For questions involving the Lagrangian formulation of a dynamical system. Namely, the application of an action principle to a suitably chosen Lagrangian or Lagrangian Density in order to obtain the equations of motion of the system.

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37
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8answers
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What's the point of Hamiltonian mechanics?

I've just finished a Classical Mechanics course, and looking back on it some things are not quite clear. In the first half we covered the Lagrangian formalism, which I thought was pretty cool. I ...
31
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6answers
3k views

Why does calculus of variations work?

How does it make sense to vary the position and the velocity independently? Edit: Velocity is the derivative of position, so how can you treat them as independent variables? Doesn't every physics ...
29
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4answers
1k views

Is there a Lagrangian formulation of statistical mechanics?

In statistical mechanics, we usually think in terms of the Hamiltonian formalism. At a particular time $t$, the system is in a particular state, where "state" means the generalised coordinates and ...
27
votes
13answers
2k views

Lagrangians not of the form $T-U$

My Physics teacher was reluctant to define Lagrangian as Kinetic Energy minus Potential Energy because he said that there were cases where a system's Lagrangian did not take this form. Are you are ...
27
votes
7answers
5k views

Why the Principle of Least Action?

I'll be generous and say it might be reasonable to assume that nature would tend to minimize, or maybe even maximize, the integral over time of $T-V$. Okay, fine. You write down the action ...
26
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5answers
3k views

Hamilton's Principle

Hamilton's principle states that a dynamic system always follows a path such that its action integral is stationary (that is, maximum or minimum). Why should the action integral be stationary? On ...
22
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8answers
4k views

Why are L4 and L5 lagrangian points stable?

This diagram from wikipedia shows the gravitational potential energy of the sun-earth two body system, and demonstrates clearly the semi-stability of the L1, L2, and L3 lagrangian points. The blue ...
22
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6answers
4k views

Why are there only derivatives to the first order in the Lagrangian?

Why is the Lagrangian a function of the position and velocity (possibly also of time) and why are dependences on higher order derivatives (acceleration, jerk,...) excluded? Is there a good reason for ...
22
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6answers
3k views

Can Noether's theorem be understood intuitively?

Noether's theorem is one of those surprisingly clear results of mathematical calculations, for which I am inclined to think that some kind of intuitive understanding should or must be possible. ...
20
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5answers
3k views

Why not using Lagrangian, instead of Hamiltonian, in non relativistic QM?

When we studied classical mechanics on the undergraduate level, on the level of Taylor, we covered Hamiltonian as well as Lagrangian mechanics. Now when we studied QM, on the level of Griffiths, we ...
20
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7answers
12k views

What is the difference between Newtonian and Lagrangian mechanics in a nutshell?

What is Lagrangian mechanics, and what's the difference compared to Newtonian mechanics? I'm a mathematician/computer scientist, not a physicist, so I'm kind of looking for something like the ...
20
votes
2answers
366 views

How to combine these equations of constraint?

I want to model a nonholonomic system of an arbitrary rotating disk in 3D, which rolls without slipping, and doesn't have to stay vertical. (think spinning a penny on the table) I want to use the ...
19
votes
1answer
592 views

Why does charge conservation due to gauge symmetry only hold on-shell?

While deriving Noether's theorem or the generator(and hence conserved current) for a continuous symmetry, we work modulo the assumption that the field equations hold. Considering the case of gauge ...
18
votes
4answers
902 views

Is the principle of least action a boundary value or initial condition problem?

Here is a question that's been bothering me since I was a sophomore in university, and should have probably asked before graduating: In analytic (Lagrangian) mechanics, the derivation of the ...
16
votes
6answers
1k views

Why does a system try to minimize potential energy?

In mechanics problems, especially one-dimensional ones, we talk about how a particle goes in a direction to minimize potential energy. This is easy to see when we use cartesian coordinates: For ...
16
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3answers
2k views
16
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3answers
1k views

How general is the Lagrangian quantization approach to field theory?

It is an usual practice that any quantum field theory starts with a suitable Lagrangian density. It has been proved enormously successful. I understand, it automatically ensures valuable symmetries of ...
14
votes
6answers
2k views

What is the physical meaning of the action in Lagrangian mechanics?

The action is defined as $S = \int_{t_1}^{t_2}L \, dt$ where $L$ is Lagrangian. I know that using Euler-Lagrange equation, all sorts of formula can be derived, but I remain unsure of the physical ...
14
votes
3answers
3k views

Physical meaning of Legendre transformation

I would like to know the physical meaning of the Legendre transformation, if there is any? I've used it in thermodynamics and classical mechanics and it seemed only a change of coordinates?
14
votes
5answers
2k views

Why does no physical energy-momentum tensor exist for the gravitational field?

Starting with the Einstein-Hilbert Lagrangian $$ L_{EH} = -\frac{1}{2}(R + 2\Lambda)$$ one can formally calculate a gravitational energy-momentum tensor $$ T_{EH}^{\mu\nu} = -2 \frac{\delta ...
14
votes
2answers
3k views

Deriving the Lagrangian for a free particle

I'm a newbie in physics. Sorry, if the following questions are dumb. I began reading "Mechanics" by Landau and Lifshitz recently and hit a few roadblocks right away. Proving that a free particle ...
14
votes
4answers
503 views

The Lagrangian as a metric

My question is, can the (classical) Lagrangian be thought of as a metric? That is, is there a meaningful sense in which we can think of the least-action path from the initial to the final ...
13
votes
4answers
4k views

The meaning of action

The action $$S=\int L \;\mathrm{d}t$$ is an important physical quantity. But can it be understood more intuitively? The Hamiltonian corresponds to the energy, whereas the action has dimension of ...
13
votes
4answers
498 views

Equivalence between Hamiltonian and Lagrangian Mechanics

I'm reading a proof about Langrangian => Hamiltonian and one part of it just doesn't make sense to me. The Lagrangian is written $L(q, \dot q, t)$, and is convex in $\dot q$, and then the Hamiltonian ...
13
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1answer
461 views

Lagrangian for Euler Equations in general relativity

The stress energy tensor for relativistic dust $$ T_{\mu\nu} = \rho v_\mu v_\nu $$ follows from the action $$ S_M = -\int \rho c \sqrt{v_\mu v^\mu} \sqrt{ -g } d^4 x = -\int c \sqrt{p_\mu ...
13
votes
2answers
303 views

Determine if Theory is Unitary from Lagrangian

Question: Given a quantum theory specified with a Lagrangian and the degrees of freedom to be varied, what is the procedure to determine if the theory is unitary or not? Concrete example to aid ...
12
votes
3answers
455 views

How are symmetries precisely defined?

How are symmetries precisely defined? In basic physics courses it is usual to see arguments on symmetry to derive some equations. This, however, is done in a kind of sloppy way: "we are calculating ...
12
votes
1answer
314 views

Is there some connection between the Virial theorem and a least action principle?

Both involve some 'averaging' over energies (kinetic and potential) and make some prediction about their mean values. As far as the least action principles, one could think of them as saying that the ...
12
votes
5answers
856 views

Making symmetry between E and B fields manifest in Lagrangian

Maxwell's equations are nearly symmetric between $E$ and $B$. If we add magnetic monopoles, or of course if we restrict ourselves to the sourceless case, then this symmetry is exact. This is not ...
12
votes
2answers
2k views

Are there examples in classical mechanics where D'Alembert's principle fails?

D'Alembert's principle suggests that the work done by the internal forces for a virtual displacement of a mechanical system in harmony with the constraints is zero. This is obviously true for the ...
12
votes
1answer
431 views

Physical Interpretation of EM Field Lagrangian

Using differential forms and their picture interpretations, I wonder if it's possible to give a nice geometric & physical motivation for the form of the Electromagnetic Lagrangian density? The ...
11
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9answers
4k views

Book about classical mechanics

I am looking for a book about "advanced" classical mechanics. By advanced I mean a book considering directly Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulation, and also providing a firm basis in the geometrical ...
11
votes
1answer
708 views

Do an action and its Euler-Lagrange equations have the same symmetries?

Assume a certain action $S$ with certain symmetries, from which according to the Lagrangian formalism, the equations of motion (EOM) of the system are the corresponding Euler-Lagrange equations. Can ...
11
votes
3answers
2k views

Galilean invariance of Lagrangian for non-relativistic free point particle?

In QFT, the Lagrangian density is explicitly constructed to be Lorentz-invariant from the beginning. However the Lagrangian $$L = \frac{1}{2} mv^2$$ for a non-relativistic free point particle is ...
11
votes
3answers
1k views

Why are they called “cyclic” coordinates?

In Lagrangian formalism, when $\frac{\partial L}{\partial q} = 0$, the coordinate $q$ is called cyclic and a corresponding conserved quantity exists. But why is it called cyclic?
11
votes
3answers
393 views

Motivation for Potentials

This is a hypothetical question about "pedagogy". Let's say I am trying to take someone who has just a very small amount of knowledge about Newtonian mechanics and convince them that the Lagrangian ...
11
votes
3answers
879 views

What exactly is a virtual displacement in classical mechanics?

I'm reading Goldstein's Classical Mechanics and he says the following: A virtual (infinitesimal) displacement of a system refers to a change in the configuration of the system as the result of any ...
11
votes
1answer
660 views

What is the historical origin of the term action

In Physics ordinary terms often acquire a strange meaning, action is one of them. Most people I talk to about the term action just respond with "its dimension is energy*time". But what is its ...
11
votes
1answer
394 views

What makes a Lagrangian a Lagrangian?

I just wanted to know what the characteristic property of a Lagrangian is? How do you see without referring to Newtonian Mechanics that it has to be $L=T-V$? People constructed a Lagrangian in ...
10
votes
4answers
4k views

Derivation of Maxwell's equations from field tensor lagrangian

I've started reading Peskin and Schroeder on my own time, and I'm a bit confused about how to obtain Maxwell's equations from the (source-free) lagrangian density $L = ...
10
votes
5answers
582 views

Form of the Classical EM Lagrangian

So I know that for an electromagnetic field in a vacuum the Lagrangian is $\mathcal L=-\frac 1 4 F^{\mu\nu} F_{\mu\nu}$, the standard model tells me this. What I want to know is if there is an ...
10
votes
4answers
2k views

Deriving Newton's Third Law from homogeneity of Space

I am following the first volume of the course of theoretical physics by Landau. So, whatever I say below mainly talks regarding the first 2 chapters of Landau and the approach of deriving Newton's ...
10
votes
2answers
390 views

Lagrangian Mechanics - Commutativity Rule $\frac{d}{dt}\delta q=\delta \frac{dq}{dt} $

I am reading about Lagrangian mechanics. At some point the difference between the temporal derivative of a variation and variation of the temporal derivative is discussed. The fact that the two are ...
10
votes
5answers
1k views

Quantum mechanics as classical field theory

Can we view the normal, non-relativistic quantum mechanics as a classical fields? I know, that one can derive the Schrödinger equation from the Lagrangian density $${\cal L} ~=~ \frac{i\hbar}{2} ...
10
votes
3answers
504 views

Equation of motion of a photon in a given metric

I have this metric: $$ds^2=-dt^2+e^tdx^2$$ and I want to find the equation of motion (of x). for that i thought I have two options: using E.L. with the Lagrangian: $L=-\dot t ^2+e^t\dot x ^2 $. ...
10
votes
3answers
486 views

No closed orbits for a Newtonian gravitational field in 4 spatial dimensions

We are supposed to show that orbits in 4D are not closed. Therefore I derived a Lagrangian in hyperspherical coordinates $$L=\frac{m}{2}(\dot{r}^2+\sin^2(\gamma)(\sin^2(\theta)r^2 \dot{\phi}^2+r^2 ...
10
votes
1answer
375 views

What's the physical intuition for symplectic structures?

I always thought about symplectic forms as elements of areas in little subspaces because of the Darboux theorem, however I cannot get the physical intuition for it and for the hamiltonian vector ...
10
votes
1answer
452 views

About turbulence modeling

I have some questions about this paper: Lagrangian/Hamiltonian formalism for description of Navier-Stokes fluids. R. J. Becker. Phys. Rev. Lett. 58 no. 14 (1987), pp. 1419-1422. After reading ...
9
votes
2answers
365 views

How do I read the simple, but contradictory, Lagrangian ($\mathcal{L} = x + v$)?

I understand the lagrangian formulation of classical mechanics, to a degree. I can derive the Euler-Lagrange equations from the "least" action principle, and equivalently can determine the equations ...
9
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2answers
1k views

Hamilton-Jacobi Equation

In the Hamilton-Jacobi equation, we take the partial time derivative of the action. But the action comes from integrating the Lagrangian over time, so time seems to just be a dummy variable here and ...