Our philosophy is based on the concept of energy as a positive, because we generally live on a planet in a low energy state which does work via fuel. As such, we don’t really have articulate language for “absence of energy.”

However, in electronics, we originally conceived of the absence of charged particles as being a positive. Today it is called “hole flow” and we still refer to the part of a battery that is missing charge carriers (electrons) as the “positive terminal” with the “higher potential”, and it is the “cathode” (which is Greek for “the way down”). Even in electronics schematics we draw semiconductors such as diodes and transistors with arrows pointing in the wrong direction - opposite of the direction that electrons physically move. Of course this was done because at the time we hadn’t understood how electricity really worked. But in the end, it’s just words and it all works out the same.

So I am conceiving a world with an over abundance of energy, where the physics is the same, but instead of adding fuel to increase energy, they typically add an anti-fuel which removes energy to do work. Anything which removes energy is valuable here, because it is how they make light, power transportation, run machinery, etc.

Basically, their thermodynamics language is the equivalent of hole flow in electricity.

An example phrase in our philosophy might be “If you have put a hot bottle on your feet, your feet are warming up.” If we look at the contrapositive, it has many negations making it very wordy and cumbersome: “if your feet are not warming up, you have not put a hot bottle on them.” To make this less cumbersome in their daily conversations, I need cold-based language, as cold-energy naturally flows from colder to their ambient hotter environment via what we would call endothermic reactions. To them, “fuel” would be anything which creates cold And causes it to flow out. Yet, fuel is obviously the wrong word for that. In their language, the statement above may be like this: “If your feet remain cold, you did not use a coldless bottle.” Or would it be “uncooled” or “defrigerated”?

See the challenge is that our language treats heat and energy as the positive, like electron flow. Referring to cold and energy deficiency as a positive is unnatural to us.

So the question is to state the fundamental laws of thermodynamics in their contrapositive statements, which are logically equivalent, and then try to prune out all the cumbersome negatives to form an articulate phrase. I will likely be deriving words like “defrigerate” For heating up or “excool” for inflaming (not the greatest analogy). The results do not use the words “heat” or “hot” or anything defined with those concepts such as enthalpy. As a side, thermometer scales are likely inverted as they measure cold content, so temperatures $decrease$ with heat. So their math changes a little - ideal gas law becomes PV=-nRT, for example, and all units of measure would be different (but they would still work).

EXAMPLE Start with the First Law of Thermodynamics as written:

Heat is a form of energy, therefore heat energy can’t be created; can not be destroyed; it can be transferred to a new location; and can be converted between different forms.

IN CONTRAPOSITION, these logical equivalents are true:

If heat energy can be created, then heat is not a form of energy.

If heat energy can be destroyed, then heat is not a form of energy.

If heat can not be transferred to a new location, then heat is not a form of energy.

If heat can not be converted between forms, heat is not a form of energy.

Because adding coldness is simply the removal of heat from a system, adding coldness obeys the exact same laws of thermodynamics. Cooling is simply a name given for the transfer of heat outward into the ambient environment. Coldness is the quantity of energy deficiency which occupies the areas of a system in the places where energy has left it. When cold is added to a system, the ambient environment must increase in heat (loose coldness).

So the following laws must also be true:

If coldness can be created, then coldness is not energy.

If coldness can be destroyed, then coldness is not a form of energy.

If coldness can not be transferred to a new location, then coldness is not a form of energy.

If coldness can not be converted between forms, coldness is not a form of energy.

This is an example of the framework I am trying to create for a cold-based thermodynamic philosophy.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ How is anti-fuel any different from a resistor (the thing that impedes energy flow)? Either way, what's wrong with turning on the dark? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 28, 2020 at 17:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What does "overabundance of energy" even mean? Energy is not a thing; energy is a number which characterizes the capacity of a physical system to do work from the point of view of the interested observer. There is no such thing as "the" energy of a system, only the energy of a system from the point of view of who is interested; two different observers of the same physical system will not agree on its energy if they are in different situations. For example, from the point of view of a passenger a moving car has little energy, whereas from the point of view of a sqashed bug it had plenty. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 28, 2020 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ "Based on the concept of energy as a positive": this is not how physics works. Energy is only defined up to an arbitrary additive constant; there is no such thing as an absolute zero for energy. Since it is only defined up to an arbitrary additive constant, we can always arrange things so that we work with positive numbers. "Add anti-fuel which removes energy to do work": no, no, no, no. Doing work decreases the energy of the system doing the work and increases the energy of the system upon which the work is done. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 28, 2020 at 17:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Essentially what the question asks is for a language where the meaning of the signs $+$ and $-$ is reversed; I affirm that there is no such language, and that it is all a translation error. (This is unlike the situation with electricity, where the signs $+$ and $-$ were arbitrarily assigned by Faraday to what used to the called vitreous ($+$) and resinous ($-$) electricity. It so happened that a century and half later we found that electrons are charged with resinous electricity, and protons with vitreous electricity...) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 28, 2020 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ Even if your language's vocabulary uniformly treats "lots of energy" as the standard state (which is sometimes true in English - think of what objects thaw as opposed to melt), there's no reason why that would have any deeper impact on the structure and grammar of the language. It would be trivial to "correct" for this in translation. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Aug 28, 2020 at 18:19

2 Answers 2


As far as I understand, the question asks the community to invent a new vocabulary of physical quantities, which are just our plain old physical quantities with their signs changed.

$$\begin{array}{l|l}\text{Positive quantity}&\text{Negative quantity}\\\hline \text{Work}&\text{Repose}\\ \text{Energy}&\text{Lethargy}\\ \text{Potential energy}&\text{Static lethargy}\\ \text{Kinetic energy}&\text{Dynamic lethargy}\\ \text{Internal energy}&\text{Intrinsic lethargy}\\ \text{Thermal energy (= Heat)}&\text{Coolness}\\ \text{Power}&\text{Weariness}\\ \text{Temperature}&\text{Coldness}^1\\ \text{Potential barrier}&\text{Lethargic chasm}\\ \end {array}$$

¹) Note that their coldness is minus 1 over our temperature, so that their coldness approaches zero from below when our temperature goes to plus infinity, and it goes to minus infinity when our temperature approaches zero. Not to be confused with our coldness $\beta = 1\,/\,k_{\mathrm{B}}T$.

  • In their mechanics, repose equals minus force times displacement. Repose divided by time is weariness, the negative of power.

  • In their electrotechnics, a current flowing through a resistor produces a coolness equal to minus the square of the current times the resistance.

  • In their thermodynamics, coolness flows from low coldness to high coldness.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a really good contribution. I want to be clear that the Watt steam locomotive would be more efficient than an Otto cycle engine if our ambient world were not so cold. The Watt engine power stroke is driven by cold water contracting the intake air. It’s inefficiency is because most of the heat is given off to the air. If ambient air were above boiling, a locomotive would not even need fuel. Pure ammonium nitrate is stable and decomposes into oxygen, nitrogen, and water vapor when heated. Steam engines would only work by adding a positive quantity of cold. (Remove heat in our terms) $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Aug 29, 2020 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ @VogonPoet: That's the Newcomen engine. Please don't malign Watt. And you would need to somehow make the ammonium nitrate in the first place. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 29, 2020 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ no locomotives definitely used the Boulton & Watt steam engine - which $is$ an improved Newcomen engine. Power derives from cooling the intake gasses, not from heating them. He simply made intake gasses hotter to increase efficiency but it still operates at atmospheric temperature. Check Wiki. Why is making fuel magically a problem? Our planet makes petroleum and other combustibles all the time. NH4NO3 is also produced naturally, it just doesn’t stay because it rains here. It’s just ammonia and nitric acid - both very common. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Aug 29, 2020 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ @VogonPoet: OK, whatever. We live in different worlds. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 29, 2020 at 12:33

I don't see this as a linguistic problem because the words for these states would develop naturally. The nurbdingle on your floop makes it spunge. The problem is in translation so your readers can understand it, and the translation must include an energy positive metaphor to articulate your concept - without a context the reader is going to get lost anyway, so you might as well stick with spunging floops.

Context and communication are the real issues you need to work around, so why not just use words we're familiar with to explain it - dampeners, nullifiers, shields, taps, drains, holes, sinks, capacitors. Batteries would absorb charge until they were full then need to be discharged before they could be used again, but we'd still understand them (and they would still function, in a practical sense, almost exactly) as batteries.

I suggest thinking in terms of practical use of the language instead of trying to explain the details of grammar we have no equivalencies for. These kinds of concepts and thoughts can be communicated without a language barrier.

As a complete aside I think a bigger problem will be the inversion of entropic law, or articulating entropic law in an inverse philosophy.

  • $\begingroup$ Your aside explains the title of this question. If I can have the thermodynamic laws correctly written down in energy hole-flow terms, it will be much easier to keep the concepts straight in my head while writing. One slip up of positive energy reference invalidates the whole society's physics. I also agree too much time explaining terms will detract from the story, so allow practical use to define them, like "Warp 9" or "Tachyon emissions" from Star Trek. The reader is either allowed to accidentally discover the physics is real - or it can be parallelled in a late story reveal. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Aug 31, 2020 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ So the challenge is to not encumber the story with lengthy negated terms, because depleting energy is conceptually a positive flow; but also not write complete Jabberwocky relying wholly on context for meaning. While that may be fun, it really becomes difficult to tell a meaningful story while the reader is busy operating their magic decoder ring. Your post is very thoughtful, thank you and welcome to the forum! $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Aug 31, 2020 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ @VogonPoet understood and one thousand percent agreed. Your thought process might be best served thinking in terms of creating power vacuums instead of cold vs. heat, since you can't create cold unless you fully abandon existing physics. An inverse dynamic isn't the same as its opposite. It will also trickle down into basic concepts like "on" and "off." Since the activity would be reversed there's nothing to disengage and instead you'd "douse" the power. I'd avoid using words like "on" entirely. "She tapped the nox, deluminating her room before crawling beneath the sheets." $\endgroup$
    – CeliaFate
    Aug 31, 2020 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ Ah yes, and there is the negated term "deluminating" referring to the positive state "illuminated!" You see the size of the challenge! "After her long shift she noffed the lights, and a comforting darkness returned to the bedroom." "Dawn arrived to draw the chamber dry of darkness through the oversized glass panes of her windows." $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Aug 31, 2020 at 17:48

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