The Bose-Einstein statistics: Remarks on Debye, Natanson, and Ehrenfest contributions and the emergence of indistinguishability principle for quantum particles


  • Józef Spałek Institute of Theoretical Physics, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland



black body radiation, Planck’s law of radiation, particle indistinguishability, quantum statistical physics, Natanson statistics, Bose-Einstein statistics


The principal mathematical idea behind the statistical properties of black-body radiation (photons) was introduced already by L. Boltzmann (1877/2015) and used by M. Planck (19001906) to derive the frequency distribution of radiation (Planck’s law) when its discrete (quantum) structure was additionally added to the reasoning.

The fundamental physical idea – the principle of indistinguishability of the quanta (photons) – had been somewhat hidden behind the formalism and evolved slowly.

Here the role of P. Debye (1910), H. Kamerlingh Onnes and P. Ehrenfest (1914) is briefly elaborated and the crucial role of W. Natanson (1911a; 1911b; 1913) is emphasized.

The reintroduction of this Natanson’s statistics by S. N. Bose (1924/2009) for light quanta (called photons since the late 1920s), and its subsequent generalization to material particles by A. Einstein (1924; 1925) is regarded as the most direct and transparent, but involves the concept of grand canonical ensemble of J. W. Gibbs (1902/1981), which in a way obscures the indistinguishability of the particles involved.

It was ingeniously reintroduced by P. A. M. Dirac (1926) via postulating (imposing) the transposition symmetry onto the many-particle wave function.

The above statements are discussed in this paper, including the recent idea of the author (Spałek 2020) of transformation (transmutation) – under specific conditions – of the indistinguishable particles into the corresponding to them distinguishable quantum particles.

The last remark may serve as a form of the author’s post scriptum to the indistinguishability principle.

Author Biography

Józef Spałek, Institute of Theoretical Physics, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland


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How to Cite

Spałek, J. (2020). The Bose-Einstein statistics: Remarks on Debye, Natanson, and Ehrenfest contributions and the emergence of indistinguishability principle for quantum particles. Studia Historiae Scientiarum, 19, 423–441.