Saturday, June 27, 2009

TANSTAAFL: The Sum of the Laws of Thermodynamics

"If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation."
Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1915)

The Magicians won in Congress yesterday.
It was expected, because I believe that the set called Pols is overwhelmingly populated by people who live in unreality so massive that it is rapidly approaching maximum entropy.
They do not accept the laws of thermodynamics, especially the second law, and therefore they believe that there is such a thing as a free lunch.
Would that they would collapse in utter humiliation. Instead, as we live in dangerous times, I fear it is the economy of this country and all that it has built that will do the collapsing. Unfortunately.

For the benefit of our scientifically illiterate Congress, I present the laws of thermodynamics translated into a form that even a Pol can undertand --if and only if he doesn't try to think and chew gum at the same time.

A most basic law zero has been stated:
0. When two objects or systems A and B are in equilibrium with each other, the energy that flows from A to B will be the same as the energy that flows from B to A.
Translation: There is a game.

Now on to the original three.

1. The Law of Conservation of Energy: Energy out cannot exceed energy in. You cannot get more than 100% efficiency.
Translation: You can't win the game. (You can't get something for nothing).

2. The Law of Entropy*: Any process in a closed system will increase the entropy of said closed system. Any process in an open system will increase the entropy of the universe. The entropy of the universe can never decrease. Loophole: You can have 100% efficiency only at a temperature of absolute zero, meaning you can't get 100% efficiency.
Translation: You can't break even.

*Entropy (S) can be defined as the tendency of a system towards disorder. The second law thus says that a closed system will accumulate disorder, and that an open system can become ordered only at the expense of the universe. Thus, as a bumper sticker I got when I passed P-Chem states, "S happens."

3. The Law of Absolute Zero*: It is impossible to reach the temperature of absolute zero. Thus the loophole above is not real.
Translation: You can't even quit the game.

*Absolute Zero is the temperature at which there is minimal molecular energy so that energy cannot be transferred among systems. Absolute zero, defined as -273.15 degrees C, cannot be achieved artificially or naturally (the third law).

All three laws can be summed up as: TANSTAAFL! There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

And I end with another quote:

"Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes and the second law of thermodynamics. All three are processes in which useful or accessible forms of some quantity, such as energy or money, are transformed into useless, inaccessible forms of the same quantity. That is not to say that these three processes don't have fringe benefits: taxes pay for roads and schools; the second law of thermodynamics drives cars, computers and metabolism; and death, at the very least, opens up tenured faculty positions.
--Seth Lloyd, Nature 430 (2004) p. 971

1 comment:

christinemm said...

Great post. They are indeed living in a state of unreality.