Sign up ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free.

I am reading Peskin and Schroeder (path integrals) and it states that discretising the classical action gives:

$$S~=~\int \left(\frac{m}{2}\dot{x}^{2}-V(x)\right) dt ~\rightarrow~ \sum \left[\frac{m}{2}\frac{(x_{k+1}-x_{k})^{2}}{\epsilon}-\epsilon V(\frac{x_{k+1}+x_{k}}{2})\right] $$

Is it convention that $$\dot{x} ~\rightarrow~ (x_{k+1}-x_{k})/2$$


$$x~\rightarrow~ (x_{k+1}+x_{k})/2~?$$

I understand that $\epsilon$ is effectively $dt$, but I am not sure why $x$ behaves like this.

share|cite|improve this question
Possible duplicate: . Related question by OP: . For a related discussion of operator ordering problems, see e.g. this Phys.SE post. – Qmechanic Apr 27 '13 at 23:23

2 Answers 2

Recall the definition for a derivative is $$\frac{\mathrm{d}x(t)}{\mathrm{d}t}=\lim_{\Delta t\to 0}\frac{x(t+\Delta t)-x(t)}{\Delta t}$$ So if we insist on having discrete values of time, we get $$\frac{\mathrm{d}x}{\mathrm{d}t}\approx\frac{x(t+\Delta t)-x(t)}{\Delta t}$$ Or if everything is in integer multiples of some interval, we have $$\dot{x}\approx \frac{x(k\Delta t+\Delta t) - x(k\Delta t)}{\Delta t} = \frac{x_{k+1}-x_{k}}{\epsilon}$$ where we define $x_{k}=x(k\Delta t)$ and introduce $\epsilon=\Delta t$.

Now, the potential is a numerical approximation to an integral: $$\int V(x)\,\mathrm{d}t \approx \sum V\left(\frac{x_{k+1}+x_{k}}{2}\right)\,\epsilon$$ where the argument is just the midpoint between $x_{k+1}$ and $x_{k}$. This is the rectangle method...

We can combine these terms together to get the desired result $$\int\left(\frac{m\dot{x}^{2}}{2}-V(x)\right)\mathrm{d}t\approx\sum_{k}\left(\frac{m}{2}\left[\frac{x_{k+1}-x_{k}}{\epsilon}\right]^{2}-V\left[\frac{x_{k+1}+x_{k}}{2}\right]\right)\epsilon$$ And by basic arithmetic, we see the right hand side simplifies (using distributivity) to $$\int\left(\frac{\dot{x}^{2}}{2m}-V(x)\right)\mathrm{d}t\approx\sum_{k}\left(\frac{m}{2}\frac{(x_{k+1}-x_{k})^{2}}{\epsilon}-\epsilon\cdot V\left[\frac{x_{k+1}+x_{k}}{2}\right]\right)$$ That concludes the derivation, I think...

share|cite|improve this answer
Im sorry I don't follow from maths line 2 to 3 why has the denominator disappeared? – user21119 Apr 28 '13 at 0:00
Sorry about that, does this change explain things better? – Alex Nelson Apr 28 '13 at 1:08
I thinks so, does this mean that $k\Delta t=t$?, Sorry i didnt put this in but it is actually $S=T-V dt$ not $dx$ – user21119 Apr 28 '13 at 7:47
Well, we discretize $t$, so $t_{k}=t_{0}+k\Delta t$ where $t_{0}$ is "some initial starting time" (usually set to 0 for simplicity). NB: I am considering the action term-by-term, so you can recombine it to get the desired sum... – Alex Nelson Apr 28 '13 at 17:44
Nice, clear explanation. – gn0m0n Sep 8 at 17:27

For \begin{align} x\rightarrow\frac{x_{k+1}+x_{k}}{2}, \end{align} it is often called mid-point prescription. It reveals itself in the operator ordering problem, and is important to lead to gauge invariant Schrodinger equation. You can find details around page 183 of the book: Stochastic Processes and Quantum Mechanics, Path Integrals in Physics (M. Chaichian and A. Demichev).

The ambiguity of choosing discretized method in quantum path integral also relates to that of path integral in stochastic process. The mid-point prescription is the Stratonovich's way, where the ordinary calculus can be applied (fails when other stochastic integral is used). You may find more discussions in this paper:

share|cite|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.