Much time has passed since I said “the laws of thermodynamics smell of their human origin” (actual quote is by P.W. Bridgman). My friend Professor Pandora asked me to elaborate on the topic so I decided to write this blog post. This quote is my way of differentiating thermodynamics from other disciplines of science such as physics or chemistry.
When I said this, I was referring to the fact the subject matter of the laws of thermodynamics was created by humans. For example, the well-known first law of thermodynamics, energy cannot be created or destroyed, has no substance without human’s creation of the term and idea of what constitutes as “energy.” This is very different to a well-known concept of physics, the law of gravity. While the law and term of “gravity” was not conceptualized until the works of Sir Isaac Newton, gravity would still act as a force pulling towards the center of the earth whether humans discovered it or not. In contrast, the idea of energy as work, heat, or matter would not even exist if humans did not think it up.
This idea is displayed pretty clearly in the Michu Kaku video, “The Laws of Thermodynamics and the Fate of the Universe.” Each law that the video shows could be viewed completely different today if they were thought up by other great minds. If the idea of energy was never theorized, we could have a completely different way of viewing the topics of thermodynamics. I hope this clears up some of your confusion Professor Pandora!