[EDLING:176] Language and Scientific Proof

Sat May 8 22:05:32 UTC 2004

Although not technically a linguistics article, the following vignette
demonstrates the power of language in creating scientific proofs:

The Thermodynamics of Hell
The following is an actual exam question given on a University of Washington
chemistry mid term. The answer by one student was so "profound" that the
professor shared it with colleagues, via the Internet, which is, of course,
why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs
heat)? Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law,
(gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed) or some
variant. One student, however, wrote the following:

"First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need
to know the rate that souls are moving into Hell and the rate they are
leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it
will not leave. Therefore; no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are
entering Hell, lets look at the different religions that exist in the world
today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their
religion, you will go to Hell. Since there are more than one of these
religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can
project that most souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we
can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look
at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in
order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of
Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added. This gives two

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter
Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell
breaks loose.

2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell,
then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it?

If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman
year, "...that it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you.", and
take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in having that
event take place, then, #2 cannot be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is
exothermic and will not freeze."

**The student received the only "A" given.

downloaded from http://www.zerotime.com/articles/hell.htm on 5/8/04


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