Intrinsic Contraints: a History of Thermodynamic Laws 


The Great Fire of London. Entrenched in the investigation of thermodynamics, moreover human nature itself are limitations; tendency towards disorder, and limits, many of them. Photo obtained from Wikipedia.

​“the laws of thermodynamics smell of their human origin”
            The very existence of the universe we live in, is beyond words in its shear awe value, and in its seeming pandemonium. However, and not trailing far behind in its incredulity is the fact that, the progression of the universe, something that to anyone appears as sheer chaos, is the very fact that there are indeed a fixed set of laws that govern every single atom, every single proton and electron. And to top it all off? This small set of rules has produced, through these seemingly small sets of rules an aggregate of atoms containing the capacity to investigate this set of rules at the very basis of the entire thing in the human capacity to reason, to think critically and slowly begin to even fathom the cosmos. Once again, no words are appropriate.
            With that said, it might now be appropriate to take a step back and inoculate a sense of realism into this discussion. “The laws of thermodynamics smell of their human origin”. These laws (especially the first two) are without a doubt two of the some of the most impressive achievements in human intellectual history, and sometimes maybe to a general physics student’s dismay can be applied to virtually any scenario in the physical world. However, what more are they than a declaration, an extremely abstract decree of the undeniable fact that, certain human desires are simply unattainable?
            With regards to the laws of thermodynamics, simply “smelling” of human origin might not sufficiently describe the phenomena. For these phenomena that certainly exist in nature, having been throughout the course of human history investigated and theorized one hundred percent by the human nature of always being able to categorize, to explain everything, the very existence and description of these abstract ideas does not simply smell of their human origins as this would only indicate perceptibility from a single human sense. The whole idea of laws of thermodynamics is something that incites every basic human sense into a frenzy in its relation to humans.
            At a time very much preexisting any uncovering of truth with respect to the relation of heat, energy and motion was one of the first searches for a “perpetual motion machine” conducted by Villard de Honnecurt. This is the earliest attempt by humans mentioned by Hans Christian Von Baeyer in her book Warmth Disperses and Time Passes to harness the laws of nature for human interest. Nature prevailed, and this proved to be a common theme with regards to this perpetual motion machine several times.
            This theme propogates itself through the course of the first fourteen chapters, the theme of human attempts to harness the laws of nature for human gain whether that be in a utilitarian or intellectual accomplishment sense, each successive time contributing to the ultimate postulation of the first two laws of thermodynamics. Whether it be Von Baeyer and failure to create the aforementioned self propagating wheel that would serve to combat poverty and serve as an unparalleled economic driving force, Mayer’s failure to fully denounce materialism, or Carnot’s description of and inability to produce an 100% efficient steam engine, we see a common theme. So many times throughout the investigation of, and ultimately in the very fabric of thermodynamic theory itself is the central theme of limits, of constraints governing the set rules of nature, human as well as universal. While we surely can hope to create order in our universe, or a self generating prosperity the laws of thermodynamics simply are not in our favor.

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