Inferential vs. Dynamical Conceptions of Physics

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Wallace, David
preprint description
I contrast two possible attitudes towards a given branch of physics: as inferential (i.e., as concerned with an agent's ability to make predictions given finite information), and as dynamical (i.e., as concerned with the dynamical equations governing particular degrees of freedom). I contrast these attitudes in classical statistical mechanics, in quantum mechanics, and in quantum statistical mechanics; in this last case, I argue that the quantum-mechanical and statistical-mechanical aspects of the question become inseparable. Along the way various foundational issues in statistical and quantum physics are (hopefully!) illuminated.