Quotes about Blaise Pascal
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Truth is … one approach to the attainment of the good, but in and of itself, it is neither the good nor the beautiful … Socrates, Pascal, and others regarded knowledge of the truth with regard to purposeless objects as incongruous with the good … [by] exposing deception, truth destroys illusion, which is the principle attribute of beauty.
To prove that, until this very day, life has never been shown to man as a product of the forces that govern matter, it could be useful the spiritual doctrine which has been very neglected elsewhere, but always finds at least a glorious refuge in your groups. Perhaps you know that in this difficult question concerning the origin of the infinitesimal, I will have brought experimental rigor that has grown weary of contradiction. Referring to the merit, however, we have inherited severe rules of the method from the great experimenters: Galileo, Pascal, Newton and their followers for two centuries.
As for negative numbers... most mathematicians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not accept them... In the fifteenth century Nicolas Chuquet and, in the sixteenth, Stifel both spoke of negative numbers as absurd numbers....Descartes accepted them, in part....he had shown that, given an equation, one can obtain another whose roots are larger than the original one by any given quantity. Thus an equation with negative roots could be transformed into one with positive roots. Since we can turn false roots into real roots, Descartes was willing to accept negative numbers. Pascal regarded the subtraction of 4 from zero as utter nonsense.
In exchange for his first taste of powdered milk, Pascal showed me a tree we could climb to find a bird's nest. After we handled and examined the pink-skinned baby birds, he popped one of them into his mouth like a jujube. It seemed to please him a lot. He offered a baby bird to me, pantomiming that I should eat it. I understood perfectly well what he meant, but I refused. He did not seem disappointed to have to eat the whole brood himself.
If Montaigne is a man in the prime of life sitting in his study on a warm morning and putting down the sum of his experience in his rich, sinewy prose, then Pascal is that same man lying awake in the small hours of the night when death seems very close and every thought is heightened by the apprehension that it may be his last.
[About Algol W] It was not only a worthy successor of ALGOL 60, it was even a worthy predecessor of PASCAL […] I was astonished when the working group, consisting of all the best known international experts of programming languages, resolved to lay aside the commissioned draft on which we had all been working and swallow a line with such an unattractive bait.
The existential way of understanding human beings has some illustrious progenitors in Western history, such as Socrates in his dialogues, Augustine in his depth-psychological analyses of the self, Pascal in his struggle to find a place for the heart's reasons which the reason knows not of. But it arose specifically just over a hundred years ago in Kierkegaard's violent protest against the reigning rationalism of his day Hegel's totalitarianism of reason, to use Maritain's phrase. Kierkegaard proclaimed that Hegel's identification of abstract truth with reality was an illusion and amounted to trickery. Truth exists, wrote Kierkegaard, only as the individual himself produces it in action.
If I ask another professor what he teaches in the introductory programming course, whether he answers proudly "Pascal" or diffidently "FORTRAN," I know that he is teaching a grammar, a set of semantic rules, and some finished algorithms, leaving the students to discover, on their own, some process of design.