Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Demon Has Landed

In response to the ever-changing landscape of fundamental physics during his time, James Clerk Maxwell, director of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, proposed a thought experiment to show the inherent statistical nature of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  In it, a 'well-informed' demon would allow only particles he desired to pass from one chamber of an enclosed area to the other. 

Maxwell was trying to show that for a given particle, the Second Law doesn't have a real meaning.  Only when we consider a large number of these particles does the meaning of the Second Law shine through.  This idea paved the way for the field of statistical mechanics, which is that the heart of modern physics research even today. 

In order to get his point across, Maxwell had to play the 'devil's advocate' in way by arguing for a creature that could, at least he thought, violate the Second Law by design.  Because James Clerk Maxwell has had such an influence on my own passion to understand the world, I want to take this blog to play my own version of the 'devil's advocate' in scientific arguments of interest to me.  Maybe, just maybe, I can live up to the standard that the father of field theories has provided for all of us.  Either way, it should be fun. 

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