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The Worst Thought Experiment

Norton, John D. (2016) The Worst Thought Experiment. In: UNSPECIFIED.

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Abstract

In Leo Szilard’s 1929 thought experiment, a Maxwell demon manipulates a one-molecule gas to reverse the second law of thermodynamics. The demon must fail, Szilard argued, since there is hidden entropy creation in the demon’s collecting of information. This thought experiment is an inconsistent muddle of improper idealizations. It diverted an already successful literature of exorcism into degenerating speculations about about a connection between thermodynamic entropy and information. These confusions persist today in a voluminous literature. Narrative conventions in a thought experiment allow thought experimenters great latitude in deciding which processes are typical and bear generalization and which can be idealized away as incidental. For its abuse of this latitude and the extent of the harm it caused, this thought experiment merits the distinction of the worst thought experiment in science.


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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (UNSPECIFIED)
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Norton, John D.jdnorton@pitt.edu
Keywords: Entropy, Information, Maxwell's Demon, thought experiment
Subjects: General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
General Issues > Thought Experiments
Depositing User: John Norton
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2016 21:42
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2017 03:12
Item ID: 12337
Subjects: General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
General Issues > Thought Experiments
Date: 23 June 2016
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/12337

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