The afterlife and the first law of thermodynamics

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Benjboi's picture
Lovecraft? Never read

Lovecraft? Never read anything by him. Obviously aware of him and his influence on the modern horror genre. And you can't watch alien, the thing etc without being aware where their origin lies. Which one would you suggest I start with if I do start reading him?

Nyarlathotep's picture
Benjboi - I remember reading

Benjboi - I remember reading something about deuteron having a lower mass than its components

That is actually true for almost any atom:

  1. You read that a deuteron is composed of 1 proton and 1 neutron.
  2. You look up the mass of a proton and neutron and add them together.
  3. You look up the mass of a deuteron and compare it and find it is lighter than a proton + neutron.
  4. You conclude that a deuteron is less than the sum of its parts.

While the mystery has not be solved exactly; it is well know that step 1 is wrong; and this is where the blame is typically laid. It is wrong because there are forces between the proton and neutron that we failed to consider. It seems weird that it is negative, I know. But try to think about it this way.

To get a proton and a neutron out of a deuteron, we would need to metaphorically reach in and grab say the proton and yank it away from the neutron. This yanking is energy added to the system. So to rephrase it: to get a proton and a neutron out of a deuteron, we would have to add energy to the system (and remember that energy can be expressed as mass). Therefore the deuteron must have less energy (or mass) than a separated proton and neutron.

The problem is the amount of energy that has to be added is an empirical number (found by doing it); the theoretical framework isn't good enough to calculate that value from scratch.

Keith Raye's picture
This is utterly fascinating.

This is utterly fascinating. I seem to remember reading about this in book about quantum theory for idiots.

Benjboi's picture
No no I get it. Far from

No no I get it. Far from being the smoking gun to the preservation of mass it's actually proof of the theory and is verifiable, it also proves that both mass and energy are intrinsically linked expressions of the same thing, have I got that correct?

I bloody love science, this is what I came to this forum for

Keith Raye's picture
Ok, thank you. So mass and

Ok, thank you. So mass and energy are the same? Is it true to say that mass creates space? I'm aware that I'm hijacking a thread here but those kind of considerations fascinate me far more than shooting down theists.

Benjboi's picture
Space as in volume or space

Space as in volume or space as in the constellations? Again I hasten to add that this is the limits of my understanding so I'm very happy to be corrected. There are particles with mass that have zero point size so therefore something can have mass without actually occupying any space.

Space as in the stars and planets I'd say it's self evident but then again as above space can't exist without mass but mass can exist without space.

I'm starting to go cross eyed thinking about all this! Ha ha

Keith Raye's picture
Um...Space is space wherever

Um...Space is space wherever you find it, I think. But I was thinking of the universe as a whole.

Nyarlathotep's picture
Energy and mass aren't

Energy and mass aren't exactly the same thing (they don't have the same dimensions for example); but I'm sure you already know Einstein's famous equation that can be used to fix that problem. Starting with some mass, you can use that equation to calculate the energy needed to create it. And going backwards you can take an amount of energy and calculate it's gravitational effects by expressing it in terms of mass. In a way it is just a conversion factor; not unlike expressing nickles in terms of pennies; and vice-versa.

Keith Raye - Is it true to say that mass creates space?

I have no idea. I'd guess there isn't an accepted theoretical framework that can really even address it yet.

Keith Raye's picture


Again, thank you. I'm familiar with Einstein's theory and can see how it works. I'm not after any sort of religious connotation here, I'm just genuinely interested in physics.The question about mass creating space has to do with the idea that, if mass doesn't create space, then the universe must have finite limits - ie if galaxies are accelerating away from each other in a finite universe, then one day they're going to crash into the walls.

Benjboi's picture
I see what you're getting at,

I see what you're getting at, interesting thought. I don't know but I'll look it up or wait for someone more learned than me to explain it.

Keith Raye's picture
Here's another brain-teaser

Here's another brain-teaser for you. I've heard it said that the galaxies aren't actually accelerating away from each other, it's more that the space between them is getting bigger because it's filling up with 'dark matter'. Or to put it another way, space itself is expanding. These considerations hurt my head too, but I still find them fascinating.

Nyarlathotep's picture
Crudely speaking:dark energy

Crudely speaking:dark energy has to do with the expansion between galaxies, dark matter has to do with the force of gravity within a galaxy; so you probably meant to say dark energy.

The rate at which the distance between two objects changes is velocity. The rate at which that velocity changes is called acceleration.
A simple example: let's say you have a toy train track that is made out of "straight track pieces" that are all the same length. Now we will mark 2 locations on this straight track with the sticker A and B. The distance between A and B is 2 track pieces.

Now once per hour some kids come into the room and quickly add 1 track piece between all pre-existing track pieces.

At the end of the first hour (right after the new pieces have been added) an ant standing at A looks a B and says: 1 hour ago B was 2 track pieces away, now it is 3 track pieces away. B is travelling away from me at a velocity of 1 track piece per hour.

At the end of the 2nd hour, the ant looks at B and sees that it is now 5 track pieces away. He says: B is now travelling away from me with a velocity of 2 track pieces per hour. He also calculates that B is accelerating away from him at 1 track piece per hour per hour.

So the 'moral' of the story is that inserting space between two points, can be described as an acceleration between those points. So that is why sometimes you will hear it described as an expansion, and sometimes as acceleration.

Keith Raye's picture


You're a good guy, Nyar, and thank you for your patience. I'm familiar with velocity and acceleration, the laws of Thermodynamics (including the Zeroth) and the basics of nuclear physics which I learned at Technical College as opposed to Uni, but it was a long time ago and there's nowt wrong wi' refresher course. Of course, we worked everything out longhand in those days using books of logarithmic tables and slide rules (known universally as 'guessing sticks'), because computers were still sci-fi then, and pocket calculators were only just beginning to come on the market.

Nyarlathotep's picture
I'm old enough to have used

I'm old enough to have used tables to estimate logs, sines, and cosines; but have never used a slide rule. I kind of want one to scare people. I'd also have to learn how to use it.
And sorry if I insulted you be including some basic stuff. Not knowing the audience makes it hard to know what to include in detail and what to gloss over.

Flamenca's picture
@Nyar, the more detail you

@Nyar, the more details you include, the more thankful to you, ignorants like me will be.

CyberLN's picture
Hahaha...I still have a slide

Hahaha...I still have a slide rule! Amazing to think we sent peeps to the moon with them.

Flamenca's picture
I've just read the whole

I've just read the whole thread. Amazing posts, you guys.

@Benjboi, about your view on the afterlife... It seems innate to feel the need to remain on this planet after we die in any form, and the idea of our energy playing around is certainly poetical, but as @Nyar pointed out, also unrealistic.

A few weeks ago, I linked Neil deGrasse Tyson's video about afterlife, which your OP reminded me. This is a more realistic approach yet as beautiful as your idea (sorry for the acid reflux to regular readers): "Put me in the ground. Let the microbes come in out of my body, and the energy content of my body that I had assembled, over my lifetime, consuming the flora and the fauna of this Earth, my body then returns to them. And thus is the circle of life".

P.S. Greetings from British Florida, I mean, Spain... xD

Benjboi's picture
In some respects that's an

In some respects that's an even nicer thought than an afterlife. Like your final act of usefulness to become fuel for another, beautiful

Keith Raye's picture


She writes beautiful poetry too - in Spanish - but she does excellent translations.

Flamenca's picture
@KeeEith! You make me blush!

@KeeEith! You make me blush!

Well, I do grant semantics a magical status so I wouldn't dare to write poetry in a language that's not my own (meaning mother tongue). Nuances and natural rythm pump every poem's heart.


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