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Probability in Physics - An Introductory Guide

Andy Lawrence
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Undergraduate Lecture Notes in Physics
[Reviewed by
Dennis W. Gordon
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We often illustrate the second law of thermodynamics by noting that you can easily make an omelet from an egg, but not an egg from an omelet. However, Nature very certainly does make eggs. How do we square these observations? - Andy Lawrence
Presented in four parts, here is an excellent introduction to probability as used in physics, and the author thoughtfully begins right at ground zero – Part I - with the basics of probability algebra. Probability distributions as observed throughout the natural world including the Poisson, binomial, Maxwell-Boltzmann and, of course, the ever-popular Gaussian distribution are all included here in Part II. In Part III we learn about ideas and mathematical techniques of statistical inference – reasoning amidst uncertainty.  
Some areas of physics are especially well served by probability – or as the author says, ‘’… where the role of probability is particularly important, interesting, or controversial.‘’ Two of these areas of physics are information theory and quantum physics. These are among the subjects of Part IV.  Some cool philosophical issues are also discussed; a favorite of mine is Issues in the Interpretation of Entropy; “… perhaps the Universe will go through a maximum of complexity and then gradually become a warm sludge.”
To illustrate many of the principles there are lots of solved problems and exercises for readers which are accompanied by solutions in the back of the book. A stunning problem concerns some of the mathematics of Russian Roulette. For further reading the author has included a substantial list of references both in print and on the internet, and while web pages often disappear after a brief existence all of them were verified to be valid as of March, 2019.


In spite of having studied chemistry (Wayne State University and The University of Kansas) and enjoying a professional career in both academic and industrial research, Dennis’ greatest personal interest in science is mathematics. Now retired, he is a voracious reader, and with his wife Sally, they enjoy traveling in their sports car, bluegrass music, and the wonders of Wisconsin. Dennis may be contacted at