The Most Misunderstood Concept in Physics

Published 2023-07-01
One of the most important, yet least understood, concepts in all of physics. Head to to start your free 30-day trial, and the first 200 people get 20% off an annual premium subscription.

If you're looking for a molecular modeling kit, try Snatoms - a kit I invented where the atoms snap together magnetically:

A huge thank you to those who helped us understand different aspects of this complicated topic - Dr. Ashmeet Singh, Supriya Krishnamurthy, Dr. Jos Thijssen, Dr. Bijoy Bera, Dr. Timon Idema, Álvaro Bermejillo Seco and Dr. Misha Titov.

Carnot, S. (1824). Reflections on the motive power of heat: and on machines fitted to develop that power. -

Harnessing The True Power Of Atoms | Order And Disorder Documentaries, Spark via YouTube -

A better description of entropy, Steve Mould via YouTube -

Dugdale, J. S. (1996). Entropy and its physical meaning. CRC Press. -

Schroeder, D. V. (1999). An introduction to thermal physics. -

Fowler, M. Heat Engines: the Carnot Cycle, University of Virginia. -

Chandler, D.L. (2010). Explained: The Carnot Limit, MIT News -

Entropy, Wikipedia -

Clausius, R. (1867). The mechanical theory of heat. Van Voorst. -

What is entropy? TED-Ed via YouTube -

Thijssen, J. (2018) Lecture Notes Statistical Physics, TU Delft.

Schneider, E. D., & Kay, J. J. (1994). Life as a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics. Mathematical and computer modelling, 19(6-8), 25-48. -

Lineweaver, C. H., & Egan, C. A. (2008). Life, gravity and the second law of thermodynamics. Physics of Life Reviews, 5(4), 225-242. -

Michaelian, K. (2012). HESS Opinions" Biological catalysis of the hydrological cycle: life's thermodynamic function". Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 16(8), 2629-2645. -

England, J. L. (2013). Statistical physics of self-replication. The Journal of chemical physics, 139(12), 09B623_1. -

England, J. L. (2015). Dissipative adaptation in driven self-assembly. Nature nanotechnology, 10(11), 919-923. -

Wolchover, N. (2014). A New Physics Theory of Life, Quantamagazine -

Lineweaver, C. H. (2013). The entropy of the universe and the maximum entropy production principle. In Beyond the Second Law: Entropy Production and Non-equilibrium Systems (pp. 415-427). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. -

Bekenstein, J.D. (1972). Black holes and the second law. Lett. Nuovo Cimento 4, 737–740. -

Carroll, S.M. (2022). The Biggest Ideas in the Universe: Space, Time, and Motion. Penguin Publishing Group. -

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Cosmology and the arrow of time: Sean Carroll at TEDxCaltech, TEDx Talks via YouTube -

Carroll, S. M. (2008). The cosmic origins of time’s arrow. Scientific American, 298(6), 48-57. -

The Passage of Time and the Meaning of Life | Sean Carroll (Talk + Q&A), Long Now Foundation via YouTube -

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Written by Casper Mebius, Derek Muller & Petr Lebedev
Edited by Trenton Oliver & Jamie MacLeod
Animated by Mike Radjabov, Ivy Tello, Fabio Albertelli and Jakub Misiek
Filmed by Derek Muller, Albert Leung & Raquel Nuno
Molecular collisions video by CSIRO's Data61 via YouTube: Simulation of air
Additional video/photos supplied by Getty Images, Pond5 and by courtesy of NASA, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Goddard Flight Lab/ CI Lab, NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, HMI, and WMAP science teams. As well as the Advanced Visualization Laboratory at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, B. Robertson, L. Hernquist
Music from Epidemic Sound & Jonny Hyman
Produced by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev, Emily Zhang, & Casper Mebius

All Comments (21)
  • @ketchup2707
    For those of you that haven’t taken a thermodynamics course yet, I don’t think you realize how incredibly helpful this video is lol
  • @SteveMould
    The thing about one photon from the sun turning into several spreading out in all directions answered a long standing question for me - how to explain the way the sun “powers” life on earth in terms of entropy. Thanks!
  • @0biwan7
    the three laws of thermodynamics: 1. you can't win 2. you can't break even 3. you can't stop playing the game
  • @TimeBucks
    This has to be one of the best Veritasium episodes.
  • @Nighthawkinlight
    I told my brother that if he applied to be one of your physics writers that he should tell you that I miss your street interview videos. Looks like you already had my wish on your radar!
  • @geneballay9590
    What a fantastic, informative and interesting video. My PhD in theoretical physics dates to 1976 and this video has to be one of the most thought-provoking discussions on entropy that I have ever seen or read. Thank you for sharing.
  • @serenarose54
    15:47 to 16:27 . That has to be one of the best cinematography I've ever seen. The narration, the visuals and the background music especially. Best build up to reveal the Star of the talk (quite literally)
  • @SupratimBhowmick
    I was a student of physics. Today at the age of 57 I understood what entropy actually means. Thank you.
  • @samwilson3329
    I love the casual flex. "I'm a PHD physicist." 😂 Very justified. Thanks Derek!
  • The feeling of realizing the idea before its actually clarified, only to be validated a few moments later is irreplaceable. It amazes me that this kind of information doesn't give everyone the goosebumps.
  • I don’t usually comment on YouTube videos, actually I don’t leave comments at all, but this series is probably the best thing out right now. Thank you for empowering and inspiring me with this fantastic channel.
  • @lilmisslizzyc
    When I was like 9 or 10, I had this little series of books that basically explained different science concepts in a kid-friendly way and after reading the physics one, I kept telling my mom my room was always messy because of entropy 😭😭 edit: for anyone interested in the books, they’re from the Basher Science series!
  • @zsmith200
    I did my PhD in biophysics and I love that you mentioned life when talking about entropy. This always confuses people until they realize you’re not a closed system
  • As a current Chemical Engineering student, it helps me a lot in understand this concept about entropy, because currently I'm taking Thermodynamics and Carnot Cycle is one of the foundations of understanding the relationships between them.
  • @kaptainkobb1920
    I am not being hyperbolic here... I am 10 minutes into this video and it is already more useful than my entire undergraduate thermodynamics class. Thank you for making this all make sense 5 years later.
  • @twofishes8846
    About 5 years ago discoved this show. At 69 years old your show now sends me daily down that wonderful rabbit hole... the world wide web gushing with information. I feel like I finally rediscovered the wonder and excitement of a being alive! And ready and armed to discover the unknown with childlike wonder... Thank you all for making life an incredible adventure... again!
  • @jacobcannon1493
    The effort to put this presentation together and for millions to view has used energy very effectively. Please spread out more heat like this over time.
  • @JeeAspirantAIR1
    This is quite possibly THE most BEAUTIFUL video I've ever seen. I always felt like I hadn't understood entropy, and this video explained it in such a way that I could understand and visualize. Thank you so much.
  • @rainbowbag4214
    These kinds of videos prove to me how beautiful physics is and that is what gets me going on the most difficult days (in my studies). Its so weird that a great physicist like you exists around the same time that I do, and I get to enjoy all your mind blowing videos.. It is incredible indeed how beautiful and flawlessly yet so mysteriously the universe works.. Inspires me to learn more and more about these things.