Dumbed-down thermodynamics

From Hmolpedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

In science, dumbed-down thermodynamics (LH:5) refers to descriptions of thermodynamics simplified so as to be intellectually undemanding and accessible to a wide audience[1]; these descriptions can be divided between "correct dumbing-down", which is rare, and "incorrect dumbing-down", which is overly-prevalent.

Correct dumbing

In the context of attempting to dumb-down thermodynamics, so to to provide a basic description of a topic of thermodynamics, accessible to say a young child or someone will no or little scientific education, there are two types of dumbing-down, one being simplification wherein basic principles remain correct, the other being simplification wherein basic principles become incorrect.

Baby thermodynamics

At the basic level, attempts have been made to simply thermodynamics down to the baby or toddler lever.[2] The following, e.g. is a review of Ruth Spiro’s 2017 Baby Loves Thermodynamics, which basically amounts to a picture book framed around sentences such as “sun shines on the tree, it helps the tree grow” and “tree uses sun’s energy to grow an apple”, and so on:[3]

Baby thermodynamics (review).png

These types of soft descriptions generally tend to amount to basic food chain thermodynamics descriptions, easy for kids to grasp. When, however, say a junior level chemical engineering students, e.g. asks for entropy to be explained them them, like they are a five-year-old, is when problems tend to arise.[4] One example is Frank Lambert who for a number of years, at Occidental College, California, taught a course he called "baby thermo" to humanities students, then from 1999 to 2012 went on a vendetta, on the Internet, journal publications, and Wikipedia, to get the word "disorder" removed from US chemistry textbook and have it replaced with "energy dispersal", which amounted to substituting one confused model for another.[5]

Correct simplification

If the simplification is done by someone technically proficient, in respect to pure thermodynamics, then the dumbing down will remain true to original meaning; such as if the simplification was done by Einstein:

“All physical theories, their mathematical expressions apart, ought to lend themselves to so simple a description that even a child could understand them.”
Albert Einstein (c.1930), comment to Louis de Broglie

Children famously would write Einstein, whose earliest years were immersed in studying entropy, about difficult concepts, and a read though of his replies always tended to give correct simplifications.

Of note, however, attempts to dumb-down the second law, are barred by conceptual difficulty of the terms rooted in the formulation of "entropy", originally called "equivalence value", and the second law, originally called the tendency towards the increase in the equivalence value of all uncompensated transformations. Named the "equivalence-value" from the German Aequivalenzwerth, "equal worth".[6] Maxwell later referred to these as "transformation equivalents", in English; about which he postulated that it will be several generations, before people come to understand "entropy" correctly:

“By the introduction of the expression ‘without compensation’ (verses ‘of itself’), combined with a full interpretation of this phrase, the statement of the second principle: ‘that heat cannot without compensation pass from a colder to a warmer body’, becomes complete and exact; but in order to understand it we must have a previous knowledge of the theory of transformation-equivalents, or in other words ‘entropy’, and it is to be feared that we shall have to be taught thermodynamics for several generations before we can expect beginners to receive as axiomatic the theory of entropy.”
James Maxwell (1878), “Tait’s Thermodynamics” [7]

In other words, in order to give a simplified or dumbed-down description of entropy, one has to firstly give a dumbed-down description of the theory of "transformation equivalents", which involved a complex account of the work the molecules of the system do on each other, in the forward transformation (expansion) and reverse transformation (contraction), in respect to the mechanical equivalent of heat[8] and the difference between a Lavoisier-Carnot cycle, wherein caloric as heat is conserved, and the Thomson-Clausius cycle, wherein entropy as heat is not conserved, but transformed.

Incorrect dumbing

Incorrect simplifications of thermodynamics are ubiquitous. The original source of thermodynamics is Clausius (1865). The farther away one gets from the source, the more garbled and incorrect the translation becomes. The following are few examples:

All systems spontaneously tend towards disorder?

A basic physical chemistry "spontaneity" table, showing when reactions will and will not be spontaneous. This is a sharp contrast to Serrano's 2014 book jacket synopsis, from his Thermodynamics of Love, that entropy and the second law state that all systems "spontaneously" tend towards disorder. This is an example of "incorrect" dumbed down thermodynamics. Correctly, the second law and entropy differentiate between four types of spontaneity, which is temperature and enthalpy dependent.

In 2014, Sebastia Serrano, in his Thermodynamics of Love, stated the following, in his book abstract:[9]

“In an uncertain society such as today, building solid relationships seems almost a utopia. But are we really doomed to loneliness? Can't we do anything to counter this spontaneous tendency to disorder? Serrano gives us good news: nature has been working for millions of centuries to save us by investing in communication. When sexual differentiation forced our ancestors to invest energy in mating to ensure the survival of the species, those who were able to communicate best won large offspring. Starting from this premise, the author takes us on an exciting journey through time, and shows us how they changed the bodies of hominids to adapt to the preferences of their partners: protruding lips, harmonious shapes, visible genitals and fascinating minds. Perhaps, however, the most surprising innovation was the appearance of language: a tool capable not only of transmitting information, but also of telling wonderful stories and seducing the partner.”
— Sebastia Serrano (2014), Thermodynamics of Love (abs)

Social systems do NOT spontaneously tend towards disorder.

Correctly, all systems tend towards an increase in the state function quantity "entropy", when the system is an isothermal isobaric system, as society is, then such systems "spontaneously" react in the direction that yields a decrease in the Gibbs energy (aka the isothermal isobaric free energy) of the the system.The following is the basic summary of what "entropy tends towards" means in respect to chemically reacting system, which is what natural evolving systems and social systems are:

“The doctrine that entropy tends towards a maximum, with Nernst’s interpretation of the second law, is equivalent to the statement that, with regard to the reactions which proceed at a constant temperature and volume, the change goes on until the free energy of the system reaches a minimum.”
— Author (1926), “Article” (pg. 431), The Journal of Philosophy, Volume 23[10]

All of this logic, in respect to how entropy operates in reacting chemical systems, was worked out by: Gibbs (1876), Helmholtz (1882), Nernst (1895), Haber (1905), Lewis (1923), and Guggenheim (1933), who together solidified the science of chemical thermodynamics. Among these six authors, only Helmholtz attempted to connect entropy to disorder:

“Unordered motion, in contrast, would be such that the motion of each individual particle need have no similarity to its neighbors. We have ample grounds to believe that heat-motion is of the latter kind, and one may in this sense characterize the magnitude of entropy as the measure of disorder.”
Hermann Helmholtz (1882), “Address” to the German Academy of Sciences, Berlin, Feb

The other five authors NEVER employed the term "disorder" once! It was Lewis in particular, who worked out the details of the fact that the first and second law combined, translate to the effect that things, such as atoms, chemicals, and molecules "spontaneously" react to form new things, e.g. new species of chemicals, when the reaction shows a decrease in free energy; hence, each thing formed, has a free energy of formation, which Lewis measured and tabulated in his famous tables of free energy of formations of chemical species.[11] Do note, that confusion over the distinction between the "order-disorder model" vs the "free energy of formation model", in respect to evolution and societal change, continued, largely unimpeded, until the issue began to be tackled by thinkers such as Lawrence Henderson, and his Order of Nature (1917), and Norman Dolloff, and his Heat Death and the Phoenix: Entropy, Order, and the Future of Man (1975), who showed that the second law does not mandate a tendency towards disorder, but rather is a measurable quantity that provides a way to gauge the spontaneity of chemical reactions, and hence predict and measure form change. This, in fact, was proved in the famous "thermodynamic theory of affinity"[12] vs "thermal theory of affinity"[13] debate of the 19th century. Most of all of this, however, has gone over the heads of the average leading scientist of the modern age, generally owing to over-specialization, knowledge fragmentation, and hydraism, and hence the dumbification continues.

All ordered systems tend toward disorder?

An example of "incorrect dumbed down thermodynamics", from the film Now You See Me 2 (2016), wherein one of the character's says that ever seventh grader, even the dumb ones, (a) know the second law of thermodynamics, and (b) know it in the form of: "All ordered systems tend toward disorder".[14]

The following, to exemplify, is a description of the second law, dumbed-down to the point of incorrectness:

“Now, every seventh grader, even the dumb ones, know the second law of thermodynamics: All ordered systems tend toward disorder.”
— Ed Solomon (2016), Now You See Me 2 (character: name) [14]

All ordered systems do NOT tend towards disorder, according to the second law.

Now, to put this statement into non-fiction contextual framework, we can cite the following by Roger Lewin[15], and how he grew up, in the 1950s or so, learning the following, as he says:

“We all grew up learning the second law of thermodynamics, which says that systems tend toward disorder.”
Roger Lewin (1993), Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos (pg. 183) [16]

So, supposedly, many people, at least in the 1950s, grew up learning that learning that, according to the second law, "systems tend toward disorder"?

To clarify, retrospectively, statement that "all ordered systems tend towards disorder" (Solomon, 2016) is an incorrect fictional rendering of the second law. In fact, the statement: "all ordered systems tend towards disorder" is found nowhere in Google books, let alone that ever dumb seventh grader (age 12-13 person) knows this? This interpretation, to clarify, stems from the 1896 to 1901 models of Boltzmann and Planck in respect to gas theory and black bodies in respect to light absorption, as discussed below.

Two rivers of entropy

A visual of the "thermodynamics river", a segment of "map of physics" river (Porter, 1939), so to say.[17] Most examples of incorrect dumbed-down thermodynamics arise when people take interpretations from the bottom physics stream of thought, and apply them to explanations found in either the original Clausius branch, or apply them to the top chemistry or physical chemistry branch, the water from which liquidates evolutionary processes and reactions, social or otherwise.

Entropy was never associated with order and disorder; that is until the 1890s when Ludwig Boltzmann and Max Planck needed to make it so, for the specific applications. In fact, the works of Clausius (1865), Gibbs (1872, 1901), and Lewis (1923) never use the term "disorder" once! Grand confusion erupted in the early to mid 20th century as people began to mix the work of all five of these authors together into an mess of incorrectness.

Clausius, Gibbs, Lewis | Entropy is a state function "quantity" that tends to increase

Clausius, to start with, in his The Mechanical Theory of Heat (1865), from where the second law is derived, never once uses the term "disorder"![18] Clausius does, to clarify, use the term: "disgregation" (coming apart by heat addition) and "aggregation" (coming together via heat removal), but this distinctly different from the order and disorder seen in modern pop culture. Moreover, neither Willard Gibbs, in any of his chemical thermodynamics and statistical mechanics publications, nor Gilbert Lewis, in his modern chemical thermodynamics publications, employs the term "disorder" once. The following is the basic summary of what "entropy tends towards" means in respect to chemically reacting system, which is what natural evolving systems and social systems are:

“The doctrine that entropy tends towards a maximum, with Nernst’s interpretation of the second law, is equivalent to the statement that, with regard to the reactions which proceed at a constant temperature and volume, the change goes on until the free energy of the system reaches a minimum.”
— Author (1926), “Article” (pg. 431), The Journal of Philosophy, Volume 23[10]

Hence, the original statement of the second law, namely: "the entropy of the world tends to a maximum" (Clausius, 1865) has nothing to do with disorder tending to a maximum. Correctly, entropy is not equivalent to "disorder", but is Greek shorthand term for "transformation equivalent", such as summarized by Maxwell above. The second law, in its pure formulation, states that all systems, transforming through Clausius cycles, tend towards an increase in entropy, which means an increase in the magnitude of the value N, the equivalence value of all uncompensated transformations[19], accumulated through the sum integral of all the cycles, up to the point when the cycles stop, the system therein being at equilibrium (Clausius, 1865). This is the core model of entropy, applicable to all systems throughout the universe.

Boltzmann and Planck | Entropy is tied to or depends on disorder?

Modern example of a black body (a TIRFI black body), light goes in the hole, bounces around, and is assumed to be absorbed 100% into the black walls of the inside container. This is the system Planck has in mind when he says "entropy depends on disorder", in respect to his solution to the ultraviolet catastrophe problem.

The association of entropy with "disorder", was a latter addition or interpretation developed in the gas theory work of Boltzmann in respect to his H-theorem (1872)[20], aka minimum theorem:

“It is not a defect that the minimum theorem [H-theorem] is tied to the assumption of ‘disorder’, rather it is a merit that this theorem has clarified our ideas so that one recognizes the necessity of this assumption.”
Ludwig Boltzmann (1896), Lectures on Gas Theory (pg. 42) [21]

In 1899, Max Planck, building on Boltzmann's work, introduced the "principle of elementary disorder"[22], in respect to the energy radiation of black bodies or "cavity resonators"; stating the following:

Entropy depends on disorder and this disorder, according to the electromagnetic theory of radiation for the monochromatic vibrations of a resonator when situated in a permanent stationary radiation field, depends on the irregularity with which it constantly changes its amplitude and phase, provided one considers time intervals large compared to the time of one vibration but small compared to the duration of a measurement. If amplitude and phase both remained absolutely constant, which means completely homogeneous vibrations, no entropy could exist and the vibrational energy would have to be completely free to be converted into work.”
Max Planck (1901), “On the Law of Distribution of Energy in the Normal Spectrum” [23]

This became the based of what would later be called quantum mechanics, after which the term "Boltzmann order-disorder principle" (Schrodinger, 1943) became popular.[24] This branch of thermodynamics, so to say, eventually came to be known as what is called the "physicist interpretation of entropy", and is one that is not universally applicable. Hence, Ed Solomon, above, gives a Clausius framed model of entropy, garbled over with the physicist's black body entropy interpretation, to yield incorrect dumbed-down thermodynamics, sold as false reality.

End matter


  1. Dumbed-down – Lexico.com.
  2. Thabethe, Thabsille. (2019). Thermodynamics for Babies and Toddlers. Publisher.
  3. Spiro, Ruth. (2017). Baby Loves Thermodynamics (illustrator: Irene Chan). Publisher.
  4. Can you please dumb down entropy for me? – r/ExplainLikeImFive.
  5. Frank Lambert – Hmolpedia 2020.
  6. Equivalence value – Hmolpedia 2020.
  7. (a) Maxwell, James C. (1878). “Tait’s Thermodynamics: Part One”, (pgs. 257-59). Nature, Jan. 31.
    (b) Maxwell, James C. (1878). “Tait’s Thermodynamics: Part Two”, (pgs. 278-81). Nature, Feb. 07.
  8. Mechanical equivalent of heat – Hmolpedia 2020.
  9. Serrano, Sebastia. (2014). Thermodynamics of Love: How to Save Relationships by Investing in Communication (Termodinamica dell’amore: Come salvare i rapporti di coppia investendo nella comunicazione) (termodinamica, 5+ pgs). Edizioni Dedalo.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Author. (1926). “Article” (pg. 431), The Journal of Philosophy, Volume 23
  11. Free energy table – Hmolpedia 2020.
  12. Thermodynamic theory of affinity – Hmolpedia 2020.
  13. Thermal theory of affinity – Hmolpedia 2020.
  14. 14.0 14.1 (a) Solomon, Ed. (2016). Now You See Me 2 (txt). Lionsgate.
    (b) Now You See Me 2 – Wikipedia.
    (c) Screen shot – Twitter.
  15. Roger Lewin – Hmolpedia 2020.
  16. Lewin, Roger. (1993). Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos (pg. 183). Publisher.
  17. Map of physics (subdomain) – Hmolpedia 2020.
  18. Clausius, Rudolf. (1865). The Mechanical Theory of Heat (translator: Thomas Hirst) (disorder, 0+ pgs; disgregation, 14+ pgs; aggregation, 12+ pgs). Macmillan & Co, 1867.
  19. Equivalence value of all uncompensated transformations – Hmolpedia 2020.
  20. H-theorem – Hmolpedia 2020.
  21. Boltzmann, Ludwig. (1896). ''Lectures on Gas Theory'' (disorder, pg. 42). Dover.
  22. Principle of elementary disorder – Hmolpedia 2020.
  23. Planck, Max. (1901). “On the Law of Distribution of Energy in the Normal Spectrum” (pdf), Annalen der Physik, 4:553.
  24. Boltzmann order-disorder principle – Hmolpedia 2020.

Further reading

External links

Theta Delta ics T2.jpg