In Defense of Thermodynamics: an Animate Analogy

In Defense of Thermodynamics (1997)
First page of Swedish physical chemist Sture Nordholm's 1997 “In Defense of Thermodynamics: an Animate Analogy”, wherein he outlines, without proofs, as he says, thermodynamics applied to human behavior, a subject he calls "animate thermodynamics. [1]
In famous publications, “In Defense of Thermodynamics: an Animate Analogy” is a 1997 three-page Journal of Chemical Education article by Swedish physical chemist Sture Nordholm, wherein he outlines the subject, which he calls “animate thermodynamics”, of thermodynamics applied to human behavior, the abstract of which is as follows: [1]

“In order to illustrate the deepest roots of thermodynamics and its great power and generality, it is applied by way of analogy to human behavior from an economic point of view.”

Scale up | Extrapolate up
The following is Nordholm's statement about how thermodynamics "scales up" or extrapolates up to the human level:

“The purity and precision of thermodynamics has been maintained on the strength of its validity only as a collection of limiting laws for infinitely large systems undergoing infinitely slow changes. However, the interest in thermodynamics has always been based on the great relevance for finite real systems undergoing changes that are fast on our everyday time scale and slow only on the microscopic time scale of atomic motion. Thus we are merely extending the beam of insight from the lifeless behaviors of inanimate matter to the vivid complexities of human behavior. In the final analysis this far-reaching analogy rests on the fact that the basic elements of the description of atoms, molecules, and matter can be scaled up to the realm of living organisms without changes other than in the complexity of the systems and their behavior.”

This is a ripe statement.

No proofs offered
The following is Nordholm’s synopsis or aim of his article:

Thermodynamics great generality and power remains hidden by layers of abstraction and axiomatic rigor. Must this be so? Could we not gain much by loosening the strictures and bringing the main point home by more qualitative applications of thermodynamics to the widest range of everyday experiences? An attempt, at the same time loose and seriously meant, follows. I will argue that given the proper translation of terms and concepts from the inanimate to the animate world the laws of thermodynamics can be seen at work in our everyday lives. No proofs will be offered.”

This "no proofs will be offered" statement here is a ripe one as well. American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims, who cites Nordholm and his In Defense article in his lectures to engineering students, will often hear this comment, or something along the lines of "has this been proved anywhere", asked at the end of lectures, in many cases by thermodynamics professors themselves. It would seem that a full "chemical thermodynamics" textbook, replete with extensive top to bottom derived proofs, would be requisite here. Such a textbook, however, is presently lacking —though something not far out of sight. [2]

Proper translation
In reference to Nordholm's discussion of "proper translation" of terms and concepts:

“An attempt, at the same time loose and seriously meant, follows. I will argue that given the proper translation of terms and concepts from the inanimate to the animate world the laws of thermodynamics can be seen at work in our everyday lives.”

which is one of the more difficult aspects of human thermodynamics, the following are Nordholm's first draft attempt at translated variables:

Nordholm variables

This step is a notoriously difficult one, dating back to Irving Fisher (1892) / Vilfredo Pareto (1896) mechanical-to-economic behavior comparison tables.

The following is a noted opening quote in respect to thermodynamics application to economics:

“Many economists and marketing executives would like to know what drives human behavior in the so-called marketplace. Thermodynamics explains what ‘drives’ inanimate behavior, that is, which processes will spontaneously occur and towards what equilibrium conditions they strive. Thus we might apply this theory also to economic behavior of humans. In thermodynamics the two quantities of greatest interest are the energy and the entropy.”

Homework problems
Nordholm's article notably concludes with eight hmolscience-style homework problems, which in circa 2011, in American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims engineering thermodynamics lectures began to be assigned to students as homework assignments. In 2013, Thims began to require that all submitting JHT authors provide two Nordholm-style homework problems per each submitted article.

Heresy to some
The following is a noted quote from the article:

“The thought that the dry and forbidding discipline of thermodynamics could be applied to that most theory-defying of all applications, human behavior, may be staggering, and perhaps heresy to some.”

This subtle "heresy to some" comment is bubbling with great and hidden truth, examples of which can be found on the following pages: detractors, Libb Thims (attack), crackpot, Elective Affinities (enemies), Human Thermodynamics (objection to), Human Molecule (banned), to name a few.

1. Nordholm, Sture. (1997). “In Defense of Thermodynamics: an Animate Analogy” (abs) (GB), Journal of Chemical Education, 74: 273-75.
2. Thims, Libb. (date). Chemical Thermodynamics: with Applications in the Humanities. Publisher.

Further reading
‚óŹ Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume Two) (pg. 633). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.

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