Thursday, January 30, 2020

Microstory 1289: The Man and His Breath

A satyr was walking along the path in the dead of winter when he came across a human doing the same. The man looked cold and weary, and he explained that he had many steps yet to go, so the satyr offered to let him stay in his little hut for the night. The satyr led his friend along the path, towards his home. As they were walking, the satyr noticed the man breathing into his hands. “Why do you do that?” the satyr asked.

“This keeps both my hands, and my face, warm.”

The satyr believed he knew what the man meant, even though the temperature didn’t bother him much. He was built for this kind of weather. When they arrived at his place, he sat his new friend at the table while he started a fire, and prepared a nice meal for them to eat together. Once the porridge was ready, he sat down himself, and started to eat. He didn’t even notice how hot it was. The man, however, first blew on his porridge, just like he had when he was outside. “Why do you do that?” the satyr found himself asking again.

“This cools the porridge down,” the man explained.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” the satyr complained. “Why not one hour ago, you did the same thing to make something warm!”

“Yes,” said the man. “It’s called the second law of thermodynamics. My breath is about the same temperature as it always is. Which means it’s warmer than the winter air outside, and cooler than the porridge that was heated by fire. When my breath mixes with these things, they make each other change temperatures. Which direction that temperature goes—colder, or hotter—depends entirely on which end of the spectrum they are to begin with.”

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Man and the Satyr.

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