Category: Philosophy

The Second Law

I was lucky enough to be taught my Thermo by Hank Van Ness and Mike Abbott.  I am sad to say, that they both were better teachers than I was a student.  My grades in the subject were atrocious; but throughout my professional career I was seen as the go-to guy in when it came to VLE calculations.

Almost all engineers and scientists have some training in Thermodynamics, and almost all of us know the Four Laws of Thermodynamics.  In reality, there are only 3 laws and an assertion.  The assertion is sometimes referred to the 0th Law of Thermodynamics, and can be summed up by the statement Temperature Exists.

Everyone should be familiar with the First Law – Conservation of Energy.  As any Chemical Engineer can tell you, if you model a system and you cannot complete a simple energy balance, the model is basically worthless.  This is comparable to the mass balance.  It is so fundamental that it is to be taken for granted that any system that violates either of these truths is not to be trusted.

The Third Law, the one that states that the absolute entropy is zero for all perfect crystalline substances at absolute zero, is rarely invoked by the vast majority of scientists and engineers.  It probably comes into play for the wizards who dabble in extreme cryogenic temperatures, but for the rest of us in the room temperature realm, it matters little.

But the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that is another question all together.  The Second Law puts limits on changing heat into work.  It is the reason why perpetual motion devices can never work.  It is fundamental to our understanding as to how the universe works.

Entropy – the measure of disorder – surrounds us.  Look at your desk: the piles of papers there did not spontaneously grow by themselves.  You added to them probably until you needed to find something in one of them.  At that time, you probably spent far too long going through the papers until you found what you were looking for.  That expenditure of work – sorting through papers – was fighting the disorder that is your desk.  Of course a filing system is a method to contain entropy, but it takes effort and energy to stick to it.  Creating order out of chaos takes work and it is a constant struggle.

While there are many who can recite the textbook definition –the total entropy of any system can never decrease – there are few who understand its philosophical underpinnings.

We believe in the Second Law because we have observed it to be true.  After all, your mug of tea does not spontaneously warm up as it sits on your desk, just as your can of Coke does not get colder without some outside influence.

Of course, we see this in the expanding universe.  As the universe expands, disorder increases.  This is not rocket science, it is common sense.  There are some hardy souls in the astrophysics community who are on the search for “dark matter”.  Seems the visible mass floating around out there is not enough to eventually slow the expansion of the universe.  If they can find enough of the missing mass, there might be some point at which the universe would begin to collapse to a new singularity, followed by another “big bang”.

If there is enough mass for the universe to begin contracting, wouldn’t that violate the Second Law?  A contracting universe would imply a spontaneous decrease in the entropy of the entire universe.

So the question boils down to: Is the Second Law of Thermodynamics truly a universal Law, or is it a byproduct of an observable expanding universe?

If it is indeed a universal law, then the search for “dark matter” is pointless, because there will not be enough mass to induce the universe to contract in on itself.

However, if sufficient “dark matter” can be found to ensure the collapse of the universe to a new singularity, then the Second Law is simply an artifact of observation.

It will be interesting to see what develops.

An Epiphany

I have been labeled either a skeptic or a denier of the science of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) by people who call themselves “serious” scientists.  The polite ones called me a skeptic; the not-so-polite ones have called me a denier.  But all of that has changed as of today.  I have come to see the folly of my ways and can only hope to be forgiven and welcomed into the flock. 

I have been told that since I am not an expert on all things atmospherically related, I had no right to question the findings of people who would not have a job save for a crisis they manufactured.  So I have come to understand that “Shut up!” is a valid argument after all.

 And since the leaked (or stolen) e-mails of last November are of limited utility because they were stolen (or leaked) and violated the “privacy” of a few professors who were gaming the system and generally showing them to be a petty, nasty bunch who would stoop to intimidation to get their way, we are not to question the contents.  So I have been reeducated to understand that Freedom of Information is only for crusaders against conservatives and not the other way around.  I truly did not know that intimidation was a valid part of the scientific method.  Mea culpa!  Mea maxima culpa!

But the weight of the intimidation and professional ruin made me stop to reconsider my heresy.  After all, who am I to question those world renowned pillars of the scientific community?  I am just a PhD Chemical Engineer with about 25 years worth of experience across a wide range of industries.  I have been doing mathematical modeling for almost my entire career; my MS thesis was on modeling acid rain processes.  So obviously, I am unable to formulate an opinion without being told what it should be.

However, rather than bore you with my credentials, I want to return to the story of my conversion, and how I came to see the light.

It happened when I began to embrace the whole concept of “settled science” and its implications for the very survival of the invasive species known as Homo sapiens.  Of course, I now am devoted to the mantra of consensus and hope to build one in the very near future.  Because consensus is what we as a collective humanity so desperately desire.  And we all know that we deserve to obtain our desires, because to deny us our desires is to deny the human spirit.

Never mind that collectivism has failed spectacularly every time a person or group has tried to implement it; the seething, redneck, uneducated masses never know what is good for them until told by their more enlightened, intellectual betters.  But this time it’s different.  Since we only have good intentions at heart, we know our motives are pure and this time it will work.

I implore you all to embrace AGW as settled science because the consensus says so!  Resistance is futile and our elite leaders certainly know what’s best for the rest of us.  We, the unwashed, unannointed, the untouchables should bow to our new, benevolent masters.

Which brings me to the consensus I am trying to build: Since the science is settled, I think this would be a good time to eliminate all future funding for climate science.

After all, if the science is settled, what would be the point of any future research?  To know more about something we already admit to knowing everything about?  That is just wasteful and diverts resources to other, more pressing problems.  Besides, if we continue to fund more research, then we might discover that something is wrong and it would throw the whole works into question.  That will simply not do – I have committed my future on the science being settled and learning something that could discredit the settled science would shake my faith in my leaders who assured they knew more than the rest of humanity.  The potential to shake my newly found faith is so discomfiting it might make my head explode.

In fact, since all of our current knowledge is “settled science”, what is the point of continued federal funding of any research whatsoever?  In fact, all further research can accomplish is to unsettle the science.  And we know that would be a bad thing, because my leaders pray at the altar of “settled science”.

With fewer federal dollars flowing to the universities, we certainly do not need the current overproduction of PhD students, so I would suspect that we could limit the entry into grad programs based on a “constant replacement” number of PhDs that either retire or die.  But why bother?  Since additional research can only undermine the foundation of our knowledge that is “settled science”.

But I can acknowledge that there may be a few remaining heretics that want to continue to have cushy university research jobs.  More is the pity for you.  You have stipulated that “settled science” is the litmus test by which we decide what topics are worthy of a dispensation, and the elites now decide which research may continue.  With fewer topics available, the role of the university professor would be reduced to – horrors! – actually having to teach undergraduates, since we will need a steady supply of marginally educated drones to make the machinery of the modern word work.  Don’t worry, you won’t need to keep up with advances, because there will be no advances to keep up with.

“Settled science” is now the new path to enlightenment.  How ironic those individuals who profess to be enlightened want to bring back the inquisition and destroy the careers of those who dare to question.  To question their authority is to threaten their orthodoxy.

Forward, my friends, back to the Dark Ages.