Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)

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Conference: The Second Law


Idea and Motivation

The attempt to understand the Second Law of thermodynamics occupies a central role in the foundations of physics: not only is it of great importance in and of itself, but it also ramifies into a host of other problems of fundamental physical and philosophical import. These include, to name only a few, the direction of the arrow of time, the nature of probability and its role in physical theory, the relationship between classical mechanics and quantum mechanics, the nature of spacetime, the concepts of predictability and determinism, and even the possibility of memory and agency. Despite this, there has been no major international conference since the 1950s that has sought to address all foundational issues associated with the Second Law, and to examine how they bear upon one another. The time is therefore ripe for such a conference, bringing together leading figures and emerging stars from both physics and philosophy, with expertise on the extraordinary range of issues spanned by the Second Law. It will also serve as an opportunity to consolidate and reflect upon the state of the art in research on the Second Law, and thereby provide a comprehensive overview of the problems and issues it raises.

By bringing together top researchers from diverse fields, we seek to create an atmosphere in which major advances in understanding can be made by the cross-pollination that discussion across traditional disciplinary boundaries can create. We aim to engender collaboration and interaction among philosophers and scientists so that insights from different disciplines may be shared and inspire workers in all relevant fields to find new approaches to both discipline specific and interdisciplinary problems. Specific questions we hope the conference will address include (but are not limited to):

  1. What is the nature of the Second Law as a physical principle?
  2. What connection, if any, does the Second Law have to the idea of the arrow (or arrows) of time?
  3. Can the Second Law be derived from statistical mechanics?
  4. What is the nature of entropy as a physical quantity?
  5. How does the Second Law bear on the possibility of prediction and retrodiction, and on approaches to a proper understanding of causality, modality, and probability?
  6. How does the Second Law bear on the ideas of memory and agency?
  7. What can we learn from the historical treatment of the Second Law?
  8. What role, if any, can the Second Law have in quantum theory? Does the proper analysis of the Second Law require quantum mechanics?
  9. Given the centrality of black-hole thermodynamics in contemporary theoretical physics, how ought we to understand the claim that black holes are thermodynamical objects, and what may that tell us about the nature of spacetime?

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