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1 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Complexivity, 21 July 2010
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This review is from: Four Laws That Drive the Universe (Very Short Introductions) (Hardcover)
Atkins would not pass the schoolboy test of matching text to title. Anyone interested in thermodynmaics should read 'Conservation of Energy' by Balfour Stewart for which there is a modern inexpensive reprint of the 1875 edition available - an enquiring mind might indeed ask why this survives and Atkin's book will not.

The main thermodynamic laws are tendencies and tendencies do not drive anything; indeed transformations of energy drive not laws. The zero law seems a definition of temperature and definitions also do not drive anything? The third law is difficult for those who merely wish to have a dialectic understanding; a thermodynamic process results in an increase in entropy, yet philosophers claim that the end result of the universal entropy production will maximise it at zero? - well that sure is not logical to ordinary folk.

Atkins therefore fails to idntify a single law that drives the universe. Indeed he seems so lacking in understanding or awareness that he offers on the speed of process that thermodynmaics is 'silent' - what a load of 'baloney! The Law of Maximun entropy production is the law that drives the universe, but Atkins seems unaware of this Law, the speed of a thermodynamic process is governed by the resistance to the tendency to dissipation of energy as even a weak tendency tends to infinity against zero resistance.

Einstein ( plaguerised from Rutherford ) suggested that science should be explicable to a barmaid, Atkins fails this by a country mile while Balfour Stewart is pretty close even if ignorant (like Atkins?) in his time of the Maximum Entropy Production concept. As man has learnt to exploit Earth's non renewable resources so he has learnt to lessen the resistance to the dissipation of available energy and so shorten the time of sustainablity of human civilisation. On this subject academics associated with thermodynamics seem silent.

I cannot identify Atkin's target audience in writing his book, but I have always found chemists particulary poor at explanation as they tend to accept surpise rather than question it? As an introduction to thermodynamics to those destined to an academic carrer in statistical and quantum mechanics and indeed yet to be fascinated by Gibbs and Helmholtz I can believe it has its place. But as introduction to what drives the universe and indeed man to his own self-destruction, it is about as useful as a recipe book in a famine.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Jul 2015 17:37:13 BDT
It's supposed to be a review of the book, not a platform for you to show off your alleged superiority in these matters. What are your science qualifications, by the way?

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Jul 2015 11:14:57 BDT
MacGregor says:
You seem a tad `perky'? May I ask what are the scientific qualifications of "It's"? My physics lecturer used to offer "Moses supposes his toeses are roses, Moses supposes errorneously" to introduce Kelvin's maxim never to adopt `accepted wisdom' unless one first justified. Rather than wishing to project a perception of personal superiority I try to project one more akin to the boy who noted that a certain emperor was short in the clothes department. Indeed I position myself as `lo-brow' to others' `hi-brow'; it genuinely is not my fault if lo-brow so often is superior to hi-brow.
I will however comply with "its" direction to review the book. It measures 135mm by 200mm by 17mm and weighs 255g. It only offers a meagre 125 of the small pages, the paper quality and typesetting are as they should be reflective of a leading international university and the illustration are graphically excellent if of poor content. As for value, At £10.99 I estimate each of Atkins's words cost 0.04p for a `back campus' professor well past his prime after 60 books already to set against say the absolutely brilliant leading EOWilson who is so eminent he distinguishes himself as a scientist against Dawkins as a `journalist' - with a tag `complexivity' you must surely have studied `Consilience'. EOWilson works out at a mere 0.016p a word most of which are longer than Atkin''s recycled ones. The 4 Laws represents outstandingly poor value for money and is but a cynical exploitation of using the eminence of Oxford University to exploit a few miserable pennies from an a semi-philisophical premise.
I suppose you are one of those dreadful people who think science replaces philosophy in the same way as other idiots think modern science replaces traditional science; they all are complimentary in leading to understanding. Atkins is totally totally wrong when he suggests that treatment of the inside of a system is alien to classical thermodynamics when it is complimentary. Boltzman was wrong, the others were right and so he committed society when he had to face real science. I note that as representative of "it's" you do not refer to the content which maybe other "it's" suppose is the point of a review. If Atkins were writing in exam conditions the university I went to would dismiss his work out of hand with zero marks because he neither addresses or answers his own question. Laws do not drive. Energy does not drive. Temperature does not drive. A barrier does not drive. His conclusion "This mighty handful of laws truly drive the universe, touching and illuminating everything we know" is as much scientific rubbish as claiming the Highway Code drives cars. Page 7 "if A is in thermal equilibrium with B, and B is in thermal equilibrium with C, then C will be in thermal equilibrium with A2 {Wow!}. How can even the meanest intellect claim that is one of the great drivers of the universe? Page 34 "Work is energy tamed" How can anyone write such rubbish. Work results from the transformation and direction of energy into work, I am certain sure Claussius never claimed entropy was tamed energy and more certain than that that neither did Kelvin, Joules, Balfour Stewart, Tait or Clarke - that is baby not scientific treatment.
Chapter 3 starts that the 2nd law has contributed more to the human spirit etc, yes it also led to Carlyle terming economics the `dismal science'. What law does Atkins suggest does most to diminish the more to the human spirit, well little obviously as he does not mention it in his book. Atkins is unbelievably patronising when he writes of CPSnow "I actually have serious about whether Snow understood the law[2nd] himself when now he makes the common error of misunderstanding Snow and that his reference to the 2nd law was typical not specific; anyway it was all much better presented as the Tower of Babel which did not limit it to only two cultures. All chemists do for the 99% of non-chemists is vastly confuse a very very simple tendency - that is the culture of academics, it is the culture of chemists. Typically Atkins does not think what Snow was demonstrating applies to him and of course we all know that an expert is not an expert if he has to listen to others. So which of the two, or indeed many cultures, does Atkins address his book to? There are only two possibilities either he did not think on who he was writing to as Snow clearly observes he cannot address `everyone' or the marketing gurus cynically advised that he would sell more books if he pretended to address `everyone' - I term this professional academic prostitution and complete amoral use by implication of public funding and damaging to the reputation of an institution such as Oxford. If I cannot understand something, from professional psychometric testing it is a fir estimate that 95% of the rest of the population will not understand it either. With a very fine, if classic, education in science, a career in applied thermodynamics and further extensive studying I estimate that less than a haald of one percent would understand Atkin's 60th attempt at a simple introduction. What does he add to Balfour Stewart 1876 and Fred Soddy 1912 who both did a much much finer job of introducing the subject at a level 16 yo's can understand? As with all chemists I have accessed I actually have serious concern that Atkins does not understand the 2nd Law.
That Atkins has absolutely no idea what drives the world is clearly demonstrated on page 54 - can you even spot the glaring omission? He does not even know of the law that drives the universe.

Finally why would you want to know what scientific qualifications I hold? I can only assume that you are familiar with the terms `episodic memory' and `semantic memory' and further assume you trend to the former by which you try to measure understanding - very foolish. Episodic memory is the bedrock of academia such as those who perceive the universe as a giant Suduko puzzle and that devoid of any imagination if one picks it to pieces bit by bit understanding will follow. In detail science (medicine?) there is much much validity in such scientific treatment, but for conceptual matters episodic memory is almost entirely useless and what one needs for that is semantic memory - de Montaigne was the first to really make this point while claiming he had had no new ideas of his own. Modern education concentrates on episodic memory, traditional education concentrated on semantic memory which is a tad more difficult to measure and so access bonus for academics.
Indeed if Atkins were, in Snow's premise, better than half educated he might have read `Night Thoughts - 1747?', in which Ed Young clearly demonstrated was drives the universe. In 1776 Adam Smith, unknowlingly as it had not yet been formulated, the 2nd Law as a component of his famous `invisible hand' I can find no one who has the qualifications to identify the other component - I could explain it to a 12 year old child?
I assume you are what I refer to as an insignificant inconsequential and so the above will be destined to go over your head, but I would like to thank you for reminding me how much I disrespect Atkin's shoddy presentation at a time when he should be at the peak of his powers under such a fine educational institution - it is quite quite disgraceful. If I may further suggest: `ignorance represents a wonderful learning opportunity and you are certainly blessed with a finer and greater opportunity than most. Finally say Hullo to "it's"
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