The Mysteries of Myths of Heat: A
Brief History of Hot and Cold
Published in Issue #37, May/June
by Eugene F. Mallove
It is astonishing to realize that many modern conceptions
(or "laws") in the science of heat- thermodynamics- arose during
the nineteenth century, a period of utter confusion about the
fundamental nature of heat. How could it have been otherwise,
given that the very existence of atoms was still in question!
of heat is as old as the history of contemplating whether atoms,
"smallest units of matter," exist. Much of what we know-or think
we know-about heat came about in the nineteenth century, but thinking
about what heat really is goes much further back. Primitive peoples
clearly knew that rubbing sticks together could make heat and then
fire, but connecting the idea of atoms to this "heat" was beyond
even the imaginative ancient Greeks.
A brief perusal of Isaac Asimov's Biographical
Encyclopedia of Science and Technology1 unearthed
this ancient background of atomic and pre-atomic theory: Greek
philosopher Anaximander (610-546 BC) imagined "a formless mass that
was both the source and destination of all material things." His
name for this unobservable substance was apeiron, translation:
infinite. Indeed, the precursor of later 19th century theories of
the aether, and their present emergent forms after their
twentieth century Einsteinian demise, traces that far back. It will
most likely be determined in the affirmative-after many more bloody
battles-that an energetic aether gives rise to matter and is also
the repository of its localized extinction. This aether, forming
a universe perhaps infinite in time, is nearly certain to vanquish
the unsupported myth of Big Bang cosmology.
Another Greek philosopher, Leucippus (born 490 BC), is generally
regarded as the primary authorof "atomism." Greek philosopher Democritus
(440-371 BC), a student of Leucippus, put forth the idea of a void
in which atoms moved and interacted. Finally, influenced by this
early Greek thinking, atomism was codified and elaborated by Roman
writer Lucretius (Titus Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus
Carus- 95-55 BC) in his work "DeRerum
Natura"("On the Nature of Things"). Atomism continued to play a
role in scientific thinking into the Second Millennium, but since
no one had seen atoms or knew their nature, it was possible even
for some leading scientists, e.g. Ernst Mach (1838-1916), to doubt
their existence into the second decade of the twentieth century.
With kinetic theory of gases theorist Ludwig Boltzmann listening
in January 1897 at the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna, Mach
had loudly announced, "I don't believe atoms exist!"2
It is fascinating that the first known
heat engine (a machine that converts heat to work) was also of ancient
Greek vintage-the primitive aeolipile of Hero (sometime in
the first century AD, about year 75, some think), which used the
jet action of steam to produce the rotation of a sphere. In a remarkable
example of how an invention can arise and then disappear if it is
not manufactured and then used widely, it was not until the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries that heat engines came into being as utilitarian
devices, initially to drive crude water pumps. A fascinating story
of their development is told by John F. Sandfort in Heat Engines.3
In the process of developing the early heat engines, few people
seem to have given much thought to what was this "heat" produced
from burning wood or coal. The so-called "father of chemistry,"
French scientist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794), is perhaps
most identified with the invisible fluid concept of heat, which
acquired from him the famous name "caloric." It was supposed
that driving this caloric out of material by rubbing, or by combustion,
produced the manifestations of heat-caloric was heat. That led to
the obvious question: how much caloric could be contained within
a given mass of material?
Lavoisier in his Elementary Treatise
on Chemistry (published posthumously in 1798) listed the then
known "elements"-even though the very reality of atoms was still at
issue. In that list of elements Lavoisier included, believe it or
not, light and heat! Now as Asimov remarks, "He had eradicated
one imponderable fluid, phlogiston, but it was only partly through
his influence that caloric, just as false, remained in existence in
the minds of chemists for a half a century." We might add that Lavoisier's
dogma of the non-transmutability of "elements"-as he then knew them-has
also endured. This two-hundred year-old dogma combined (in the late
twentieth and early twenty-first centuries) with modern theories of
atomic structure to deny experimental proof of low-energy nuclear
reactions. Strong myths and dogmas, once begun, have rather long lives.
The caloric theory of heat was surprisingly
enduring. It survived far into the nineteenth century, despite many
experiments which showed that caloric, if it existed, had no weight.
And there were theorists who founded the kinetic theory of gases,
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) and Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906),
whose theories provided very strong support for atomism. Even the
convincing experimental work of Benjamin Thompson (1753-1814), an
expatriate from England's American colonies (what are now Massachusetts
and New Hampshire) who became Count Rumford in Bavaria, could not
kill the idea of caloric. In his work in the late 1790s boring
brass cannon barrels for his German patron, Rumford determined that
the metallic shavings from this horse-driven boring appeared to
have the same heat capacity after the drilling action as before.
He suggested that the supply of heat in matter was without limit-an
exceedingly revolutionary concept that contradicted the caloric
theory. He wrote: "The more I meditated on these phaenomena [sic],
the more they appeared to me to bid fair to give a farther insight
into the hidden nature of Heat; and to enable us to form some reasonable
conjectures respecting the existence or non-existence of an igneous
fluid: a subject on which the opinions of philosophers have, in
all ages, been much divided. . . It is hardly necessary to add that
anything which any insulated body, or system of bodies, can continue
to furnish without limitation, cannot possibly be a material substance:
and it appears to me to be extremely difficult, if not quite impossible,
to form any distinct idea of anything capable of being excited or
communicated, in the manner the Heat was excited and communicated
in these Experiments, except in MOTION." (quoted by J.F. Sandfort3).
Today a scientifically literate person understands that the excited,
chaotic motion of atoms and molecules creates in our bodies or in
measuring instruments a sensation of hot or cold. But this concept
of heat is relatively modern-an outgrowth of the work of Rumford
and other knowledge developed in the nineteenth century, in particular
the work of James Prescott Joule (1818-1889). According to Isaac
Asimov, earlier scientists had conceived of heat as a form of motion,
among them Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Robert Boyle (1627-1691),
and Robert Hooke (1635-1703), but caloric endured, until Maxwell,
it is said, finally killed it off.
Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot, French Engineer
It is astonishing to realize that many
modern conceptions (or "laws") in the science of heat- thermodynamics-
arose during the nineteenth century, a period of utter confusion
about the fundamental nature of heat. How could it have been otherwise,
given that the very existence of atoms was still in question! One
sees the shakiness of the claim that the laws of thermodynamics
had reached a state of "near perfection" in the twentieth century
(see Von Baeyer4), when they in fact rested on this very
Much before the nineteenth century
there was only a very weak conception of a relationship between
heat and energy. So it is not surprising that the important paradigm
of the conservation of energy, which later became known as the First
Law of Thermodynamics, was long in coming. The name firmly associated
with introducing the conservation of energy are German physicist
Julius Robert Mayer (1814-1878), who predated both James Joule's
and Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz's (1821-1894) statements
of the conservation of energy. Mayer in 1842 had published a paper
on the general equivalence of all forms of energy and he gave the
first estimate of the mechanical equivalent of heat. Because Mayer
was not of the scientific establishment, his then heretical concept
of the conservation of energy was not accepted. It was James Joule
who performed the definitive exhaustive series of experiments that
showed the convertability of mechanical action to a heat equivalent.
Though Joule began lecturing about and publishing his work in 1843,
it was not until a critical meeting at Oxford University on June
27, 1847 at which he lectured that his ideas began to receive acclaim.
There, man of the establishment William Thomson (1824-1907), already
well-published by his then age twenty-three, became impressed with
Joule's solid work on the mechanical equivalent of heat. (William
Thomson was knighted as Lord Kelvin in 1866, by which name he is
more commonly known.)
But for three years after that meeting
there continued a deep confusion in Thomson's mind, based on the
earlier work of French engineer Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (1796-1832),
with which he was also impressed. Carnot in 1824 (the year Thomson
was born) had published a remarkable paper, which mathematically
defined the upper limit in efficiency of steam engines of the time-and,
by extension, the maximum efficiency of all heat engines. Carnot
stated that the most general heat engine required a high temperature
input reservoir (at Thigh) and it had to exhaust its
wasted heat to a lower temperature reservoir (at Tlow).
His formulation that the maximum efficiency of a heat engine was
(Thigh-Tlow)/Thigh later became
enshrined as dogma in both physics and in practical engineering.
A heat engine that could convert heat to work at 100% efficiency
from a single temperature reservoir would be deemed impossible under
this Carnot restriction. This is the basis for contemporary mockery
of attempts to make what are called "perpetual motion machines of
the second kind," of which Xu Yelin's device (see p. 31) is one
So what was William Thomson's problem?
Thompson in 1847 was still a firm believer in the caloric theory!
After all, Carnot had been too, and Thomson firmly believed Carnot-Thompson
in fact had rediscovered Carnot's obscure paper and had promoted Carnot's
ideas. But Carnot had developed his efficiency limitation on heat
engine performance from the perspective of the caloric theory. So
here James Joule was presenting in 1847 material that was equally
convincing to Kelvin, but energy conservation flew in the face of
the caloric theory. Just as Thomson's ideas on resolving the paradox
were jelling three years later, German mathematical physicist Rudolf
Clausius (1822-1888) published the solution to the paradox in May
1850, "On the Moving force of Heat and the Laws of Heat Which May
be Deduced Therefrom."
German mathematical physicist
In one fell swoop Clausius "scooped"
Kelvin and cast into precise form both the First and Second
Laws of Thermodynamics-energy conservation, and the limitation of
Carnot efficiency. The actual form of Clausius' statement of the
Second Law is: "It is impossible for a self-acting machine, unaided
by an external agency, to convey heat from one body to another at
a higher temperature." In 1851, Thomson would claim independent
discovery of the Second Law. His statement of it would be: "It is
impossible, by means of inanimate material agency, to derive mechanical
effect from any portion of matter by cooling it below the temperature
of the coldest of the surrounding objects." Both the Clausius and
Kelvin statements are said to be equivalent. Clausius' collected
thermodynamic theory was published in 1865; it included introducing
the seminal concept of entropy, a measure of disorder that, it is
said, stays constant or inevitably increases, but never decreases
in a closed system.
From that time forward, physics moved
in lock-step with the presumed inviolability of the Second Law.
It is true enough that the Second Law, in general, mandates that
heat cannot spontaneously flow from a cold body to a hot body (but
be aware, there may be exceptions even to this connected with "advanced
Maxwell's Demons"). Generations of students had this Second Law
and Carnot's maximum efficiency formula "proved" to them by a mathematical
demonstration that is nothing short of circular reasoning: If Carnot's
principle concerning the maximum efficiency of a reversible heat
engine were violated in such and such system (elaborately diagrammed
in colorful and expensive thermodynamics texts), that would violate
the Second Law. Ergo, Carnot's efficiency limit is supposedly proved
by reductio ad absurdum. The proof is used the other way around
too-to prove the Second Law from Carnot! Isaac Asimov, for one,
is embarrassingly clear in admitting the circular logic that is
implicit: "It is possible from Carnot's equation to deduce what
is now called the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Carnot was first
to be vouchsafed a glimpse of that great generalization."1
Sad to say for the physics establishment
and the technology establishment, that turned out not to be the
case. For the sake of Humankind, it is very good news indeed that
this almost two hundred year old dogma will now come crashing down.
As Maurizio Vignati in his exhaustive book5 and Xu Yelin in his
experiments show (and in the work of others still to come no doubt),
the Second Law is simply this: A limitation based on the belief
that no macroscopic violation of that limitation had ever been seen
or would ever be seen.
As we will see in the paper Dr. Paulo
and Alexandra Correa published in this issue, another much more
serious challenge to the Second Law of Thermodynamics has arisen.
It appeared in January 1941, as I have outlined in my editorial,
when Wilhelm Reich attempted, in vain, to get Einstein to "look
through his telescope" to see a persisting temperature anomaly that
was in direct violation of the Second Law.6 Einstein,
in effect, refused to "look through that telescope" and we have
been suffering delayed awareness of an energetic aether and sound
thermodynamics ever since. But now a pathway to a much greater understanding
of fundamental physics has opened. We have barely begun to reformulate
the theory of heat that will extend far beyond the useful but highly
limiting concepts we inherited from the nineteenth century.
Through new physical descriptions of
the energetic aether and other emerging understandings of the flaws
of classical thermodynamics, all the textbooks will need to be rewritten.
If anyone thinks this will be easy, given the behavior of the scientific
establishment since the discovery of low-energy nuclear reactions,
think again. As with cold fusion, to get the ossified scientific
establishment even to listen will require irrefutable devices embodying
these principles. It is now certain that these will come.
1. Asimov, I. 1982. Asimov's Biographical
Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (Second revised Edition),
Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York.
2. Lindley, D. 2001. Boltzmann's Atom: The Great Debate That
Launched a Revolution in Physics, The Free Press, New York.
3. Sandfort, J.F. 1962. Heat Engines: Thermodynamics in Theory
and Practice, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New
4. Von Bayer, H.C. 1998. Maxwell's Demon: Why Warmth Disperses
and Time Passes, Random House, New York.
5. Vignati, M. 1993. Crisis of a Dogma: Kelvin and Clausius Postulates
at the Settling of Accounts, Astrolabium Associazione Culturale.
6. 1953. The Einstein Affair. Orgone Institute Press, Rangeley,
Maine, the correspondence between Albert Einstein and Wilhelm Reich,
in original German and in English translation.