Time in Thermodynamics

Jill North

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199298204
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728372 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Time in Thermodynamics

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It is often claimed, or hoped, that some temporal asymmetries are explained by the thermodynamic asymmetry in time. Thermodynamics, the macroscopic physics of pressure, temperature, volume, and so on, describes many temporally asymmetric processes. Heat flows spontaneously from hot objects to cold objects (in closed systems), never the reverse. More generally, systems spontaneously move from non-equilibrium states to equilibrium states, never the reverse. Delving into the foundations of statistical mechanics, this chapter reviews the many open questions in that field as they relate to temporal asymmetry. Taking a stand on many of them, it tackles questions about the nature of probabilities, the role of boundary conditions, and even the nature and scope of statistical mechanics.

Keywords: temporal asymmetries; thermodynamics; statistical mechanics; probabilities; boundary conditions

Article.  20769 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Metaphysics

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