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Mechanistic Slumber vs. Statistical Insomnia: The early phase of Boltzmann's H-theorem (1868-1877)

Badino, Massimiliano (2011) Mechanistic Slumber vs. Statistical Insomnia: The early phase of Boltzmann's H-theorem (1868-1877). [Published Article]

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    An intricate, long, and occasionally heated debate surrounds Boltzmann's outstanding works on the H-theorem (1872) and the combinatorial interpretation of the second law (1877). After almost a century of devoted and knowledgeable scholarship, opinions are still split on the question whether Boltzmann changed his view of the second law after Loschmidt's 1876 reversibility argument or he already had been holding a probabilistic conception for some years then. This paper argues that there was no abrupt statistical turn. In the first part of the paper I discuss the development of Boltzmann's research from 1868 to the formulation of the H-theorem. This reconstruction shows that Boltzmann adopted a pluralistic strategy based on the interplay between a kinetic and a combinatorial approach. Moreover, it shows that the ample use of asymptotic conditions allowed Boltzmann to bracket the problem of exceptions. In the second part I suggest that both Loschmidt's challenge and Boltzmann's response to it did not concern the H-theorem. In effect, the close relation between the theorem and the reversibility argument is a consequence of later investigations on the subject.

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    Item Type: Published Article
    Keywords: Boltzmann, Statistics, Statistical Mechanics, H-theorem, Loschmidt
    Subjects: General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
    Specific Sciences > Probability/Statistics
    Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
    Depositing User: Dr. Massimiliano Badino
    Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2012 12:41
    Last Modified: 17 Jul 2012 12:41
    Item ID: 9240
    Journal or Publication Title: European Physical Journal - H
    Publisher: Springer
    Official URL:

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