Designing Experiments & Games of Chance
The Unconventional Science of Blaise Pascal

William R. Shea

2003, xii+354pp, illustrated, cloth bound and jacketed, ISBN 0-88135-376-0, $39.95

Designing Experiments & Games of Chance

Hardcover. A paperback edition is also available.

During his comparatively brief life (he died at thirty-nine, the age Mozart was to die) Blaise Pascal devoted his unusual talents to mathematics, physics and religion. His religious views are still widely discussed, and the general interest in this aspect of his life may be responsible for the fact that his mathematical and scientific achievements are less known. Those who are familiar with his Pensées, which are fragments of an intended Apology for Christianity, have had little opportunity of acquiring a just appreciation of the originality of his thought in physics and probability theory. This book fills this gap by describing Pascal’s work in a way that is accessible to anyone interested in his contribution to modern science and his attempt to tame Lady Luck. The words “Unconventional Science” in the subtitle of the book are meant as a reminder of the radically different way of looking at nature that was developed by Pascal and his contemporaries. The first seven chapters examine Pascal’s ingenious experiments to show that a vacuum can be produced, an idea that led him to ascend a mountain with a barometer to prove that we lived submerged under a sea of air. Chapter eight considers his bold views on the advancement of science and religion, and chapter nine his new philosophy of experimental science. The concluding chapters offer an insight into his pioneering work in the theory of probability and his willingness to help a friend who was a keen gambler but no mathematician. Pascal even applied his calculation of the odds at games of chance to the problem of personal destiny and the existence of God. Walking in his footsteps, the reader not only discovers the new world of experimental science but learns to play for high stakes.


“…The book is interesting, well written and very accessible to a wide readership. The mathematics related to probability in the latter part of the book is clearly and simply explained…” —Mathematical Reviews

“…Shea narrates the events, experiments, letters, challenges, and accusations with such ease that the reader is drawn into the time and place of their occurrence. All diagrams and sketches are copies of the protagonists’ originals—embedding the reader even deeper in the past…Abundant footnotes: complete bibliography; detailed index. A truly exceptional, scholarly book.”—CHOICE