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 explanation of the Lagrangian formulation of mechanics you'd give to someone who just finished a semester of college physics.
Things I'm hoping to have explained to me:
- What's the overall difference in layman's terms? From what I've read so far, it sounds like Newtonian mechanics takes a more local "cause-and-effect"/"apply a force, get a reaction" view, while Lagrangian mechanics takes a more global "minimize this quantity" view. Or, to put it more axiomatically, Newtonian mechanics starts with Newton's three laws of motion, while Lagrangian mechanics starts with the Principle of Least Action.
- How do the approaches differ mathematically/when you're trying to solve a problem? Kind of similar to above, I'm guessing that Newtonian solutions start with drawing a bunch of force vectors, while Lagrangian solutions start with defining some function (calculating the Lagrangian...?) you want to minimize, but I really have no idea.
- What are the pros/cons of each approach? What questions are more naturally solved in each? For example, I believe Fermat's Principle of Least Time is something that's very naturally explained in Lagrangian mechanics ("minimize the time it takes to get between these two points"), but more difficult to explain in Newtonian mechanics since it requires knowing your endpoint.