Time in Thermodynamics
Graduate studies at Western
In Criag Callender (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time. Oxford (2011)
|Abstract||Or better: time asymmetry in thermodynamics. Better still: time asymmetry in thermodynamic phenomena. “Time in thermodynamics” misleadingly suggests that thermodynamics will tell us about the fundamental nature of time. But we don’t think that thermodynamics is a fundamental theory. It is a theory of macroscopic behavior, often called a “phenomenological science.” And to the extent that physics can tell us about the fundamental features of the world, including such things as the nature of time, we generally think that only fundamental physics can. On its own, a science like thermodynamics won’t be able to tell us about time per se. But the theory will have much to say about everyday processes that occur in time; and in particular, the apparent asymmetry of those processes. The pressing question of time in the context of thermodynamics is about the asymmetry of things in time, not the asymmetry of time, to paraphrase Price ( , ). I use the title anyway, to underscore what is, to my mind, the centrality of thermodynamics to any discussion of the nature of time and our experience in it. The two issues—the temporal features of processes in time, and the intrinsic structure of time itself—are related. Indeed, it is in part this relation that makes the question of time asymmetry in thermodynamics so interesting. This, plus the fact that thermodynamics describes a surprisingly wide range of our ordinary experience. We’ll return to this. First, we need to get the question of time asymmetry in thermodynamics out on the table.|
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