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Is thermodynamics a description rather than a mechanism? 
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#1
Apr112, 12:32 AM

P: 1,011

It seems to me that it should be. For example, some systems do not have a welldefined temperature. How do you use laws of physics depending on temperature (such as the law of thermodynamics) when you have a system that doesn't have a welldefined temperature? How do you even go about discussing things like thermodynamic irreversibility when your systems do not have a welldefined temperature?



#2
Apr112, 01:31 AM

Sci Advisor
P: 2,470

You'd be surprised in how many systems you can define a temperature equivalent and apply thermodynamics. Traffic jams can be viewed as a phase transition, for example.
But you are right. It's a mathematical tool. More generally, what you are looking at is Statistical Mechanics, which gives you means of describing system consisting of very large number of particles or subsystems that interact with each other. Even if interactions are simple, accounting for each one is impossible, but you can still talk about behavior of the system as a whole. 


#3
Apr112, 01:31 AM

Sci Advisor
P: 2,470

You'd be surprised in how many systems you can define a temperature equivalent and apply thermodynamics. Traffic jams can be viewed as a phase transition, for example.
But you are right. It's a mathematical tool. More generally, what you are looking at is Statistical Mechanics, which gives you means of describing system consisting of very large number of particles or subsystems that interact with each other. Even if interactions are simple, accounting for each one is impossible, but you can still talk about behavior of the system as a whole. 


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