Journal Article

Boltzmann's Time Bomb

Huw Price

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 53, issue 1, pages 83-119
Published in print March 2002 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online March 2002 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/53.1.83
Boltzmann's Time Bomb

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Since the late nineteenth century, physics has been puzzled by the time‐asymmetry of thermodynamic phenomena in the light of the apparent T‐symmetry of the underlying laws of mechanics. However, a compelling solution to this puzzle has proved elusive. In part, I argue, this can be attributed to a failure to distinguish two conceptions of the problem. According to one, the main focus of our attention is a time‐asymmetric lawlike generalisation. According to the other, it is a particular fact about the early universe. This paper aims (i) to distinguish these two different conceptions of the time‐asymmetric explanandum in thermodynamics; (ii) to argue in favour of the latter; and (iii) to show that whichever we choose, our rational expectations about the thermodynamic behaviour of the future must depend on what we know about the past: contrary to the common view, statistical arguments alone do not give us good reason to expect that entropy will always continue to increase.

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Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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