any of several principles that find the physical trajectory of a system by minimizing or maximizing some value computed over the proposed path (for instance geometric optics can be reproduced by insisting on a minimum time principle).

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6
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3answers
984 views

Noether's current expression in Peskin and Schroeder

In the second chapter of Peskin and Schroeder, An Introduction to Quantum Field Theory, it is said that the action is invariant if the Lagrangian density changes by a four-divergence. But if we ...
4
votes
3answers
220 views

Virtual differentials approach to Euler-Lagrange equation - necessary?

I'm currently teaching myself intermediate mechanics & am really struggling with the d'Alembert-based virtual differentials derivation for the Euler-Lagrange equation. The whole notion of, and ...
0
votes
0answers
38 views

Suggestions for a physics oriented book on Variational Calculus [duplicate]

I would like to buy a good book on Variational Calculus. Most of the books that I find seem to be rather formal in a mathematical sense, which is not necessarily bad, but makes the studying a bit ...
2
votes
3answers
143 views

Formalities of the variational integral

Usually when the variational principle is introduced one starts by defining a Lagrangian density $${\mathscr L}(x,\phi(x),\partial_{\mu}\phi(x))$$ and an action $$S[\phi]=\int_R d(x) {\mathscr L}$$ ...
6
votes
4answers
502 views

Least-action classical electrodynamics without potentials

Is it possible to formulate classical electrodynamics (in the sense of deriving Maxwell's equations) from a least-action principle, without the use of potentials? That is, is there a lagrangian which ...
3
votes
2answers
145 views

How is the physical Lagrangian related to the constrained minimization Lagrangian?

If we're minimizing an energy $V(q)$ subject to constraints $C(q) = 0$, the Lagrangian is $$L = V(q) + \lambda C(q).$$ I have fairly solid intuition for this Lagrangian, namely that the energy ...
2
votes
0answers
350 views

Prove that the first order perturbation theory overestimates fundamental state [closed]

This was a question on my exam and I don't know how to solve it. Use the variational principle to prove that the first order perturbation theory always overestimates the energy of the fundamental ...
2
votes
1answer
392 views

Electrodynamics and the Lagrangian density

Could anyone tell me what equations can I obtain from the Lagrangian density $${\cal L}(\phi,\,\,\phi_{,i},\,\,A_i, \dot A_i,\,\,A_{i,j})~=~\frac{1}{2}|\dot A+\nabla\phi|^2-\frac{1}{2}|\nabla \times ...
8
votes
3answers
1k views

Entropy and the principle of least action

Is there any link between the law of maximum entropy and the principle of least action. Is it possible to derive one from the other ?
5
votes
1answer
364 views

Finding interplanetary flight trajectory using calculus of variations?

Consider two orbits $x(t),\space y(t)$ representing the origin and destination for some spaceflight of interest. These could be, for example, cycloids describing LEO and another orbit circling, say, ...
1
vote
0answers
172 views

Are there any good reading materials for variational approach in many-body theory? [closed]

I need something like a summary of existing results, including the treatment of BCS Hamiltonian and Hubbard model. Auerbach's book is a good one but I still hope to get more comprehensive review. My ...
1
vote
1answer
282 views

What's the motivation behind the action principle? [closed]

What's the motivation behind the action principle? Why does the action principle lead to Newtonian law? If Newton's law of motion is more fundamental so why doesn't one derive Lagrangians and ...
4
votes
3answers
937 views

What is the meaning of the word “Principle” in Physics?

What is the meaning of the word principle in Physics? For example in the "action principle". Is it an action law, an action equation, or an unproved assumption? (I have an idea what an action is). ...
2
votes
1answer
278 views

Find the action from given equations of motion

Is there a systematic procedure to generally obtain an appropriate action that corresponds to any given equations of motion (if I know that it exists)?
1
vote
1answer
343 views

Questions regarding solving the Brachistochrone problem using Lagrangian

brachistochrone problem: Suppose that there is a rollercoaster. There is point 1 ($0,0$) and point 2 ($x_2, y_2)$. Point 1 is at the higher place when compared to the point 2, so the rollercoaster ...
2
votes
3answers
360 views

Can the Euler-Lagrange equations be derived from an infinitesimal Principle of Least Action?

The Euler-Lagrange equations can be derived from the Principle of Least Action using integration by parts and the fact that the variation is zero at the end points. This has a mystical air about it, ...
1
vote
2answers
293 views

Can cos(x) or sin(x) be the function of stationary action?

Is there a way to express $\cos(x(t))$ (or $\sin(x(t))$) as the solution to the Euler-Lagrange equation, in other words is there a sense in which this function is the path of stationary action?
3
votes
3answers
280 views

Is the Lagrangian “math” or “science”?

I've seen in class that we can get from Lagrangian to derive equations of motion (I know its used elsewhere in physics, but I haven't seen it yet). It's not clear to me whether the Lagrangian itself ...
18
votes
4answers
798 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
247 views

What shape of track minimizes the time a ball takes between start and stop points of equal height?

I was at my son's high school "open house" and the physics teacher did a demo with two curtain rail tracks and two ball bearings. One track was straight and on a slight slope. The beginning and end ...
3
votes
1answer
510 views

Gauss law in classical U(1) gauge theory

I can see that $a_{0}$ is not an independent field and Gauss law is a constraint on the theory arising from field equations. But, I don't get the geometrical picture. Let $A$ be the space of all ...
5
votes
3answers
637 views

Is it safe to ignore derivatives of velocity w.r.t. position and vice versa?

In a certain textbook a function is given as: $$f=f(x(t))$$ And then this is differentiated w.r.t. $t$ to get: $$f_t=\dot{x}f_x$$ (Where the notation $f_u=df/du$, $f_{uu}=d^2f/du^2$, etc.) This ...
2
votes
2answers
513 views

What is the significance of action?

What is the physical interpretation of $$ \int_{t_1}^{t_2} (T -V) dt $$ where, $T$ is Kinetic Energy and $V$ is potential energy. How does it give trajectory?
12
votes
1answer
300 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 ...
5
votes
5answers
3k views

How to bend light?

As we all know that light travels in rectilinear motion. But can we bend light in parabolic path? If not practically then is it possible in paper? Has anyone succeeded in doing that practically ?
4
votes
1answer
145 views

Variational wavefunctions and “spread” of potential in quantum mechanics

A particle in a box has an energy that decreases with the size of the box. In the general case, it is often said that a variational solution for a "narrow and deep" potential is higher in energy than ...
3
votes
1answer
284 views

Brachistochrone problem for 3 points

I wonder how I can solve the Brachistochrone problem for 3 points? The matter starts from point A that is the highest point and it must pass from B and must finish with point C. (No any friction in ...
5
votes
2answers
472 views

Is it circular reasoning to derive Newton's laws from action minimization?

Usually, a typical example of the use of the action principle that I've read a lot is the derivation of Newton's equation (generalized to coordinate $q(t)$). However, in the classical mechanics ...
7
votes
4answers
1k views

Why can't any term which is added to the Lagrangian be written as a total derivative (or divergence)?

All right, I know there must be an elementary proof of this, but I am not sure why I never came across it before. Adding a total time derivative to the Lagrangian (or a 4D divergence of some 4 ...
4
votes
2answers
361 views

How do I show that there exists variational/action principle for a given classical system?

We see variational principles coming into play in different places such as Classical Mechanics (Hamilton's principle which gives rise to the Euler-Lagrange equations), Optics (in the form of Fermat's ...
3
votes
1answer
240 views

Differentiation of the action functional

In the QFT book by Itzykson and Zuber, the variation of the action functional $I=\int_{t_1}^{t_2}dtL$ is written as: $$\delta I=\int_{t_1}^{t_2}dt\frac{\delta I}{\delta q(t)}\delta q(t)$$ How is ...
8
votes
2answers
166 views

More general invariance of the action functional

I will formulate my question in the classical case, where things are simplest. Usually when one discusses a continuous symmetry of a theory, one means a one-parameter group of diffeomorphisms of the ...
4
votes
1answer
472 views

How do we know the geodesic is a minimum?

The geodesic equation is derived from the Euler-Lagrange equation, which (as I understand it) is a necessary but not sufficient condition to ensure that the geodesic is a minimum. The introductory GR ...
3
votes
2answers
220 views

Using the area element in derivation of geodesic

In the derivation of the geodesic, one starts with the integral of the line element (arclength): $$L(C)=\int_{\tau_1}^{\tau_2}d\tau\sqrt{g_{\mu \nu}\dot{x}^{\mu} \dot{x}^{\nu}}$$ The integrand is ...
4
votes
1answer
794 views

Lagrangian for Relativistic Dust derivation questions

In most GR textbooks, one derives the stress energy tensor for relativistic dust: $$ T_{\mu\nu} = \rho v_\mu v_\nu $$ And then one puts this on the right hand side of the Einstein's equations. I ...
3
votes
2answers
397 views

What are some interesting calculus of variation problems? [closed]

That I could create as a classical mechanics class project? Other than the classical examples that we see in textbooks (catenary, brachistochrone, Fermat, etc..)
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 ...
2
votes
1answer
508 views

Snell's Law of Refraction

I was told that "Snell's law of refraction implies that a light ray in an isotropic medium travels from point a to point b in stationary time." Why is this true? Thanks.
3
votes
1answer
296 views

What variables does the action $S$ depend on?

Action is defined as, $$S ~=~ \int L(q, q', t) dt,$$ but my question is what variables does $S$ depend on? Is $S = S(q, t)$ or $S = S(q, q', t)$ where $q' := \frac{dq}{dt}$? In ...
4
votes
1answer
430 views

Fluid Mechanics from a variational principle

It is posible to define a good variational principle to describe Fluid Mechanics? if so, wath is the correct tratement of the issue. I guess something like: $I=\int d^4x (\frac{1}{2}\rho v^2-P-\rho g ...
6
votes
2answers
1k views

Hydrostatic friction: why do water droplets stay at rest on an inclined glass surface?

Tjis is a non-expert question on a (seemingly simple) text-book topic. The question is about "hydrostatic friction", defined as follows. Consider a drop of water resting on a flat surface. If the ...
4
votes
2answers
371 views

Must the action be a Lorentz scalar?

Page 580, Chapter 12 in Jackson's 3rd edition text carries the statement: From the first postulate of special relativity the action integral must be a Lorentz scalar because the equations of ...
1
vote
1answer
730 views

2nd order variation of Hilbert-Einstein action + Gibbons-Hawking-York boundary term

While the first order metric variation of Hilbert-Einstein action plus Gibbons-Hawking-York boundary term is well-known and takes the form: $\delta S_{HE}+\delta S_{GHY}=-\frac{1}{16\pi G}\int d^3x ...
8
votes
1answer
3k views

Explicit Variation of Gibbons-Hawking-York Boundary Term

Are there any references that present the explicit variation of the Hilbert-Einstein action plus the Hawking-Gibbons-York boundary term, and demonstrate the cancellation of the normal derivatives of ...
4
votes
3answers
755 views

Hanging chain in a planet's gravitational field

The curve for a chain hanging between two poles in a uniform gravitational field is known as the catenary. Is there known an expression for the curve of a hanging chain on a planet of mass $M$ which ...
2
votes
1answer
172 views

Vanishing of field strength in gauged WZW model

Consider gWZW action $S_{gWZW}(g,A)=S_{WZW}(g)+S_{gauge}(g,A)$, where $S_{WZW}$ is usual WZW action being sum of sigma model and WZ terms for field $g$ taking values in group $G$ and $S_{gauge}=\int ...
6
votes
2answers
647 views

How does one formulate boundary conditions in a variational approach?

Many equations of motion can be derived from a variational principle. To take a simple example, the wave equation $h^{ij} \partial_i \partial_j u = 0$ (where $h^{ij}$ is the Minkowski metric ...
11
votes
2answers
744 views

Treatment of boundary terms when applying the variational principle

One of the main sources of subtlety in the AdS/CFT correspondence is the role played by boundary terms in the action. For example, for a scalar field in AdS there is range of masses just above the ...
22
votes
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 ...
2
votes
1answer
635 views

Does Action in Classical Mechanics have a Interpretation? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Hamilton's Principle The Lagrangian formulation of Classical Mechanics seem to suggest strongly that "action" is more than a mathematical trick. I suspect strongly ...