Journal of Statistical Physics

, Volume 141, Issue 5, pp 785–828

Statistics of Distinguishable Particles and Resolution of the Gibbs Paradox of the First Kind

Open Access


In physics, there are two distinct paradoxes, which are both known as the “Gibbs paradox”. This article is concerned with only one of them: the false increase in entropy, which is calculated from the process of combining two gases of the same kind consisting of distinguishable particles. In the following, this paradox will be referred to as the Gibbs paradox of the first kind (GP1). (Two particles are said to be distinguishable if they are either non-identical, that is, if they have different properties, or if they are identical and there are microstates which change under transposition of the two particles.) The GP1 is demonstrated and subsequently analyzed. The analysis shows that, for (quantum or classical) systems of distinguishable particles, it is generally uncertain of which particles they consist. The neglect of this uncertainty is the root of the GP1. For the statistical description of a system of distinguishable particles, an underlying set of particles, containing all particles that in principle qualify for being part of the system, is assumed to be known. Of which elements of this underlying particle set the system is composed, differs from microstate to microstate. Thus, the system is described by an ensemble of possible particle compositions. The uncertainty about the particle composition contributes to the entropy of the system. Systems for which all possible particle compositions are equiprobable will be called harmonic. Classical systems of distinguishable identical particles are harmonic as a matter of principle; quantum or classical systems of non-identical particles are not necessarily harmonic, since for them the composition probabilities depend individually on the preparation of the system. Harmonic systems with the same underlying particle set are always correlated; hence, for harmonic systems, the entropy is no longer additive and loses its thermodynamic meaning. A quantity derived from entropy is introduced, the reduced entropy, which, for harmonic systems, replaces the entropy as thermodynamic potential. For identical classical particles, the equivalence (in particular with respect to the second law of thermodynamics) between distinguishability and indistinguishability is proved. The resolution of the GP1 is demonstrated applying the previously found results.


Entropy Distinguishable particles Gibbs paradox 

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Karlsruhe Institute of TechnologyKarlsruheGermany

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