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Probabilities in Physics$
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Claus Beisbart and Stephan Hartmann

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199577439

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199577439.001.0001

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The Past Histories of Molecules

The Past Histories of Molecules

(p.83) 4 The Past Histories of Molecules
Probabilities in Physics

Craig Callender

Oxford University Press

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

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