Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

Posted by Arjendu on October 3, 2014

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics: Without it there would be no time, no birth, no death. It cannot be ‘derived’ and hence is an article of faith, and we follow its dicta every day, every minute. It is the source of some of the more enduring mysteries of physics. It is the reason for any ‘energy crisis’ we might face in the future. It is also my favorite candidate for divinity within physics.

You can present the 2nd Law in a relatively straightforward manner, but it gets very puzzling and confusing if you think about it for long or in detail. I asked my students to write up a non-technical version of the 2nd Law and share it with someone who didn’t know about it*. Most found it an interesting exercise, particularly in showing where the weaknesses were in their understanding (‘not being able to hide behind the technical material made me think really hard and carefully’).

One semi-colloquial version of the 2nd Law that I like is ‘S happens’. So it’s a rather profane divinity we’re talking about, and generally applicable, eh ?

So here I go, glad to have survived another week. Starting to get the rhythm of teaching again, but boy it’s exhausting.

(* Yes, my facebook friends know there was more to it than this)


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