Authors: Chad R. Galley
Date: 9 Oct 2012
Abstract: Hamilton's principle of stationary action lies at the foundation of theoretical physics and is applied in many other disciplines from pure mathematics to economics. Despite its utility, Hamilton's principle has a subtle pitfall that often goes unnoticed in physics: it is formulated as a boundary value problem in time but is used to derive equations of motion that are solved with initial data. This subtlety can have undesirable effects. I present a formulation of Hamilton's principle that is compatible with initial value problems. Remarkably, this leads to a natural formulation for the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian dynamics of generic non-conservative systems, thereby filling a long-standing gap in classical mechanics. Thus dissipative effects, for example, can be studied with new tools that may have application in a variety of disciplines. The new formalism is demonstrated by two examples of non-conservative systems: an object moving in a fluid with viscous drag forces and a harmonic oscillator coupled to a dissipative environment.
© M. Vallisneri 2012 — last modified on 2010/01/29
Tantum in modicis, quantum in maximis