Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal

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”.

It does math and other cool things, cooler than Triominos.

Pascal’s triangle. It does math and other cool things, you can take Wikipedia’s word for it. 😉

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.

Tracy — Fannie Cranium’s Guide to Irreverent Wisdom

About Fannie Cranium

Writing since she could first hold a pen, Tracy Perkins formed her alter ego, "Fannie Cranium" at the suggestion of her husband. Tracy understands smiling makes people wonder what she’s been up to.
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23 Responses to Blaise Pascal

  1. ksbeth says:

    wow, interesting. and with a name like blaise, he had to do something incredible….

  2. Rio says:

    So what did the note say?

  3. Rio says:

    Reblogged this on Seriously Clowning Around and commented:
    I thought it was just a programming language that I had no interest in…

  4. wdydfae says:

    Magnificent! You’re Blaise-ing ever new intellectual trails at BoFN!

  5. Reblogged this on Fannie Cranium's and commented:

    This month’s contribution to the Blog of Funny Names. Blaise Pascal, blazing trails in math, science, philosophy, and gaming. . .

  6. Dave says:

    Wow wow wow! Pascal’s triangle and and awesome name! I’ll have to delve deeper into this post later tonight, but it looks like a good one Fannie!

  7. Arto says:

    Hmmm, sounds like he put the horse in front of Descartes. You can’t do that. No wonder they fell out.


    What a great post. I always appreciate appreciation for Oliver Platt. He should play all the Musketeers and then we’ll have a good musketeer movie.

    Pascal, Pascal, Pascal,
    You’ve delighted us all,
    with binormal coefficients and such,
    of which i understand not much
    But for Fannie you’re great fodder,
    as calculus’ long gone father. (you should read this in a Boston accent)


    • Woohoo Arto. I wish I had your gift for poetry. And a Boston accent.

      I especially love the horse in front of Descartes.

      Now if Oliver Platt played all of the Musketeers, I’d give up all my Cartesian coordinates to see it. 🙂

  8. kerbey says:

    He is a different species than I. How could his brain work so well? And yet I don’t like his treatment of his sister. Poor Jacqueline not getting married and then barely being able to join the convent because of his self-centeredness! I think he NEEDED a Coke. A whiskey and Coke, to be sure. One thing’s for sure: Blaise was not blasé about it.

    And what is that strange thing around his collar?

    • Kerbey, you crack me up. He was a bit self-centered on that one. Glad he finally saw reason, or was it philosophy or math that did it?

      Gotta love 17th century fashions. It looks like he walked out of one of the colleges and forgot to change back into “street clothes”.

  9. Dave says:

    Wow, you really had a teacher who was allowed to collapse a metal canister with a blow torch? School has gotten so much less awesome over the years!

    As an occasional physics tutor, I have to respect Pascal for the work he did on pressure. However, my favorite unit of pressure is the atmosphere. Doing calculations in Pascals is so much more cumbersome!

    The most insane thing is that this guy died at 39! And he accomplished all that brilliant stuff within such a short life span! Remarkable!

    • Dave–I suspect half the things we were taught in elementary school when I was growing up would be highly frowned upon now.

      Mr. Owings used an oxy-acetylene torch and a can, which formerly housed acetone. It collapsed faster than the stock market on Black Monday. And it was so cool! The crunching sound alone made us cheer.

      I agree, it is easier to calculate pressure using atmosphere, far fewer steps.

      It paid to be a child prodigy, gave him a “leg-up”. 🙂

  10. Liz says:

    these days they put mentos in coke, Fannie. a blow torch? hoo boy.

    But what I came by to say was, very cool featuring the old-school smart guy, Fannie 🙂 I keep saying this, but it blows me away how many different topics and eras and everything elses are featured here. Dave’s trivia scores must be way up if he reads it all.

    I’d forgotten about Pascal, and never knew everything you’ve mentioned here, but he’s a big name in mathematical circles for sure. Enjoyed reading your take on his (eccentric) life. Curious: How did you pick this guy? Fun one!

    • Now Mentos in Coke are lots of fun, but do involve a little bit of clean-up. At least with the Q-tip experiment we only had a coffee filter and the left over Coke to pour out.

      In doing research for my book proposal, I came across a quote from Pascal on writing, “The last thing we find in making a book is to know what we must put first.”

      I’d forgotten his first name was Blaise until I saw the quote, at which point, I couldn’t pass him up!

      Dave’s influence is far reaching. 🙂

  11. hausmiller says:

    My friends named their 2nd son Blaise, in part after Mr. Pascal.

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