ForumsWEPRPhilosophical aspects of the laws of Thermodynamics

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Doombreed
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Ok, granted, the title needs a bit more work But hey, since you are here, please don't leave! I promise it's not a science thread or anything, you need no specific background to take part in this discussion

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I've been recently studying thermodynamics a bit more extensively and a lot of the aspects in thermodynamic systems that we want to increase (or decrease) revolve around the system's efficiency per the first and second law.

The efficiency of a system per the first law of thermodynamics is, very roughly, the system's net work (in a general sense, its output) and how much is that, compared to the same system's input. This leads to a percentage which could be described as

η = net work (system's output) / Q (or system's input).

This is all in terms of energy and it is only true for systems in which the output is more important than the input (cooling systems withdraw heat from the environment so it gets a little different) but either way it describes the same physical quantity. How much a system gives, compared to how much it takes in

Surely you've heard of the phrase "a machine can't give you more than you give it". But why is that? Well, because some of the energy given itself is used up for the machine's function. In this case, our system, made up of one or more machines, converts energy from one form to another through a series of processes. Processes which in the real world, are not totally reversible. Suffice to say, losses always exist.

But how do we count those? That's where the second law of thermodynamics comes into play. Efficiency as per the second law is a system's work output compared to the maximum possible work output it would have, were things optimal (again, very roughly). It describes how close to optimal function we have, in a thermodynamic process (or more than one processes)

ηΙΙ = work output/maximum possible work output.

And here's where the philosophical aspect begins. In our daily lives, every person is faced with a series of tasks, challenging or otherwise. Some rise to the challenge, some perform adequately, some others do not. We could draw a metaphorical parallel between the two laws of thermodynamics and people.
Where efficiency according to the first law would be

η = output/resources.

Depending on the concept we can substitute the resources with many different things, or even all of them if the output is broad enough. Notable examples of "resources" include time, education, financial resources, etc. We could in a sense measure what people accomplish in life based on their output/resources at their disposal ratio. The various potential "outputs" (or even all of them if we were bold enough to generalize the ratio enough for the entirety of the life or life period of an individual or group), make this quantity very hard to compare to another individual's, or group's efficiency

And this is the difference with the second law. Using the same logic, I would argue that efficiency as per the second law would be

ηΙΙ = Output/ maximum possible output

Now we are getting somewhere. The first law is all about how much an individual or group of people produces compared to what that individual or group "absorbs" (in the form of resources). The second law is all about how optimally said individual or group's production or output would be, under the same circumstances. Which means that the second law measures how closely one approaches the limits of their possibilities.

This leads to certain interesting discoveries. More importantly, what is more important?

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On a first glance the first law seems to be more important. If you are accomplishing more, in a shorter timeframe, surely you are more capable. Professionally speaking you have a much higher chance of success, but the same conclusion can be extrapolated for various other aspects of life as well.

However the second law, measures not how much you accomplish, but how close to your maximum possible accomplishments your output is. In a sense, it could represent all the opportunities you have seized, the chances you've had in life, out of all the opportunities you could have taken.

It seems that the second law is definitely very important as well. People with disabilities have to strive to meet marks that other people can meet without any sort of effort. Yet the first group finds acceptance, cheers and encouragement as they reach those milestones. That is because they approach their own limits, very very closely. The reach of what they could possibly do.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Stephen_Hawking.StarChild.jpg
Stephen Hawking. Notable scientist who achieved a lot in the field of theoretical physics, even despite his ALS

But of course, very often, in life, it is the actual output that matters. Even if someone is very efficient according to the second law, if the limits of their potential are too low, then the work they produce, or output, is also low. An example of such a mechanism is the common bicycle, which is one of the simplest energy converting devices in existence. Through the use of a single chain and one gear, it converts your potential energy into kinetic energy, or movement. Its simplicity also means it suffers very few losses of energy, through negligible amounts of friction between the bike's chain and the gear along with the rest of the environment of course. But a bike is no plane, or train, or car All of which are a lot more complex, and achieve the energy conversion a lot less efficiently, but with greater results still.

If you made it this far, what is your take on this? What do you think is more important and in which aspect of our lives?

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HahiHa
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The only areas where I can see this being important is industries and competitive sports/e-sports. I suppose that in an industry, efficiency is the primary consideration, whereas sport teams might look out for a high maximum output, though both aspects are certainly important in both areas.

Apart from those, I think it is a very mercantile logic that shouldn't be important at all, as it can only help to discriminate between people. What good would these considerations do to us as a society?

Doombreed
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I think it is a very mercantile logic that shouldn't be important at all, as it can only help to discriminate between people. What good would these considerations do to us as a society?

Hopefully improve our quality of life. That's what philosophy is about

Perhaps it is the terms "output" and &quotroductivity" that confuse you. My apologies, I do not mean this in the cold hearted numerical logic of how much an individual or group gets done. I meant if we could broaden the application of those laws for more sectors of life.

For example, there seems to be a relation between happiness and the second law in people. The certain sense of satisfaction, knowing you've done everything you could. Who does not want to live a life with as few regrets as possible? As few missed opportunities that one can have? If we widen what we classify as "output" (and by extension, the limits), you would get a more general equilibrium, representing exactly those missed opportunities compared to the ones you've seized. Among other things. The good (and bad, depending how you look at it) of this general purpose definition of the laws in humans is that you can substitute both the numerator (meaning the output) and the denominator (resources, maximum output) with a lot of different things, eventually surpassing the term 'productivity'

While efficiency per the second law does not guarantee happiness, or the opposite, it sure seems to me that the connection is there.

Here is another example: Children are, in general, the most happy group of human beings. But why is that? You could say it is a combination of a lot of things. One of them being, the different outlook, and different capabilities, and responsibilities that children have. Which in turn makes most children extremely effective as per the second law . Their different limitations, responsibilities, outlook, and opportunities vastly alters their output in comparison to the maximum output they could have. And when I say output, I don't mean their productivity in this case, but how they live their lives. That way of life does certainly entail living your life to the full does it not?

HahiHa
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HahiHa
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I am terribly sorry, but I didn't understand your example about children, at all :/

What is it exactly that you propose? To try to find a way to calculate one's efficiency and limits in different areas? Show people how efficient they are compared to what they could do and hope it makes them feel better? Hope that they will think "Oh, I couldn't have done that anyway as it was beyond my max output, so I'm fine"? Or, in the worst case, show them exactly how inefficient they are, how many opportunities they could have actually seized, and make them miserable?

In general I expect a lot of potential for such an outlook to go wrong. It seems difficult to me, to justify to our society why some have a higher "life" output than others who must be content/happy with less, even though the reasons themselves might be evident. Isn't it contrary to any egalitarian strife?

As for happiness, there are different philosophical points of view on the matter as far as I know, though I'm sure @Moegreche is the better judge on the matter. Not all include the maximization of opportunities and efficiency, some just say that happiness is the absence of, well, "bad stuff" And a missed opportunity is only "bad", or detrimental to your happiness, if you experience it in a negative way. Maybe you just don't care about it?

Doombreed
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I am terribly sorry, but I didn't understand your example about children, at all :/

Children are predominantly the happiest group of humans. That is, in my opinion, partly due to the fact they lead a very full life. Complete with all the new experiences, with everything being a new opportunity. And a full life is exactly what being efficient according to the second law would mean when that law is applied broadly enough. That's it really.

What is it exactly that you propose? To try to find a way to calculate one's efficiency and limits in different areas? Show people how efficient they are compared to what they could do and hope it makes them feel better? Hope that they will think "Oh, I couldn't have done that anyway as it was beyond my max output, so I'm fine"? Or, in the worst case, show them exactly how inefficient they are, how many opportunities they could have actually seized, and make them miserable?

Not at all. Like I specified in my previous post I want to escape the cold logic of productivity and output and apply the laws in a more broad way to life. My general question could be rephrased as: Is it better to seize all the opportunities that we can, or make the most out of those that we choose to take? I started with the actual productivity example and the analogy with machines in an attempt to make the point more comprehensible and afterwards reach a more general conclusion. The more specific version of the question, with which I started, was "is it better to do your best, or just do generally well?" through which I wanted to eventually reach the more general question above. In the question above, the efficiency per the second law would be seizing the opportunities that we can, while for the first law, it would be making the most of those that we choose to take.

In general I expect a lot of potential for such an outlook to go wrong. It seems difficult to me, to justify to our society why some have a higher "life" output than others who must be content/happy with less, even though the reasons themselves might be evident. Isn't it contrary to any egalitarian strife?

Definitely, and that is why I am attempting to escape such a narrow minded outlook and see the bigger picture. The wider concept Remember, I do not mean output in the way of what one gets done, or produces. I want to see if the laws are applicable in a more general version for life.

As for happiness, there are different philosophical points of view on the matter as far as I know, though I'm sure Moegreche is the better judge on the matter. Not all include the maximization of opportunities and efficiency, some just say that happiness is the absence of, well, "bad stuff" And a missed opportunity is only "bad", or detrimental to your happiness, if you experience it in a negative way. Maybe you just don't care about it?

Also most assuredly. Like I said in my opening post, if the connection (which, as mentioned, looks to me like it's there) even exists, it is definitely no guarantee of happiness. But whether we would be happier leading a full life, with minimal regrets, or choosing to take opportunities that we can meet, is the question

HahiHa
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Not at all. Like I specified in my previous post I want to escape the cold logic of productivity and output and apply the laws in a more broad way to life. My general question could be rephrased as: Is it better to seize all the opportunities that we can, or make the most out of those that we choose to take?

Thanks for rephrasing your question, it makes more sense to me this way.

I still think the question is a bit too oriented towards efficiency. Not saying that it is not important to do well in life, but you're proposing a dichotomy between seized opportunities and possible opportunities. Where would someone who, for example, didn't wait for opportunities but did everything on his/her own, fit in there? Maybe I'm thinking in too restrictive of a sense about the term 'opportunity'?
Doombreed
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I still think the question is a bit too oriented towards efficiency. Not saying that it is not important to do well in life, but you're proposing a dichotomy between seized opportunities and possible opportunities. Where would someone who, for example, didn't wait for opportunities but did everything on his/her own, fit in there? Maybe I'm thinking in too restrictive of a sense about the term 'opportunity'?

Not necessarily a proposed dichotomy. I just think it's somewhat impossible to do both due to human limitations. A certain balance between the two however is possible.

That someone in your example would do alright by the first law but a lot better by the second law(assuming they took the opportunities they created of course). Because if applied broadly enough, the laws can cover potentialities like the ones you describe too I think. Working on your own to achieve your goals is basically working very close to the limits that you set to yourself and assuming those limits are calculated and imposed by yourself, on yourself, based on your capabilities, it is safe to assume that reacing them makes you fit the second law efficiency in my opinion

On a slightly unrelated note, do you think it's more important to do the best you can, or to just do well in general?

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