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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index P > Blaise Pascal Quotes > Nature

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Blaise Pascal
(19 Jun 1623 - 19 Aug 1662)

French mathematician and physicist who was a child prodigy. In mathematics, he developed a theory of probabilities. In physics, he invented the hydraulic press and formulated Pascal’s Law for pressure.


Blaise Pascal Quotes on Nature (12 quotes)

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…what is man in the midst of nature? A nothing in comparison with the infinite, an all in comparison with nothingness: a mean between nothing and all. Infinitely far from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their principle are for him inevitably concealed in an impenetrable secret; equally incapable of seeing the nothingness whence he is derived, and the infinity in which he is swallowed up.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées. Collected in Blaise Pascal and O.W. Wright (trans.), The Thoughts, Letters and Opuscules of Blaise Pascal (1859), 160. There are versions by other translators. For example, an alternate translation for the last sentence is: [Man is] “equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”
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L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature, mais c’est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l’univers entier s’arme pour l’écraser; une vapeur, une goutte d’eau suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l’univers l’écraserait, l’homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, parce qu’il sait qu’il meurt et l’avantage que l’univers a sur lui; l’univers n'en sait rien.
Man is a reed, the feeblest thing in nature. But a reed that can think. The whole universe need not fly to arms to kill him ; for a little heat or a drop of water can slay a man. But, even then, man would be nobler than his destroyer, for he would know he died, while the whole universe would know nothing of its victory.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées. As given and translated in Hugh Percy Jones (ed.), Dictionary of Foreign Phrases and Classical Quotations (1908), 292.
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L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature; mais c’est un roseau pensant.
Man is but a reed, the weakest thing in nature; but a thinking reed.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 160. In H.F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal’s Pensées (1950), 83.
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A game is on, at the other end of this infinite distance, and heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason you cannot leave either; according to reason you cannot leave either undone... Yes, but wager you must; there is no option, you have embarked on it. So which will you have. Come. Since you must choose, let us see what concerns you least. You have two things to lose: truth and good, and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness. And your nature has two things to shun: error and misery. Your reason does not suffer by your choosing one more than the other, for you must choose. That is one point cleared. But your happiness? Let us weigh gain and loss in calling heads that God is. Reckon these two chances: if you win, you win all; if you lose, you lose naught. Then do not hesitate, wager that He is.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), Section I, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117-119.
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I will paint for [man] not only the visible universe, but all that he can conceive of nature’s immensity in the womb of an atom.
— Blaise Pascal
In 'The Misery of Man Without God', Blaise Pascal (1910), Vol. 48, 27, as translated by W.F. Trotter.
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Let him look at that dazzling light hung aloft as an eternal lamp to lighten the universe; let him behold the earth, a mere dot compared with the vast circuit which that orb describes, and stand amazed to find that the vast circuit itself is but a very fine point compared with the orbit traced by the stars as they roll their course on high. But if our vision halts there, let imagination pass beyond; it will fail to form a conception long before Nature fails to supply material. The whole visible world is but an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of Nature. No notion comes near it. Though we may extend our thought beyond imaginable space, yet compared with reality we bring to birth mere atoms. Nature is an infinite sphere whereof the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, imagination is brought to silence at the thought, and that is the most perceptible sign of the all-power of God.
Let man reawake and consider what he is compared with the reality of things; regard himself lost in this remote corner of Nature; and from the tiny cell where he lodges, to wit the Universe, weigh at their true worth earth, kingdoms, towns, himself. What is a man face to face with infinity?
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 43. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal’s Pensées (1950), 19.
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Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed.
— Blaise Pascal
In Pensees (1670).
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Nature … is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.
— Blaise Pascal
In Pensées (1670), Section 16, No. 26. From Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 26. From the French, “La nature … est une sphère infinie dont le centre est partout, la circonférence nulle part,” in Pensées de Blaise Pascal (1847), 227-228.
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Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death.
— Blaise Pascal
In Pensées (1670), Section 23, No. 67. From Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 50. Also seen translated as “…in movement, absolute rest…”. From the French, “Notre nature est dans le mouvement; le repos entier est la mort,” in Pensées de Blaise Pascal (1847), 315.
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They say that habit is second nature. Who knows but nature is only first habit?
— Blaise Pascal
As quoted in epigraph in Edward Kasner and James Newman, Mathematics and the Imagination (1940, 1949), 112.
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We know that there is an infinite, and we know not its nature. As we know it to be false that numbers are finite, it is therefore true that there is a numerical infinity. But we know not of what kind; it is untrue that it is even, untrue that it is odd; for the addition of a unit does not change its nature; yet it is a number, and every number is odd or even (this certainly holds of every finite number). Thus we may quite well know that there is a God without knowing what He is.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117.
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What is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything.
— Blaise Pascal
In Pensées (1670), Section 1, No. 1. As translated in Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', No. 72, collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 27. From the original French, “Qu’est-ce que l’homme dans la nature? Un néant à l’égard de l’infini, un tout à l’égard du néant, un milieu entre rien et tout,” in Ernest Havet (ed.), Pensées de Pascal (1892), 102-103.
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See also:
  • 19 Jun - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Pascal's birth.
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Flies are so mighty” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Flies are so mighty” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Reasons we have ourselves discovered” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Reasons we have ourselves discovered” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Knowledge of morality” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Knowledge of morality” - Large image (800 x 400 px)

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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