Introduction to the Philosophy of Statistical Mechanics: Can Probability Explain the Arrow of Time in the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Philosophy Compass 6 (9):640-651 (2011)

Orly Shenker
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The arrow of time is a familiar phenomenon we all know from our experience: we remember the past but not the future and control the future but not the past. However, it takes an effort to keep records of the past, and to affect the future. For example, it would take an immense effort to unmix coffee and milk, although we easily mix them. Such time directed phenomena are sub- sumed under the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law characterizes our experience of the arrow of time in terms of an increase of a theoretical magnitude called entropy. Statistical mechan- ics tries to explain the Second Law as an effect of the behavior of the microscopic particles that make up the universe. Since our senses are too coarse to see this microstructure, statistical mechanics describes our experience in terms of probability, or in terms of the partial information we have about the particles. In this paper we explain the workings of statistical mechanics; how it accounts for probability as an objective feature of the world based on the underlying dynamics; how it accounts for our memories of the past; how the statistical mechanical probability under- writes the Second Law; and how, at the same time, it leads to a violation of the Second Law by the so-called Maxwell’s Demon.
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DOI 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2011.00424.x
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References found in this work BETA

Time and Chance.David Z. Albert - 2000 - Harvard University Press.
The “Past Hypothesis”: Not Even False.John Earman - 2006 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 37 (3):399-430.
Determinism and Chance.Barry Loewer - 2001 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 32 (4):609-620.

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