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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 or Volume]

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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 or Volume
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 16:41
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2012 16:41
Item ID: 9240
Journal or Publication Title: European Physical Journal - H
Publisher: Springer
Official URL:

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