I try to understand constructing of Hamiltonian mechanics with constraints. I decided to start with the simple case: free relativistic particle. I've constructed hamiltonian with constraint:

$$S=-m\int d\tau \sqrt{\dot x_{\nu}\dot x^{\nu}}.$$

Here $\phi=p_{\mu}p^{\mu}-m^2=0$ $-$ first class constraint.

Then $$H=H_{0}+\lambda \phi=\lambda \phi.$$

So, I want to show that I can obtain from this Hamiltonian the same equation of motion, as obtained from Lagrangian.

But the problem is that I'm not sure what to do with $\lambda=\lambda(q,p)$. I tried the following thing:

$$\dot x_{\mu}=\{x_{\mu},\lambda \phi\}=\{x_{\mu},\lambda p^2\}-m^2\{x_{\mu},\lambda\}=\lambda\{x_{\mu},p^2\}+p^2\{x_{\mu},\lambda\}-m^2\{x_{\mu},\lambda\}$$$$=2\lambda \eta_{\mu b} p^b+p^2\{x_{\mu},\lambda\}-m^2\{x_{\mu},\lambda\}=2\lambda \eta_{\mu b} p^b+p^2\frac{\partial \lambda}{\partial p^{\mu}}-m^2\frac{\partial \lambda}{\partial p^{\mu}},$$

$$\dot \lambda=\{\lambda, \lambda \phi \}=\{\lambda,\lambda p^2\}-m^2\{\lambda,\lambda\}=\lambda\{\lambda,p^2\}+p^2\{\lambda,p^2\}=2\lambda\eta_{ak}p^{a}\frac{\partial \lambda}{\partial x^{k}},$$

$$\dot p_{\mu}=\{p_{\mu},\lambda p^{2}-m^2\lambda \}=p^{2}\{p_{\mu},\lambda\}-m^2\{p_{\mu},\lambda\}=-p^{2}\frac{\partial \lambda}{\partial x^{\mu}}+m^2\frac{\partial \lambda}{\partial x^{\mu}}.$$

If we recall that $p^2-m^2=0$, then we get from the third equation: $\dot p=0$, and from the first: $$\dot x_{\mu}=2\lambda\eta_{ak}p^{a}.$$

So we have

  1. $\dot x_{\mu}=2\lambda\eta_{\mu b}p^{b}.$

  2. $\dot \lambda=2\lambda\eta_{ak}p^{a}\frac{\partial \lambda}{\partial x^{k}}.$

  3. $\dot p=0.$

But I don't know what to do next. Can you help me?


2 Answers 2

  1. We cannot resist the temptation to generalize the background spacetime metric from the Minkowski metric $\eta_{\mu\nu}$ to a general curved spacetime metric $g_{\mu\nu}(x)$. We use the sign convention $(-,+,+,+)$.

  2. Let us parametrize the point particle by an arbitrary world-line parameter $\tau$ (which does not have to be the proper time).

  3. The Lagrange multiplier $\lambda=\lambda(\tau)$ (which OP mentions) depends on $\tau$, but it does not depend on the canonical variables $x^{\mu}$ and $p_{\mu}$. Similarly, $x^{\mu}$ and $p_{\mu}$ depend only on $\tau$.

  4. The Lagrange multiplier $\lambda=\frac{e}{2}$ can be identified with an einbein$^1$ field $e$. See below where we outline a simple way to understand the appearance of the mass-shell constraint $$\begin{align}p^2+(mc)^2~\approx~&0, \cr p^2~:=~&g^{\mu\nu}(x)~ p_{\mu}p_{\nu}~<~0.\end{align}\tag{1}$$

  5. Start with the following square root Lagrangian for a massive relativistic point particle $$\begin{align}L_0~:=~& -mc\sqrt{-\dot{x}^2}, \cr \dot{x}^2~:=~&g_{\mu\nu}(x)~ \dot{x}^{\mu}\dot{x}^{\nu}~<~0, \end{align} \tag{2}$$ where dot means differentiation wrt. the world-line parameter $\tau$. Here the action is $S_0=\int \! d\tau~ L_0 $. The stationary paths includes the geodesics. More precisely, the Euler-Lagrange equations are the geodesics equations.

  6. Introduce an einbein field $e=e(\tau)$, and Lagrangian $$L~:=~\frac{\dot{x}^2}{2e}-\frac{e (mc)^2}{2}.\tag{3}$$ Contrary to the square root Lagrangian (2), this Lagrangian (3) also makes sense for massless point particles, cf. this Phys.SE post.

  7. Show that the Lagrangian momenta are $$p_{\mu}~=~ \frac{1}{e}g_{\mu\nu}(x)~\dot{x}^{\nu}.\tag{4}$$

  8. Show that the Euler-Lagrange equations of the Lagrangian (3) are $$\begin{align} \dot{p}_{\lambda}~\approx~&\frac{1}{2e}\partial_{\lambda}g_{\mu\nu}(x)~ \dot{x}^{\mu}\dot{x}^{\nu}, \cr \dot{x}^2+(emc)^2~\approx~&0.\end{align}\tag{5}$$

  9. Show that the Lagrangian (3) reduces to the square root Lagrangian (2) when integrating out the einbein field $$ e~>~0.\tag{6}$$ The inequality (6) is imposed to remove an unphysical negative branch, cf. my Phys.SE answer here.$^2$

  10. Perform a (singular) Legendre transformation$^3$ of the Lagrangian (3), and show that the corresponding Hamiltonian becomes $$H~=~ \frac{e}{2}(p^2+(mc)^2).\tag{7}$$ This Hamiltonian (7) is precisely of the form 'Lagrange multiplier times constraint' (1).

  11. Show that Hamilton's equations are precisely eqs. (4) and (5).

  12. The arbitrariness in the choice of the world-line parameter $\tau$ leads to reparametrization symmetry$^4$ $$\begin{align}\tau^{\prime}~=~&f(\tau), \qquad d\tau^{\prime} ~=~ d\tau\frac{df}{d\tau},\cr \dot{x}^{\mu}~=~&\dot{x}^{\prime\mu}\frac{df}{d\tau},\qquad e~=~e^{\prime}\frac{df}{d\tau},\cr p_{\mu}~=~&p_{\mu}^{\prime},\qquad L~=~L^{\prime}\frac{df}{d\tau},\cr H~=~&H^{\prime}\frac{df}{d\tau}\qquad S~=~S^{\prime},\end{align}\tag{8}$$ where $f=f(\tau)$ is a bijective function.

  13. Thus one may choose various gauges, e.g. $e={\rm const.}$


  1. J. Polchinski, String Theory, Vol. 1, Section 1.2.



$^1$ An einbein is a 1D version of a vielbein.

$^2$ As a consistency check of the sign (6), if we in the static gauge $$ix^0_M~=~x^0_E~=~c\tau_E~=~ic\tau_M\tag{9}$$ Wick rotate from Minkowski to Euclidean space, then in eq. (3), the Euclidean Lagrangian $L_E=-L_M>0$ becomes positive as it should.

$^3$ Strictly speaking, in the singular Legendre transformation, one should also introduce a momentum $$p_e~:=~\frac{\partial L}{\partial \dot{e}}~=~0\tag{10}$$ for the einbein $e$, which leads to a primary constraint (10), that immediately kills the momentum $p_e$ again. The corresponding secondary constraint is the mass-shell constraint (1). The corresponding tertiary constraint vanishes identically because of skewsymmetry of the Poisson bracket. Note that $\frac{\partial H}{\partial e}\approx 0$ becomes one of Hamilton's equations.

$^4$ Reparametrization is a passive transformation. For a related active transformation, see this Phys.SE post.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Excuse me, сan you clarify why $\lambda$ does not depend on the canonical variables, but only depends on time? I obtained hamiltonian which has the same form as your's $(6)$, but I thought that $\lambda=\lambda(x,p)$, while you said $\lambda=\lambda(t)$. Can you explain why? $\endgroup$
    – xxxxx
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 14:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @xxxxx : In point mechanics, all fundamental variables, such as, e.g., $x^{\mu}$, $p_{\mu}$, $\lambda$, etc, are just functions of "time", more precisely, the world-line parameter $\tau$. The fundamental variables may get interrelated after we apply eqs. of motion. $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, I will try to explain precisely. Thanks for your explanation, I have heard about it a bit. But i wanted to use standart Dirac's approach: I obtained momentum, then identified the type of constraint $\phi$, wrote $H=H_{0}+\lambda \phi$. As I remember, Dirac in his lectures said that $\lambda=\lambda(x,p)$. Then I wrote the Hamilton equations using poisson brackets and hoped to determine from them $\lambda$ and equations of motion, which should have been matched with those that was obtained from the Lagrange's equations. Why in this approach I can use $\lambda=\lambda(t)?$ $\endgroup$
    – xxxxx
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @xxxxx : Which lectures of Dirac? $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ Notes for later: 1. Wick rotation is a double Wick rotation (worldline + target space). 2. The 2 constraints (1) & (10) are first class, cf. Henneaux & Teitelboim, subsection 1.2.2. A linear combination of them generates the WL reparametrization symmetry, and another linear combination some other gauge symmetry. $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 19:08

From your equation (1) you can get

\begin{equation*} \sqrt{\dot x_\mu \dot x^\mu}= 2\lambda \sqrt{p_\mu p^\mu}=2\lambda m \end{equation*}

Combining this with your (1) you get

\begin{equation*} \frac{\dot x_\nu}{\sqrt{\dot x_\mu \dot x^\mu}}=\frac{ p_\nu}{m}. \end{equation*}

Finally, combining with your (2) you get

\begin{equation} \frac{d}{d\tau}\left(\frac{{\dot x_\nu}}{\sqrt{\dot x_\mu \dot x^\mu}}\right)=0, \end{equation}

which is exactly the equation you can find from the original Lagrangian


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