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How Analogy Helped Create the New Science of Thermodynamics

Norton, John D. (2022) How Analogy Helped Create the New Science of Thermodynamics. [Preprint]

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Abstract

Sadi Carnot’s 1824 Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire created the new science of thermodynamics. It succeeded in its audacious goal of finding a very general theory of the efficiency of heat engines, by introducing and exploiting the strange and unexpected notion of a thermodynamically reversible process. The notion is internally contradictory. It requires the states of these processes to be both in unchanging equilibrium, with a perfect balance of driving forces, while also changing. The work of Sadi’s father, Lazare Carnot, on the efficiency of ordinary machines provided Sadi with a template of a very general theory of the efficiency of ordinary machines; and a characterization of the most efficient processes in them as those that minimize differences of driving forces and can be run in reverse. Lazare’s work could provide these resources because of its choice of a dissipative ontology of inelastic collisions among hard bodies. This historically ill-fated choice meant that Lazare’s machines were analogous to Sadi’s heat engines in their key aspects: they are built from essentially dissipative processes. Lazare’s strategies for controlling dissipation and optimizing his machines were transferrable to the analogous problems Sadi found in heat engines. The unanswerable historical question is whether Sadi would have sought a general theory of heat engines at all or found these general theoretical devices without the template provided in analogy by the prior work of Lazare.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Norton, John D.jdnorton@pitt.edu0000-0003-0936-5308
Keywords: Carnot, reversible process, thermodynamics
Subjects: General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
Depositing User: John Norton
Date Deposited: 05 Jun 2022 03:22
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2022 03:22
Item ID: 20709
Subjects: General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
Date: 2 June 2022
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/20709

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