The Past Histories of Molecules

Craig Callender

in Probabilities in Physics

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199577439
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191730603 | DOI:
The Past Histories of Molecules

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This chapter unfolds a central philosophical problem of statistical mechanics. This problem lies in a clash between the Static Probabilities offered by statistical mechanics and the Dynamic Probabilities provided by classical or quantum mechanics. The chapter looks at the Boltzmann and Gibbs approaches in statistical mechanics and construes some of the great controversies in the field — for instance the Reversibility Paradox — as instances of this conflict. It furthermore argues that a response to this conflict is a critical choice that shapes one's understanding of statistical mechanics itself, namely, whether it is to be conceived as a special or fundamental science. The chapter details some of the pitfalls of the latter ‘globalist’ position and seeks defensible ground for a kind of ‘localist’ alternative.

Keywords: statistical mechanics; probabilities; static; Reversibility Paradox; special science; Boltzmann; Gibbs

Chapter.  14057 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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