If you work on Capitol Hill, you likely heard of Blaise Pascal somewhere along the way, most likely in a college course where he was dismissed as one of those “old white guys” who created the oppressive monster better known as “Western Civilization.”
But, as philosopher Kenneth Samples explains on Reflections, Pascal was not only a philosopher and a passionate follower of Jesus Christ, he was also a technological genius and a “Renaissance Man” of the first order.
“His creative technological experimentation resulted in the invention of the syringe and the hydraulic press, and in the development of the first public transportation system in Europe,” Samples writes.
Maybe now you will think of Pascal the next time you get a flu shot, or drive a car (much of which is stamped out of metal by modern hydraulic presses), or ride the Metro or the H Street Trolley. He took critical first steps towards making those blessings possible.
But those aren’t Pascal’s most notable creation. Thanks to 17th century France’s cumbersome tax system, calculating what was due from each citizen was a complicated, confusing, thankless task.
“Pascal became convinced that if a clock could calculate the hour, then a machine could also successfully perform mathematical calculations. He then proceeded to invent a mechanical adding device that was, essentially, the first digital calculator,” according to Samples.
“Without Pascal’s first digital calculator, it’s doubtful the Mac Air laptop on which this post is being composed would have ever become possible.”
Without Pascal’s first digital calculator, it’s doubtful the Mac Air laptop on which this post is being composed would have ever become possible. It’s not coincidental that a computer programming language is named after Pascal.
What does this have to do with working on Capitol Hill today, more than four centuries later? Ask yourself this: Would America’s quality of life be better or worse if, instead of denigrating or ignoring people like Pascal, our public education system encouraged and facilitated students’ studying how he believed and thought, and why?
Imagine what a 2019 version of Pascal might create!
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