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Time and Chance [Paperback]

David Z Albert
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 30, 2003 0674011325 978-0674011328

This book is an attempt to get to the bottom of an acute and perennial tension between our best scientific pictures of the fundamental physical structure of the world and our everyday empirical experience of it. The trouble is about the direction of time. The situation (very briefly) is that it is a consequence of almost every one of those fundamental scientific pictures--and that it is at the same time radically at odds with our common sense--that whatever can happen can just as naturally happen backwards.

Albert provides an unprecedentedly clear, lively, and systematic new account--in the context of a Newtonian-Mechanical picture of the world--of the ultimate origins of the statistical regularities we see around us, of the temporal irreversibility of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, of the asymmetries in our epistemic access to the past and the future, and of our conviction that by acting now we can affect the future but not the past. Then, in the final section of the book, he generalizes the Newtonian picture to the quantum-mechanical case and (most interestingly) suggests a very deep potential connection between the problem of the direction of time and the quantum-mechanical measurement problem.

The book aims to be both an original contribution to the present scientific and philosophical understanding of these matters at the most advanced level, and something in the nature of an elementary textbook on the subject accessible to interested high-school students.

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Editorial Reviews


Albert is perfecting a style of foundational analysis that is uniquely his own...It has a surgical precision...and it is ruthless with pretensions. The foundations of thermodynamics is a topic that has accumulated a good deal of dead wood; this is a fire that will burn and burn. (Simon W. Saunders, Oxford University)

As usual with Albert's work, the exposition is brisk and to the point, and exceptionally clear...The book will be an extremely valuable contribution to the literature on the subject of philosophical issues in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, a literature which has been thin on the ground but is now growing as it deserves to. (Lawrence Sklar, University of Michigan)

The foundations of statistical mechanisms are often presented in physics textbooks in a rather obscure and confused way. By challenging common ways of thinking about this subject, Time and Chance can do quite a lot to improve this situation. (Jean Bricmont Science 2001-07-13)


Albert is perfecting a style of foundational analysis that is uniquely his own...It has a surgical precision...and it is ruthless with pretensions. The foundations of thermodynamics is a topic that has accumulated a good deal of dead wood; this is a fire that will burn and burn. (Simon W. Saunders, Oxford University) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674011325
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674011328
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #936,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book is one of the best on the subject. May 9, 2007
I couldn't stand to see this book with such poor user reviews. One can see the academic reviews are stellar. This is the best book on time that I have ever read. It is not pop-science, it is an academic work on the foundations of physics and time. As such, it is not an easy book to read, despite the fact that it is well-written and anyone should be able to follow it if their mind has not atrophied. It is not easy because it presents in almost full glory all the problems most physicists ignore with respect to questions concerning the role of time in modern physics. I gave this book four stars because I thought it was missing (2) things. One - epistemic motivation for the past hypothesis, Two - Convincing arguments that QCD time-reversal symmetry breaking doesn't really matter for the questions discussed. Anyone who thinks this is a poorly written book should survey the other literature on the topic for comparison. Dr. Albert has tackled a difficult subject with a degree of intellectual integrity and honesty uncommon in physics so don't complain if you have to think because that is the purpose of the book. I have read this book repeatedly and learn something new almost everytime I open the book. I thouroughly disagree with his attempted resolution of time-reversal invariance and entropy increase through the past hypothesis, in particular since the epistemic motivation for the past hypothesis admits necessarily of no non-circular verification. I still maintain he has done an excellent job in writing this book and the poor user reviews should not prevent anyone from reading it. Expect to read it slowly at least twice and to have to think and you will know more about time than most physics PhD's.
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61 of 73 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Formally trained in academia as a physicist, David Albert made the switch over to philosophy to address foundational issues in physics, most notably those dealing with time and an outstanding problem in quantum mechanics known as the measurement problem. Although the endeavors of Albert are noble and worthwhile, I am afraid that he is lacking in competency as a writer to communicate his ideas in any sensible, intelligible fashion. As a former student of his, I can personally attest to how frustrating his writing and teaching style, kindly referred to by some as "unique," can be. Needlessly obtuse, ever obscure, Albert writes in such a manner that his prose can truly serve as a wonderful negative example of how not to write. Virtually every conceivable error in basic grammar and syntax is committed. Endlessly long sentences, riddled with comma splices and run on sentences, are grossly accompanied by a monstrous convolution of nestled subordinate clauses, which topple over one another and collapse any unifying logic.
Adding to this confusion, Albert repeatedly makes distracting use of parentheses in numerous attempts to develop main ideas instead of correctly using parentheses to make brief, nonessential comments. This semantic nightmare, however, does not end here, as Albert, in page after page, then incorporates numerous, ridiculously long footnotes, which like his "parenthetical" comments are also used to develop main ideas and are so needlessly complicated as to loose any cohesive significance. The net effect of all of this is to drown whatever semblance of order or meaning Albert is attempting to convey under a cacophony of jangled ideas, which chaotically crash into one another instead of logically and succinctly flowing orderly and soundly from one notion to the other.
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32 of 42 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Definitely not for the layperson October 11, 2001
I was interested in this book because of its glowing review in Science magazine. While this may be an excellent book, I certainly couldn't tell after the first 45 pages. Major portions of the text consists of illegible footnotes. In spite of its folksy style, the author is obscure and impenetrable. It makes me wonder why, if he really has something to say, he can't explain it in a sensible fashion. While there might be people who get something from this book, a casual reader should expect some very tough going.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Humean Useful Fiction of the Trivially True May 26, 2009
David Albert has a real problem explaining himself- not just in this book, but in person when trying to teach the book. Everybody has noted the main problems with the book- the man cannot write his way out of a wet paper bag. And yet, he refuses to change or improve his writing (After reading the first exasperating chapter of a new book he is currently working on I realized some people cannot improve with practice). This is partly due to the fact that he writes like he thinks; as if he is thinking out loud in a total stream of consciousness which he expects you to be experiencing as well. In fact he really does expect you to be having the same train of thought as him, as if his next sentence is the fulfillment of what you were already thinking. This is simply not the case.
His methodology is to build up a theory as being true, then decimating it by pointing out what seem (to him) to be obvious and inherent absurdities, only to end up reasserting the theory as being actually true due to some caveat. Once you finish his mental acrobatics you find that the theory is correct according to Albert because it is trivially true. As has been said in most of these reviews, his writing tends to obscure the nature of his project so that one is not sure whether anything substantive has been said. So what is the book about anyways?
Albert wants to show that statistical mechanics is an incomplete science that fails on its own. What it needs is a strong philosophical foundation with a metaphysical theory that validates its project. Albert's main problem with statistical mechanics is its untenable epistemology, it assumes its science as a priori and analytically true.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Clear and Helpful
If you have been thinking about these issues and have read some popular physics books, this will help clarify and expand your understanding. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Rikki Westerschulte
5.0 out of 5 stars Time and Chance - what is Time? And what happened to physics that made...
A deep, yet relatively simple, book about possible interpretations of the elusive character of the concept of time. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Yaakov Lichter
5.0 out of 5 stars Eyes-opening (no exaggeration) natural philosophy book
To my mind, this work is indispensable for everybody, who considers her/him/self a natural scientist ... What is the true nature of time ? Read more
Published 16 months ago by Jewgeni Starikow
5.0 out of 5 stars don't blame the writing for the lack of your understanding
This is one of the best books written about direction of time. It has received stellar academic reviews and justly so. Read more
Published on January 28, 2012 by noholdsbar
2.0 out of 5 stars Dissapointing
Dissapointing is the best word I found to rate this book. I think the topic is of great interest and the credentials of the author are quite good but (and is a big but) it doesn't... Read more
Published on August 22, 2010 by JM Alvarado
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for Understanding, After Knowing Material
I am a recent graduate from an undergraduate physics program, and I'll admit that I had to struggle through this book. Read more
Published on August 19, 2008 by David D. Kordahl
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't take a chance with your time on this book
The title is aptly chosen. Time and chance. You'll loose out of both on this book. Try the book The Direction of Time. It is a much better written book. Read more
Published on March 25, 2005 by MT
1.0 out of 5 stars I disagree with this author
He uses common assumptions which I believe are wrong. For example he assumes that all arrangement of atoms in a gas have equal probabliity. Read more
Published on August 19, 2001 by harry hull
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