History and Philosophy Of Science | Foundational Problems in Statistical Mechanics
X755 | 24855 | Amit Hagar


Chance and Time Foundational Problems in Statistical Mechanics

“… Lisa, where are you? Come here! In this house, young lady, we
respect the laws of thermodynamics!” (Homer Simpson to his daughter
who is engaged in building a perpetual machine of the second kind in
the backyard).

The second law of thermodynamics is undoubtedly one of the most
known laws of physics within and without. It states that for every
closed system in equilibrium there exists a state-function –
baptized as Entropy – that cannot decrease when the system undergoes
an irreversible process. Its statistical character was already
exposed in the 19th-century by eminent scientists such as J.C.
Maxwell and L. Boltzmann, but many still see it today as the gist
behind the universal irreversible tendency of energy to degrade,
otherwise known as the thermodynamic arrow in time.
In the seminar we shall discuss the philosophical questions involved
in the puzzle of the thermodynamic arrow in time. Topics will
include: Is the second law the ‘seat’ of thermodynamic
irreversibility? What does its statistical character tell us about
the nature of the thermodynamic arrow in time? What is Entropy and
what it has to do with Information? Does Thermodynamics reduce to
(Statistical) Mechanics? These fascinating topics and others
continue to generate heated debates and discussions in the physics
and philosophical literature. Along the way we will learn about
Thermodynamics, Statistical Mechanics, Chaos Theory and their
implication on one of the most puzzling feature of our life.
Although all the physics/math necessary for the course will be
taught in class a basic background in classical (Newtonian)
mechanics is assumed. Apart from the two books below, additional
reading material shall be distributed among the students.

Textbooks

1. Physics and Chance
Lawrence Sklar
Cambridge University Press
1993
ISBN 0-521-55881-6

2. Time and Chance
	David Z. Albert
	Harvard University Press
	2000
	ISBN 0-674-00317-9