Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), the French philosopher and scientist, was one of the greatest and most influential mathematical writers of all time. He was also an expert in many fields, including various languages, and a well-versed religious philosopher.
Early Life and Contributions:
Born at Clermont-Ferrand on June 19, 1623, Pascal’s father was Étienne Pascal, a counselor of the king who later became the president of the Court of Aids at Clermont. His mother died in 1626. The Pascal family settled in Paris in 1631.
At a tender age of 12, Pascal began participating in the meetings of a mathematical academy. He learned different languages from his father, Latin and Greek in particular, but Pascal Sr. didn’t teach him mathematics. This increased the curiosity of young Pascal, who went on to experiment with geometrical figures, even formulating his own names for standard geometrical terms.
Pascal started working on a book, Essay on Conics. The book was published in 1640, and its highlight was the “mystic hexagram”, a theorem related to the collinearity of intersections of lines. It also had hundreds of propositions on conic sections, and influences from Apollonius and his successors. The book gained publicity not only because of the writer’s young age, 16, but also due to its unique accounts about tangency, and several other qualities.
Mathematical and Scientific Achievements:
Pascal’s contributions to hydrostatics, particularly his experimentations with the barometer and his theoretical work on the equilibrium of fluids, were made public one year after his death. The development of probability theory is often considered to be the most significant contributions in the history of mathematics. The Treatise on the Equilibrium of Liquids by Pascal is an extension to Simon Stevin’s research on the hydrostatic paradox and explains what may be termed as the final law of hydrostatics; the famous Pascal’s principle. Pascal is known for his theories of liquids and gases and their interrelation, and also his work regarding the relationship between the dynamics of hydrodynamics and rigid bodies.
Post-Port Royal, perhaps Pascal’s most important to mathematics dealt with the issuess related to the cycloid; a curve, with the area of which the best mathematicians of the day were occupied. Pascal introduced most of his theorems without proof, thus issuing a challenge to his contemporaries, for instance Christopher Wren, John Wallis and Christian Huygens, who happily accepted and figured them out. He also put forward his own solutions, “Amos Dettonville”, an assumed alias. Later, many mathematicians often referred to him by this alias.
The mathematical theory of probability became popular when a communication between Pascal and Pierre de Fermat disclosed that both had concluded to almost similar results. Pascal designed a treatise on the subject, which was also published after his death, though only a few parts of it have survived. Pascal was always concise and sharp when it came to mathematics.
Blaise Pascal died of tuberculosis on 19 August, 1662 at a young age of 39.