The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time. The total entropy of a system and its surroundings can remain constant in ideal cases where the system is in thermodynamic equilibrium, or is undergoing a (fictive) reversible process. In all processes that occur, including spontaneous processes, the total entropy of the system and its surroundings increases and the process is irreversible in the thermodynamic sense. The increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of natural processes, and the asymmetry between future and past.
The second law has been expressed in many ways. Its first formulation is credited to the French scientist Sadi Carnot, who in 1824 showed that there is an upper limit to the efficiency of conversion of heat to work, in a heat engine.