Foundation of statistical mechanics: Mechanics by itself

Philosophy Compass 12 (12):e12465 (2017)
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Statistical mechanics is a strange theory. Its aims are debated, its methods are contested, its main claims have never been fully proven, and their very truth is challenged, yet at the same time, it enjoys huge empirical success and gives us the feeling that we understand important phenomena. What is this weird theory, exactly? Statistical mechanics is the name of the ongoing attempt to apply mechanics, together with some auxiliary hypotheses, to explain and predict certain phenomena, above all those described by thermodynamics. This paper shows what parts of this objective can be achieved with mechanics by itself. It thus clarifies what roles remain for the auxiliary assumptions that are needed to achieve the rest of the desiderata. Those auxiliary hypotheses are described in another paper in this journal, Foundations of statistical mechanics: The auxiliary hypotheses.

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Orly Shenker
Hebrew University of Jerusalem


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