Probability in the History of Mathematics


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Probability is the branch of mathematics that deals with chance and predicting outcomes of events. Since people played games as long ago as they first started living in societies, we may think that they must have had an interest in predicting the outcomes of those games. But we don't really have any record of that kind of thinking until the 16th and 17th centuries.

It was the child prodigy in mathematics, Blaise Pascal, who first wrote about probability. Blaise's mother died when he was only three years old, and his father resorted to a rather unusual method in getting his son interested in mathematics. First he banned all the mathematical books from the house, telling Blaise that he is not allowed to read anything on the subject until he was fifteen. After that worked, and Blaise was well and truly 'hooked' on mathematics, his father started taking him to mathematical meetings organised by a famous mathematician who was a friend of the family.

Pascal made one of the first 'computers' - or calculating machines! Find out things about him by clicking on his portrait above.

When Pascal was about 30, he heard about the problem of dividing the bet between two players of a game if they were interrupted before the game ended. He started corresponding about this problem with another mathematician, (who you will surely meet with in the future!) Fermat, and their correspondence laid foundations of the theory of probability.

You probably already know a little about the main idea of probability: to get the probability of an event you need to divide the number of all possible outcomes by the number of all desirable outcomes. For example, the probability of getting 3 when you throw the dice is

1 ÷ 6 (or )

- that is because there are six possible outcomes (you get 1, 2, 3, and so on) and there is only 1 desirable outcome (you want to get 3).

You can download the worksheet on Pascal's triangle from the side bar.




Download worksheet on Pascal's triangle by clicking on the number man.



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