Stochastic Processes in Physics: Deterministic Origins and Control

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Stochastic processes are ubiquitous in the physical sciences and engineering. While often used to model imperfections and experimental uncertainties in the macroscopic world, stochastic processes can attain deeper physical significance when used to model the seemingly random and chaotic nature of the underlying microscopic world. Nowhere more prevalent is this notion than in the field of stochastic thermodynamics - a modern systematic framework used describe mesoscale systems in strongly fluctuating thermal environments which has revolutionized our understanding of, for example, molecular motors, DNA replication, far-from equilibrium systems, and the laws of macroscopic thermodynamics as they apply to the mesoscopic world. With progress, however, come further challenges and deeper questions, most notably in the thermodynamics of information processing and feedback control. Here it is becoming increasingly apparent that, due to divergences and subtleties of interpretation, the deterministic foundations of the stochastic processes themselves must be explored and understood.

This thesis presents a survey of stochastic processes in physical systems, the deterministic origins of their emergence, and the subtleties associated with controlling them. First, we study time-dependent billiards in the quivering limit - a limit where a billiard system is indistinguishable from a stochastic system, and where the simplified stochastic system allows us to view issues associated with deterministic time-dependent billiards in a new light and address some long-standing problems. Then, we embark on an exploration of the deterministic microscopic Hamiltonian foundations of non-equilibrium thermodynamics, and we find that important results from mesoscopic stochastic thermodynamics have simple microscopic origins which would not be apparent without the benefit of both the micro and meso perspectives. Finally, we study the problem of stabilizing a stochastic Brownian particle with feedback control, and we find that in order to avoid paradoxes involving the first law of thermodynamics, we need a model for the fine details of the thermal driving noise. The underlying theme of this thesis is the argument that the deterministic microscopic perspective and stochastic mesoscopic perspective are both important and useful, and when used together, we can more deeply and satisfyingly understand the physics occurring over either scale.