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Is thermodynamics a description rather than a mechanism?

by kmarinas86
Tags: description, mechanism, thermodynamics
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kmarinas86
#1
Apr1-12, 12:32 AM
P: 1,011
It seems to me that it should be. For example, some systems do not have a well-defined 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 well-defined temperature? How do you even go about discussing things like thermodynamic irreversibility when your systems do not have a well-defined temperature?
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K^2
#2
Apr1-12, 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 sub-systems 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.
K^2
#3
Apr1-12, 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 sub-systems 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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