Ergodic theory, interpretations of probability and the foundations of statistical mechanics

The traditional use of ergodic theory in the foundations of equilibrium statistical mechanics is that it provides a link between thermodynamic observables and microcanonical probabilities. First of all, the ergodic theorem demonstrates the equality of microcanonical phase averages and infinite time averages (albeit for a special class of systems, and up to a measure zero set of exceptions). Secondly, one argues that actual measurements of thermodynamic quantities yield time averaged quantities, since measurements take a long time. The combination of these two points is held to be an explanation why calculating microcanonical phase averages is a successful algorithm for predicting the values of thermodynamic observables. It is also well-known that this account is problematic.

This survey intends to show that ergodic theory nevertheless may have important roles to play, and it explores three other uses of ergodic theory. Particular attention is paid, firstly, to the relevance of specific interpretations of probability, and secondly, to the way in which the concern with systems in thermal equilibrium is translated into probabilistic language. With respect to the latter point, it is argued that equilibrium should not be represented as a stationary probability distribution as is standardly done; instead, a weaker definition is presented.

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DOI 10.1016/S1355-2198(01)00027-2
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Citations of this work BETA
Charlotte Werndl (2009). What Are the New Implications of Chaos for Unpredictability? British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (1):195-220.
Jill North (2010). An Empirical Approach to Symmetry and Probability. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 41 (1):27-40.
J. H. van Lith (2003). Probability in Classical Statistical Mechanics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 34 (1):143-150.

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