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Physics and Chance: Philosophical Issues in the Foundations of Statistical Mechanics [Paperback]

Lawrence Sklar
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 29 1995 0521558816 978-0521558815
Statistical mechanics is one of the crucial fundamental theories of physics, and in his new book Lawrence Sklar, one of the pre-eminent philosophers of physics, offers a comprehensive, non-technical introduction to that theory and to attempts to understand its foundational elements. Among the topics treated in detail are: probability and statistical explanation, the basic issues in both equilibrium and non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, the role of cosmology, the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics, and the alleged foundation of the very notion of time asymmetry in the entropic asymmetry of systems in time. The book emphasises the interaction of scientific and philosophical modes of reasoning, and in this way will interest all philosophers of science as well as those in physics and chemistry concerned with philosophical questions. The book could also be read by an informed general reader interested in the foundations of modern science.

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Winner of 1995 Lakatos Award "...[it] succeeds admirably in pulling together and making accessible a diversity of sometimes difficult material, serving simulaneously students, researchers, and readers from other areas who would simply like to get a sense of what is happening." Philosophy of Science "What we have in Sklar's work is by far the best systematic, unified treatment of foundational problems in statistical mechanics existing in the philosophical literature and it will certainly set the standard for futher philosophical work in the area." Mind "...Sklar's work should indeed be required and welcome reading for anyone interested in this fascinating subject...In my opinion, Physics and Chance is essential reading for philosophers of science and physicists who have even the slightest interest in how probabilities function in physical theory. The problems are at least as difficult as any that confront the foundations of quantum mechanics. Sklar's discussions of the various issues set the standard for future philosophical work in the foundations of statistical physics." The Philosophical Review "The range and depth of this study are extraordinary, and few experts in the areas of physics, mathematics, and chemistry have as extensive familiarity with either the philosophical or technical developments...One of the most important books in philosophy of science of the last 50 years." Choice "The book occupies itself with foundations and touches on most of the crucial issues. It is, I believe, the only available modern text that has set itself this task, and as such it is recommended." Peter T. Lansberg, Nature

Book Description

Statistical mechanics is one of the crucial fundamental theories of physics, and in his new book Lawrence Sklar, one of the pre-eminent philosophers of physics, offers a comprehensive, non-technical introduction to that theory and to attempts to understand its foundational elements.

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There are four fundamental theories that constitute, at present, the foundational pillars of our physical theory of the world: general relativity, quantum mechanics, the theory of elementary particles, and statistical mechanics. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, heavy going, no maths. Jan. 29 2007
By Mejo
Format:Paperback
Sklar's book, when it came out, was one of the first attempts to comprehensively review the conceptual foundations of statistical mechanics since the 1912 Ehrenfests review. It remains one of the only books that has attempted such a review. It is largely succesful in this and is essential reading for anyone interested in the foundations of the subject.

However, it is worth noting it is directed at a philosphy of science audience who are assumed to have some familiarity with the subject already. Although it is a long book on a technical subject, there is hardly any maths and few diagrams. Philosophers who are not familiar with the subject will need to also read a few good textbooks as well. Scientist may find the presentation very wordy, and it can at times seem unclear how the issues discussed in this book relate to the statistical mechanics actually used, in practice, by physicists.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be read by every student taking stat phys Sept. 7 2006
By S. Huntsman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
(NB. This book really deserves 4.5 stars.)

Much of my work concerns applying statistical physics in novel contexts. With that in mind, a few years ago I undertook to take a look at foundational issues. Although this book contains few equations, it is sophisticated and clear, and also a page-turner. My copy is jammed with Post-Its serving as placemarkers.

That said, a few more equations and better references/attribution would have been nice. For instance, Sklar mentions a "pantamicrocanonical" ensemble at one point, but he neither elaborates nor gives a usable reference. I have been unable to track down the origin or precise meaning of this term, to my annoyance.

There are biases in coverage as well: most philosophers of statistical physics are (perhaps rightly) preoccupied with the arrow of time. Personally, however, I found the distinction between ergodicity and mixing far more relevant, insightful, and useful. The coverage of information theory and MAXENT is weak. Many people familiar with MAXENT often come to notice some of its limitations, and a more thorough philosophical treatment (incorporating views from e.g., Jaynes to Grad) of the subject would have been welcome.

But all in all, this is an excellent book, and a worthy read. I recommend it especially highly to the student of statistical physics: buy Sklar, and check out Krylov from the library.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seller sent a sweet note. March 26 2013
By Fiddleyhead - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The seller, Jerry's Books (so presumably Jerry), included a charming note with the book, in which he described his avocational pleasure in physics and his affection for this book. He said he hoped I would enjoy it and understand it better than he could. Jerry, I'm a student of physics, and I did enjoy your book - but don't worry, I didn't really understand it either!
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