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Von Baeyer - Maxwell's Demon (1998) - Synopsis

Von Baeyer - Maxwell's Demon (1998) - Synopsis

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Published by Mark K. Jensen
Synopsis of Hans Christian von Baeyer, Maxwell's Demon: Why Warmth Disperses and Time Passes (New York: Random House, 1998). Paperback title (1999): Warmth Disperses and Time Passes: The History of Heat. -- Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on December 6, 2010.
Synopsis of Hans Christian von Baeyer, Maxwell's Demon: Why Warmth Disperses and Time Passes (New York: Random House, 1998). Paperback title (1999): Warmth Disperses and Time Passes: The History of Heat. -- Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on December 6, 2010.

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Published by: Mark K. Jensen on Dec 05, 2010
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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper CXLIV December 6,  2010, 7:00 p.m.
Hans Christian von Baeyer,
Maxwell's Demon: Why Warmth Disperses and Time Passes
(New York: Random House, 1998).
Paperback title (1999):
Warmth Disperses and Time Passes: The History of Heat.
Maxwell's Demon has beenextraordinarily resilient in the science of thermodynamics.]
The importance of theunderstanding of heat and energyconservation (xi-xv). In 1867 James ClerkMaxwell fantasized a being able todecide which molecules of gas to allow topass between two chambers in a letter toPeter Guthrie Tait; in 1874 William Thomson, Lord Kelvin dubbed this"Maxwell's intelligent demon" (xvi-xviii;cf. ch. 12). "Maxwell's Demon is uniquein world literature. No other fictionalcreature has a comparable scientificpedigree" (xix). The modern "revival" of thermodynamics (xx-xxi).
Ch. 1: Inside the Barrel of a Cannon:The Nature of Heat.
Count Rumford'sinsight that heat is motion had alreadybeen held by Francis Bacon and RobertHooke (indeed as early as the 12th c.);his insight, which came from drillingcannon, allowed him to "wrest the studyof warmth away from the chemists," whoconceived of heat as
a self-repelling fluid (10; 3-12).
Ch. 2: There's No Free Lunch: TheOrigin of the First Law.
A perpetualmotion machine is incompatible with thefirst law of thermodynamics (13-18).
Ch. 3: In Search of Soul: Chasing theFirst Law.
Epigraph by RichardFeynman: "[W]e have no knowledge of what energy is" (19). There is no singleoriginator of the first law of thermodynamics; Thomas Kuhn hasidentified 12 men who between about1830 and 1850 who suggestedsomething like it (19). The interest in theconcept of energy and the idea of itsconservation in Robert Julius Mayer(1814-1878) was fueled by his religiousdesire to counter atheistic materialismand to find a scientific basis for theimmortality of the soul, but he didintroduce the quantitative notion of "themechanical equivalent of heat" (23; 19-27).
Ch. 4: Currents and Waterfalls:Measuring the MechanicalEquivalent of Heat.
James Joule (1818-1889) used an expertise in thermometrythat came from the Manchester brewingindustry to propose a quantification of "the mechanical equivalent of heat"; heclaimed to find "straightforwardexperimental confirmation of the law of conservation of energy" (33; 28-34).
Ch. 5: Paris in the Steam: The Roadto the Second Law.
The Frenchmilitary engineer Sadi Carnot (1796-1832) "deserves the title 'founder of thermodynamics'" (35) because his
Réflexions sur la puissance motrice dufeu et sur les machines propres àdévelopper cette puissance
(1824) calledfor the establishment of "principlesapplicable . . . to all imaginable heat-engines" (39). Carnot induced theprinciple that "It is impossible to extractwork from heat without at the same timediscarding some heat," which was latershown to be equivalent to the second lawof thermodynamics (41). This meansthat "all reversible engines operatingbetween the same two temperatureshave the same efficiency"—"the mostimpressive example in all of physics of the triumph of theory over praxis, of abstraction over experience" (44). Sadi
Carnot's premature death of cholera in1832 (45-46).
Ch. 6: It's All Downhill: The SecondLaw of Thermodynamics.
Rudolf Clausius (1822-1886) proposed that heatloss is of the essence of a heat engine, aperspective that reconciled the notions of the conservation and conversion (47-55).
Ch. 7: Briefer Is Better: TheInvention of Entropy.
Theoreticalparsimony as a persistent theme of science (56-57). Using the new"absolute" temperature scale devised byLord Kelvin, "the constancy of the ratio of heat to temperature turned out to be thekey to the quantification of thermodynamics" (59). Clausiusintroduced the term
in 1865 todenote "the ratio of heat to [absolute]temperature"; "when it was finallyrevealed as a measure of moleculardisorder . . . it would rise to a positionrivaling that of energy in ourunderstanding of the universe" (61-62).
Ch. 8: Rivers of Gold: A Parable.
Intended to convey the how entropy wasunderstood in the 19th century (63-66).
Ch. 9: A Game of Billiards: The Storyof Temperature.
On models (67-68). The atomic model produced still validresults in the billiard ball model of a gasintroduce in 1732 by Daniel Bernoulli(1700-1782) (68-71). Rediscovered inthe 19th century, it was seen that itscrux was "the realization that heat is justthe sum total of the energies of motion,or kinetic energies, of the individualmolecules" of a gas (72). Kelvin definedabsolute zero as the temperature atwhich gas volumes (and their kineticenergy) shrank to zero (73). Themolecular perspective clarifies theconcepts of temperature and heat (74-75).
Ch. 10: The Devil-On-Two-Sticks:Chance and the Loss of Certainty.
 The passion of James Clerk Maxwell(1831-1879) passion for diabolo (whichhe called "the Devil-on-Two-Sticks")reflected how he approached physics,but in studying thermodynamics he hadto "change paradigms in mid-career" andturn to probability; this was "the crucialevent on the road toward a correctunderstanding of entropy" (81; 82; 76-84).
Ch. 11: Heads and Tails: The Laws of Probability.
The bell curve's"astonishing universality" (90; 85-91).
Ch. 12: The Mechanical Demon
AsPolish physicist Marian von Smoluchowskidemonstrated in 1912, it is theabsorption of heat and resultingBrownian motion that "killed" Maxwell'sdemon by showing there can be no suchdevice (92-98).
Ch. 13: Boltzmann's Universe: TheNature of Entropy.
By a conjecture"equating entropy with the logarithm of probability," Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann(1844-1906) was able to make entropycompatible with a molecularunderstanding of heat, and reached theconclusion that "entropy is disorder"(106; 108; 99-110). Boltzmann's suicide(110-11).
Ch. 14: Apocalypse Now: TheDissipation of Energy.
The concept of the "heat death" of the universe seizedthe popular imagination for a time, but"the problem has lost its ominousness"(120; 112-21).
Ch. 15:
E = MC
Einstein published theformula, a hallmark of the end of thereign of Newtonian physics, in September1905 in a three-page article;experimental confirmation that hepredicted of this stunning statement of the equivalence of matter and energycame 30 years later (122-24). That thespeed of light is a constant, which hasbeen experimentally verified, is a
"strange, counterintuitive fact" that"cannot be explained, but must beaccepted" (125). Newton anticipated theconvertibility of matter and energy in his
(1704), writing "The changing of bodies into light, and light into bodies, isvery conformable to the course of Nature, which seems delighted withtransmutations" (126). "The law of conservation of energy, reborn as the lawof conservation of mass/energy, hasestablished itself as one of the fewunshakable theoretical guideposts in thewilderness of the world of our senseexperiences. In scope and generality itsurpasses Newton's laws of motion,Maxwell's equations for electricity andmagnetism, and even Einstein's potentlittle
E = mc
It survived not only thestorms of the quantum revolution, whichtransformed the crisp granularity of theatomic realm into a miasma of probability, but also the flood of cosmological discoveries that shatteredancient preconceptions about thepermanence and simplicity of theuniverse. At all scales, from theunimaginably small to the inconceivablylarge, the law holds sway. It comes asclose to an absolute truth as ouruncertain age will permit" (127-28).
Ch. 16: Here and Now: The Enigmaof Time
The mystery of time'sirreversibility (129-35).
Ch. 17: Time's Arrow.
"[The]fundamental paradox [of time'sirreversibility] cloaks the second law of thermodynamics in a shroud of mysteryand ambiguity, while the energyconservation of the first law shines forthas a steady beacon of certainty in anuncertain universe" (136). Boltzmannbelieved that irreversibility was rooted inthe calculus of probabilities as it relatesto atomic processes (137). Statisticsresolves the matter practically, but adisturbing question of principle remains(137-43). Cosmological implications(143-44).
Ch. 18: Four Obituaries for theDemon.
Smoluchowski thought itpossible that an intelligent Maxwell'sDemon might circumvent Brownianmotion (146; cf. ch. 12). Leo Szilardargued in 1929 that such a demon woulduse measurement, which inevitablyinvolves wasted energy: "The Demonseemed dead again" (148; 146-49). LéonBrilloun, Denis Gabor, and NorbertWiener analyzed entropy in terms of information and "brought about theDemon's third demise" (151; 149-52). Byshowing that "[i]nformation . . .
becollected and manipulated in a reversibleway," Charles Bennett (drawing on thework of Rolf Landauer) revived theDemon, only to kill him with therealization that "computation . . .requires temporary storage of information" whose erasure "willdissipate enough energy, generateenough entropy, and create enoughdisorder to save the validity of thesecond law" (154; 152-55).
Ch. 19: The New Entropy.
But theDemon lives on in the work of WojciechŻurek (born 1951) of Los Alamos, whohas used the concept of algorithmicrandomness (or algorithmic complexity)to restate the second law and hopes itcan be used to "apply the second law tosome useful purpose" (165; 156-65).
Ch. 20: Fantastic Voyage: TheDemon Enters the Human Body.
Żurek's work has found application inmolecular biology; Albert Libchaber(French; born 1934) has built ananodevice that caused movementbecause of thermal noise, and it may bethat similar principles are active inbiological processes (166-74).
11 pp., by chapter.
21 pp. Very detailed.

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