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AGPhil: Arbeitsgruppe Philosophie der Physik

AGPhil 1: Statistical Mechanics

AGPhil 1.1: Vortrag

Montag, 30. März 2020, 11:00–11:30, H-HS III

The origins of observation — •Athamos Stradis — King’s College London

In statistical mechanics, a system E at a given moment is described by a ‘microstate’, an exact microscopic configuration of its constituent particles. However, we only observe certain indistinguishable clusters of E’s microstates (‘familiar macrostates’, {Fi}). Why do we observe these clusters, and not others (‘alternative macrostates’, {Ai})? Some have offered an evolutionary explanation: since observing robust regularities is advantageous, and since {Fi} exhibits such regularities (e.g. the Second Law), it*s no surprise that we observe {Fi} rather than {Ai}.

To assess this explanation, we must interpret the word ‘observe’. Understood passively as ‘monitors’, we monitor {Fi} in that some of our states merely correlate with {Fi}. But my explanation undercuts the evolutionary explanation: since {Fi} are the regular macrostates, they*re the ones involved in correlations, so how could we have monitored {Fi} rather than {Ai}? One might argue that we don*t just monitor {Fi}, but also enlist them to guide our actions, and this is what evolution can explain. But my explanation undercuts even this: since enlisting {Fi} presupposes monitoring {Fi} via cognitive states in the first place, how could we have enlisted {Fi} rather than {Ai}?

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