David Z Albert (1954 - ) is a key figure in the philosophy of statistical mechanics. The field is a relative newcomer in philosophy of physics, which has hitherto mainly focused on the foundations of quantum theory and space-time theories. In his book Time and Chance (2000), Albert argued that the only concept of entropy in statistical mechanics adequate to the second law of thermodynamics is that given by Boltzmann, and that further what is needed is the ‘past hypothesis’ – an hypothesis about the low-entropy state in which the universe was first created. In this respect he is in agreement with Penrose and others on the nature of the hypothesis required to solve the low-entropy problem. However, he has also argued that the status of the past hypothesis is quite different from that of ordinary retrodictions to conditions in the past, given our knowledge of current states of affairs and the laws of physics. Indeed, any ordinary retrodiction of this kind will conclude that in the past the entropy of the universe was vastly higher than it is today – in effect a sceptical challenge to what we take ourselves to know.
Albert has also argued, in agreement with Bell, that the problem of measurement requires either the addition of supplementary variables to quantum mechanics, or a modification of the unitary dynamics (so, in effect, either the pilot-wave theory proposed by de Broglie and Bohm, or the dynamical collapse theory of Ghirardi, Rimini, and Weber). He is critical of the Many Worlds Interpretation proposed by Everett. Both alternatives to quantum theory appear to require a global notion of ‘the present’, contrary to the Special Theory of Relativity. (The situation is less clear-cut in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, as Barbour has argued.) On the other hand, the violation of the Bell inequalities already points to a conflict between quantum mechanics and relativity theory.
Albert was born in New York City. He graduated from Columbia University in 1976, and obtained a doctorate in theoretical physics from the Rockefeller University in 1981 under Professor Nicola Khuri. He is Frederick E. Woodbridge Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University.