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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38
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6answers
8k 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 ...
43
votes
6answers
5k 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 ...
37
votes
7answers
11k 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 ...
7
votes
2answers
774 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 ...
32
votes
5answers
5k 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 ...
25
votes
4answers
1k 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 ...
2
votes
3answers
1k views

Does a four-divergence extra term in a Lagrangian density matter to the field equations?

Greiner in his book "Field Quantization" page 173, eq.(7.11) did this calculation: ${\mathcal L}^\prime=-\frac{1}{2}\partial_\mu A_\nu\partial^\mu A^\nu+\frac{1}{2}\partial_\mu A_\nu\partial^\nu ...
4
votes
3answers
689 views

Type of stationary point in Hamilton's principle

In this question it is discussed why by Hamilton's principle the action integral must be stationary. Most examples deal with the case that the action integral is minimal: this makes sense - we all ...
3
votes
1answer
580 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 ...
10
votes
3answers
990 views

Confusion regarding the principle of least action in Landau's “The Classical Theory of Fields”

Edit: The previous title didn't really ask the same thing as the question (sorry about that), so I've changed it. To clarify, I understand that the action isn't always a minimum. My questions are in ...
12
votes
2answers
267 views

Is it possible to prove that planets should be approximately spherical using the calculus of variations?

Is it possible to use the Lagrangian formalism involving physical terms to answer the question of why all planets are approximately spherical? Lets assume that a planet is 'born' when lots of ...
5
votes
2answers
1k views

Geodesics equations via variational principle

I would like to recover the (timelike) geodesics equations via the variational principle of the following action: $$ \mathcal{S}[x] = -m \int d\tau = -m \int \sqrt{-g_{\mu\nu}\,dx^{\mu}\,dx^{\nu}} $$ ...
11
votes
3answers
3k 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 ...
15
votes
4answers
11k 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 = ...
16
votes
2answers
564 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 ...
4
votes
4answers
575 views

Geodesic Equation from variation: Is the squared lagrangian equivalent?

It is well known that geodesics on some manifold $M$, covered by some coordinates ${x_\mu}$, say with a Riemannian metric can be obtained by an action principle . Let $C$ be curve $\mathbb{R} \to M$, ...
6
votes
4answers
995 views

Lagrangian for relativistic massless point particle

For relativistic massive particle, the action is $$S ~=~ -m_0 \int ds ~=~ -m_0 \int d\lambda ~\sqrt{ g_{\mu\nu} \dot{x}^{\mu}\dot{x}^{\nu}} ~=~ \int d\lambda \ L,$$ where $ds$ is the proper time of ...
8
votes
4answers
3k 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
1answer
628 views

Principle of Least Action [duplicate]

Is the principle of least action actually a principle of least action or just one of stationary action? I think I read in Landau/Lifschitz that there are some examples where the action of an actual ...
12
votes
2answers
4k 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 ...
23
votes
4answers
1k 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
749 views

When is the principle of stationary action not the principle of least action?

I've only had a very brief introduction to Lagrangian mechanics. In a physics course I took last year, we briefly covered the principle of stationary action --- we looked at it, derived some equations ...
13
votes
5answers
727 views

When/why does the principle of least action plus boundary conditions not uniquely specify a path?

A few months ago I was telling high school students about Fermat's principle. You can use it to show that light reflects off a surface at equal angles. To set it up, you put in boundary conditions, ...
8
votes
2answers
431 views

Several stationary points of the action functional

In QFT the principle of stationary action states that we choose fields that will make the action stationary but what if the action has many stationary points (for a fixed choice of boundary ...
1
vote
2answers
403 views

Derrick’s theorem

Consider a theory in $D$ spatial dimensions involving one or more scalar fields $\phi_a$, with a Lagrangian density of the form $$L= \frac{1}{2} G_{ab}(\phi) \partial_\mu \phi_a \partial^\mu \phi_b- ...
5
votes
5answers
7k 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
3answers
4k 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). ...
12
votes
1answer
687 views

Why is it so coincident that Palatini variation of Einstein-Hilbert action will obtain an equation that connection is Levi-Civita connection?

There are two ways to do the variation of Einstein-Hilbert action. First one is Einstein formalism which takes only metric independent. After variation of action, we get the Einstein field equation. ...
12
votes
1answer
3k views

Variational Derivation of Schrodinger Equation

In reading Weinstock's Calculus of Variations, on pages 261 - 262 he explains how Schrodinger apparently first derived the Schrodinger equation from variational principles. Unfortunately I don't ...
9
votes
3answers
3k views

Maxwells Equation from Electromagnetic Lagrangian

In Heaviside-Lorentz units the Maxwell's equations are: $$\nabla \cdot \vec{E} = \rho $$ $$ \nabla \times \vec{B} - \frac{\partial \vec{E}}{\partial t} = \vec{J}$$ $$ \nabla \times \vec{E} + ...
5
votes
2answers
493 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
611 views

Functional Derivative in the Linear Sigma Model

In the linear sigma model, the Lagrangian is given by $$ \mathcal{L} = \frac{1}{2}\sum_{i=1}^{N} \left(\partial_\mu\phi^i\right)\left(\partial^\mu\phi^i\right) ...
5
votes
2answers
797 views

How does light know which path is fastest?

We know from Fermat's principle of least time that light follows the fastest path. But how does light know which path is the fastest?
4
votes
1answer
516 views

How to formulate variational principles (Lagrangian/Hamiltonian) for nonlinear, dissipative or initial value problems?

Although this questions is very much math related, I posted it in Physics since it is related to variational (Lagrangian/Hamiltonian) principles for dynamical systems. If I should migrate this ...
3
votes
1answer
184 views

Use of the term first order dependency

In a question I am doing it says: Show explicitly that the function $$y(t)=\frac{-gt^2}{2}+\epsilon t(t-1)$$ yields an action that has no first order dependency on $\epsilon$. Also my textbook ...
2
votes
1answer
522 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 ...
3
votes
3answers
366 views

Higher order derivatives - Equation of motion

One possible starting point to create a physical theory is the Lagrangian $L$. There we assume that the variation of the action $\delta S = \delta \int_{-\infty}^\infty dt \ L = 0$. In classical ...
2
votes
1answer
711 views

Proof that total derivative is the only function that can be added to Lagrangian without changing the eom

So I was reading this: Invariance of Lagrange on addition of total time derivative of a function of coordiantes and time and while the answers for the first question are good, nobody gave much ...
2
votes
1answer
180 views

From Euler-Lagrange equation to non affine geodesic equation

I have some problems to demonstrate the non affine geodesic equation from Euler-Lagrange's equations. I start defining the Lagrangian $L=\sqrt f$, but then I'm not able to find the Christoffel ...
16
votes
4answers
2k 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 ?
4
votes
1answer
966 views

Variation of modified Einstein Hilbert Action

In general relativity one can derive the Einstein Field Equations by the principle of least action through variations with respect to the inverse of the metric tensor. In some modified theories of ...
9
votes
3answers
1k views

Derivation of the Polyakov Action

As is usually done when first presenting string theory, the Nambu-Goto Action, $$ S_{\text{NG}}:=-T\int d\tau d\sigma \sqrt{-g} $$ ($g:=\det (g_{\alpha \beta})$ is the induced metric on the ...
9
votes
1answer
760 views

Recovering all of Maxwell's equations from the variational principle

Whether you can get the first couple of Maxwell equations from a variational principle? In the second volume of the Landau theoretical physics said that it is impossible.
6
votes
1answer
361 views

How do you determine the Lagrangian? [duplicate]

I have always been puzzled by how do you arrive at Lagrangians? That is, how do you know that the functional you need to get Newton's equations is $$L = T-V(x)~?$$ Do you derive the Lagrangian ...
5
votes
1answer
269 views

What is the action for an electromagnetic field if including magnetic charge

Recently, I try to write an action of an electromagnetic field with magnetic charge and quantize it. But it seems not as easy as it seems to be. Does anyone know anything or think of anything like ...
2
votes
1answer
921 views

Retrieving Maxwell's equations from the minimum action principle

I'm currently working at the start of Alexei Tsvelik's book Quantum Field Theory in Condensed Matter Physics. I'm kinda stumped on a few essential steps. Starting with the action: $$S = \int dt \int ...
8
votes
2answers
1k views

Functional derivative in Lagrangian field theory

The following functional derivative holds: \begin{align} \frac{\delta q(t)}{\delta q(t')} ~=~ \delta(t-t') \end{align} and \begin{align} \frac{\delta \dot{q}(t)}{\delta q(t')} ~=~ \delta'(t-t') ...
6
votes
2answers
415 views

When can we add a total time derivative of $f(q, \dot{q}, t)$ to a Lagrangian?

The other day, I was listening to this lecture on the Lagrangian for a charged particle in an electromagnetic field, and at one point in the video, the lecturer mentions that we can add any total time ...
6
votes
3answers
594 views

Principle of Least Action via Finite-Difference Method

I am reading Gelfand's Calculus of Variations & mathematically everything makes sense to me, it makes perfect sense to me to set up the mathematics of extremization of functionals & show that ...
5
votes
1answer
203 views

How is Fermat's least time principle proven?

How is Fermat's least time principle proven? Or it is what usually is observed and is basis for the theories?