Thursday, February 18, 2010
Four years ago, I was fascinated with thermodynamics. Yep, the same thermodynamics you have to learn in school. What made it interesting to learn in adulthood was the absence of a teacher breathing down my neck about handing assignments in, and the idea that thermodynamic principles might translate to human behaviour.
Like how you are attracted to people "hotter" than you, because you like their "warmth" - generally speaking, and at a very basic, atomic level. I think if you only knew enough physics, you could predict the dynamics of most interpersonal relationships, and understand perfectly the mechanics of how they fail. But I didn't know enough physics - I just liked to study and suppose things.
ANYWAY, my interest in this subject came to an abrupt end one night. I was living by myself at the time, and not really in the best period of my life. I was a system isolated from my environment, entropy could not decrease.
In true "nerd introvert" fashion, I sought comfort in my physics. Sorry, I know I'm showing now what a boring person I am. Most people drink, party or watch movies - I sit and wonder what would happen at absolute zero.
Everything would just stop, wouldn't it. All it would take is one particle at absolute zero and all the heat in the universe would get sucked in to try an even out the temperature, but you can't even out the temperature because absolute zero is fucking cold and what if there's not enough heat to go around. You'd be frozen in time, and you'd have no control over it. What if you were really unhappy, or really trying to make your life better, only to get stopped.
You wouldn't die, you'd just be... stuck. Forever.
What happened next was a bit unexpected. I feel stupid telling you this, but sharing is somewhat cathartic, and will explain why I brought up the topic in the first place: I had a panic attack.
Not a big one. Just a little one. My heart started beating really fast, it was hard to breathe, and I was overcome by feelings of dread and paranoia. It was quite horrible.
In true "single girl in panic" fashion, I messaged a physics student friend and asked when the universe would freeze over. And in true "Chinese physics student" fashion, he told me plainfaced that absolute zero was just a theory, and it was unlikely that some mad scientist was going to accidentally freeze us all. So from my point of view, absolutely nothing would happen, because it just wouldn't happen.
I tell this story today because I found an article on New Scientist, which goes through what happens at absolute zero. As it turns out, THERE IS A PLACE IN SPACE THAT IS ONE DEGREE WARMER THAN ABSOLUTE ZERO.
JUST. ONE. DEGREE.
Posted by Sandy at 5:17 PM