Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Philosophy

Supervisor

Wayne C. Myrvold

Abstract

This thesis makes the issue of reconciling the existence of thermodynamically irreversible processes with underlying reversible dynamics clear, so as to help explain what philosophers mean when they say that an aim of nonequilibrium statistical mechanics is to underpin aspects of thermodynamics.

Many of the leading attempts to reconcile the existence of thermodynamically irreversible processes with underlying reversible dynamics proceed by way of discussions that attempt to underpin the following qualitative facts: (i) that isolated macroscopic systems that begin away from equilibrium spontaneously approach equilibrium, and (ii) that they remain in equilibrium for incredibly long periods of time. These attempts standardly appeal to phase space considerations and notions of typicality. This thesis considers and evaluates leading typicality accounts, and, in particular, highlights their limitations. Importantly, these accounts do not underpin a large and important set of facts. They do not, for example, underpin facts about the rates in which systems approach equilibrium, or facts about the kinds of states they pass through on their way to equilibrium, or facts about fluctuation phenomena. To remedy these and other shortfalls, this thesis promotes an alternative, and arguably more important, line of research: understanding and accounting for the success of the techniques and equations physicists use to model the behaviour of systems that begin away from equilibrium. Accounting for their success would help underpin not just the qualitative facts the literature has focused on, but also many of the important quantitative facts that typicality accounts cannot.

This thesis also takes steps in this promising direction. It outlines and examines a technique commonly used to model the behaviour of an interesting and important kind of system: a Brownian particle that's been introduced to an isolated homogeneous fluid at equilibrium. As this thesis highlights, the technique returns a wealth of quantitative and qualitative information. This thesis also attempts to account for the success of the model and technique, by identifying and grounding the technique's key assumptions.


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