Pascal, Blaise

Pascal, Blaise
   A French poet, mathematician, natural philosopher, and mystic who suffered from recurring headaches, vertigo, and episodes of partial paresis of the limbs, as well as from visual disturbances which have traditionally been labelled as * visual hallucinations. Following a near-death experience on the bridge of Neuilly in Paris, where his carriage almost tumbled into the river, Pascal would frequently refer to an abyss opening up at the left side of his body, meanwhile grabbing a chair or holding on to a stick for safety. Although this experience is often referred to as hallucinatory in nature, it is unclear what Pascal actually saw at these moments, or even whether he saw anything at all. The French psychologist Louis-Françisque Lélut (1804-1877) collected and summarized the various contemporary testimonies of Pascal's experience in his seminal 1846 monograph, but even his verdict is inconclusive. In 1966 the British neurologist Macdonald Critchley (1900-1997) suggested that "this recurring precipice was actually a transitory left hemianopia". Following Critchley's suggestion, Pascal's 'abyss' may well have been a *scotoma occurring in the context of migraine with or without headache.
   Connor, J.A. (2006). Pascal's wager. The man who played dice with God. San Francisco, CA: Harper.
   Critchley, M. (1966). Migraine: From Cappadocia to Queen Square. In: Background to migraine. Edited by Smith, R. London: William Heinemann.
   Lélut, L.F. (1846). De l'amulette de Pascal pour servir à l'histoire des hallucinations. Paris: J.B. Baillière.
   Scholtens, M. (1958). Études medico-psychologiques sur Pascal. Thesis, University of Utrecht. Haarlem: Joh. Enschedé en Zonen.

Dictionary of Hallucinations. . 2010.

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