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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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 ...
28
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7answers
6k 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
votes
6answers
5k 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 ...
18
votes
4answers
924 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 ...
14
votes
4answers
549 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 ...
12
votes
1answer
318 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
1answer
451 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
votes
2answers
761 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 ...
11
votes
1answer
405 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 ...
11
votes
3answers
485 views

Is Einstein-Hilbert action the unique action whose variation gives Einstein's field equations?

I know that scaling the action with a non-zero multiplicative constant, or adding a total divergence term to the Lagrangian density do not change the Euler-Lagrange equations, cf. e.g. this ...
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
409 views

What is the best path for a given initial and final state?

I am trying to calculate an efficient acceleration curve given starting and final positions and velocities. I'm assuming no friction, and that the acceleration can be applied in any direction at any ...
10
votes
2answers
396 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
1answer
133 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 ...
9
votes
1answer
3k views

The Euler-Lagrange equation in special relativity

How can I derive the Euler-Lagrange equations valid in the field of special relativity? Specifically, consider a scalar field.
9
votes
1answer
414 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.
9
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 ...
9
votes
1answer
2k 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
4answers
652 views

D'Alembert's Principle: Necesssity of virtual displacements

Why is the D'Alembert's Principle $$\sum_{i} ( {F}_{i} - m_i \bf{a}_i )\cdot \delta \bf r_i = 0$$ stated in terms of "virtual" displacements instead of actual displacements? Why is it so necessary ...
8
votes
3answers
2k 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} + ...
8
votes
3answers
362 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 ...
8
votes
4answers
2k 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 ...
8
votes
2answers
185 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 ...
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 ?
7
votes
2answers
582 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') ...
7
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 ...
7
votes
1answer
137 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. ...
7
votes
1answer
294 views

Virial theorem and variational method: a question

I have an hydrogenic atom, knowing that its ground-state wavefunction has the standard form $$ \psi = A e^{-\beta r} $$ with $A = \frac{\beta^3}{\pi}$, I have to find the best value for $\beta$ ...
6
votes
3answers
1k 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
315 views

Finding 3-Sphere Christoffel connection coefficients using variational calculus, Sean Carrol problem

I have A 3-Sphere with coordinates $x^{\mu} = (\psi,\theta,\phi)$ and the following metric: \begin{equation} ds^2 = d\psi^2 + \text{sin}^2\psi(d\theta^2 + \text{sin}^2\theta d\phi^2) \end{equation} ...
6
votes
2answers
478 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 ...
6
votes
1answer
532 views

Easy proof of Noether's theorem? [duplicate]

Where could I find an easy proof of Noether's theorem? I mean I know that the variation must be $ 0=\delta S = (EULER-LAGRANGE)+ (CONSERVED\, \, \, CURRENT) $ for the case of a particle $q(t)$. I ...
6
votes
1answer
123 views

Intuition for actions written as integrals over spacetime

Right now I'm simply looking for an intuitive explaination of actions that integrate over a 4-volume element, $d^4x$ rather than a parameter say $\lambda$. More specifically I'm well versed in action ...
6
votes
3answers
453 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 ...
6
votes
1answer
359 views

English translation of Helmholtz' paper: “On the Physical Significance of the Principle of Least Action”

I am asking about an English translation of a Helmholtz paper: Ueber die physikalische Bedeutung des Princips der kleinsten Wirkung. Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik (Crelle's ...
6
votes
2answers
686 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 ...
6
votes
4answers
591 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 ...
5
votes
5answers
4k 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 ?
5
votes
2answers
522 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 ...
5
votes
1answer
231 views

Why are D'Alembert's Principle and the Principle of Least Action Related?

Why do we get the same differential equations from both principles? Surely there is a fundamental connection between them? When written out, the two seem to have nothing in common. $$\sum _i ( ...
5
votes
2answers
200 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
1answer
100 views

Proca Lagrangian manipulation

How can I show that the Lagrangian density $$\mathcal{L} = -\frac{1}{2}\partial_\alpha \varphi_\beta \partial^\alpha \varphi^\beta + \frac{1}{2} \partial_\alpha \varphi^\alpha \partial_\beta ...
5
votes
1answer
167 views

Variational calculus problem

I've been wondering lately about a problem that comes from, among other places, an old video game "Lunar Lander". In the game there is a spaceship that has a small tank of fuel, and you're supposed to ...
5
votes
1answer
149 views

How Hamilton's Principle was found?

Hamilton's principle states that the actual path a particle follows from points $p_1$ and $p_2$ in the configuration space between times $t_1$ and $t_2$ is such that the integral $$S = ...
5
votes
1answer
416 views

What is Maupertuis' principle good for?

The strength of Hamilton's principle is obvious to me and I see the advantage. Now, for conservative systems we also have Maupertuis' principle that says: $$ \delta \int p dq =0$$ and I am not sure ...
5
votes
1answer
179 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
288 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
844 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 ...
5
votes
1answer
71 views

Least action principle — numerical simulation strangeness

I'm trying to get some experience with the least action principle, and for this I chose a simple 1-dimensional problem of a particle moving in some field. The least action principle would then look ...