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Tornado in a Bottle,
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This review is from: Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life (Hardcover)I will not lie. I struggled through first semester thermo, or thermogodamics as I referred to my first glimpse of the science behind heat and mass transfer. I don't think I was alone. But having struggled at first, I eventually picked up the pace and finished strong, coming out of it with a life long love of all thermodynamic cycles. It was with this foundation of love and hence great excitement that I ventured forth "Into the Cool" with Eric Schneider and Dorion Sagan leading the way.
In the beginning they provided a brief history of thermo which immediately brought back great fondness for the subject. I was happy, at first, that perhaps this new book, would make thermo more publicly accessible, easing those first concepts through which every engineer must struggle. Not long into the pages did I realize that this book would not be the one to bring the joy of thermodynamics to the masses. It's not that they got it wrong. I think they've got their theory right. Not completely, but they are leading the way to an understanding that, as they point out, for the first time creationists and some scientists can agree. Evolution is too improbable without help. If this theory provides the theoretical help they envision, we are, in the end, the consummate sum of a collection of selfish genes that detest gradients. This might be true but I'm certain it doesn't give our live meaning. Nevertheless, this theory is big and it's important. It is, perhaps a fundamental force behind a coming scientific revolution -- a paradigm shift away from Darwin alone determining why we are here, if that's what you believe.
We should applaud the authors for undertaking this challenge and we should reward them by allowing them to be the architects of the mainstream message. They have not, unfortunately, written this book very well.
Here is an example from early on. With reference to a toy called Tornado in a Bottle the author's state, "Without the whirlpool, the water glug-glugs from the top to the bottom bottle through the hole. It takes about six minutes. By contrast the vortex, spinning in a highly organized fashion, completely drains the water in eleven seconds! An organized system degrades the gradient many times faster than the poorly organized state". This, of course, is completely false. The water in the top bottle is being held in the top bottle by a vacuum. As a small amount of water drops into the second bottle and a small amount of air is drawn back into the top bottle, the resulting air bubble rises to the top to equalize the pressure resulting in the familiar "glug-glug". The sound effect they captured correctly. What's really happening though is the vortex that is created as the water spins allows air to rise though the center continuously equalizing the pressure in both spaces allowing the water to run down the drain easily -- the fact that a spin was created (added to the system) to speed the water up, and the highly scientific fact that water runs down hill, all aid the quick drain. But there is more -- this idea that water molecules at rest are less organized than water rushing down a drain -- at the same temperature -- is once again, false. Fluid dynamics are at play here -- not thermodynamics. Fluid dynamics tells us that the turbulent flow is less organized than the laminar flow, but it is the laminar flow that offers more resistance from surface tension and friction. There is even more. The authors state, "Here is a graphic example of the superior effectiveness of cyclical gradient reduction. The rate of drainage is predictable. Over and over again the water drains in six minutes or eleven seconds. The gravitational (potential) energy gradient is degraded not by a simple structure but by a highly complex one --- 100 billion trillion water molecules spontaneously interact to form a twirling tunnel." This is priceless. The vision of Schneider and Sagan playing with this toy again and again and each time being amazed how the top bottle drains, for the wrong reason. And this idea of spontaneous interaction -- as if the molecules have a choice. And finally, they speak again, "Our cultural heritage appeals to logic, simplicity, and elegance. It leads us to assume that the quickest route from point A to point B is a straight line. But the Tornado is a Bottle's most effective way to go from full to empty is by way of a whirlpool." They must have slept through 7th grade science. With gravity, the quickest way from point A to point B is the cycloid. And light always takes the path of least time -- which is why it bends moving through to different materials. Sometimes it's not a straight line. And why are they blaming our cultural heritage? Is there something wrong with logic simplicity and elegance? And I think logic and simplicity and elegance still apply once you start solving the right problem.
I'm concerned not with their message but with their delivery. It's not simply that they got Tornado in a Bottle wrong. As the text moves further into the chapter on Tornadoes and Cyclones almost every word is without merit -- and then they appeal to the "Complexity" of the phenomenon as if to say, we are just scratching the surface here -- it's too complex to understand, but trust us it works like this and we know what's really going on. That type of writing seriously undermines their message.
So, bottomline here. You should have this book on your shelf and be familiar with the topic they describing. It is the face of change -- the paradigm shift yet to come. Skim it, read a few chapters that might draw you in. But don't worry about studying their arguments. There will be many more and better reasoned arguments to come.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 31, 2009 6:27:58 PM PST
C. Ogren says:
Hmmm. So should I read this one or not. It bugs me when folks use basic principles and terms incorrectly - or at least as I understand them (unless they correct my error of understanding) - like entropy. Hmmm, but as I think about it, Thermo Theo needs a refresher...
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2010 5:21:23 AM PST
Jim Muccio says:
The thermo sections you will definately enjoy, as I did, as a refresher. They are definately on too something with regard to the additional missing mechanisms contributing to biological evolution. In their zeal they then try to push their theory as the underlying mechanism for all observed phenomenon -- that's when they get into trouble.
Posted on Jan 16, 2011 9:40:32 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 16, 2011 9:49:42 AM PST
F. R. Barrie says:
Thank you for this review. I don't remember much about physics from H.S. or college, so am somewhat over my head with this book. I came to these reviews to see if it was worth continuing. You're right that this book is not for the masses. I am in the top 99th percentile, population-wise (for what being able to answer test questions is worth). It is very slow reading for me to comprehend it, so I mostly want to know if it is B.S or not. I have lots of books I read on complexity, etc. I think I will continue the trudge for 2 reasons: 1: Why does nature abhor a gradient? I've never heard that, but don't know thermodynamics either. 2: As an evolutionary plant biologist in education, I don't understand why everyone is stuck at Darwin. Yes Darwin's work is immense, but it doesn't end there. Back to the book Into the Cool, I find myself questioning some of the comments on the unimportance of gravity, but don't know enough to judge. Some of the writing strikes me as anthropomorphic, too. I am not a fan of teaching by analogy because it is too easy to get confused. Thank you for your review, Mooch.Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life
In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2011 5:03:36 AM PDT
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