Sunday, 6 January 2008

Christmas in Paris 2007

Trying to type on a French keyboard; yes Virginia; there is a difference!!!

Got to love a city where they have streets named for mathematicians.... this one is in the 17 th district near my apartment,,,,, visited the Eiffel Tower; The Louvre; Notre Dame; all the tourist sites, but near the Pantheon there is a little Gothic church, St. Etienne; that was Pascal's church, and where he is buried.

The Arts de Metiers Museum in Paris was a great visit; Pascal's Calculating machine, at nineteen??? What a mind!!! and Foucault's penulum could still be there watching; but the streets called; the food; the bakeries, Paris is a fest for the nose as well as the eyes. Walking; watching the people; and then sitting on a bench by the Eiffel Tower, listening to evey dilect known to man; watching children on a hand turned carousel..... Can life get better than this???

At the Louvre I got to stand close up and contemplate the Beautiful statue of Pascal by Pajou . They also have another of D'Alembert who was instrumental in the French measurement of the Paris Meridian.

I tried to get a close-up of the roulette or cycloid which he is considering.

One of my favorite stories about Pascal relates to the roulette . Pascal was a very devout man, and also a wonderful mathematician early in his life. When he was in his early teens he wrote one of the important papers on analytic geometry at 16 and invented the calculating machine shown below when he was only nineteen, and in truth, it was not significantly improved on until the first electronic calculator/computers. Later, along with his studies in pressure and physics, he helped to create the study of probability in his letters with Fermat (around 1554) .

But then, at about age 31, he had an accident when his horses ran into the river at the bridge at Neuilly (Paris). Miraculosly, he was saved when the harnesses broke and the horses fell into the river leaving the carrage, and an unharmed Pascal, on the bridge. Pascal took this as a sign that God was not pleased with the time and attention he gave to math and physics, and so he abandoned them entirely to devote himself to the study of Religion. It was during this time that he wrote most of the documents which would be gathered to create his Penses.

Then about three years later, so the story goes, Pascal developed an ulcer that caused him such discomfort he could find no rest at all (he always did have problems with insomnia). To occupy his mind, he turned his attention to an article on the cycloid, a question much in consideration in all of Europe at the time. As Pascal used the new calculus of indivisibles created by Cavalieri to solve the area under the curve his pain disappeared. He took this as a sign that God did not object to his study of math, and returned to consider the problem and others for the few remaining years of his life. He died at thirty-nine from cancer of the stomach that had spread to his brain.

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