Blaise Pascal: Mathematician, Physicist and Thinker about by D. Adamson

By D. Adamson

This quantity includes a chronological survey exploring Pascal's (1623-62) success as a mathematician, physicist and spiritual philosopher, and a bankruptcy on his existence. His paintings on conic sections, the likelihood calculus, quantity thought, cycloid curves and hydrostatics is taken into account intimately. Analyses of the "Provincial Letters" and the "Thoughts" convey out the special gains, thematic and technical, of every textual content. Pascal's lesser identified works and the guess argument also are studied.

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By most, though not all, Catholic theologians and social thinkers he has been keenly admired. To non-Catholics he has often appeared bigoted and divisive, devot rather than devout, the embodiment of an archaic piety and an intransigent religious formalism. Pascal has been variously described as 'that remarkable, or rather matchless, intellect' (Gassendi, 1648),102 a man 'more subtle than solid' (Nicole, circa 1672),103 'one of the most sublime minds the world has produced' (Bayle, 1696)104 yet 'blindfolded' in the matter of cycloids (Leibniz, 1703),105 'a sublime misanthropist' (Voltaire, 1734)106 y e t o n e Q£ / ^ e m o s j .

Any force greater than this will produce a void. If, therefore, a column of some other substance is used, the height of that column must be to the height of mercury inversely as the density of the first is to the density of the second. This point is established in New Experiments Concerning Vacuums (362-70), the pamphlet in which he reported some of his recent scientific research (8 October 1647). 2 Pascal's Historic Vacuum Experiment Take a tube which is curved at its bottom end, sealed at its top end A and open at its extremity B.

This was not as straightforward an operation as it might seem, because the wheels and gearing mechanism could not be put into reverse. Consequently, Pascal devised a system of parallel notations enabling the converse arithmetical process to be carried out with the minimum of complexity. The drums that were used for addition were also numbered in reverse from 9 to 0, and the only further and inevitable refinement was occasioned by the problem of negative transfers. 7 This machine apparently had the advantage over Pascal's in that it could easily perform the non-linear operations of multiplication and division, 8 whereas Pascal's showed great awkwardness in those operations despite its inventor's claim (I 300) that it could perform all four of the processes of arithmetic (the Dresden model is, in fact, capable of the four).

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