The Physics of Chance: From Blaise Pascal to Niels Bohr

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9780198539773: The Physics of Chance: From Blaise Pascal to Niels Bohr

This work offers a clear, much-needed introduction to the ideas of randomness that are central to modern physics. These are the concepts that have been instrumental in overthrowing the notion of the classical "clock-work" universe of earlier centuries. The author shows how the laws of probability and statistics were developed by such mathematicians as Fermat, Pascal, and Gauss, and how they received their first major application in physics in the kinetic theory of gases developed by Maxwell and Boltzmann. Here the use of statistics was necessary because the number of particles involved is too great for a deterministic calculation. But soon the mathematician and physicist Poincare demonstrated the unpredictability of certain systems containing only a small number of bodies, because of extreme sensitivity to initial conditions. He thus became a founder of chaos theory. Finally, with the advent of quantum theory, physics--and reality itself-- seemed to be based on an essential randomness, an idea that was debated by Bohr and Einstein until the end of their lives. Only recently, in the experiments of Alain Aspect, has a convincing demonstration been given the inescapable randomness of quantum theory is a fact of nature. The author skillfully guides the reader through these developments and provides mathematical details in appendices, offering an accessible introduction to the modern physicist's conception of the world of cause and chance. Of special interest to physics students and teachers, the book will also appeal to anyone seeking a better understanding of modern physics, quantum theory, and the concept of chaos.

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About the Author:

Charles Ruhla is at Claude-Bernard University (Lyons I). G. Barton is at University of Sussex.

Review:

'He has a clear and lively style, and the text is excellently translated from the original French.'
Sir Brian Pippard, University of Cambridge, Nature

'this thought-provoking book clearly shows, at a popular level, how - and where - chance plays a significant role in physics ... This book will have achieved its aims if it can help the reader to make the conceptual leap from common sense to the wisdom of physics, and from determinism to
chance.'
M.J. Rycroft, Journal of Atmospheric and Terrestrial Physics

'it is an interesting book that addresses one of the most important philosophical questions around.'
Tania Montero, Royal Holloway College, New Scientist, September 1993

'This is an excellent monograph covering all aspects of physics which are influenced by probability ... very readable and interesting, and also useful to practising physicists - particularly those involved in teaching physics.'
John Bell, University of Technology, Sydney, Australian and New Zealand Physicist, Volume 30, Number 7, July 1993

'Charles Ruhla has written a splendid book ... which the new students of such things will find accessible and entertaining. This is a lovely book which will stimulate the imagination of any reader, whether a freshman student or a lecturer quarrying the text for ideas for courses. I strongly
recommend it.'
Professor P.L. Knight, Imperial College, London,. Contemporary Physics, 1993, volume 34, number 3

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Charles Ruhla, G. Barton
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