Asymmetry, Abstraction, and Autonomy: Justifying Coarse-Graining in Statistical Mechanics

Abstract

While the fundamental laws of physics are time-reversal invariant, most macroscopic processes are irreversible. Given that the fundamental laws are taken to underpin all other processes, how can the fundamental time-symmetry be reconciled with the asymmetry manifest elsewhere? In statistical mechanics, progress can be made with this question. What I dub the ‘Zwanzig–Zeh–Wallace framework’ can be used to construct the irreversible equations of SM from the underlying microdynamics. Yet this framework uses coarse-graining, a procedure that has faced much criticism. I focus on two objections in the literature: claims that coarse-graining makes time-asymmetry ‘illusory’ and ‘anthropocentric’. I argue that these objections arise from an unsatisfactory justification of coarse-graining prevalent in the literature, rather than from coarse-graining itself. This justification relies on the idea of measurement imprecision. By considering the role that abstraction and autonomy play, I provide an alternative justification and offer replies to the illusory and anthropocentric objections. Finally, I consider the broader consequences of this alternative justification: the connection to debates about inter-theoretic reduction and the implication that the time-asymmetry in SM is weakly emergent. 1Introduction 1.1Prospectus2The Zwanzig–Zeh–Wallace Framework3Why Does This Method Work? 3.1The special conditions account3.2When is a density forwards-compatible?4Anthropocentrism and Illusion: Two Objections 4.1The two objections in more detail4.2Against the justification by measurement imprecision5An Alternative Justification 5.1Abstraction and autonomy5.2An illustration: the Game of Life6Reply to Illusory7Reply to Anthropocentric8The Wider Landscape: Concluding Remarks 8.1Inter-theoretic relations8.2The nature of irreversibility.

Download options

PhilArchive



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 72,805

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Analytics

Added to PP
2018-06-27

Downloads
56 (#206,891)

6 months
3 (#197,616)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Similar books and articles

The Coarse-Graining Approach to Statistical Mechanics: How Blissful is Our Ignorance?Katinka Ridderbos - 2002 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 33 (1):65-77.
Relative Coarse-Graining.Jean-Paul Marchand - 1977 - Foundations of Physics 7 (1-2):35-49.
The Spin-Echo System Reconsidered.D. A. Lavis - 2004 - Foundations of Physics 34 (4):669-688.
Coarse Grains: The Emergence of Space and Order.L. S. Schulman & Bernard Gaveau - 2001 - Foundations of Physics 31 (4):713-731.
Compendium of the Foundations of Classical Statistical Physics.Jos Uffink - 2005 - In Jeremy Butterfield & John Earman (eds.), Handbook of the Philosophy of Physics. Elsevier.
The Coarse-Graining Approach to Statistical Mechanics: How Blissful is Our Ignorance?Katinka Ridderbos - 2002 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 33 (1):65-77.
Review of M. Thalos' "Without Hierarchy". [REVIEW]Amit Hagar - 2014 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 201410.
Physics and Chance.Lawrence Sklar - 1995 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 46 (1):145-149.
Laws and Statistical Mechanics.Eric Winsberg - 2004 - Philosophy of Science 71 (5):707-718.
The Loss of Coherence in Quantum Cosmology.Katinka Ridderbos - 1998 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 30 (1):41-60.