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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Nonsense and the Second Law of Thermodynamics


The Second Law of Thermodynamics is, perhaps, the most abused physical law of all time. It may be rivaled for that distinction by the Uncertainty Principle, Relativity, and Hawking Radiation, but I think the Second Law probably wins the contest.

There is a plethora of nonsense disseminated on the web and elsewhere that misrepresents what the law actually says. This series is an attempt to curb some of that nonsense.  Along the way, I hope to make some sense of what the second law of thermodynamics actually does say, as well as addressing some of the nonsense that people believe about it.

I had originally intended to write one post covering this topic, but as I wrote, the more it expanded, and the more topics I discovered I wanted to cover.  Therefore, I address separate topics as bite-sized posts that I hope are a little more digestible.  Rather than swamp the blog all at once, they will be posted one at a time in installments.

The next post is entitled:  What the Second Law Does Not Say.

  1. Introduction
  2. What the Second Law Does Not Say
  3. What the Second Law Does Say
  4. Entropy is Not a Measure of Disorder
  5. Reversible Processes
  6. The Carnot Cycle
  7. The Definition of Entropy
  8. Perpetual Motion
  9. The Hydrogen Economy
  10. Heat Can Be Transferred From a Cold Body to a Hot Body: The Air Conditioner
  11. The Second Law and Swamp Coolers
  12. Entropy and Statistical Thermodynamics
  13. Fluctuations
  14. Partition Functions
  15. Entropy and Information Theory
  16. The Second Law and Creationism
  17. Entropy as Religious, Spiritual, or Self-Help Metaphor
  18. Free Energy
  19. Spontaneous Change and Equilibrium
  20. The Second Law, Radiative Transfer, and Global Warming
  21. The Second Law, Microscopic Reversibility, and Small Systems
  22. The Arrow of Time
  23. The Heat Death of the Universe
  24. Gravity and Entropy
  25. The Second Law and Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence
  26. Conclusion


DRJAW said...

Wow! good luck with this summary. For those few of us who make our living doing thermodynamics, I salute you!

DRJAW said...

While I'm thinking about it, did you take AP Bio? I was suggested a book in that class: "Abusing Science", by Phillip Kitcher, which is awesome.

It has a long discourse on Second Law abuse.

Rich said...


Thanks for the comments. That sounds like an interesting book. I am a physical chemist; I've taken some biology, but it's been a long long time.