Into the Cool
Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life
Working from the precept that "nature abhors a gradient," Into the Cool details how complex systems emerge, enlarge, and reproduce in a world tending toward disorder. From hurricanes here to life on other worlds, from human evolution to the systems humans have created, this pervasive pull toward equilibrium governs life at its molecular base and at its peak in the elaborate structures of living complex systems. Schneider and Sagan organize their argument in a highly accessible manner, moving from descriptions of the basic physics behind energy flow to the organization of complex systems to the role of energy in life to the final section, which applies their concept of energy flow to politics, economics, and even human health.
A book that needs to be grappled with by all those who wonder at the organizing principles of existence, Into the Cool will appeal to both humanists and scientists. If Charles Darwin shook the world by showing the common ancestry of all life, so Into the Cool has a similar power to disturb—and delight—by showing the common roots in energy flow of all complex, organized, and naturally functioning systems.
"In his well-known essay 'The Two Cultures,' C.P. Snow famously remarked that an inability to describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics was a form of ignorance comparable with never having read a work of Shakespeare. It's fair to say that these days, the Second Law gets far less press than the Bard. Enter Into the Cool, in which the authors claim that the study of thermodynamics (in some ways the neglected stepchild of the sciences) can inform our understanding of biology, ecology and even economics. The authors begin by rephrasing the Second Law—as 'Nature abhors a gradient'—and proceed to illustrate its relevance to large systems in general. Whether one is considering the difference between heat and cold or between inflated prices and market values, they argue, we can apply insights from thermodynamics and entropy to understand how systems tend toward equilibrium. The result is an impressive work that ranges across disciplinary boundaries and draws from disparate literatures without blinking. It's also a book that (much like Shakespeare and the Second Law of Thermodynamics) requires effort on the reader's part—it's not for casual reading."
Introduction: Trouble at the EPA
Part I: The Energetic
1. The Schrödinger Paradox
3. Eyes of Fire: Classical Energy Science
4. The Cosmic Casino: Statistical Mechanics
5. Nature Abhors a Gradient
6. The River Must Flow: Open Systems
7. Too Much, Not Enough: Cycles
Part II: The Complex
8. Swirl World
9. Physics' Own "Organisms"
10. Whirlpools and Weather
Part III: The Living
11. Thermodynamics and Life
12. Brimstone Beginnings
13. Blue Planet Blues
14. Regress under Stress
15. The Secret of Trees
16. Into the Cool
17. Trends in Evolution
Part IV: The Human
18. Health, Vigor, and Longevity
20. Purpose in Life
Appendix: Principles of Open Thermodynamic Systems