Maxwell’s intelligent agent

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Maxwell’s intelligent agent referred to also as Maxwell's demon[note 1] is a creature of imagination having certain perfectly well defined powers of action, purely mechanical in their character, invented to help us to understand the dissipation of energy in nature.[1] The chief objective of this gedankenexperiment was to show that the Second Law of Thermodynamics stating that the entropy of an isolated or closed system cannot decrease has only a statistical certainty and it is in essence a statistical principle. The intelligent being, although unable to create or annul energy, but still with faculties of observing and influencing the individual molecules of matter, is charged with task to sort moving gas molecules between two compartments (by keeping the passage shut or open) of the isolated system depending on their velocity. Thus, the intelligent being will in the contradiction to the second law of thermodynamics (considered an established fact with respect to molecular theory) generate a temperature difference thus entropy decrease (raise the temperature of one compartment compared to the other) without expenditure of work on the gas.

The argument that the decrease of entropy is in general possible contrary to the Second Law of Thermodynamics when intelligence is involved is nowadays further developed by creationist and Professor of Thermodynamics and Combustion Theory at the University of Leeds A.McIntosh. He maintains that in case of the living world there are nanomachines (which he differentiates from natural forces and attributes to outcome of design thus intelligence) necessary to achieve for that effect.[2][3] This is in line with original Maxwell's reasoning that, in case of molecular theory, this hypothetical intelligent being can be reduced, for example, to a valve ("Call him no more a demon but a valve like that of the hydraulic ram, suppose"[4]) that can produce a difference in pressure as well as temperature by merely allowing all particles going in one direction while stopping all those going the other way.


  1. The word 'demon' which originally in Greek meant a supernatural being, has never been properly used to signify a real or ideal personification of malignity.[1] It was William Thomson who nicknamed the intelligent being from Maxwell's gedankenexperiment as 'Maxwell's intelligent demon' or 'the sorting demon of Maxwell', respectively. Maxwell clarified his view of the term 'demon' in an undated letter to Tait where he confirmed that this labelling of intelligent being as demon was indeed introduced by Thomson.


  1. 1.0 1.1 William Thomson (Lord Kelvin). The Sorting Demon Of Maxwell. The Kelvin Library. Retrieved on November 29, 2014. “Abstract of a Friday evening Lecture before the Royal Institution of Great Britian, February 28, 1879”
  2. William Crawley (7 January 2007). The Thermodynamics of Andy McIntosh. Retrieved on 03.03.2013. “Thermodynamics as I have explained before, does lie at the heart of the debate. Boeing 777s cannot be made in a car factory unless the machinery is available to do so. Similarly the human brain cannot be formed from simpler machines if there is no machinery available to do this. Spontaneously forming such will not happen, even with natural selective forces at work. All natural selection will do is select from what is there already. It will not create a new machine which was not there before (either as a sub-machine or coded in embryonic form). An open thermodynamic system is not the answer either since simply adding energy to existing machinery will not change what is there already to a new machine.”
  3. McIntosh, Dawkins and thermodynamics. Truth in Science. “The principles of thermodynamics even in open systems do not allow a new function using raised free energy levels to be achieved without new machinery. And new machines are not made by simply adding energy to existing machines. And this thesis is falsifiable. If anyone was to take an existing chemical machine and produce a different chemical machine which was not there before (either as a sub-part or latently coded for in the DNA template) then this argument would have been falsified. ... My whole point is this: that without information in a system for a machine you cannot form a machine. Without machines already there you cannot form a machine: that's the abiogenesis problem. Even after that, more complex machines cannot be made from simpler machines.”
  4. Knott (1911). [1], 214. “as quoted in Harvey S. Leff and Andrew F. Rex (1997) Maxwell's Demon and the Culture of Entropy. Physics Essays: March 1997, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 125-149.” 

See also