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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27
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7answers
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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 ...
25
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5answers
2k 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 ...
24
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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 ...
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 ...
18
votes
4answers
806 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
398 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
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1answer
302 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
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1answer
397 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
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 ...
11
votes
3answers
431 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
2answers
368 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 ...
9
votes
5answers
333 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 ...
9
votes
1answer
1k 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
1answer
124 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
351 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 ...
8
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.
8
votes
3answers
264 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
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 ...
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 ...
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 ?
8
votes
4answers
516 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 ...
7
votes
1answer
317 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.
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 ...
7
votes
1answer
257 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

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} + ...
6
votes
4answers
3k 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 = ...
6
votes
3answers
988 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
395 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
2answers
445 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
1answer
412 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
115 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
408 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
341 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
649 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
511 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 ...
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 ...
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 ?
5
votes
2answers
474 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
143 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
126 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
93 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
344 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
158 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
250 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
648 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
369 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, ...
5
votes
0answers
53 views

BTZ Black Hole Central Charge and Conformal Weight

I have been trying to reproduce a calculation (equation 4.12) in this paper http://arxiv.org/pdf/1107.2678v1.pdf by Carlip reviewing the derivation of the effective central charge of the BTZ Black ...
4
votes
1answer
476 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 ...
4
votes
3answers
757 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 ...
4
votes
2answers
199 views

Geodesics equations via variational principle

I would like to recover the (timelike) geodesics equations via the variational principle of the following action: $$ \mathcal{S}[x] = -m \int d\tau = -m \int \sqrt{-g_{\mu\nu}\,dx^{\mu}\,dx^{\nu}} $$ ...