Philosophy of Physics Seminar (Thursday - Week 9, MT21)

Philosophy of Physics

Thermodynamics is an unusual physical theory; del Rio et al. describe thermodynamics as the `village witch’ of physics and say that “The other theories find her somewhat odd, somehow different in nature from the rest, yet everyone comes to her for advice, and no one dares to contradict her”. And the philosophical status of thermodynamics is disputed; Is it reduced? Autonomous? Anthropocentric? Universal?

In this talk, I tackle two of these questions. First, I discuss the arguments for thermodynamics being not objective, or anthropocentric. I argue, contra Myrvold’s Maxwellian view of thermodynamics, that thermodynamics is not anthropocentric. I then block another road to subjectivity by arguing that the introduction of probability need not be justified by our ignorance of the exact microstate, as Jaynes argued. Instead, in agreement with Chen and Wallace, I argue that the statistical mechanical probabilities can be understood as quantum mechanical probabilities. But my account differs from Chen’s quantum Mentaculus in several respects. Finally, I consider the autonomy of thermodynamics. How can other physical theories ‘come to thermodynamics for advice’ — as we see with black hole thermodynamics guiding the search for a theory of quantum gravity — if thermodynamics is autonomous, and so floats free, of any underlying fundamental theory?

Philosophy of Physics Seminar Convenor for MT21: James Read  | Philosophy of Physics Group Website