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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/347

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343
THE VALUE OF SCIENCE

the inverse phenomenon should be equally so, and one should be able to reascend the course of time. Now, it is not so in nature, and this is precisely what the principle of Carnot teaches us; heat can pass from the warm body to the cold body; it is impossible afterwards to make it take the inverse route and to reestablish differences of temperature which have been effaced. Motion can be wholly dissipated and transformed into heat by friction; the contrary transformation can never be made except partially.

We have striven to reconcile this apparent contradiction. If the world tends toward uniformity, this is not because its ultimate parts, at first unlike, tend to become less and less different; it is because, shifting at random, they end by blending. For an eye which should distinguish all the elements, the variety would remain always as great; each grain of this dust preserves its originality and does not model itself on its neighbors; but as the blend becomes more and more intimate, our gross senses perceive only the uniformity. This is why, for example, temperatures tend to a level, without the possibility of going backwards.

A drop of wine falls into a glass of water; whatever may be the law of the internal motion of the liquid, we shall soon see it colored of a uniform rosy tint, and however much from this moment one may shake it afterwards, the wine and the water do not seem capable of again separating. Here we have the type of the irreversible physical phenomenon: to hide a grain of barley in a heap of wheat, this is easy; afterwards to find it again and get it out, this is practically impossible. All this Maxwell and Boltzmann have explained; but the one who has seen it most clearly, in a book too little read because it is a little difficult to read, is Gibbs, in his 'Elementary Principles of Statistical Mechanics.'

For those who take this point of view, Carnot's principle is only an imperfect principle, a sort of concession to the infirmity of our senses; it is because our eyes are too gross that we do not distinguish the elements of the blend; it is because our hands are too gross that we can not force them to separate; the imaginary demon of Maxwell, who is able to sort the molecules one by one, could well constrain the world to return backward. Can it return of itself? That is not impossible; that is only infinitely improbable. The chances are that we should wait a long time for the concourse of circumstances which would permit a retrogradation; but sooner or later they will occur, after years whose number it would take millions of figures to write. These reservations, however, all remained theoretic; they were not very disquieting, and Carnot's principle retained all its principal value. But here the scene changes. The biologist, armed with his microscope, long ago noticed in his preparations irregular movements of little