Journal Article

Information-Theoretic Statistical Mechanics without Landauer’s Principle

Daniel Parker

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 62, issue 4, pages 831-856
Published in print December 2011 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online August 2011 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI:
Information-Theoretic Statistical Mechanics without Landauer’s Principle

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This article distinguishes two different senses of information-theoretic approaches to statistical mechanics that are often conflated in the literature: those relating to the thermodynamic cost of computational processes and those that offer an interpretation of statistical mechanics where the probabilities are treated as epistemic. This distinction is then investigated through Earman and Norton’s ([1999]) ‘sound’ and ‘profound’ dilemma for information-theoretic exorcisms of Maxwell’s demon. It is argued that Earman and Norton fail to countenance a ‘sound’ information-theoretic interpretation and this paper describes how the latter inferential interpretations can escape the criticisms of Earman and Norton ([1999]) and Norton ([2005]) by adopting this ‘sound’ horn. This article considers a standard model of Maxwell’s demon to illustrate how one might adopt an information-theoretic approach to statistical mechanics without a reliance on Landauer’s principle, where the incompressibility of the probability distribution due to Liouville’s theorem is taken as the central feature of such an interpretation.


2Information-Theoretic SM

3A Dilemma?

4Maxwell’s Demon

5The Cogency of the IT Account

6Does Landauer’s Principle Save the Second Law?


Journal Article.  11074 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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