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Rom J Morphol Embryol



The mysterious “mental illness” of a philosopher: the case of Blaise Pascal.


Sava A, Dumitrescu M, Dumitrescu G F, Turliuc M D, Ciocoiu M, Scripcariu V
Rom J Morphol Embryol. 2019; 60(4):1383-1389.
PMID: 32239123.


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French philosopher, who wrote the Pensées, a collection of "thoughts" about the apparent insignificance of human existence. In the last three centuries, it was claimed that his disease was mental. Hysteria, melancholia, and post-traumatic neurosis were taken into consideration, but none of the proposed diagnoses seems to be satisfactory. The aim of our work is to identify Pascal's mysterious illness. We correlated the symptoms of the indirect anamnesis (Pascal's letters to friends, letters and biographies made by his sisters and granddaughter) and autopsy data. Based on these data, we consider that Pascal's illness, which has affected him all his life and caused his death, was celiac disease, the diagnosis being supported by: childhood abdominal pain with gradual progression to neurological manifestations in his middle-age, which were expressed by migraine-type headaches, peripheral neuropathy, epilepsy, neuropsychiatric disorders (depression). The hypothesis of a celiac disease is also argued by autopsy data: lack of closure of the fontanelle due to type D hypovitaminosis, intestinal gangrene because celiac disease accelerates the post-mortem autolysis, gliosis and calcification of the nervous tissue. The second cause of his death was a chronic traumatic subdural hematoma, probably located in the superior temporal region, which was the reason for his left-sided hemianopsia that occurred immediately after a carriage accident. Conclusions: Pascal's philosophy reflects his own inner life, which was deeply influenced by the organic affections he suffered.