A Physicist & his German Shepherd Dog

Scroll down to the video where Joan River says it for us:

Dog people are curious folk. We don’t mean that they are odd people, but that they are perpetual students who never stop wanting to learn. They are, in a word, curious.  Falling into that category, ourselves, we are guilty of using any excuse to mention a purebred dog, and occasionally, it means coming at a topic from an obtuse direction. We don’t, for instance, naturally gravitate to the topic of statistical mechanics.  In most college courses, studying the topic requires a prerequisite course of thermodynamics. We struggle with fractions. But if there is a purebred dog to be found in a subject, we’re game.

Enter Ludwig Boltzmann.

The Austrian physicist developed statistical mechanics, and for the mere mortals among us, statistical mechanics is a branch of physics that isn’t really science at all, but pure mathematics. Have we ever mentioned that we don’t do numbers?

Statistical mechanics combines the principles and procedures of statistics with the laws of classical and quantum mechanics.  The field of statistical mechanics was developed in the second half of the 19th century, and it was primarily the work of Ludwig Boltzmann. Other scientists contributed to the understanding of the topic, but Boltzmann published more than a hundred papers on the subject during his lifetime.  He explained the second law of thermodynamics statistically and on the basis of the atomic theory of matter.

Boltzmann was boss.

As we understand it, statistical mechanics takes math and applies it to large populations within the field of mechanics when dealing with the motion of objects subjected to force. We think this means trying to forecast what will happen when ten dogs try to get to one ball smeared with tripe when the only route to the ball is a teeter-totter in continuous motion. But we could be wrong. An assist from statistical mechanical physicists who happen to be reading this is welcomed.

This is a good place to move into more familiar territory: Dogs.

We conveniently choose to ignore the many scientists who had cats. Nikola Tesla and his cat, “Macak” who inspired his interest in electricity because of the static electric sparks when he was stroked; Edwin Hubble and “Copernicus,”the cat who was kept in a continuous supply of pipe cleaners, the feline’s favorite toy. Albert Einstein and “Tiger” who was always by his side, though to be fair, Einstein loved all animals and once said, “If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals.”

Ludwig Boltzmann, however, did have a dog. One biography of the man is entitled, The Bulldog: A Profile of Ludwig Boltzmann, but Boltzmann had a much loved German Shepherd Dog.  Indeed, while he was a professor in Graz,  Boltzmann’s dog would wander away from the family farm every day at noon and go to a pub where he would meet up with his owner and sit by his feet as the physicist ate lunch.

Boltzmann’s work on statistical mechanics is hard for many of us to understand, and the inscription at the top of his tombstone is even more so: 𝑆=𝛋∙log𝑊? The equation shows the relation between entropy and the probability of possible thermodynamic states of matter.

We copied and pasted that last bit.

Tragically, few of Boltzmann’s peers fully understood the statistical nature of Boltzmann’s logic at the time, largely because they disregarded atoms and a science based on energy conditions. Boltzmann, in poor health, and utterly demoralized by the harsh criticism of his work, hung himself in 1906 at the age of 62 years old while his wife and a daughter were swimming in the Bay of Duino while on holiday.  Some biographers have scoffed at the notion that his suicide was due to the lack of acceptance of his ideas, though it’s known that he suffered bouts of depression. It was a tragic outcome for a man who had been nominated for a Nobel Prize five times. While this post is more about a man and less about his dog, it is only because there is scant information about the dog. That the relationship between Boltzmann and his GSD is still mentioned in biographies over 100 years after his death, however, is noteworthy, and we want to keep that ball rolling.

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3 thoughts on “A Physicist & his German Shepherd Dog”

    • VERY much appreciated, Jennifer! We do tend to get to the subject od dogs in a roundabout way, so your patience means a lot, lol!

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