Re: thermodynamics

Brian D Harper (
Thu, 13 May 1999 15:35:43 -0700

At 07:51 PM 5/12/99 -0400, Moorad wrote:
>Dear Kevin,

Oops, I think you mean dear Brian, unless Kevin is also putting
the Hiebert quote in his sig. :)

>I have often read your quote by E. H. Hiebert and was curious to its

I am glad you noticed. Its one of my favorite quotes. I've been putting
it in my sig. file because I think it has important implications
wrt debates about origins.

Here's the quote again:

"All kinds of private metaphysics and theology have
grown like weeds in the garden of thermodynamics"
-- E. H. Hiebert

The meaning is probably best illustrated by looking
at some of the weeds that are growing in the garden.

These weeds have the general property of encouraging
one to start singing the Hee Haw tune:

"Gloom, despair, and agony oh me.
Deep dark depression, excessive misery.
If it weren't for no luck I'd have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair, and agony oh me."

So, here's an example of a weed in the garden of thermodynamics:

==============begin quote============================
We are the children of chaos, and the deep structure of
change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and
the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all
that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we
have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately
into the heart of the Universe.

Yet, when we look around and see beauty, when we look
within and experience consciousness, and when we
participate in the delights of life, we know in our
hearts that the heart of the Universe is richer by
far. But that is sentiment, and is not what we should
know in our minds. Science and the steam engine have
a greater nobility. Together they reveal the awesome
grandeur of the simplicity of complexity.
-- P.W. Atkins (1994). <The 2nd Law: Energy, Chaos,
and Form>, Scientific American Books. p. 200.
==============end quote============================

In the discussion of origins we encounter these weeds all
the time, but not just in thermodynamics. There are also
weeds in the garden of evolutionary biology. For example,
Dawkin's statment that evolution reveals a universe without
purpose. Creationist's attempts to tie evolution to all
manner of evil.

The moral is that despite the weeds there is still a garden.
Better to devote one's energies to pulling the weeds instead
of trying to convince the unwary that the weeds are the garden.

Brian Harper
Associate Professor
Applied Mechanics
The Ohio State University

"All kinds of private metaphysics and theology have
grown like weeds in the garden of thermodynamics"
-- E. H. Hiebert