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The Second Law: Resolving the Mystery of the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Ever since it was first formulated a century and a half ago, the Second Law of thermodynamics (or "law of entropy increase") has had an air of mystery about it. Why is it true? Is it even always true? In this book, Stephen Wolfram builds on recent breakthroughs in the foundations of physics to finally provide a resolution to the mystery of the Second Law, elegantly showing how it emerges as a general feature of processes that can be described computationally as well as their interplay with our computational characteristics as observers. For Wolfram, the effort to understand the Second Law has been a 50-year quest, beginning when he was 12 years old. In the book, Wolfram tells the story of this quest as well as traces the whole remarkable history of the Second Law. Written with great clarity and richly illustrated with both striking modern diagrams and extensive historical material, this book will be of interest to anyone who wants to understand the foundations and origins of one of the most important and widely applied principles of modern science.

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Information and Media Inquiries

August 1, 2023 Publication
Publicity and Interviews: sw-media@wolfram.com
Trim Size: 7.44" x 9.69"

Distribution by Ingram, Amazon and Baker & Taylor

UK Distribution: Turnaround Publisher Services


  • Preface
  • Computational Foundations for the Second Law of Thermodynamics
  • The Mystery of the Second Law · The Core Phenomenon of the Second Law · The Road from Ordinary Thermodynamics · Reversibility, Irreversibility and Equilibrium · Ergodicity and Global Behavior · How Random Does It Get? · The Concept of Entropy · Why the Second Law Works · Textbook Thermodynamics · Towards a Formal Proof of the Second Law · Maxwell's Demon and the Character of Observers · The Heat Death of the Universe · Traces of Initial Conditions · When the Second Law Works, and When It Doesn't · The Second Law and Order in the Universe · Class 4 and the Mechanoidal Phase · The Mechanoidal Phase and Bulk Molecular Biology · The Thermodynamics of Spacetime · Quantum Mechanics · The Future of the Second Law · Thanks & Notes
  • A 50-Year Quest: My Personal Journey with the Second Law of Thermodynamics
  • When I Was 12 Years Old… · Becoming a Physicist · Statistical Mechanics and Simple Programs · Computational Irreducibility and Rule 30 · Where Does Randomness Come From? · Hydrodynamics, and a Turbulent Tale · Getting to the Continuum · The Second Law in A New Kind of Science · The Physics Project—and the Second Law Again · Discovering Class 4 · The End of a 50-Year Journey · Appendix: The Backstory of the Book Cover That Started It All · Notes & Thanks
  • How Did We Get Here? The Tangled History of the Second Law of Thermodynamics
  • The Basic Arc of the Story · What Is Heat? · Heat Engines and the Beginnings of Thermodynamics · The Second Law Is Formulated · The Concept of Entropy · The Kinetic Theory of Gases · "Deriving" the Second Law from Molecular Dynamics · The Concept of Ergodicity · But What about Reversibility? · The Recurrence Objection · Ensembles, and an Effort to Make Things Rigorous · Maxwell's Demon · What Happened to Those People? · Coarse Graining and the "Modern Formulation" · Radiant Heat, the Second Law and Quantum Mechanics · Are Molecules Real? Continuous Versus Discrete · The Twentieth Century · What the Textbooks Said: The Evolution of Certainty · So Where Does This Leave the Second Law? · Note
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Earlier Work
  • Undecidability and Intractability in Theoretical Physics · Origins of Randomness in Physical Systems · Thermodynamics and Hydrodynamics with Cellular Automata · Cellular Automaton Fluids 1: Basic Theory
  • Excerpts from A New Kind of Science
  • 7.2 Three Mechanisms for Randomness · 7.5 The Intrinsic Generation of Randomness · Chapter 7 Notes · 10.3 Defining the Notion of Randomness · Chapter 10 Notes  · 9.2 The Notion of Reversibility · 9.3 Irreversibility and the Second Law of Thermodynamics · 9.4 Conserved Quantities and Continuum Phenomena · Chapter 9 Notes · 12.6 Computational Irreducibility · Chapter 12 Notes
  • Index

About the Author

Stephen Wolfram is a distinguished scientist and bestselling author, and the creator of some of the world's most respected software systems, including Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha and Wolfram Language. His work in basic science—including his book A New Kind of Science and the recent Wolfram Physics Project—has had groundbreaking effects on the foundations of many fields. For more than 35 years, he has been the CEO of the global technology company Wolfram Research.

Other Books by Stephen Wolfram

  • Author: Stephen Wolfram
  • Hardcover: $49.95  584 pages
  • eBook: $19.95  584 pages
  • Publisher: Wolfram Media, Inc.
  • Publication Date: August 1, 2023
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-57955-083-7 (hardcover)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-57955-084-4 (eBook)