Saturday, December 22, 2012

In Defense of the Perpetuum Mobile

Somehow, I stumbled on a series of YouTube videos on perpetual motion machines.  They are very fun.  The videos mainly consist of two types:

  1. Scammers looking for a laugh trying to trick gullible people into wasting their time building them, though secretly there will be a hidden engine or off-screen fan providing additional torque to the device.
  2. The people who fall for these scam designs, and their own self-imposed scam designs, who are honestly trying to build a perpetual motion machine and honestly think they have built a machine that runs forever.
You get a lot of failed designs, obviously.  Technically, you get all failed designs.

Sometimes, I'd see a machine from the sort in type 2 above, where the inventor seemed to honestly think he had found a perpetuum mobile and was trying to generously explain its design features to the audience; and after hearing his explanation, I would have absolutely no idea what he even thought he was doing.  Like this video, where the inventor is apparently using a battery to power a DC electric drill and the DC electric drill to turn a wheel full of magnets.  I can't imagine how he confused "using electricity from a power source" with "not using a power source".

But then I saw others (normally in type 1) that appeared to actually run on their own, and it wasn't always immediately clear.  I'd go to the comments, hoping to see the "trick" to it, and most of the comments would object on the mere assertion of the Laws of Thermodynamics.

To me, that seems almost like going to a magic show, and objecting to every trick that "magic isn't real".

I mean, if someone is trying to sell you magic snake water, then no, magic isn't real.  But the point of a magic show is precisely that coins can't appear out of little kid's ears, but, hey, look, it appeared there anyway.

And it seems the point of a perpetuum mobile is precisely that it cannot work and is forbidden by science, and yet look at it go.

I saw at least a couple of videos involving a sceptic engineer who had made it his hobby to disprove perpetuum mobiles on the internet.  The videos showed various inventors and their machines, and most of them were obviously wacky and had no working prototypes to show.  However, at least some had working machines that appeared to run with no exterior energy source, (one of which is stunningly beautiful) and when they brought the engineer on to comment, the only comments included were just his assertion of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (that a Thermodynamics must obey all orders from a human, except where it would conflict with the First Law), and how this law means the machines can't work, despite what we're seeing in the video.

And a lot of the inventors have the best response: "How does the wheel turn?"

I'm not saying that the machines actually work.  I'm sure - even if only after a thousand thousand years - that the wheels would stop.  But how are they apparently working?  What's the unaccounted power source, or where is the unmeasured wear-down?  Why didn't the engineer just attach an electric generator and a load to the machines and wait till they stopped?  Would've been easier, and more conclusive.

It could also have been extremely educational to go through the machine's mechanics and show where the unaccounted power is.  And much, much more scientifically rigorous than dogmatic assertions (which I thought scientists are supposed to hate).

Better though: why haven't the inventors attached generators to their devices and powered their own homes?

courtesy xkcd
What I really see, though, is the aesthetic of it.  The yearning beauty of a machine that runs, and does not stop. Like in this video, demonstrating why a particular perpetuum mobile design (from Da Vinci) wouldn't work.  Watch the weight on the bar in slow motion.  All it needs is just that extra little kick right before it stops (right at 3:18), just to bring it over-level, to get the weights to change position and fall back.  Just the slightest kick...

Maybe if there were a magnet and a timer and a solenoid coil and you used the swing from the lever to power the solenoid at just the right time to spring the magnet and....

It's evocative of a much deeper struggle in the human heart, a pining for some state that has never existed.  And some of these machines are truly beautiful, for lighting up that longing of the heart and mind.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. - Romans 8:19-24

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