Irreversibility, Statistical Mechanics and the Nature of Physical States

Dissertation, University of Michigan (1987)

Robert W. Batterman
University of Pittsburgh
I. Prigogine has proposed, and the writings of N. S. Krylov to some extent suggest, a novel and unorthodox solution to foundational problems in statistical mechanics. In particular, the view claims to offer new insight into two interconnected problems: understanding the role of probability in physics, and that of reconciling the irreversibility of physical processes with the temporal symmetry of dynamical theories. The approach in question advocates a conception of the state of a system which incorporates features of the quantum mechanical state concept in a context, classical statistical mechanics, where quantum considerations are generally considered to be irrelevant. I examine the plausibility of this new approach by offering an analysis of the various notions of state employed in modern physics. ;In the first chapter, I analyze the conceptual connections between dynamical laws and the nature of a system's state. I argue that laws and states are correlative. In constructing dynamical theories one does not start with a fixed or pre-determined state concept. Neither is one given the laws of the theory from which the conception of state is derived. Rather, we get the law/state structure as a "package." In light of this general analysis, I next examine the notion of state employed in the quantum theory. Here I consider a variety of conceptions of quantum states and assess their ability to answer the "paradoxes" of quantum theory. I pay particular attention to the role of probability and related restrictions on the realization of certain states. The new approach to statistical mechanics proposes to exploit similar restrictions on states in order to resolve the irreversibility problem. But is this unorthodox approach viable? In the final four chapters, I offer a detailed critique of this approach, examining the plausibility of the radical reworking of the state concept. I argue that while some important progress can be made, certain old puzzles remain, and new and difficult ones arise--ones which raise serious doubts about the ultimate success of this particular approach. I conclude, however, by arguing that such radical proposals are not unmotivated; and that novel and unorthodox proposals concerning the foundations of statistical mechanics must be taken seriously
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Falling Cats, Parallel Parking, and Polarized Light.Robert W. Batterman - 2003 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 34 (4):527-557.

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