Statistical mechanics is one of the crucial fundamental theories of physics, and in his new book Lawrence Sklar, one of the pre-eminent philosophers of physics, offers a comprehensive, non-technical introduction to that theory and to attempts to understand its foundational elements. Among the topics treated in detail are: probability and statistical explanation, the basic issues in both equilibrium and non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, the role of cosmology, the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics, and the alleged foundation of the very notion (...) of time asymmetry in the entropic asymmetry of systems in time. The book emphasises the interaction of scientific and philosophical modes of reasoning, and in this way will interest all philosophers of science as well as those in physics and chemistry concerned with philosophical questions. The book could also be read by an informed general reader interested in the foundations of modern science. (shrink)
Skeptics have cast doubt on the idea that scientific theories give us a true picture of an objective world. Lawrence Sklar examines three kinds of skeptical arguments about scientific truth, and explores the important role they play within foundational science itself. Sklar demonstrates that these kinds of philosophical critique are employed within science, and reveals the clear difference between how they operate in a scientific context and more abstract philosophical contexts. The underlying theme of Theory and Truth is that science (...) and philosophy are essential to one another. Sklar advances the claim that one cannot understand the methods of science without a comprehension of philosophy, and one cannot fruitfully pursue philosophy of science without understanding fundamental science as well. (shrink)
Philosophers of physics are very familiar with foundational problems in quantum mechanics and in the theory of relativity. In both fields, the puzzles, if not solved, are at least reasonably well formulated and possess well-characterized solution strategies. Sklar’s book Physics and Chance focuses on a pair of theories, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, for which puzzles and foundational paradoxes abound, but where there is very little agreement upon the means with which they may best be approached. As he notes in the (...) introduction. (shrink)
The study of the physical world had its origins in philosophy, and, two-and-one-half millennia later, the scientific advances of the twentieth century are bringing the two fields closer together again. So argues Lawrence Sklar in this brilliant new text on the philosophy of physics.Aimed at students of both disciplines, Philosophy of Physics is a broad overview of the problems of contemporary philosophy of physics that readers of all levels of sophistication should find accessible and engaging. Professor Sklar’s talent for clarity (...) and accuracy is on display throughout as he guides students through the key problems: the nature of space and time, the problems of probability and irreversibility in statistical mechanics, and, of course, the many notorious problems raised by quantum mechanics.Integrated by the theme of the interconnectedness of philosophy and science, and linked by many references to the history of both disciplines, Philosophy of Physics is always clear, while remaining faithful to the complexity and integrity of the issues. It will take its place as a classic text in a field of fundamental intellectual importance. (shrink)
Some philosphers of science of an empiricist and pragmatist bent have proposed models of statistical explanation, but have then become sceptical of the adequacy of these models. It is argued that general considerations concerning the purpose of function of explanation in science which are usually appealed to by such philosophers show that their scepticism is not well taken; for such considerations provide much the same rationale for the search for statistical explanations, as these philosophers have characterized them, as they do (...) for lawlike explanations. But, it is further argued, a significant piece of what is frequently offered as an explanation of well known phenomena in statistical mechanics, fails to meet this general "pragmatic rationale" for statistical, or indeed any kind of, explanation. The question then arises whether the physicists have misconstrued the value of this piece of physical theorizing, ergodic theory, taking it to be explanatory when it is actually not; or whether, instead, the philosopher's account of just what is genuinely explanatory is too narrow. (shrink)
It has been argued, most trenchantly by Nancy Cartwright, that the diversity of the concepts and regularities we actually use to describe nature and predict and explain its behavior leaves us with no reason to believe that our foundational physical theories actually "apply" outside of delicately contrived systems within the laboratory. This paper argues that, diversity of method notwithstanding, there is indeed good reason to think that the foundational laws of physics are universal in their scope.
Although now replaced by more modern theories, classical mechanics remains a core foundational element of physical theory. From its inception, the theory of dynamics has been riddled with conceptual issues and differing philosophical interpretations and throughout its long historical development, it has shown subtle conceptual refinement. The interpretive program for the theory has also shown deep evolutionary change over time. Lawrence Sklar discusses crucial issues in the central theory from which contemporary foundational theories are derived and shows how some core (...) issues have nevertheless remained deep puzzles despite the increasingly sophisticated understanding of the theory which has been acquired over time. His book will be of great interest to philosophers of science, philosophers in general and physicists concerned with foundational interpretive issues in their field. (shrink)
Explaining Chaos provides both a succinct and accurate introduction to the physics and mathematics of chaotic dynamical systems along with a number of pertinent philosophical commentaries on the scientific results. The book provides the clearest and most sensible treatment of chaos theory from a philosophical perspective available in the literature.
Those who think of some aspects of the world as "physically necessary" usually think of this kind of necessity as being confined to the general law of nature, initial conditions being "contingent." Tachyon theory and general relativity provide independent but related reasons for thinking that some initial states are, however, "impossible." And statistical mechanics seems to lead us to conclude that some initial conditions are, if not impossible, "highly improbable." We are then, led from these aspects of physics to wonder (...) if initial conditions are always "freely specifiable" and in the domain of physical contingency. (shrink)
In nine new essays, distinguished philosophers of science discuss outstanding issues in scientific methodology --especially that of the physical sciences-and address philosophical questions that arise in the exploration of the foundations of contemporary science.
Despite over one-hundred years of effort, the origin of temporal asymmetry in the physical world still eludes us. While much has been learned about the role played by fundamental instabilities in microdynamics, by the imperfect isolation of systems and by cosmological facts in the origin of the behavior described by kinetic theory and thermodynamics, important puzzles still remain which continue to make the origins of asymmetric thermal behavior out of dynamically time symmetric underlying laws mysterious to us.
Several variant "Newtonian" theories of inertia and gravitation are described, and their scientific usefulness discussed. An examination of these theories is used to throw light on traditional epistemological and metaphysical questions about space and time. Finally these results are examined in the light of the changes induced by the transition from "Newtonian" to general relativistic spacetime.
Salmon, following Reichenbach and others, maintained that distant simultaneity was conventional in a special relativistic world in a way in which this was not so in prerelativistic spacetime. This paper surveys and criticizes a number of proposals to unpack this claim. It goes on to argue that if the claim has validity, it rests upon differing facts about epistemic accessibility of temporal relations in the different spacetimes, and not directly upon any facts about differing causal structures in these worlds.
This is the text of a talk given at the Robert and Sarah Boote Conference in Reductionism and Anti-Reductionism in Physics, 22-23 April, 2006, Center for Philosophy of Science University of Pittsburgh.