Alan Lightman nsIn human thermodynamics, Alan P. Lightman (1948-) is an American astrophysicist and humanities educator noted for his 1992 book Great Ideas in Physics in which he intertwines a teaching of the first and second law, in with historical theories on how they apply to human society, to be used in a one semester humanities science type crossover class. The following backcover quote seems to capture Lightman's general philosophical outlook:

“I am spellbound by the plays of Shakespeare. And I am spellbound by the second law of thermodynamics. The great ideas in science, like the cro-magnon paintings and the plays of Shakespeare, are part of our cultural heritage … Discoveries in science are not just about nature. They are about people as well.”

Lightman's Great Ideas in Physics, interestingly, devotes the first two chapters to the first law and second law, respectively, including sections on “Conservation Laws and Human Freedom” (on energy and freedom) and “The Second Law Applied to Human Society” (on social thermodynamics), giving overviews of two cultures thinkers such as Henry Adams and Thomas Pynchon, the chapters themselves each connected to a appended human thermodynamics education style set of homework problems (similar in style to Swedish physical chemist Sture Nordholm’s 1997 animate thermodynamics homework problems) with accompanying solutions manual. [1]

Two cultures thinker
Lightman seems to be a prime representative of not only a “two cultures” scholar, mixing together physics and the humanities together in his writing, outlook, and teaching. His 2005 book A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit is abstracted as follows: [3]

“Unusually gifted as both a physicist and a novelist, Alan Lightman has lived in the dual worlds of science and art for much of his life. In these brilliant essays, the two worlds meet. In A Sense of the Mysterious, Lightman records his personal struggles to reconcile certainty with uncertainty, logic with intuition, questions with answers and questions without. Lightman explores the emotional life of science, the power of metaphor and imagination in science, the creative moment, the different uses of language in science and literature, and the alternate ways in which scientists and humanists think about the world. Included are in-depth portraits of some of the great scientists of our time: Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Edward Teller, and astronomer Vera Rubin. Rather than finding a forbidding gulf between the two cultures, as did the physicist and novelist C. P. Snow fifty years ago, Lightman discovers complementary ways of looking at the world, both part of being human. Original, thoughtful, and beautifully written, A Sense of the Mysterious confirms Alan Lightman's unique position at the crossroads of science and art.”

From an early age, Lightman was interested in both science and the arts and, while in high school, began independent science projects and writing poetry; similar to possibly individuals such as Roald Hoffmann and Mala Radhakrishnan (in chemistry) or James Maxwell (in physics) who mix poetry and science to an affective result (e.g. “A Paradoxical Ode”, 1878). In 1981, Lightman began publishing essays about science, the human side of science.

Discussion questions
The following are examples of some of Lightman's discussion questions (see: homework problems) which he says should be either solved by students as part of their coursework in a one semester course or done as part of an open classroom discussion: [1]

Here we are queried on the work of the great Henry Adams, the first dual thinker in both human chemistry and human thermodynamics, and his general aim to reformulate the study of human history in the form of history thermodynamics, based on the second law.Here, interestingly, we are queried about the relatively unknown ideas on the thermodynamics of the the rise and fall of civilizations by Zachary Hatch; ideas of which have been produced prior to him by Henry Adams and after him by Thomas Wallace.

DQ II-10DQ II-11
Here we are queried on the subject of literature thermodynamics, via questions about the ideas of American writer Thomas Pynchon, the second law in society, entropy, Maxwell's demon, and information theory.Here we are queried about the subject of religious thermodynamics by citing American engineer Henry Morris and his views on God, evolution, and the second law.

Lightman completed his AB in physics from Princeton in 1970 and his PhD in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1974. From 1974 to 1996, he did postdoctoral work in astrophysics at Cornell University (during which time he began publishing poetry in small literary magazines). From 1976 to 1979, he was an assistant professor of astronomy at Harvard University, after which he worked for a decade as a research scientist at the a research scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

In 1989, Lightman was appointed professor of science and writing (humanities) and senior lecturer in physics (science) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and in doing so became the first professor at MIT to receive a joint appointment in science and the humanities. In 1995, he was appointed John Burchard professor of humanities at MIT, a position that he resigned in 2002 to allow himself more time for writing. He currently teaches at MIT as adjunct professor of humanities.

In his 2004 book Living with the Genie: Essays on Technology and the Quest for Human Mastery, co-authored with Daniel Sarewitz and Christina Desser, he discusses the idea of “entropy waste”, which seems to have originated in the misaligned 1971 material entropy conception of Romanian mathematician Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen. [2] Lightman’s 2005 book The Discoveries discusses the famous Jolly-Planck anecdote about not going into physics. [4]

1. (a) Lightman, Alan. (2000). Great Ideas in Physics: the Conservation of Energy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the Theory of Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics (§: Conservation Laws and Human Freedom, pgs. 35-36; §: The Second Law Applied to Human Society, pgs. 110-114; Appendix B: Problems and Discussion Questions, pgs. 253-). McGraw-Hill.
(b) Lightman, Alan. (1996). Great Ideas in Physics: Solutions to Additional Problems (20 pages). Publisher.
2. Lightman, Alan, Sarewitz, Daniel R., and Desser, Christina. (2004). Living with the Genie: Essays on Technology and the Quest for Human Mastery (keyword: entropy waste, pgs. 32, 60-61, 72, etc.). Island Press.
3. Lightman, Alan. (2005). A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit. Publisher.
4. Lightman, Alan P. (2005). The discoveries: great breakthroughs in twentieth-century science, including the original papers. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada.

External links
Lightman, Alan P. – WorldCat Identities.
Alan Lightman – Wikipedia.
Alan Lightman (faculty) –

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