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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.

[Thesis. Maxwell's Demon has been concept of energy and the idea of its
extraordinarily resilient in the science of conservation in Robert Julius Mayer
thermodynamics.] (1814-1878) was fueled by his religious
desire to counter atheistic materialism
Introduction. The importance of the and to find a scientific basis for the
understanding of heat and energy immortality of the soul, but he did
conservation (xi-xv). In 1867 James Clerk introduce the quantitative notion of "the
Maxwell fantasized a being able to mechanical equivalent of heat" (23; 19-
decide which molecules of gas to allow to 27).
pass between two chambers in a letter to
Peter Guthrie Tait; in 1874 William Ch. 4: Currents and Waterfalls:
Thomson, Lord Kelvin dubbed this Measuring the Mechanical
"Maxwell's intelligent demon" (xvi-xviii; Equivalent of Heat. James Joule (1818-
cf. ch. 12). "Maxwell's Demon is unique 1889) used an expertise in thermometry
in world literature. No other fictional that came from the Manchester brewing
creature has a comparable scientific industry to propose a quantification of
pedigree" (xix). The modern "revival" of "the mechanical equivalent of heat"; he
thermodynamics (xx-xxi). claimed to find "straightforward
experimental confirmation of the law of
Ch. 1: Inside the Barrel of a Cannon: conservation of energy" (33; 28-34).
The Nature of Heat. Count Rumford's
insight that heat is motion had already Ch. 5: Paris in the Steam: The Road
been held by Francis Bacon and Robert to the Second Law. The French
Hooke (indeed as early as the 12th c.); military engineer Sadi Carnot (1796-
his insight, which came from drilling 1832) "deserves the title 'founder of
cannon, allowed him to "wrest the study thermodynamics'" (35) because his
of warmth away from the chemists," who Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du
conceived of heat as caloric, a self- feu et sur les machines propres à
repelling fluid (10; 3-12). développer cette puissance (1824) called
for the establishment of "principles
Ch. 2: There's No Free Lunch: The applicable . . . to all imaginable heat-
Origin of the First Law. A perpetual engines" (39). Carnot induced the
motion machine is incompatible with the principle that "It is impossible to extract
first law of thermodynamics (13-18). work from heat without at the same time
discarding some heat," which was later
Ch. 3: In Search of Soul: Chasing the shown to be equivalent to the second law
First Law. Epigraph by Richard of thermodynamics (41). This means
Feynman: "[W]e have no knowledge of that "all reversible engines operating
what energy is" (19). There is no single between the same two temperatures
originator of the first law of have the same efficiency"—"the most
thermodynamics; Thomas Kuhn has impressive example in all of physics of
identified 12 men who between about the triumph of theory over praxis, of
1830 and 1850 who suggested abstraction over experience" (44). Sadi
something like it (19). The interest in the
Carnot's premature death of cholera in The passion of James Clerk Maxwell
1832 (45-46). (1831-1879) passion for diabolo (which
he called "the Devil-on-Two-Sticks")
Ch. 6: It's All Downhill: The Second reflected how he approached physics,
Law of Thermodynamics. Rudolf but in studying thermodynamics he had
Clausius (1822-1886) proposed that heat to "change paradigms in mid-career" and
loss is of the essence of a heat engine, a turn to probability; this was "the crucial
perspective that reconciled the notions of event on the road toward a correct
the conservation and conversion (47-55). understanding of entropy" (81; 82; 76-
Ch. 7: Briefer Is Better: The
Invention of Entropy. Theoretical Ch. 11: Heads and Tails: The Laws of
parsimony as a persistent theme of Probability. The bell curve's
science (56-57). Using the new "astonishing universality" (90; 85-91).
"absolute" temperature scale devised by
Lord Kelvin, "the constancy of the ratio of Ch. 12: The Mechanical Demon. As
heat to temperature turned out to be the Polish physicist Marian von Smoluchowski
key to the quantification of demonstrated in 1912, it is the
thermodynamics" (59). Clausius absorption of heat and resulting
introduced the term entropy in 1865 to Brownian motion that "killed" Maxwell's
denote "the ratio of heat to [absolute] demon by showing there can be no such
temperature"; "when it was finally device (92-98).
revealed as a measure of molecular
disorder . . . it would rise to a position Ch. 13: Boltzmann's Universe: The
rivaling that of energy in our Nature of Entropy. By a conjecture
understanding of the universe" (61-62). "equating entropy with the logarithm of
probability," Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann
Ch. 8: Rivers of Gold: A Parable. (1844-1906) was able to make entropy
Intended to convey the how entropy was compatible with a molecular
understood in the 19th century (63-66). understanding of heat, and reached the
conclusion that "entropy is disorder"
Ch. 9: A Game of Billiards: The Story (106; 108; 99-110). Boltzmann's suicide
of Temperature. On models (67-68). (110-11).
The atomic model produced still valid
results in the billiard ball model of a gas Ch. 14: Apocalypse Now: The
introduce in 1732 by Daniel Bernoulli Dissipation of Energy. The concept of
(1700-1782) (68-71). Rediscovered in the "heat death" of the universe seized
the 19th century, it was seen that its the popular imagination for a time, but
crux was "the realization that heat is just "the problem has lost its ominousness"
the sum total of the energies of motion, (120; 112-21).
or kinetic energies, of the individual
molecules" of a gas (72). Kelvin defined Ch. 15: E = MC2. Einstein published the
absolute zero as the temperature at formula, a hallmark of the end of the
which gas volumes (and their kinetic reign of Newtonian physics, in September
energy) shrank to zero (73). The 1905 in a three-page article;
molecular perspective clarifies the experimental confirmation that he
concepts of temperature and heat (74- predicted of this stunning statement of
75). the equivalence of matter and energy
came 30 years later (122-24). That the
Ch. 10: The Devil-On-Two-Sticks: speed of light is a constant, which has
Chance and the Loss of Certainty. been experimentally verified, is a
"strange, counterintuitive fact" that
"cannot be explained, but must be Ch. 18: Four Obituaries for the
accepted" (125). Newton anticipated the Demon. Smoluchowski thought it
convertibility of matter and energy in his possible that an intelligent Maxwell's
Opticks (1704), writing "The changing of Demon might circumvent Brownian
bodies into light, and light into bodies, is motion (146; cf. ch. 12). Leo Szilard
very conformable to the course of argued in 1929 that such a demon would
Nature, which seems delighted with use measurement, which inevitably
transmutations" (126). "The law of involves wasted energy: "The Demon
conservation of energy, reborn as the law seemed dead again" (148; 146-49). Léon
of conservation of mass/energy, has Brilloun, Denis Gabor, and Norbert
established itself as one of the few Wiener analyzed entropy in terms of
unshakable theoretical guideposts in the information and "brought about the
wilderness of the world of our sense Demon's third demise" (151; 149-52). By
experiences. In scope and generality it showing that "[i]nformation . . . can be
surpasses Newton's laws of motion, collected and manipulated in a reversible
Maxwell's equations for electricity and way," Charles Bennett (drawing on the
magnetism, and even Einstein's potent work of Rolf Landauer) revived the
little E = mc2 It survived not only the Demon, only to kill him with the
storms of the quantum revolution, which realization that "computation . . .
transformed the crisp granularity of the requires temporary storage of
atomic realm into a miasma of information" whose erasure "will
probability, but also the flood of dissipate enough energy, generate
cosmological discoveries that shattered enough entropy, and create enough
ancient preconceptions about the disorder to save the validity of the
permanence and simplicity of the second law" (154; 152-55).
universe. At all scales, from the
unimaginably small to the inconceivably Ch. 19: The New Entropy. But the
large, the law holds sway. It comes as Demon lives on in the work of Wojciech
close to an absolute truth as our Żurek (born 1951) of Los Alamos, who
uncertain age will permit" (127-28). has used the concept of algorithmic
randomness (or algorithmic complexity)
Ch. 16: Here and Now: The Enigma to restate the second law and hopes it
of Time. The mystery of time's can be used to "apply the second law to
irreversibility (129-35). some useful purpose" (165; 156-65).

Ch. 17: Time's Arrow. "[The] Ch. 20: Fantastic Voyage: The
fundamental paradox [of time's Demon Enters the Human Body.
irreversibility] cloaks the second law of Żurek's work has found application in
thermodynamics in a shroud of mystery molecular biology; Albert Libchaber
and ambiguity, while the energy (French; born 1934) has built a
conservation of the first law shines forth nanodevice that caused movement
as a steady beacon of certainty in an because of thermal noise, and it may be
uncertain universe" (136). Boltzmann that similar principles are active in
believed that irreversibility was rooted in biological processes (166-74).
the calculus of probabilities as it relates
to atomic processes (137). Statistics Notes. 11 pp., by chapter.
resolves the matter practically, but a
disturbing question of principle remains Index. 21 pp. Very detailed.
(137-43). Cosmological implications
About the Author. Hans Christian von Baeyer to interject anecdotes and
von Baeyer is Chancellor Professor of personal reflections. Von Baeyer shuns
Physics at the College of William and mathematics (there is only one equation
Mary. He grew up in Germany, in the book, E = mc2, "the only
Switzerland, and Canada; he is now an mathematical formula in Bartlett's
American citizen. After early theoretical Familiar Quotations" [122]), but
work in particle physics, he has devoted sometimes discusses them (58). Von
himself to teaching and science Baeyer writes that "[o]n [Boltzmann's]
journalism. He is also the author of The tombstone is engraved, in mathematical
Fermi Solution: Essays on Science (1993; shorthand, his immortal testament:
paperback 2001), Taming the Atom: The 'Entropy is the logarithm of
Emergence of the Visible Microworld probability'"(111) instead of reporting
(1992; paperback 2000), and Rainbows, what the tombstone actually bears: "S =
Snowflakes, and Quarks: Physics and the k • log W" [S = entropy, k = Boltzmann's
World Around Us (1984; paperback constant, W = Wahrscheinlichkeit, the
1993). He spends summers in Paris. frequency of occurrence of a
macrostate]. There is also little
[Additional information. Hans discussion of experimental design. —
Christian von Baeyer was born in Not all of von Baeyer's broad
1938. He "grew up in Switzerland" (131). generalizations are helpful, and they are
He comes from a scientifically sometimes unreliable (e.g. "Belief in
distinguished family (his great grand- perpetual motion is based on an
father Adolf von Baeyer won a Nobel argument similar to the water with which
Prize in chemistry [47]). He holds a 1958 the philosopher Blaise Pascal justified his
A.B. is from Columbia, a 1961 M.S. from belief in God: The odds may be long, but
the Univ. of Miami, and a 1964 from the payoff is infinite" (16), but (1)
Vanderbilt. He has won the Science Pascal's own belief in God was based on
Journalism Award of the AAAS, the his mystical experience, (2) his wager
National Magazine Award, and the 2005 was devised to help skeptics overcome
Gemant Award. their doubt, and (3) the assertion is
He is also the author of Information: The simply false. — However, von Baeyer'
New Science (2004; paperback 2005). success as a science writer is doubtless
He has two daughters, Madelynn and Lili. due to such sentimental generalizations,
which are appealing and amusing if not
[Critique. Von Baeyer's book, re- reliable. — The research for the book
subtitled The History of Heat in its seems thin; chapters are often based on
paperback reprinting, tells the story of a single source. On the other hand, the
the development of science's author's credentials are impeccable and
understanding of heat. It poses as a he writes with confidence. — Maxwell's
history, but that the book was composed Demon can be read profitably and with
as separate essays is suggested by von enjoyment by readers who stand at many
Baeyer's daughter Madelynn being different levels of scientific literacy. But
"eight" in ch. 11 and "teenaged" in ch. it does not go deeply into any aspect of
13. — Maxwell's Demon is written in a its subject.]
casual, chirpy, popular style that allow