What is Statistical Mechanics?

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Roman Frigg
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Thermodynamics describes a large class of phenomena we observe in macroscopic systems. The aim of statistical mechanics is to account for this behaviour in terms of the dynamical laws governing the microscopic constituents of macroscopic systems and probabilistic assumptions. This article provides a survey of the discussion about the foundation of statistical mechanics by introducing the basic approaches and discussing their merits as well as their problems. After a brief review of classical mechanics, which provides the background against which statistical mechanics is formulated, we discuss the two main theoretical approaches to statistical mechanics, one of which can be associated with Boltzmann and the other with Gibbs. We end with a discussion of remaining issues and open questions.

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