A new approach to the approach to equilibrium

In Yemima Ben-Menahem & Meir Hemmo (eds.), Probability in Physics. Springer. pp. 99-114 (2012)
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Consider a gas confined to the left half of a container. Then remove the wall separating the two parts. The gas will start spreading and soon be evenly distributed over the entire available space. The gas has approached equilibrium. Why does the gas behave in this way? The canonical answer to this question, originally proffered by Boltzmann, is that the system has to be ergodic for the approach to equilibrium to take place. This answer has been criticised on different grounds and is now widely regarded as flawed. In this paper we argue that these criticisms have dismissed Boltzmann’s answer too quickly and that something almost like Boltzmann’s answer is true: the approach to equilibrium takes place if the system is epsilon-ergodic, i.e. ergodic on the entire accessible phase space except for a small region of measure epsilon. We introduce epsilon-ergodicity and argue that relevant systems in statistical mechanics are indeed espsilon-ergodic.

Author Profiles

Charlotte Sophie Werndl
London School of Economics
Roman Frigg
London School of Economics


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