Out of thermal equilibrium, an environment imposes effective mechanical forces on nanofabricated devices as well as on microscopic chemical or biological systems. Here we address the question of how to calculate these forces together with the response of the system from first principles. We show that an ideal gaslike environment, even near thermal equilibrium, can enforce a specific steady state on the system by creating effective potentials in otherwise homogeneous space. An example of stable and unstable rectifications of thermal fluctuations is presented using a modified Feynman-Smoluchowski ratchet with two degrees of freedom. Moreover, the stability of a steady configuration depends on its chiral symmetry. The transition rate probabilities and the corresponding kinetic equations are derived for a complex mechanical system with arbitrary degrees of freedom. This work, therefore, extends the applicability of mechanical systems as a toy model playground of statistical physics for active and living matter with multiple degrees of freedom.
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