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Image: ESO

400th birthday of Blaise Pascal

Public Symposium


14:30 - 18:00


University of Basel

2023 marks the 400th birthday of the physicist, mathematician, engineer and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662). The Swiss and the Austrian Physical Society, in partnership with the French Physical Society, organise a Symposium to celebrate this anniversary during their joint annual meeting in Basel.

Portrait of Blaise Pascal
Image: Gérard Edelinck, Clermont Auvergne Métropole, Bibliothèque du patrimoine

This year marks the 400th birthday of Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662). Over the course of his short life, Pascal made significant contributions not only to philosophy, but also to several fields of the natural sciences, such as mathematics, the technology of early calculating machines, and especially physics, where he verified Torricelli's theory of atmospheric pressure by careful experiments. It is interesting to recall his critical reflections on what we might call 'artificial intelligence': “La machine d’arithmétique fait des effets qui approchent plus de la pensée que tout ce que font les animaux; mais elle ne fait rien qui puisse faire dire qu’elle a de la volonté, comme les animaux" ("The arithmetical machine produces effects which approach nearer to thought than all the actions of animals. But it does nothing which would enable us to attribute will to it, as to the animals.” – Les Pensées, Frg. 340).

The SPS and the ÖPG, in partnership with the French Physical Society (SFP), take the occasion of the anniversary to organize a mini-symposium on Pascal as part of their joint annual meeting in Basel. As in 2021 in Innsbruck, when the 450th anniversary of Johannes Kepler's birth was commemorated, four lectures addressing the history and the impact of Pascal's work up to our time will be given.

14:30 Dominique Descotes, Université Clermont Auvergne: Order and disorder in Pascal’s Pensées
15:15 Helena van Swygenhoven, EPFL & Paul Scherrer Institut Villigen: Pascal’s law and the Pascal unit in material science and engineering
16:00 Coffee Break

16:30 Michael Korey, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon: Mechanical Thinking: The Pascaline and its Planetary Predecessors
17:15 Thomas Schulthess, ETH Zürich & Swiss National Supercomputing Center (CSCS) Lugano: From Pascaline to Piz Daint in the Alps infrastructure: a modern day view of computing in science
18:00 End


  • Dominique Descotes
  • Helena van Swygenhoven
  • Michael Korey
  • Thomas Schulthess
  • Dominique DescotesImage: SCNAT1/4
  • Helena van SwygenhovenImage: SCNAT2/4
  • Michael KoreyImage: SCNAT3/4
  • Thomas SchulthessImage: SCNAT4/4


  • Philosophy of science
This symposium is free of charge, no registration needed.
Languages: English