What is Gibbs's canonical distribution?

Philosophy of Science 76 (5):970-983 (2009)
Abstract
Although the canonical distribution is one of the central tools of statistical mechanics, the reason for its effectiveness is poorly understood. This is due in part to the fact that there is no clear consensus on what it means to use the canonical distribution to describe a system in equilibrium with a heat bath. I examine some traditional views as to what sort of thing we should take the canonical distribution to represent. I argue that a less explored alternative, according to which the canonical distribution represents a time ensemble of sorts, has a number of advantages that rival interpretations lack. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, University of Chicago, 1115 E. 58th St., Chicago, IL 60637; e‐mail: kjdavey@uchicago.edu.
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