“Temperature” reduces the random motions of countless interacting individuals to a single number. The only difference from politics is that it actually works, though in both cases things get heated. Temperature is based on kinetic theory, which sounds like a scientist proving the pen is mightier by designing a machine to fire it from outside a sword’s range, but instead it allows us to talk about gases in general terms without viewing the millions involved as important. Again, just like politics: a lot of hot air.
Temperature has been studied to many ridiculous degrees. As with any hot topic many people wanted to declare themselves definitive authorities but ended up explicitly stating their own flaws. Everyone’s aware of Celsius, some are still stuck with Fahrenheit – presumably taking the temperature of their dying donkey after fletching its gleave with a vinegared onion, ‘cuz they don’t need no vet nor fancy book-learnin’– but many never knew the Newton scale, delighted in Delisle, rankled at Rankine nor roamed with Rømer, or Réamur. Though when you can’t even tell the scales apart, never mind their markings, you might cool on them.
Newton’s scale has only one fixed reference point (zero for the air near freezing water), which isn’t how scales actually work. Though there were seventeen other suggestions, most of which don’t even agree with each other, creating a satire of committees instead of a system of measurement. They also put melting lead at 96 making it more use to T1000s than tepid humans. The only definite thing about the scale was it(‘)s zero value. I guess enough gravity lets you get away with terrible ideas. That’s the calculus of success.
Delisle defined his scale’s zero at boiling water and everything below in terms of shrinking liquid mercury. Which would have made everything in daily life entirely negative, an accurate assessment of working with scalding water and liquid poison.
The Réamur scale used alcohol as the operating liquid. Guaranteeing that the thermometers would always be good for at least one thing. Especially as they had to be bulky. They were the first pro-active thermometers to alter subjective temperatures instead of impartially observing.
Rømer set zero the freezing point of “brine”, which isn’t a definite thing, and 60 at boiling water. Then noticed freezing water was a much better idea and used it as a fixed point at 7.5 instead. But if he couldn’t even be bothered to move his nothing there’s no reason anyone else should listen. Though he did explain this system to Fahrenheit. Who then – despite having the advantages of a freezing zero clearly explained to him by someone who’d already made the mistake – decided “Nope, I’m going to use stupid salty ice anyway.” Because repeating known mistakes despite the existence of far superior systems is the only point of Fahrenheit.
Fahrenheit’s fixed points were iced salty water and his best guess of average human body temperature. Because guess and average are totally what you want when setting a scale. It’s not even an accurate study of an 18th century merchant’s hot body and salty fluids.
I hate Fahrenheit so much I think “Fart-enheit” every time I see it. And now you will too. Just some hot gusting Fartenheit. Which only makes the Rankine even ranker.
By comparison Kelvin’s coolness is inarguable. Cooler than anything else which ever existed. The universe has been chilling for the last thirteen billion years, but isn’t anywhere near as cool as our magnetic traps and laser cooling. We’ve thermodynamically limboed under everything else in existence. Because any limbo system including as many lasers as Bose Einstein Condensate systems is automatically awesome. Though they BEC the question of just how cold things can get…
Which is why Kelvin doesn’t just define zero, it found zero, digging through thermodynamics to unearth* existence’s utterly frozen floor. The point at which all thermodynamic motion would cease. Which makes finding Wally look like spotting a signal flare in your underwear. And is even more temperature-based excitement. Lord Kelvin didn’t build his house on sand (or brine), he created an unshakeable scale on the foundations of free energy itself. It turns out taking things down to zero is much more impressive than turning them up to 11. Kelvin’s paper “On an Absolute Thermometric Scale” defined what we now know as Absolute Zero as “Infinite Cold”, so if the science hadn’t worked out there was a backup career writing album titles.
The scale’s second point also ignores the usual ice. We don’t generally think of frozen water as something that moves. (Not unless we’re captaining unsinkable ships, or living on a planet where temperature relentlessly increases inversely to our future in a Titanic tautology.) But water’s freezing point is fickle, the temperature changing with pressure to create a slippery slope on its phase diagram. Water’s triple point is instead a bulls-eye, exactly one temperature and pressure where ice, water, and vapour can coexist. Only one hundredth of a degree Celsius above freezing, but there’s only one such point in existence.
Kelvin don’t even have “degrees” because they’re a fully functional unit instead of an arbitrary division. So the scale already makes every degree look like a gold star for finger painting: good effort, but you wouldn’t use it for real work. But Kelvin’s application is even more intelligent. Because working out a better way of doing things is the easy part. Getting every other asshole to agree is the hard part.
If scientists invented a hand-cranked device which saved one endangered species per person who carried it up a flight of stairs, and another which changed television channels by reading your ass on the sofa, people would sit there wondering why there weren’t more nature documentaries. And we know this. There’s no point inventing a “smarter” system whose only promotion is “fuck those assholes if they understand.” If your intelligence encounters its opposite and complains instead of compensating then it’s just a smugger sort of stupidity.
Kelvin set his triple point at 273.16 K so that it meshed simply with Centigrade. The new Kelvin were the same size as the old degrees, but better, and easily adding or subtracting 273.15 turned one into the other. THAT'S how you improve the world: not just by being right, but by being smart. Because they’re often different things.
All the other units were competing on ego alone. Kelvin was constructed from physical truth, then worked to fit what people were already using anyway. Which is why every other temperature has its pluses and minuses, but Kelvin is entirely positive. Kelvin understands its own science as well as simply scaling it. Kelvin uses its own superiority to support others. Kelvin is the coolest unit and by far the best.
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