Does intelligence violate the 2LoT?

Granville Sewell’s argument that evolution does so, therefore evolution must be caused by intelligence, rests on the odd assertion that intelligence (our own, for instance) does violate the 2LoT.

Bruce David, a UD poster I have a lot of respect for, writes:

I realize that to say that something, anything, violates the Second Law is an anathema to most people who have had a normal scientific education. And I have had the experience on these threads of explaining Dr. Sewell’s point in what I thought was very clearly reasoned prose to people like Elizabeth Liddle, who is intelligent, a scientist, and generally does give her fellow commenters a respectful hearing, only to get the terse response, “Nothing violates the Second Law.”

However, Dr. Sewell’s point, as I understand it, is that both life and human activity in fact do violate the Second Law, and in the case of humans it is clearly our creative intelligence that does this. And if ID is correct, then it is only intelligence that does this. Personally, I think it is a point worth making, even if it falls on deaf ears most of the time. And also, I think that precisely because it contradicts one of the most respected principles of science, and because of the implications for the nature of intelligence and thus the nature of human beings, that it has massive implications for science, philosophy, spirituality, and religion, and therefore, again, needs to be brought to light.

Yes indeed.  If ordinary human intelligence regularly violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that would indeed have massive implications, for all kinds of things, not least our energy requirements.

hmmm.

80 thoughts on “Does intelligence violate the 2LoT?

  1. Elizabeth: Also I’ve installed a latex plug-in, but that only works in posts, not comments (not even for me). I’ll keep working on it….

    Have you tried MathJax? I don’t know if it works in comments, though.

  2. Yes. The problem is setting the allowable tags in comments. They seemed to have changed which script it is in, and I haven’t found it yet.

  3. Elizabeth:

    [stuff about "Anselm" snipped]:

    It’s not the argument Sewell is making.He’s saying that the 2LoT only applies to non-intelligent things, and holds that there are non-intelligent things for which it holds.

    So I’m wrong? He’s not saying (in effect) that plants can’t grow?

    He’s saying that, having been Intelligently Designed (or because the Universe was) they get to violate the 2LOT?

  4. Elizabeth,

    Bruce David: “It is clear that intelligence “violates” the 2 LoT in terms of what can be normally, otherwise expected from natural processes, because humans generate virtually infinite increases in X-order on demand….. ”

    By my understanding, I think Joe Felsenstein is right in concluding that Sewell’s argument does not allow plants to grow, because the plant would be “organizing” itself.

    If a plant, which is considered to be unintelligent, can organize its matter, (“create order”), then so could other life, eventually ending up as, which would allow the evolution he’s trying to dismiss.

    That’s what his argument is supposed to disallow.

  5. One of the primary questions that ID/creationists need to explain – if indeed they are claiming that intelligence violates the second law – is the fact that intelligence is temperature dependent.

    How many individuals suffering from hypothermia or hyperthermia can continue to think clearly as their core body temperature deviates significantly from normal?

  6. Thinking gets pretty slow when your temperature and room temperature no longer constitute a gradient.

  7. My understanding is that if I make a robot (and design it intelligently), and then sprinkle coins from my pocket onto a table, and then its program causes it to look at them and stack them into a single stack, this improbable arrangement can be achieved without violating the 2LOT because the robot needs to have a light shining on the table and it exerts energy to do all the moving of coins, and we (anyway Mike Elzinga and Richard Hoppe) can analyze all that and show that the increase in entropy from the light and from the movement of the robot’s claw is more than enough to counterbalance the decrease in entropy which comes from building the stack of coins. Leo Szilárd and Léon Brillouin did such analyses for Maxwell’s Demon.

    But it sounds as if the Creationist 2LOT (C2LOT) works differently. They would say that the intelligence I put into designing the robot enabled it to violate the 2LOT, and that that fact is part of the C2LOT. Right?

  8. Joe Felsenstein: So I’m wrong?He’s not saying (in effect) that plants can’t grow?

    He’s saying that, having been Intelligently Designed (or because the Universe was) they get to violate the 2LOT?

    That’s my understanding – Bruce David articulated it most clearly, and Sewell seemed to agree. It would be nice if Sewell would come over here and clarify! Or perhaps I should email him and ask.

  9. Hoo boy. I will just be rehashing comments made in the other thread, but I think the best way to look at energy flow for life is as a gradient process. As many say, and few hear, the 2LoT has nothing to do with order/disorder. Water flows downhill – down a literal gradient. It releases energy in doing so (hence hydro-power and erosion). That energy leaves the system. You want to get the water back up again, you have to put energy in. You can’t think it uphill!

    Precisely the same concept applies to chemical reactions – and Life is powered by chemical reactions. If the energy-state of reacted products is less than the original molecules, the reaction will proceed, but the energy in the original states has to go somewhere – it is released as heat or a fizzing noise and you have to put energy in to reverse the reaction. (This is as much First Law as Second – conservation of energy. If the start system has more free energy than the end, that energy doesn’t just disappear).

    And all Life does is couple chains of serial free energy gradients in a manner that allows the energy of ‘fall’ to be tapped off, to create a proton gradient (nano-scale hydro power) and drive an ATPase that locks the energy in a phosphate bond that can be later tapped to do whatever the cell needs. Life doesnt violate the 2LoT, it harnesses it!

    It doesn’t even need sunlight. There is a rich fauna at deep-sea vents, including fish and crabs and tube worms and shrimps, and the whole chain derives its energy from chemotrophic bacteria. They take the energy of sulphide molecules, which is already ‘uphill’ wrt their electron transport chains (that energy having been ‘locked’ in the sulphides by nucleosynthesis and chemical reactions in hot environments) and allow it to flow down to a terminal electron acceptor. All the way, energy leaves in ‘packets’, some to be converted into other forms and some to be lost as heat. And just like a ball at the foot of a hill, there things stay until energy is input.

    As to ‘charitable’ readings – “I know what he said, but here’s what he meant”: if you are going to use an explicit concept, of course you are going to get picked up on it! If you mean something different, get your own terms! There is an ‘Ultimate Question’ – where did the initial low-entropy state come from – but I think you need something other than mere ‘Intelligence’ to create such a setup! Extrapolating from our ability to write non-random text to that is a huge stretch. And that initial state was completely ‘disordered’ – no stars, no planets, no life – not even any atoms. Everything since then has been coalescing towards its lowest-energy state.

  10. Allan Miller: And all Life does is couple chains of serial free energy gradients in a manner that allows the energy of ‘fall’ to be tapped off, to create a proton gradient (nano-scale hydro power) and drive an ATPase that locks the energy in a phosphate bond that can be later tapped to do whatever the cell needs. Life doesnt violate the 2LoT, it harnesses it!

    I’ve always visualized a sailboat tacking up-wind. Organisms tack up the entropy wind.

  11. Joe Felsenstein: But it sounds as if the Creationist 2LOT (C2LOT) works differently. They would say that the intelligence I put into designing the robot enabled it to violate the 2LOT, and that that fact is part of the C2LOT. Right?

    Best of all is FundySloT which is: “all stuff must actively flee from other stuff and is not ever allowed to interact with it, unless there be angels”

  12. Allan Miller: Life doesnt violate the 2LoT, it harnesses it!

    This is the essential point.

    All one has to do is remove all gradients so that no matter or energy flows. Then life ceases.

    As I read the comments of the ID/creationists posting over on Sewell’s thread on UD, the main impression that I get is that none of these people have had even a little bit of middle school general science. Little kids are taught about the necessity of energy and food in the maintenance of life.

    Yet those commenting over on UD show no awareness of those basic facts. The basic vocabulary of science is missing. There is no awareness of the phases of matter. There is no awareness of the properties of atoms and molecules. Conflations flow freely as though any analogy is a suitable “argument” showing violation of the second law.

    This is one of the embarrassing consequences of “local control of education” in the United States. Illiterate politicians call the shots in many local communities; and everybody else suffers.

  13. Joe Felsenstein: Leo Szilárd and Léon Brillouin did such analyses for Maxwell’s Demon.

    Maxwell’s demon has been a favorite “argument” by the ID/creationists in the past. According to their argument, Maxwell’s demon proves that intelligence violates the second law. I encountered this exact argument from an ID/creationist yet again less than two years ago. It was a “proof by assertion” type of argument.

    The analysis is pretty straight forward. But ID/creationists continue to think of a little homunculus sitting in a room full of gas molecules looking at them as though one is sitting in a gymnasium watching a bunch of basketballs flying around.

  14. This is one of the embarrassing consequences of “local control of education” in the United States. Illiterate politicians call the shots in many local communities; and everybody else suffers.

    Mike, as usual your understanding of politics matches the UD inderstanding of entropy. And much like them, you’re as convinced as they are. Ignorance does that! Your model of politics is a good match for the “demons” model of disease.

    You need to account for the relative excellence of education, locally controlled, in Jewish and Asian communities, for example. Do you suppose those neighborhoods enjoy “literate politicians”? Yet only a mile down the street, you have schools that are little more than day care centers focused on keeping down the shootings and knifings. Same school boards. How about that?

    The single largest factor influencing quality of education is parental attention – how important the parents think education is, how closely they monitor their childrens’ performances, how much they help with homework, etc. Some of the best-educated people come from home schools, when committed parents distrust incompetently run schools – which are all too common, but not correlated with the quality of any politicians.

    In the case of the UD ignorami, you’re not looking at a case of poor schooling, but rather a case of ideological parenting, for the most part. Rmember that John Freshwater’s students did very well on standardized tests – he seems to have been a good, effective teacher. BUT with, uh, a certain orientation toward religion that influenced him to reject certain parts of science.

    Over at UD, I see plenty of intelligent, dedicated, well-educated people struggling mightily to get reality to line up with their preconceptions. And anything approaching a correct understanding of thermodynamics simply is not theologically acceptable. These people aren’t stupid or ignorant, and blaming politicians for their creationism isn’t just missing the boat, it’s getting the wrong time zone! Instead, you need to look at their parents, their churches, their childhood peers,

    (And I seriously doubt even the most outstanding possible education would override parental religious convictions. School is an opportunity; it’s up to parents to take advantage of it. If they don’t care, if they’re too busy, or if their religion causes them to “know better”, schools are pretty helpless.)

  15. Flint: Mike, as usual your understanding of politics matches the UD inderstanding of entropy. And much like them, you’re as convinced as they are. Ignorance does that! Your model of politics is a good match for the “demons” model of disease.

    I know you prefer to think that; but I live in a supposedly enlightened community in which that kind of crap used to come up routinely. It still does come up when the “political winds” are right, and it costs taxpayers lots of money in hearings and threats of lawsuits by the likes of the Thomas Moore Law Center. I know the churches and some of the political activists who are still working behind the scenes. They try to keep a low profile and then blindside others when it’s too late for others to mount an opposition.

    This is the community that nourished and supported Duane Gish. His “people” are still here, and they are highly political and very wealthy. Much of that wealth was acquired in a Ponzi scheme type of company that made soap and cleaning products. They support a major institute and think tank that uses its influence on the governor and the state legislature. It also takes land bequeathed to the public in perpetuity and gives it to the wealthy to build a mammoth golf course. They sponsor candidates for major offices at the local, state and national levels. Their current candidates are running now. Biology teachers still fear them.

  16. Yes, but nationally guess who is in charge of congress and who makes many appointments to federal court.

    It may seem evil to have local control, but I hate to imagine what could happen with monopoly control. Before you give power to government you have to consider that sooner or later your political adversaries will be in charge.

  17. Mike Elzinga: I know you prefer to think that; but I live in a supposedly enlightened community in which that kind of crap used to come up routinely.It still does come up when the “political winds” are right, and it costs taxpayers lots of money in hearings and threats of lawsuits by the likes of the Thomas Moore Law Center.I know the churches and some of the political activists who are still working behind the scenes. They try to keep a low profile and then blindside others when it’s too late for others to mount an opposition.

    You are confusing poor education with ideological education. And these are not the same thing. I’m well aware of efforts, often politically popular at local levels, to force effective (i.e. actually taught) curricula into concordance with the local religious doctrines. And evolution admittedly takes it on the chin, being simply omitted from the curricula in much of the country. But this is still not a political failure, exactly. School boards do what they’re elected to do.

    And even so, thermodynamics is quite distinct from evolution in the public school curriculum. Often a different teacher. If there is a political failure here, it’s better viewed as a national lack of will to excel, a national contentment with watching the rest of the Western world and much of the Second World catch and surpass American students in achievement.

    Yes, but nationally guess who is in charge of congress and who makes many appointments to federal court.

    It may seem evil to have local control, but I hate to imagine what could happen with monopoly control. Before you give power to government you have to consider that sooner or later your political adversaries will be in charge.

    We may not be on the same page here, somehow. There are national curriculum standards, and there are state standards. If you home-school your children, you must meet state guidelines, not local guidelines. And of course public school textbooks are at least a regional if not a national effort – publishers want the entire country as their target market.

    I would argue that your fears are groundless, at least as expressed. The actual control over what is taught is effectively at the level of the individual teacher, regardless of any sort of national standards or political machinations. It’s no mystery why many creationists strive to become public school teachers, especially science teachers. It’s a missionary calling.

    Some reporter once asked JFK what was his biggest surprise on becoming President. And he said it was the difference between how easy it was to give an order, and how difficult it was to get the order followed. Orders just kind of diffused into the Great Bureaucracy, and if that’s not what they wanted or how they did things, the orders just kind of faded out. Everyone had complete deniability.

    Much the same happens with nationally sanctioned curricula. The textbooks are published, the school districts buy them, but the teachers select what material to present and how to do it, and what supplementary material they decide to add. Efforts to get around poor (or ideological) teachers led to standardized testing, which in turn led to “teaching to the test”. And I think Mike’s complaints really concern this practice, and not idiot politicians (elected by, uh, us). The goal morphed from mastering the material to mastering a particular test. I could tell horror stories about this. But the way to circumvent material uncongenial to the local dominant religion is to use the magic words “this won’t be on the test”. NOW you can cover that nasty Godless stuff; nobody has to listen and nobody will.

  18. It’s a pity that Granville Sewell is not willing to come here and discuss the topic. Bruce David’s stance is quite clear: intelligent agents routinely violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Sewell drops multiple hints that this is his position, too, but he never says that outright.

    So as we are left to ponder what Sewell really thinks about the 2nd law of thermodynamics, we might as well scrutinize his article and comments at UD. In the process, we might learn something about entropy.

    Here he responds to a comment from Robb:

    It’s true that when energy is transferred from the hot sun to the cooler Earth (or the rest of the universe), that contributes to a decrease in thermal entropy on the sun, and an increase on Earth.

    That’s right. When a hot object (temperature T_h) transfers ΔQ joules of heat to a cold object (temperature T_c), the entropy of the former decreases, ΔS_h = −ΔQ/T_h, while the entropy of the latter increases, ΔS_c = +ΔQ/T_c. Since T_h > T_c, the increase in entropy in the cold object is greater than its reduction in the hot one, so overall the entropy goes up: ΔS = ΔS_h + ΔS_c = ΔQ(−1/T_h + 1/T_c) > 0.

    But that is not the same as saying the thermal entropy on the sun is decreasing as a whole, or the thermal entropy on the Earth is increasing. In the case of the Earth, the average temperature is nearly constant (because it is also radiating heat out), so the integral of Q_t/U is approximately zero.

    One has to be really careful here. The Earth’s temperature is not nearly constant. It is hotter on the day side facing the Sun (where it receives heat) an colder on the night side (where dumps the heat). A casual application of the same formula might give an impression that the Earth’s entropy is going down.
    That is absurd because it cannot go down forever: at some point it will hit zero an won’t be able to go any lower.

    The right way to think about the Earth’s entropy is to note that the Earth remains in a steady state (forget climate change for the moment). Since entropy, like pressure, reflects the current state, a steady state implies a constant entropy. The Earth is like a window pane that receives heat from the room at a high temperature and dumps it into outside air at a low temperature. Although ΔQ/T_h − ΔQ/T_c < 0, the entropy of the glass is not decreasing, it is staying the same. In this case, the glass is out of equilibrium, and ΔS is greater than the sum of ΔQ/T.

    In the case of the sun, if there were no internal, thermonuclear, generation of heat, then certainly the net thermal entropy on the sun would be decreasing as it cools. But it is not cooling, so like the Earth, the average temperature is approximately constant, so the integral of Q_t/U is approximately zero, and so it’s thermal entropy would seem to be pretty much constant, if we use the usual definition.

    Yes, unlike the Earth and the glass pane in my example, the Sun does not just passively transmit heat from point A to point B. It generates the heat at the core. One can still regard solar regions outside the core as passive transmitters of heat that remain in a steady state; their entropy stays unchanged. The situation at the core is quite different. Here nuclear reactions convert hydrogen into helium. The chemical of the core keeps changing, so there is no reason to think that its entropy stays unchanged. Which way is the core entropy going? We’ll come back to that later.

    In any case, there are a lot of other types of “entropy”, the question of whether or not “total entropy” (as if all types were interconvertible) on the sun is increasing is not really a meaningful question.

    Oh, that is plain wrong. Like energy, entropy is a universal currency of physics. Just like different kinds of energy can be converted into one another, we can compare entropies of different objects on an absolute scale.

    In statistical physics, entropy is the logarithm of the number of microstates available to a system in its phase space (coordinates and momenta). When you combine two independent physical systems, the phase space of the combined system is a direct product of the individual phase spaces. The net number of microstates is the product of the numbers of microstates. The entropy, being the logarithm of that, is the sum of the individual entropies. So entropies of independent physical systems simply add up an thus can be directly compared.

    It seems to me that Sewell’s familiarity with entropy comes from thermodynamics only, and specifically from problems of heat transfer. So he is not sure how to deal with entropy aside from the (very limited) thermodynamical approach.

  19. If you don’t have time to read the previous comment in its entirety, here is an executive summary. :)

    The Earth’s entropy stays the same not because its temperature is the same everywhere (it’s not), but because the Earth is in a steady state. It receives as much heat from the Sun as it transmits back into space. Because entropy is determined by the current conditions, a steady state means a constant entropy.

    The same can be said about the layers of the Sun outside its core. Their temperature varies a lot: from 7 million kelvins near the core down to 6,000 K at the edge of the Sun. But these layers remain in a steady state, transmitting the heat they receive from the core to the outer space. So the entropy of these layers stays unchanged.

    The situation is different at the core, where stuff changes: hydrogen converts into helium. There is no reason to assume that the entropy of the Sun’s core stays unchanged. Does it go up or down? Stay tuned.

  20. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Collin is up to no good.

    While I agree with Mr. Sewell, I would like to play devil’s advocate a little bit.

    Bruce, in response to your comment about the airplane, I would state that in the creation of the airplane the designer and manufacturer create a certain amount of entropy. Theoretically it should be possible to measure the entropy created and the order created and compare it to see if there has been a net increase in order. Here’s an example: a refrigerator creates order by separating hot air from cold air. But it creates greater disorder overall by transforming electrical energy to heat energy.

    Similarly, the designer of and airplane, when he uses his brain, transfers chemical energy into lower order energy (such as heat). The process of creating the airplane also transfers a lot of electrical, chemical and mechanical energy to heat, possibly leading to a net increase in entropy. So while we have a lot of order concentrated in an airplane, it has taken a lot of entropy to get to that point.

    How do we know that there wouldn’t be less entropy had life never existed in the first place? Maybe there would be a lot more sunlight in the universe had earth never even existed. Sunlight is high order energy, afterall. And our bodies create the lowest order energy (heat) all the time by transfering chemical and electrical energy into heat energy to do our work.

    How will Sewell react?

  21. And still no evidence that blind, purposeless processes can produce a living organism from non-living matter.

    IOW still no evidence to refyte what Sewell wrote.

  22. Sewell’s understanding of entropy seems to be limited to thermodynamics of heat transfer. He seems to be only vaguely familiar with the statistical foundations of entropy. This can be gleaned both from his AML article and from the dialogue that is taking place at UD.

    Granville Sewell: In the case of the sun, if there were no internal, thermonuclear, generation of heat, then certainly the net thermal entropy on the sun would be decreasing as it cools. But it is not cooling, so like the Earth, the average temperature is approximately constant, so the integral of Q_t/U is approximately zero, and so it’s “thermal” entropy would seem to be pretty much constant, if we use the usual definition. In any case, there are a lot of other types of “entropy”, the question of whether or not “total entropy” (as if all types were interconvertible) on the sun is increasing is not really a meaningful question.

    R0bb: The formula you’re using for ΔS is fine for systems studied in a Thermo course, but it’s certainly not the only one used in chemistry. If it were, then endothermic reactions would violate the 2nd Law.

    The sun is undergoing a massive exothermic reaction which releases far more energy than it would if the reactants combined chemically. If, as you say, the sun’s temperature is constant, then all of that energy is escaping into space. I don’t see how that could not entail an entropy decrease in the sun.

    Sewell does not know how to calculate the entropy change associated with a nuclear (or chemical) reaction and doubts that this can even be done in principle: different entropies are not “interconvertible.” That’s just silly. Like energy, entropy is a universal currency of thermodynamics.

    R0bb is of course absolutely right. At the sun’s core, protons fuse into α particles releasing energy. It is an exothermic reaction. In an isothermic reaction, the entropy of the system goes down. I will explain that briefly in the next comment.

  23. So how do we know the entropy of the Sun is decreasing? Because it is shining. :)

    Let’s unpack R0bb’s terse reply to Sewell where he points out that the Sun is fueled by an exothermic nuclear reaction. What does that have to do with entropy? A lot, actually.

    From the standpoint of statistical physics, a nuclear or chemical reaction transforms one phase of matter into another. At the Sun’s core, a gas of protons turns into a gas of α particles. In a car’s engine, a mixture of hydrocarbons and oxygen turns into a mixture of hydrogen and carbon oxides. Here are some other familiar examples of phase transformations: water boiling into vapor, water freezing into ice. All of these diverse transformations have two things in common: they occur at a certain temperature and involve two phases of matter that coexist in a thermodynamic equilibrium with each other at that temperature.

    Let’s take a closer look at the phase transition between water and vapor. Below the boiling point (100 degrees Celsius), all you have is water. Above the boiling point, it’s all vapor. At the boiling point, the two coexist. The crucial point is that one of these phases — vapor — has high energy and high entropy, the other — water — low energy and low entropy. If you wish to make the phase with higher entropy, you must supply extra energy as well, so you put the teapot on a gas stove. Conversely, when vapor condenses into water, both the energy and entropy go down. This process creates heat, so it is an exothermic reaction. An exothermic reaction always proceeds with a reduction in entropy.

    If you are still with me, here is a bit of statistical physics to go with it. We’ll stick with water an vapor for simplicity again. At zero temperature, any system goes to a state of lowest possible energy. Atoms freeze and do not move. Quantitatively speaking, the system minimizes its energy E. At an infinite temperature, a system tries to occupy as much of its phase space as uniformly as possible. In a hot gas, molecules are flying every which way. In other words, it maximizes its entropy S.

    What happens at a finite temperature T? Well, a system can’t minimize energy and maximize entropy at the same time, so it makes a compromise. It minimizes a quantity known as free energy. It is a combination of energy and entropy, F = ETS. At low temperatures, this amounts to minimization of energy, while at high temperatures to maximization of entropy.

    Vapor has freely flying molecules, so it has a higher entropy than liquid water and is thus the preferred phase at high temperatures. In liquid water, molecules stick together to take advantage of electrostatic attraction between positive and negative charges. At low temperatures water has lower free energy, at high temperatures vapor does. At the boiling point, they become the same, so the two phases coexist. Entropy goes up in the endothermic reaction (water boiling), it goes down in the exothermic one (vapor condensing).

    The same applies to any of the other phase transformations mentioned here. An exothermic reaction takes a high-energy, high-entropy phase of matter to a low-energy, low-entropy phase. The system donates energy to the outside and lowers its entropy. That’s what happens to condensing vapor, freezing ice, burning gasoline, and protons fusing into α particles. It’s a universal thing.

  24. Mathematically speaking, a phase transition proceeds at the temperature where the free energies of phases 1 and 2 are the same:
    E_1 − T S_1 = E_2 − T S_2.
    If E_2 − E_1 < 0 then going from phase 1 to phase 2 lowers the energy of the system. The “missing” energy is released into the outside world, so we are dealing with an exothermic reaction. The equilibrium condition (the free energies are the same in equilibrium) means that S_2 − S_1 < 0. Thus the entropy decreases as well.

  25. Joe G: oleg- your position can’t even explain the sun.

    Gaps arguments live! How does ID explain the designer?

  26. Rich: Gaps arguments live! How does ID explain the designer?

    At least the sun exists. The designer is completely imaginary.

  27. I’d like to discuss this excerpt from Sewell’s ENV piece:

    There are some problems, however. While one can certainly define a “poker entropy” as S_p = k_p log (W) and have a nice formula for entropy which increases when probability increases, why should the constant k_p used be equal to the Boltzmann constant k_B? In fact, it is not clear why poker entropy should have units of Joules/degree Kelvin. In the case of thermal entropy, the constant is chosen so that the statistical definition of thermal entropy agrees with the standard macroscopic definition. But there is no standard definition for poker entropy to match, so the constant k_p can be chosen arbitrarily. If we do arbitrarily set k_p = k_B, so that the units match, it still does not make any sense to add poker entropy and thermal entropy changes to see if the result is positive or not. It is not clear how the fact that thermal entropy is increasing in the rest of the universe makes it easier to get a highly improbable poker hand. Of course, all these problems also exist with respect to Styer and Bunn’s analyses of the entropy associated with evolution; at least with poker entropy we don’t have to take wild guesses at the probabilities involved.

    The confusion over the units, while funny, is a minor problem. It’s the highlighted two sentences that are most interesting.

  28. Sewell stops by UD to post a link to his ENV article More Philosophical than Scientific: Parsing a RationalizationThe article is about his ill-fated manuscript withdrawn by Applied Mathematics Letters after acceptance. After some complaints about editorial bias against intelligent design, he gets to the main point, a criticism of Dan Styer’s paper in American Journal of Physics, in which Styer demonstrates that the amount of entropy reduction possibly associated with evolution is really tiny compared to the Earth’s entropy budget.

    Sewell is stumped by a question that any junior physics major should be able to answer. Why do we calculate entropy in joules per kelvin?

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