Blaise Pascal’s Birthday

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It was Blaise Pascal’s birthday yesterday. Born 19 June 1623, three years short of his 400th birthday.

Together with Fermat, these Frenchmen were giants of mathematics of their generation, laying the foundation of probability and expected values. Their correspondence formed the genesis of actuarial thinking in mortality rates through the works of John Graunt, Johan de Witt and Edmund Halley, leading to modern theories of life contingencies and annuity pricing.

During that century, we see mathematicians like Descartes, Mersenne, Leibniz, Newton and the amazing Bernoulli family.

What struck me more is Pascal’s approach to psychology when he said

“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” So the more effective way in persuading others is not with arguments but by slipping in through the backdoor of their beliefs.

A related Emily Dickinson’s poem.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.