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Reply #17: To me on this one the obvious weapon against ignorance are the laws of thermodynamics [View All]

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Oak2004 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-28-08 11:35 AM
Response to Reply #13
17. To me on this one the obvious weapon against ignorance are the laws of thermodynamics
and in particular the commonsense principle that you can't get something for nothing.

The math may be a bit daunting to a non science major, but the thought experiment isn't: Think about how much energy it would take to destroy the universe, or even only to physically destroy the earth. It's a lot of energy, right? More than humans are currently generating or collecting on this earth, more than all the nuclear weapons we've created going off at once (which quite likely would destroy human civilization and much of eathly life, but would scarcely blemish the physical planet).

To physically destroy the earth (lets forget the universe for the moment) you've got to get the enormous energies from somewhere in order to do it -- either you need to have that much already in energy form, or you have to convert matter to get that much energy. Humans simply can't command that much energy at the moment.

Another way to look at it: we don't expect to open the refrigerator and find a turkey roasting itself next to the cold milk. We know the energy isn't there in a refrigerator to cook a turkey. Even though the filament of the bulb that lights the fridge is more than hot enough to roast a turkey, it's not "big" enough to roast one. While things like the LHC can generate fairly high energies (still nothing like you can find in nature), they do so over a miniscule area. It's as likely to destroy the earth as that filament in the lightbulb is to roast the turkey in the refrigerator.

It's possible that the "laws" of physics (which are just very well established theories) will be revised by future research (the laws of gravity being an illustration). But the way that such well established theories change are never by turning them on their heads and throwing them out. Like other "laws" of science, thermodynamics has been tested and tested by everyone from the best minds of science to high school students in school laboratories, and if there are exceptions to what we know about thermodynamics, they occur at the very extremes -- the extremely small, the enormously large, or in the very young or very old universe, or, speculatively, where one universe impinges upon another. While the LHC is certainly intended to operate at the "extremes" of human experimentation, the universe is constantly generating observable phenomena that exceed the LHC's potential, and none of them have been observed to violate thermodynamics in ways we can observe from earth.

Teaching the art of thought experiments will give a powerful scientific tool to nonmathematical students, and a tool that can be fun, at that.
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