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The Concept 'Indistinguishable'

Saunders, Simon (2020) The Concept 'Indistinguishable'. [Preprint]

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Abstract

The concept of indistinguishable particles in quantum theory is fundamental to questions of ontology. All ordinary matter is made of electrons, protons, neutrons, and photons and they are all indistinguishable particles. Yet the concept itself has proved elusive, in part because of the interpretational difficulties that afflict quantum theory quite generally, and in part because the concept was so central to the discovery of the quantum itself, by Planck in 1900; it came encumbered with revolution.
I offer a deflationary reading of the concept ‘indistinguishable’ that is identical to Gibbs’ concept ‘generic phase’, save that it is defined for state spaces with only finitely-many states of bounded volume and energy (finitely-many orthogonal states, in quantum mechanics). That, and that alone, makes for the difference between the quantum and Gibbs concepts of indistinguishability.
This claim is heretical on several counts, but here we consider only the content of the claim itself, and its bearing on the early history of quantum theory rather than in relation to contemporary debates about particle indistinguishability and permutation symmetry. It powerfully illuminates that history.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Saunders, Simonsimon.saunders@philosophy.ox.ac.uk0000-0002-8292-3014
Additional Information: to be published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Keywords: indistinguishable particles, entropy, Gibbs paradox, generic phase, extensivity, light quanta, photon, black-body, quantum statistics, history of quantum mechanics, Planck, Einstein, Bose, Dirac.
Subjects: General Issues > Scientific Metaphysics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Classical Physics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Fields and Particles
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Probability/Statistics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Field Theory
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Mechanics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Symmetries/Invariances
Depositing User: simon saunders
Date Deposited: 29 Jul 2020 04:11
Last Modified: 29 Jul 2020 04:11
Item ID: 17675
Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2020.02.003
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2020.02.003
Subjects: General Issues > Scientific Metaphysics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Classical Physics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Fields and Particles
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Probability/Statistics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Field Theory
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Mechanics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Symmetries/Invariances
Date: 28 July 2020
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/17675

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