Academic secretary: The Humanitaries building, Room 4606

Office hours: Sunday 11:30-14:30, Monday-Thursday 10:00-13:00

Phone: 02-5883759


Prof. Orly Shenker

Eleanor Roosevelt Chair in History and Philosophy of Science
Edelstein Center, Levy Building (Givaat Ram campus)

My active research is in two fields. One is the foundations of physics, with special interest in statistical mechanics and in the explanation of the time directedness of processes, in the framework of both classical mechanics and quantum mechanics. Most of my publications are in this field, including my book (with Meir Hemmo) The Road to Maxwell's Demon (Cambridge University Press 2012), which offers a new conceptual foundation for statistical mechanics. These foundations include a new notion of probability in physics, which leads to rejecting the popular “typicality” approach. Our conceptual framework has led to a better understanding of the role of the observer in classical physics: although an observer seems to be essential to the notions of macrostates and of probability, in the book and elsewhere we show how the theory can be made completely physical. Our analysis of statistical mechanics has led to the radical conclusion that Maxwell’s Demon, which is a perpetuum mobile, is compatible with the foundations of physics, and therefore cannot be ruled out. We even believe that we are surrounded by Maxwellian Demons, and in this sense we offer a radical revision of the Second Law of thermodynamics.


One result of the conceptual framework that we developed is an improved understanding of the relations between physics and the so-called special sciences, that include thermodynamics – the original target, biology – as a paradigmatic special science, and psychology. My second active research concerns the latter, as it is studied in the philosophy of mind. In this framework I defend the idea that the mental is physical – an idea that, perhaps surprisingly, is held by only few, in both philosophy and science. I believe that insights gained from the investigation of the foundations of physics shed light on traditional problems in philosophy, associated with the philosophy of mind. My major project in this field is defending strong reductive type physicalism as a coherent and viable approach. On the way to this aim I defend physicalism against two major attacks: one is by varieties of non-reductive physicalism, including multiple realizability and metaphysical grounding of the mental by the physical, and the other is by conceivability arguments. I claim that the so-called hard problem can be met by strong type physicalism, and so can the problem of freedom in a physical world.