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Blaise Pascal

Born: 19 June 1623 in Clermont (now Clermont-Ferrand), Auvergne, France Died: 19 Aug 1662 in Paris, France
Blaise Pascal was the third of tienne Pascal's children and his only son. Blaise's mother died when he was only three years old. In 1632 the Pascal family, tienne and his four children, left Clermont and settled in Paris. Blaise Pascal's father had unorthodox educational views and decided to teach his son himself. tienne Pascal decided that Blaise was not to study mathematics before the age of 15 and all mathematics texts were removed from their house. Blaise however, his curiosity raised by this, started to work on geometry himself at the age of 12. He discovered that the sum of the angles of a triangle are two right angles and, when his father found out, he relented and allowed Blaise a copy of Euclid. At the age of 14 Blaise Pascal started to accompany his father to Mersenne's meetings. Mersenne belonged to the religious order of the Minims, and his cell in Paris was a frequent meeting place for Gassendi, Roberval, Carcavi, Auzout, Mydorge, Mylon, Desargues and others. Soon, certainly by the time he was 15, Blaise came to admire the work of Desargues. At the age of sixteen, Pascal presented a single piece of paper to one of Mersenne's meetings in June 1639. It contained a number of projective geometry theorems, including Pascal's mystic hexagon. In December 1639 the Pascal family left Paris to live in Rouen where tienne had been appointed as a tax collector for Upper Normandy. Shortly after settling in Rouen, Blaise had his first work, Essay on Conic Sections published in February 1640. Pascal invented the first digital calculator to help his father with his work collecting taxes. He worked on it for three years between 1642 and 1645. The device, called the Pascaline, resembled a mechanical calculator of the 1940s. This, almost certainly, makes Pascal the second person to invent a mechanical calculator for Schickard had manufactured one in 1624. There were problems faced by Pascal in the design of the calculator which were due to the design of the French currency at that time. There were 20 sols in a livre and 12 deniers in a sol. The system remained in France until 1799 but in Britain a system with similar multiples lasted until 1971. Pascal had to solve much harder technical problems to work with this division of the livre into 240 than he would have had if the division had been 100. However production of the machines started in 1642 but, as Adamson writes in [3], By 1652 fifty prototypes had been produced, but few machines were sold, and manufacture of Pascal's arithmetical calculator ceased in that year. Events of 1646 were very significant for the young Pascal. In that year his father injured his leg and had to recuperate in his house. He was looked after by two young brothers from a religious movement just outside Rouen. They had a profound effect on the young Pascal and he became deeply religious. From about this time Pascal began a series of experiments on atmospheric pressure. By 1647 he had proved to his satisfaction that a vacuum existed. Descartes visited Pascal on 23 September. His visit only lasted two days and the two argued about the vacuum which Descartes did not believe in. Descartes wrote, rather cruelly, in a letter to Huygens after this visit that Pascal ...has too much vacuum in his head. In August of 1648 Pascal observed that the pressure of the atmosphere decreases with height and deduced that a vacuum existed above the atmosphere. Descartes wrote to Carcavi in June 1647 about Pascal's experiments saying:It was I who two years ago advised him to do it, for although I have not performed it myself, I did not doubt of its success ... In October 1647 Pascal wrote New Experiments Concerning Vacuums which led to disputes with a number of scientists who, like Descartes, did not believe in a vacuum.

tienne Pascal died in September 1651 and following this Blaise wrote to one of his sisters giving a deeply Christian meaning to death in general and his father's death in particular. His ideas here were to form the basis for his later philosophical work Penses. From May 1653 Pascal worked on mathematics and physics writing Treatise on the Equilibrium of Liquids (1653) in which he explains Pascal's law of pressure. Adamson writes in [3]:This treatise is a complete outline of a system of hydrostatics, the first in the history of science, it embodies his most distinctive and important contribution to physical theory. He worked on conic sections and produced important theorems in projective geometry. In The Generation of Conic Sections (mostly completed by March 1648 but worked on again in 1653 and 1654) Pascal considered conics generated by central projection of a circle. This was meant to be the first part of a treatise on conics which Pascal never completed. The work is now lost but Leibniz and Tschirnhaus made notes from it and it is through these notes that a fairly complete picture of the work is now possible. Although Pascal was not the first to study the Pascal triangle, his work on the topic in Treatise on the Arithmetical Triangle was the most important on this topic and, through the work of Wallis, Pascal's work on the binomial coefficients was to lead Newton to his discovery of the general binomial theorem for fractional and negative powers. In correspondence with Fermat he laid the foundation for the theory of probability. This correspondence consisted of five letters and occurred in the summer of 1654. They considered the dice problem, already studied by Cardan, and the problem of points also considered by Cardan and, around the same time, Pacioli and Tartaglia. The dice problem asks how many times one must throw a pair of dice before one expects a double six while the problem of points asks how to divide the stakes if a game of dice is incomplete. They solved the problem of points for a two player game but did not develop powerful enough mathematical methods to solve it for three or more players. Through the period of this correspondence Pascal was unwell. In one of the letters to Fermat written in July 1654 he writes ... though I am still bedridden, I must tell you that yesterday evening I was given your letter. However, despite his health problems, he worked intensely on scientific and mathematical questions until October 1654. Sometime around then he nearly lost his life in an accident. The horses pulling his carriage bolted and the carriage was left hanging over a bridge above the river Seine. Although he was rescued without any physical injury, it does appear that he was much affected psychologically. Not long after he underwent another religious experience, on 23 November 1654, and he pledged his life to Christianity. After this time Pascal made visits to the Jansenist monastery Port-Royal des Champs about 30 km south west of Paris. He began to publish anonymous works on religious topics, eighteen Provincial Letters being published during 1656 and early 1657. These were written in defence of his friend Antoine Arnauld, an opponent of the Jesuits and a defender of Jansenism, who was on trial before the faculty of theology in Paris for his controversial religious works. Pascal's most famous work in philosophy is Penses, a collection of personal thoughts on human suffering and faith in God which he began in late 1656 and continued to work on during 1657 and 1658. This work contains 'Pascal's wager' which claims to prove that belief in God is rational with the following argument. If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him, while if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing. With 'Pascal's wager' he uses probabilistic and mathematical arguments but his main conclusion is that ...we are compelled to gamble... His last work was on the cycloid, the curve traced by a point on the circumference of a rolling circle. In 1658 Pascal started to think about mathematical problems again as he lay awake at night unable to sleep for pain. He applied Cavalieri's calculus of indivisibles to the problem of the area of any segment of the cycloid and the centre of gravity of any segment. He also solved the problems of the volume and surface area of the solid of revolution formed by rotating the cycloid about the x-axis. Pascal published a challenge offering two prizes for solutions to these problems to Wren, Laloubre, Leibniz, Huygens, Wallis, Fermat and several other mathematicians. Wallis and Laloubre entered the competition but Laloubre's solution was wrong and Wallis was also not successful. Sluze, Ricci, Huygens, Wren and Fermat all communicated their discoveries to Pascal without entering the

competition. Wren had been working on Pascal's challenge and he in turn challenged Pascal, Fermat and Roberval to find the arc length, the length of the arch, of the cycloid. Pascal published his own solutions to his challenge problems in the Letters to Carcavi. After that time on he took little interest in science and spent his last years giving to the poor and going from church to church in Paris attending one religious service after another. Pascal died at the age of 39 in intense pain after a malignant growth in his stomach spread to the brain. He is described in [3] as:... a man of slight build with a loud voice and somewhat overbearing manner. ... he lived most of his adult life in great pain. He had always been in delicate health, suffering even in his youth from migraine ... His character is described as:... precocious, stubbornly persevering, a perfectionist, pugnacious to the point of bullying ruthlessness yet seeking to be meek and humble ..." In [1] the following assessment is given:At once a physicist, a mathematician, an eloquent publicist in the Provinciales ... Pascal was embarrassed by the very abundance of his talents. It has been suggested that it was his too concrete turn of mind that prevented his discovering the infinitesimal calculus, and in some of the Provinciales the mysterious relations of human beings with God are treated as if they were a geometrical problem. But these considerations are far outweighed by the profit that he drew from the multiplicity of his gifts, his religious writings are rigorous because of his scientific training... 1. History Topics: An overview of the history of mathematics 2. History Topics: Jaina mathematics 3. History Topics: Infinity 4. History Topics: The brachistochrone problem 5. History Topics: Cubic surfaces 6. History Topics: The mathematician and the forger 7. History Topics: Overview of Chinese mathematics 8. History Topics: The Weil family 9. Famous Curves: parabola 10. Famous Curves: Pearls of Sluze 11. Chronology: 1625 to 1650 12. Chronology: 1650 to 1675 13. Famous Curves: Cycloid 14. Famous Curves: Limacon of Pascal

Pythagoras of Samos
Born: about 569 BC in Samos, Ionia Died: about 475 BC
Pythagoras of Samos is often described as the first pure mathematician. He is an extremely important figure in the development of mathematics yet we know relatively little about his mathematical achievements. Unlike many later Greek mathematicians, where at least we have some of the books which they wrote, we have nothing of Pythagoras's writings. The society which he led, half religious and half scientific, followed a code of secrecy which certainly means that today Pythagoras is a mysterious figure. We do have details of Pythagoras's life from early biographies which use important original sources yet are written by authors who attribute divine powers to him, and whose aim was to present him as a god-like figure. What we present below is an attempt to collect together the most reliable sources to reconstruct an account of Pythagoras's life. There is fairly good agreement on the main events of his life but most of the dates are disputed with different scholars giving dates which differ by 20 years. Some historians treat all this information as merely legends but, even if the reader treats it in this way, being such an early record it is of historical importance. Pythagoras's father was Mnesarchus ([12] and [13]), while his mother was Pythais [8] and she was a native of Samos. Mnesarchus was a merchant who came from Tyre, and there is a story ([12] and [13]) that he brought corn to Samos at a time of famine and was granted citizenship of Samos as a mark of gratitude. As a child Pythagoras spent his early years in Samos but travelled widely with his father. There are accounts of Mnesarchus returning to Tyre with Pythagoras and that he was taught there by the Chaldaeans and the learned men of Syria. It seems that he also visited Italy with his father. Little is known of Pythagoras's childhood. All accounts of his physical appearance are likely to be fictitious except the description of a striking birthmark which Pythagoras had on his thigh. It is probable that he had two brothers although some sources say that he had three. Certainly he was well educated, learning to play the lyre, learning poetry and to recite Homer. There were, among his teachers, three philosophers who were to influence Pythagoras while he was a young man. One of the most important was Pherekydes who many describe as the teacher of Pythagoras. The other two philosophers who were to influence Pythagoras, and to introduce him to mathematical ideas, were Thales and his pupil Anaximander who both lived on Miletus. In [8] it is said that Pythagoras visited Thales in Miletus when he was between 18 and 20 years old. By this time Thales was an old man and, although he created a strong impression on Pythagoras, he probably did not teach him a great deal. However he did contribute to Pythagoras's interest in mathematics and astronomy, and advised him to travel to Egypt to learn more of these subjects. Thales's pupil, Anaximander, lectured on Miletus and Pythagoras attended these lectures. Anaximander certainly was interested in geometry and cosmology and many of his ideas would influence Pythagoras's own views. In about 535 BC Pythagoras went to Egypt. This happened a few years after the tyrant Polycrates seized control of the city of Samos. There is some evidence to suggest that Pythagoras and Polycrates were friendly at first and it is claimed [5] that Pythagoras went to Egypt with a letter of introduction written by Polycrates. In fact Polycrates had an alliance with Egypt and there were therefore strong links between Samos and Egypt at this time. The accounts of Pythagoras's time in Egypt suggest that he visited many of the temples and took part in many discussions with the priests. According to Porphyry ([12] and [13]) Pythagoras was refused admission to all the temples except the one at Diospolis where he was accepted into the priesthood after completing the rites necessary for admission. It is not difficult to relate many of Pythagoras's beliefs, ones he would later impose on the society that he set up in Italy, to the customs that he came across in Egypt. For example the secrecy of the Egyptian priests, their refusal to eat beans, their refusal to wear even cloths made from animal skins, and their striving for purity were all customs that Pythagoras would later adopt. Porphyry in

[12] and [13] says that Pythagoras learnt geometry from the Egyptians but it is likely that he was already acquainted with geometry, certainly after teachings from Thales and Anaximander. In 525 BC Cambyses II, the king of Persia, invaded Egypt. Polycrates abandoned his alliance with Egypt and sent 40 ships to join the Persian fleet against the Egyptians. After Cambyses had won the Battle of Pelusium in the Nile Delta and had captured Heliopolis and Memphis, Egyptian resistance collapsed. Pythagoras was taken prisoner and taken to Babylon. Iamblichus writes that Pythagoras (see [8]):... was transported by the followers of Cambyses as a prisoner of war. Whilst he was there he gladly associated with the Magoi ... and was instructed in their sacred rites and learnt about a very mystical worship of the gods. He also reached the acme of perfection in arithmetic and music and the other mathematical sciences taught by the Babylonians... In about 520 BC Pythagoras left Babylon and returned to Samos. Polycrates had been killed in about 522 BC and Cambyses died in the summer of 522 BC, either by committing suicide or as the result of an accident. The deaths of these rulers may have been a factor in Pythagoras's return to Samos but it is nowhere explained how Pythagoras obtained his freedom. Darius of Persia had taken control of Samos after Polycrates' death and he would have controlled the island on Pythagoras's return. This conflicts with the accounts of Porphyry and Diogenes Laertius who state that Polycrates was still in control of Samos when Pythagoras returned there. Pythagoras made a journey to Crete shortly after his return to Samos to study the system of laws there. Back in Samos he founded a school which was called the semicircle. Iamblichus [8] writes in the third century AD that:... he formed a school in the city [of Samos], the 'semicircle' of Pythagoras, which is known by that name even today, in which the Samians hold political meetings. They do this because they think one should discuss questions about goodness, justice and expediency in this place which was founded by the man who made all these subjects his business. Outside the city he made a cave the private site of his own philosophical teaching, spending most of the night and daytime there and doing research into the uses of mathematics... Pythagoras left Samos and went to southern Italy in about 518 BC (some say much earlier). Iamblichus [8] gives some reasons for him leaving. First he comments on the Samian response to his teaching methods:... he tried to use his symbolic method of teaching which was similar in all respects to the lessons he had learnt in Egypt. The Samians were not very keen on this method and treated him in a rude and improper manner. This was, according to Iamblichus, used in part as an excuse for Pythagoras to leave Samos:... Pythagoras was dragged into all sorts of diplomatic missions by his fellow citizens and forced to participate in public affairs. ... He knew that all the philosophers before him had ended their days on foreign soil so he decided to escape all political responsibility, alleging as his excuse, according to some sources, the contempt the Samians had for his teaching method. Pythagoras founded a philosophical and religious school in Croton (now Crotone, on the east of the heel of southern Italy) that had many followers. Pythagoras was the head of the society with an inner circle of followers known as mathematikoi. The mathematikoi lived permanently with the Society, had no personal possessions and were vegetarians. They were taught by Pythagoras himself and obeyed strict rules. The beliefs that Pythagoras held were [2]:(1) that at its deepest level, reality is mathematical in nature, (2) that philosophy can be used for spiritual purification, (3) that the soul can rise to union with the divine, (4) that certain symbols have a mystical significance, and (5) that all brothers of the order should observe strict loyalty and secrecy. Both men and women were permitted to become members of the Society, in fact several later women Pythagoreans became famous philosophers. The outer circle of the Society were known as the akousmatics and they lived in their own houses, only coming to the Society during the day. They were allowed their own possessions and were not required to be vegetarians. Of Pythagoras's actual work nothing is known. His school practised secrecy and communalism making it hard to distinguish between the work of Pythagoras and that of his followers. Certainly his school made outstanding contributions to mathematics, and it is possible to be fairly

certain about some of Pythagoras's mathematical contributions. First we should be clear in what sense Pythagoras and the mathematikoi were studying mathematics. They were not acting as a mathematics research group does in a modern university or other institution. There were no 'open problems' for them to solve, and they were not in any sense interested in trying to formulate or solve mathematical problems. Rather Pythagoras was interested in the principles of mathematics, the concept of number, the concept of a triangle or other mathematical figure and the abstract idea of a proof. As Brumbaugh writes in [3]:It is hard for us today, familiar as we are with pure mathematical abstraction and with the mental act of generalisation, to appreciate the originality of this Pythagorean contribution. In fact today we have become so mathematically sophisticated that we fail even to recognise 2 as an abstract quantity. There is a remarkable step from 2 ships + 2 ships = 4 ships, to the abstract result 2 + 2 = 4, which applies not only to ships but to pens, people, houses etc. There is another step to see that the abstract notion of 2 is itself a thing, in some sense every bit as real as a ship or a house. Pythagoras believed that all relations could be reduced to number relations. As Aristotle wrote:The Pythagorean ... having been brought up in the study of mathematics, thought that things are numbers ... and that the whole cosmos is a scale and a number. This generalisation stemmed from Pythagoras's observations in music, mathematics and astronomy. Pythagoras noticed that vibrating strings produce harmonious tones when the ratios of the lengths of the strings are whole numbers, and that these ratios could be extended to other instruments. In fact Pythagoras made remarkable contributions to the mathematical theory of music. He was a fine musician, playing the lyre, and he used music as a means to help those who were ill. Pythagoras studied properties of numbers which would be familiar to mathematicians today, such as even and odd numbers, triangular numbers, perfect numbers etc. However to Pythagoras numbers had personalities which we hardly recognise as mathematics today [3]:Each number had its own personality - masculine or feminine, perfect or incomplete, beautiful or ugly. This feeling modern mathematics has deliberately eliminated, but we still find overtones of it in fiction and poetry. Ten was the very best number: it contained in itself the first four integers - one, two, three, and four [1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10] - and these written in dot notation formed a perfect triangle. Of course today we particularly remember Pythagoras for his famous geometry theorem. Although the theorem, now known as Pythagoras's theorem, was known to the Babylonians 1000 years earlier he may have been the first to prove it. Proclus, the last major Greek philosopher, who lived around 450 AD wrote (see [7]):After [Thales, etc.] Pythagoras transformed the study of geometry into a liberal education, examining the principles of the science from the beginning and probing the theorems in an immaterial and intellectual manner: he it was who discovered the theory of irrational and the construction of the cosmic figures. Again Proclus, writing of geometry, said:I emulate the Pythagoreans who even had a conventional phrase to express what I mean "a figure and a platform, not a figure and a sixpence", by which they implied that the geometry which is deserving of study is that which, at each new theorem, sets up a platform to ascend by, and lifts the soul on high instead of allowing it to go down among the sensible objects and so become subservient to the common needs of this mortal life. Heath [7] gives a list of theorems attributed to Pythagoras, or rather more generally to the Pythagoreans. (i) The sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. Also the Pythagoreans knew the generalisation which states that a polygon with n sides has sum of interior angles 2n - 4 right angles and sum of exterior angles equal to four right angles. (ii) The theorem of Pythagoras - for a right angled triangle the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. We should note here that to Pythagoras the square on the hypotenuse would certainly not be thought of as a number multiplied by itself, but rather as a geometrical square constructed on the side. To say that the sum of two squares is equal to a third square meant that the two squares could be cut up and reassembled to form a square identical to the third square.

(iii) Constructing figures of a given area and geometrical algebra. For example they solved equations such as a (a - x) = x2 by geometrical means. (iv) The discovery of irrationals. This is certainly attributed to the Pythagoreans but it does seem unlikely to have been due to Pythagoras himself. This went against Pythagoras's philosophy the all things are numbers, since by a number he meant the ratio of two whole numbers. However, because of his belief that all things are numbers it would be a natural task to try to prove that the hypotenuse of an isosceles right angled triangle had a length corresponding to a number. (v) The five regular solids. It is thought that Pythagoras himself knew how to construct the first three but it is unlikely that he would have known how to construct the other two. (vi) In astronomy Pythagoras taught that the Earth was a sphere at the centre of the Universe. He also recognised that the orbit of the Moon was inclined to the equator of the Earth and he was one of the first to realise that Venus as an evening star was the same planet as Venus as a morning star. Primarily, however, Pythagoras was a philosopher. In addition to his beliefs about numbers, geometry and astronomy described above, he held [2]:... the following philosophical and ethical teachings: ... the dependence of the dynamics of world structure on the interaction of contraries, or pairs of opposites; the viewing of the soul as a selfmoving number experiencing a form of metempsychosis, or successive reincarnation in different species until its eventual purification (particularly through the intellectual life of the ethically rigorous Pythagoreans); and the understanding ...that all existing objects were fundamentally composed of form and not of material substance. Further Pythagorean doctrine ... identified the brain as the locus of the soul; and prescribed certain secret cultic practices. In [3] their practical ethics are also described:In their ethical practices, the Pythagorean were famous for their mutual friendship, unselfishness, and honesty. Pythagoras's Society at Croton was not unaffected by political events despite his desire to stay out of politics. Pythagoras went to Delos in 513 BC to nurse his old teacher Pherekydes who was dying. He remained there for a few months until the death of his friend and teacher and then returned to Croton. In 510 BC Croton attacked and defeated its neighbour Sybaris and there is certainly some suggestions that Pythagoras became involved in the dispute. Then in around 508 BC the Pythagorean Society at Croton was attacked by Cylon, a noble from Croton itself. Pythagoras escaped to Metapontium and the most authors say he died there, some claiming that he committed suicide because of the attack on his Society. Iamblichus in [8] quotes one version of events:Cylon, a Crotoniate and leading citizen by birth, fame and riches, but otherwise a difficult, violent, disturbing and tyrannically disposed man, eagerly desired to participate in the Pythagorean way of life. He approached Pythagoras, then an old man, but was rejected because of the character defects just described. When this happened Cylon and his friends vowed to make a strong attack on Pythagoras and his followers. Thus a powerfully aggressive zeal activated Cylon and his followers to persecute the Pythagoreans to the very last man. Because of this Pythagoras left for Metapontium and there is said to have ended his days. This seems accepted by most but Iamblichus himself does not accept this version and argues that the attack by Cylon was a minor affair and that Pythagoras returned to Croton. Certainly the Pythagorean Society thrived for many years after this and spread from Croton to many other Italian cities. Gorman [6] argues that this is a strong reason to believe that Pythagoras returned to Croton and quotes other evidence such as the widely reported age of Pythagoras as around 100 at the time of his death and the fact that many sources say that Pythagoras taught Empedokles to claim that he must have lived well after 480 BC. The evidence is unclear as to when and where the death of Pythagoras occurred. Certainly the Pythagorean Society expanded rapidly after 500 BC, became political in nature and also spilt into a number of factions. In 460 BC the Society [2]:... was violently suppressed. Its meeting houses were everywhere sacked and burned; mention is made in particular of "the house of Milo" in Croton, where 50 or 60 Pythagoreans were surprised and slain. Those who survived took refuge at Thebes and other places. 1. History Topics: Greek Astronomy 2. History Topics: Perfect numbers 3. History Topics: Prime numbers

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History Topics: The Indian Sulbasutras History Topics: The history of cartography History Topics: Pythagoras's theorem in Babylonian mathematics History Topics: The Golden ratio History Topics: Mathematics and Architecture History Topics: Infinity History Topics: Christianity and the Mathematical Sciences - the Heliocentric Hypothesis History Topics: A history of time: Classical time History Topics: Mathematics and the physical world History Topics: Overview of Chinese mathematics History Topics: The Ten Mathematical Classics History Topics: Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art History Topics: The real numbers: Pythagoras to Stevin Chronology: 30000BC to 500BC