. This writing alternated with mathematical research, as it was when he delved into the characteristics of the cycloid.


It is believed that the ascetic way of life that Pascal led could have made him sick, and even continued to grow weaker. However, he kept working; in 1654 he formed a committee charged with producing a new translation of the Bible.

In 1662 Pascal founded a carriage company called The Fifty-Pen Carriages, along with a partner named Roannez. This venture was what started public transport in the capital of France.

At the age of 39 Blaise Pascal died. The cause of his death was a malignant tumor that started in his stomach and spread to his brain. Before he died, Pascal arranged for his assets to be sold and the money raised to be donated to charity.

Main contributions of Pascal

Pascal’s theorem

Pascal’s theorem was published in 1639, in The Conics Test. Known as Pascal’s mystical hexagon, his theorem explains that «if a hexagon is inscribed in a conic section then the points of intersection of the pairs of opposite sides are collinear.»

That is, if we extend the lines of a hexagon inscribed in a conic section, then the pairs of the sides at their intersection will create a straight line.

This theorem summarized the properties of conic sections in a single example and was an advance in the application of projections and projective geometry, whose principles are used in art and architecture.

The existence of the void

Pascal, in 1647, first demonstrated the existence of a vacuum. Contrary to the thought of Aristotle and Descartes, Pascal carried out a series of experiments with the barometer and mercury, thus demonstrating what Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647) had theorized.

Thus he managed to prove what many believed impossible: that the space that exists above a liquid inside a barometer is a vacuum. This experiment laid the foundation for his next study on atmospheric pressure.

atmospheric pressure

Although it was a subject treated previously, Pascal carried out the decisive experiment on atmospheric pressure. He filled two barometers with mercury (B1 and B2). B1 was taken to the top of a mountain and B2 was left at the top of it.

The mercury level was constant in B2 but as B1 rose, the mercury level fell. In this way, he proved that the higher the altitude, the lower the atmospheric pressure. This experiment is the basis of studies in hydrostatics and hydrodynamics.

Pascal’s principle

Formulated in 1648, this principle states that when pressure is exerted at any point in a confined fluid, this pressure will be exerted at all points in this fluid.

For example, if we make three holes in an inflatable mattress, the air will come out with the same pressure for each of them.

This principle revolutionized the world of hydraulics, which is the basis of all kinds of mechanics, from aeronautics to fluids.

To test the theory, Pascal conducted an experiment and created a syringe to demonstrate pressure. This syringe would be a forerunner of the syringe used in modern medicine. And from this principle he derived the invention of the hydraulic press.

Pascal’s triangle

It was formulated in 1653, in his Traité du triangle arithmétique (treatise on the arithmetic triangle), and laid the foundations for the development of probability theory that came to light a year later.

Although this type of number pattern was studied thousands of years before, it was Pascal who gave it a correct interpretation.

The triangle starts from the top with a 1 and both of its sides are 1, the sum of the upper numbers gives as…

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