Tag Archives: Popper

Dream machine

Painting by Katy Gibson

Painting by Katy Gibson

A machine that can do work indefinitely without any external input of energy.  It would solve the world’s energy problems, eliminate global warming and make the inventor very rich.  There have been so many attempts to design such a machine that a classification system has been established.  My machine, that does work indefinitely with no energy input, would be a perpetual motion machine of the first type because energy is not conserved – a contradiction of the first law of thermodynamics.  The second type contravene the second law of thermodynamics, usually by spontaneously converting heat into work, and the third type eliminates friction and, or other dissipative forces.

I said ‘my machine’ in the sense that I have an on-going sporadic correspondence with the inventor of a machine that is claimed to produce ‘power above the primary power that drives it’.  It is an epistemic impossibility, which means that it cannot exist within our current understanding of the real world.  In other words, if a perpetual motion machine was to be proven to exist then the laws of thermodynamics would have to be rewritten.  This would probably lead to an invitation to Stockholm to collect a Nobel prize.

Such arguments make no difference to inventors of perpetual motion machines.  Many appear to start from the premise that the laws of thermodynamics have not been proven and hence they must not be universally applicable, i.e. there is space for their invention.  Whereas the laws of thermodynamics form part of our current understanding of the world because no one has demonstrated their falsity despite many attempts over the last two hundred years.  This is consistent with the philosophical ideas introduced by Karl Popper in the middle of the last century.  He proposed that a hypothesis cannot be proven to be correct using observational evidence but its falsity can be demonstrated.

So, inventors need to build and demonstrate their perpetual motion machines in order to falsify the relevant law of science.  At this stage money as an input usually becomes an issue rather than energy!


The painting by Katy Gibson is from a series made as part from an art and engine collaboration between Okemos High School Art Program and the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University.