Fashion Science

November 16, 2010


On my subway trip this morning, these two people were suddenly staring down at me from every bit of advertising space in the car.  They seemed familiar… oh yes, the Hobbit guy, and Charlize Theron.  It’s the new blitz for a big Japanese winter clothing line.

What caught my attention first was the copy touting the “heat generating” qualities of the clothing.  Hmm…is it some sort of solar-powered fashion skin?  Further down in the text it says that “this revolutionary material keeps you warm by retaining body heat.”  In other words, it does what clothing has done since man first slew beast and wrapped himself in its skin.  Whether it does it better, and with more flair, let the market decide!

The end is closer than we thought!

February 1, 2010

Lauren Morrison - click for full size

Some cosmologists in Australia have calculated that the heat death of the universe is about 30 times closer in time than we thought.  Get ready! 

You many be familiar with the concept of entropy and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics because it’s often cited by anti-Darwinians, much to my amusement.  The heat death of the universe would be the state reached when everything, every star and every hot plate, has cooled to the point that all the heat energy in the universe is evenly distributed.  At that time, entropy will be at a universal maximum, and no work will be possible – yippee! Only a difference in heat levels makes it possible to do work, just as you can only generate hydroelectric power if you have a difference in elevation, i.e. water flowing from uphill to downhill, not sitting still in a pond.  In heat-terms,  that’s from hot place -to – cooler place.  (Thus spake the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics!)

Of course, not everybody agrees that heat death is the fate of the world, but we’ll see, or rather, we won’t see…

Bumper Sticker Debate on Evolution & The 2nd Law

September 1, 2006

Some people who are irritated with the creationist/ID crowd have bumper stickers like this one, but I don’t want to get in peoples’ faces: I just want to get my views across, so I chose a bumper sticker that didn’t satirize or appropriate their religious symbols.  Here it is:


That’s all there is to say, I think. Surprising to me, I’ve gotten reaction. Two within the last year, which is not much, but how often do you get comments on your bumper stickers?

Once, I was chugging along stuck in traffic and a guy in a van pulled up next to me, rolled down his window, and gestured with his thumb to the rear of my car. “How do you square that with the 2nd Law?” he shouted. I shouted back, “It’s not a closed system!” and we both drove off, after he waved away my response derisively. [Technical background on that below.]

A few days ago, I returned to my car in a parking lot and found a piece of paper wedged into the door handle, reading,

Nice bumper sticker. (…Evolution) They say it exists. But God and Evolution coexist. Big Bang says that something can come from nothing. It will be an interesting debate! Just don’t get arrogant. Have a good 1!

Cheery note from a creationist, I think. Well, what about this stuff?

The thermo argument is often made and it arises from complete ignorance of what the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics really means. Popularly, it is said to show that order cannot arise spontaneously out of disorder, and that the amount of disorder in the world – entropy – is always increasing. A teenager’s room will gradually degrade into a chaotic mess, almost on its own, but it won’t neaten itself up unless the guiding intelligence of a teen (parent) is applied. So, on the face of it, for complex forms of life to arise out of less complex ones would seem to be an increase of order (design) out of less order, without any intervention. QED, Darwin’s theory must be wrong. Well, not so fast…Let’s look at what the 2nd Law really says.

Imagine you have a box – a system – like the one shown below:
This box is divided into two compartments, and there is an opening in the partition that can be covered or opened by sliding a door up and down. There is also a min-turbine wheel just in front of the opening. The box is insulated so that no heat (energy) can get in or out of the box’s two compartments. This point is very important because it defines the system as closed, or separate from the rest of the world. Imagine also that the right compartment is heated up already (we won’t bother with how) and the left is more like room temperature.

This system, as we’ve decribed it, is highly ordered. It is neat and tidy. One half is hot with high energy, one side is cool with low energy. They are clearly separated, and it takes work to get it this way, like putting in some energy to the right to warm it up before everything is sealed for the experiment. Now, let’s imagine we activate a remote control to slide the partition door up and let the hot air move into the cool compartment. Of course, it will.

As the hot air rushes through the little hole, our turbine will turn and do work for us, like rotate a generating coil and produce electricity. But after all the hot air has rushed in and turned the wheel, then what? This is the key point!

The total amount of heat energy in the box (both sides, now connected as one, by the hole) will be the same as at the start of the experiment! No heat can get out because the box is insulated, a closed system. But, of course, the wheel will no longer turn! The energy will be diffused throughout the box, and the work was done only because the system was ordered, organized, with separate compartments that had vastly different energy levels. Once the door is opened, the temperature in the two sides will become equalized, and no more work (wheel turning) can be done. Thermo-people say that the entropy (disorder) of the system has increased.  It is obvious also that there is no way that the system will spontaneously re-order itself so that compartments have different temperatures again, allowing us to do more work. It’s like water running down a chute to turn a waterwheel: Once it’s down, it doesn’t spontaneously go up the hill again. It takes energy from sun to evaporate the oceans, make clouds in the mountains, then rain, then rivers, etc. And this brings me to my final point. 

God-talkers are wrong to equate this system illustrating the 2nd Law with our world and living creatures in it. The fact is, we do not live in a closed system. We live on a planet that is bombarded with energy from the sun that causes DNA to be mutated, moves water from the oceans to the mountains, and makes all terrestrial work possible. The energy inputs make the possibility of ordered systems arising out of disorder possible, and that’s just what happens.

It may be true that the universe as a whole is tending to a higher state of entropy, i. e.  a condition in which all energy is evenly dispersed throught the cosmos and nothing ever happens anywhere because entropy is at a maximum, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the local conditions now on our planet. It may not even be true…there are other cosmological considerations. 

And what of my anonymous debater who left me a note? Well, some people believe in God and accept evolution, it is true. My sticker says nothing at all about God. As for the Big Bang and creation from nothing, or ex nihilo as the theologians put it, what has that got to do with the issue? I don’t see how that’s relevant. Still, I’m glad to get such a good natured response.