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Nature, Origin, and Profound Ramifications of Irreversibility

Entropy S is a property of a thermodynamic system. It is always increasing. Unlike other parameters that appear in the ideal gas law, P V = n R T, for example, it cannot be directly measured, but it is as real as death itself. For definitions of what it is and how it relates to other thermodynamic properties, we include this excerpt from the book. Its definition is fairly straightforward, but it is a truly elusive quantity. It is fair to say that no one had previously discovered its nature and origin.

Entropy is the “profound implication” of irreversible interactions and processes having taken place in a thermodynamic system. Reversibility characterises interactions that makes sense — as far as laws of physics are concerned — whether the interaction proceeds forward or backward in time, or equivalently whether associated velocities are reversed or not. It has repeatedly been argued that all the interactions at the submicroscopic level of our reality are reversible, whereas everyone is aware that at the macroscopic level of our mundane lives interactions are irreversible. A diver could never be summarily ejected from a swimming pool and placed back on the springboard. We are so used to these contradictory situations that we seldom ask why. Those who have, have come up with the wrong answer, namely that it is a matter of complexity and improbabilities. All the molecules in this room could end up in that corner, but the probability is so low that it just won’t happen. No! It can not happen. Irreversibility at the submicroscopic level precludes it happening. Should one wish the correct answer to that unasked question, its answer is to be found in this book. In 2018 R. Fred Vaughan and his son Sean J. Vaughan submitted a paper to the Asian Conference on Engineering and Natural Sciences that succinctly described that answer. The paper was accepted for presentation but for personal reasons the authors did not accept the invitation. That paper is presented here.

The formalities of thermodynamics address systems in equilibrium for which the ideal gas law pertains. But real systems are seldom all that close to ideal. Irreversibility is what pushes them to the norm. The energies of constituents that defy the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution are forced into compliance by the irritatingly misunderstood process of ‘thermalization’ that results from the irreversible interactions of particles mediated by photons of electromagnetic radiation.