What does "a mean between nothing and everything" mean in Pascal's Pensées?

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In Pensées, Blaise Pascal describes human beings as “a mean between nothing and everything.” He means that humans are small and nearly insignificant before the infinite vastness of the universe, yet they possess existence, and they can contemplate nature with their reason. They are something rather than nothing, and they can and should stand in wonder at the gifts they have been given.

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In his Pensées, Blaise Pascal speaks of “a mean between nothing and everything.” He is talking about human beings. He begins the section by guiding his readers in a reflection on the vastness of the universe. “The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature,” he asserts. We cannot even imagine how far the universe extends. It is, perhaps, infinite.

So where does this leave human beings? We are tiny compared to the vastness Pascal describes, so tiny as to seem insignificant, next to nothing. This realization leads us to a beneficial humility, especially when we begin to think we are the center of the universe.

On the other hand, Pascal invites us to consider the smallest things in nature. Even a mite is quite a wonderful thing when we think about its complexity. It is a perfect miniature organism with all its delicate parts intact and functioning. Yet there are things even smaller, like atoms that we cannot see but that are still vital for life. Pascal then appeals, “Let him [the human being] lose himself in wonders as amazing in their littleness as the others in their vastness.”

Where does this leave human beings? We stand as though poised between the Infinite and the Nothing, “two abysses” for contemplation, and indeed the human being is “A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing...” They are “a mean between nothing and everything.” In other words, we human beings stand in the middle. There is a vastness in the universe that we can never grasp, that makes us feel very small indeed. Yet we exist. God has made us out of Nothing (which we also cannot grasp with our reason or imagination). We are here. We have minds and bodies, spirits and souls. We are something, even if small.

As the mean between the Infinite and Nothing, human beings ought to remain humble, well aware of our place in the universe and the limits of our comprehension, but also appreciative of our existence and the gifts God has given to us.

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