Not just a computer language, not just a measurement, not just a funny name . . . Blaise Pascal entered this world on June 19, 1623. Born in the middle, between two sisters, Gilberte and Jacqueline.
Educated at home by his father, Etienne Pascal, a tax collector.
By 1631, Blaise’s father experienced a falling out with Cardinal Richelieu, yes, that Cardinal Richelieu. (I promise not to make any Musketeers references. Other than Oliver Platt will always be my favorite Musketeer, except for that reference.)
Etienne was forced to flee Paris leaving his children in the care of a neighbor, Madame Sainctot, a woman of colorful repute, who kept one of the most sought after salons in all of France. When Jacqueline, the youngest of the Pascal children, performed well in a production at Madam Sainctot’s salon, did Richelieu pardon Etienne. Allowing him back into Paris, reuniting the family.
At the age of 16, Blaise invented one of the first two calculating machines. He developed it to help his father, tasked with the odious calculating and recalculating of taxes owed and paid. He spent three years working on about fifty prototypes. His working calculator became known as as the “Pascaline”.
But Blaise didn’t stop there. He created the “Pascal triangle”, which demonstrates several mathematical properties in addition to demonstrating binomial coefficients. He also laid the ground work for what would become Calculus. Did I also mention he created the first roulette “machine” and collaborated on creation of the mathematical theory of probabilities?
Now that’s some efficient trail blazing for a guy named Blaise.
His work with the concepts of pressure and vacuum caused an irreparable rift between he and Rene DesCartes. At the time Blaise put forth his work on vacuum, the long held belief postulated by Aristotle said, “everything in motion must be moved by something,” therefore, vacuum could not exist.
If he hadn’t stuck to his guns about vacuum, how would I or any other elementary school student be amazed by our teacher collapsing a metal canister with a blow torch in front the class? Way cooler and far less scarring than dissolving a Q-tip in Coca Cola. I never drank soda again.
Poor health plagued Blaise for his entire life—I’m certain neither Coke nor Pepsi had anything to do with it.
His sister, Jacqueline, who never married, spent many years caring for her older brother. When their father died in 1651, they were left a small inheritance. Jacqueline declared her intent to join a convent as a postulant. Gilberte received her portion as a dowry when she got married.
Blaise threatened to cut Jacqueline off from her inheritance because it meant he would be left alone. He finally relented and she joined the convent. He turned over her inheritance to the order.
A few years after his father died, he experienced an life altering religious vision, which he wrote in a brief note and sewed it into the lining of his coat. Each time he changed to a new coat the note would be transferred as well.
Upon his death at the tender age of 39, a servant discovered the note by happenstance.
Blaise Pascal—a mathematician, a physicist, an inventor, a writer, a Christian philosopher and a guy with a really cool name.