Paradoxes in Man and the Universe by Pascal

Pascal builds his argument in “Man and the Universe” out of a series of paradoxes, seemingly contradictory truths. In writing, “Man and the Universe,” Pascal reflected his views on what is our place in the world as human beings. Pascal’s writing shows a harmony between mathematical certainty and moral truths in support of his argument. In his “Pensees” or “Thoughts,” Pascal hoped to integrate scientific progress with the notion of humankind’s fallen state. Many suggest that Pascal is the “master of paradox.”
A paradox is an idea or situation that appears to contradict itself but that is nevertheless true. The purpose of a paradox is to provoke fresh thought and draw the reader’s attention. An example of a paradox is the statement, “Less is more.”
In addressing his point of view of the universe, Pascal wrote, “I will picture to him not only the visible universe, but the conceivable immensity of nature, in the compass of this abbreviation of an atom.” Pascal reduces the apparently infinitely great and large to its actual small position. Pascal uses this paradox to show the universe and its great magnitude compared to an atom. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word, “magnitude” as “greatness in size or extent.” In mathematics and physics, the term magnitude is used to describe the amount or quantity of an object or equation. An example of this is the volume of a sphere or the length of a vector. In chemistry, the atom is the smallest unit of an element. This is a paradox because something great in size as the universe is obviously not the size of an atom. When Pascal wrote this, he did not intend to make it something literal; as in showing a comparison between the universe and an atom. Rather, it was meant to be something figurative. In Pascal’s point of view, the world (the earth) is an atom. The element involved in Pascal’s paradox is the universe itself. Therefore, it is implied that the universe, or the “element,” is composed of a great amount of planets, or “atoms.” Pascal speaks to mankind, “let him view therein an infinity of worlds, each of which has its firmament, its planets, its earth, in the same proportion as the visible world….” It is implied that man has the knowledge that they are very small beings compared to the greatness and vastness of the universe. Imagine man as being as a grain of sand within the extent a desert. We are a grain of sand. Composed with many other grains, we are able to make the desert. It is microscopic in comparison to the immensity of the desert. The universe is just a little dot in nature; a spec in nature. Our ideas and thoughts are also a spec in the midst of the infinite. Paradoxically, greatness is shown to be the illusion of relative perspective.
Pascal changes perspective in order to view the same object as a world in itself relative to the number and complexity of its divisions. This is mathematical. When we divide, we are not a whole any longer. In changing perspective, Pascal wrote, “…let a mite exhibit to him in the exceeding smallness of its body parts incomparably smaller, limbs with joints, veins in these limbs, blood in these veins, humors in this blood, globules in these humors, gases in these globules; let him, still dividing these last objects, exhaust his powers of conception, and let the ultimate object at which he can arrive now be the subject of our discourse…” Paradoxically, the infinitely small now has an infinity of parts.
In support of his description of human beings, Pascal wrote, “What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy!” When Pascal is speaking of human beings, he uses a tone of pity. He has feelings of sorrow and grief for the “misfortune” of man. Pascal calls man a “chimera,” a fabulous creature, then calls him a novelty. He calls man a contradiction; the equivalence of paradox. He also adds, “what a prodigy!” A prodigy is a person with exceptional talents and abilities. If man, indeed is a prodigy, how is he