Is Heat a Substance?

  • Martin Goldstein
  • Inge Goldstein


The scientific study of heat, like much else in science, has its roots in the most primitive experiences of daily life. One of the first things we learn is to recognize the difference between hot things and cold things, and for the rest of our lives that difference remains important. It is not surprising that the ancient Greeks, among other peoples, engaged in speculations about what it is that makes hot things hot. According to one of their theories, fire is one of four basic elements—the others being earth, air, and water—that make up all substances. We know today that this theory is wrong, that the elements are not earth, air, fire, and water, but oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, iron, and so on. The old theory sounds absurd to us now. But the reader, if asked how we know that oxygen is an element and fire is not, might be hard put to answer. The four-element theory seemed to its followers to give order and coherence to a confusing world, which is one of the conditions any scientific theory has to satisfy. One purpose of this chapter is to explain why we no longer believe that fire is an element.


Heat Capacity Latent Heat Kinetic Theory Final Temperature Chaotic Motion 
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Reference Notes

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Suggested Reading

  1. Brown, Sanborn Conner. Count Rumford, Physicist Extraordinary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979.Google Scholar
  2. Brown, Sanborn Conner. Benjamin Thomson, Count Rumford. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1979.Google Scholar
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  7. Sowell, Thomas. “The Great I.Q. Controversy.” Change (May 1973): 33.Google Scholar
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  9. Romer, Robert H. Energy: An Introduction to Physics. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1976.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Goldstein
    • 1
  • Inge Goldstein
    • 2
  1. 1.Yeshiva UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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