Volume 19: Pages 174-199, 2006)
The Auxiliary Components of Thermodynamic Theory and Their Nonempirical, Algorithmic Nature
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794‐2300 U.S.A.
Thermodynamic laws are not “equations of motion”; in contrast to the specificity of other fundamental laws of physics, the hallmark of thermodynamic laws is generality. This raises the issue of whether auxiliary assumptions required in applying general thermodynamic laws to particular systems are also of a different nature. Lacking proper understanding of this nature, students of thermodynamics encounter a number of puzzles and misconceptions. A central puzzle is how one makes specific predictions with general laws lacking in specificity. Despite these occasional (but conceptually fundamental) difficulties, it is undeniable that examples of the successful application of thermodynamics abound. This paper argues that all successful applications of thermodynamic laws to particular processes making specific predictions are accompanied by auxiliary components — either explicitly or in tacit form. These are either the usual auxiliary assumptions — or a new kind of auxiliary components, which are idealized (nonempirical) contriving or algorithmic means. This is the radical idea (of the Carnot cycle as an algorithmic process) introduced by Carnot. This central thesis concerning the structure of thermodynamic theory is presented with the support of a good number of evidential examples. In comparison with other physical theories, which are nomothetic sciences, thermodynamic theory reveals its difference in structure and aim as being an atypical nomothetic science with the distinctive hybrid feature of nomothetic sciences and principle‐based sciences. Real contriving or algorithmic creations change and evolve with time intrinsically. It is argued that this contriving/historical connection characterizes the nature of engineering knowledge, which is identified as being a historical principle‐based science. In comparison to engineering knowledge, biological sciences, it is further suggested, reveal their structural similarity with engineering.
Keywords: specificity in natural laws, auxiliary assumptions, auxiliary components of thermodynamic theory, tacit knowledge, teleomatic processes, reversible processes and algorithmic processes, nomothetic sciences, principle‐based sciences, engineering and biology
Received: August 13, 2004; Published online: December 15, 2008