Last week I attended a conference at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, titled “Hopf Algebras in Kitaev’s Quantum Double Models: Mathematical Connections from Gauge Theory to Topological Quantum Computing and Categorical Quantum Mechanics”. My flight from LAX (Los Angeles) to YYZ (Pearson-Toronto) was delayed due to a maintenance issue, leaving me sitting in the plane on the tarmac for about an hour and a half before takeoff, right close to midnight. My flight to Oxford for the QPL conference (Quantum Physics and Logic) two years ago had a similarly long delay… Hmmmn. Despite this conference being fairly small—40 people on the list of participants—there were several people present that I met at that QPL conference (Ross Duncan, Stefano Gogioso, and Pawel Sobocinski), and a couple more that I met while I was a grad student at Riverside (Tobias Fritz and Derek Wise). It turns out Ross and Stefano are sharing an apartment on the floor above my room. Continue reading
On July 17 I gave a talk at Oxford in the Quantum Physics and Logic 2015 conference. It was recently released on the Oxford Quantum Group youtube channel. There were a bunch of other really cool talks that week. In my talk I refer to Pawel Sobocinski’s Graphical Linear Algebra tutorial on Monday and Tuesday, as well as Sean Tull’s talk on Categories of relations as models of quantum theory. There are benefits to speaking near the end of the conference.
Last time I mentioned looking at two functions, and that would ideally carry all the data needed to solve certain types of problems in classical mechanics. In the case of , I conjectured that equations analogous to the Lagrange equations ought to exist and hold, namely,
If we got lucky, we could recover and from those partials. While my approach on that front (prior to writing this post) has been… heuristic at best, I have found evidence that indicates with the coordinates transformed. At least in some situations. In my attempt to present this evidence yesterday afternoon without complete notes, I was unable to recapture this evidence on the fly. There is probably a good lesson in that, even if nothing else is gained from this exercise.
In the comments for Part 1, Dr. Baez suggested looking at the one-dimensional Lagrangian , for which the equations of motion are well known. Acting on this suggestion over the weekend, during a bout of insomnia while running a fever, I wove together the evidence I found so elusive yesterday with a skein of half-baked yarn. I probably could mix more metaphors in there if I tried, but the point is, the following paragraph may need to be taken with a liberal grain of salt.
At first I was uncertain how to approach an ‘easy’ , like a gravitational potential, so I took a simple spring potential, . So that’s already a point in favor of feverish-insomnia me over at-the-whiteboard-without-notes me, who couldn’t even write down the potential correctly. The equation of motion is , from which we can find . That can be simplified by choosing units where and a suitable time translation for which , but I did not originally make those simplifications, so I won’t here. , and . Noticing those two outside equalities, , and , along with the equation of motion itself, , right off the bat would have saved me from having to do any of these contortions in . There goes that point I gave to feverish-insomnia me.
In particular, can be rewritten by converting to via the equation of motion, and from there can be written in terms of , so can be written in terms of . Presto:
without any reference to . But what happens when we treat this as and write the Lagrange-analogy equations?
, because . Similarly,
and indeed, .
So that worked out for a simple spring. And it wasn’t just tenuous dreamstuff it was made of, after all. Bolstered by that success, I continued to the ‘simpler’ case of constant gravity. Here, , where is the acceleration due to gravity, and is constant. Again, I took the cheap route of writing things in terms of , but this time I was unable to fold all the s back into an expression with only as variables. So that’s the bad news for this one. The good news is that if you take and apply the partials, you do get again. Unfortunately, this requires more data than the original formulations, as the Hamiltonian approach gets by with a proper subset of those coordinate variables. I had thought I had gotten away from requiring , but looking at what I wrote in my delirious state, that really was a phantasm of night.
It would appear this pseudo Lagrangian approach can work for certain situations, most likely ones whose equations of motion are second order homogeneous differential equations such that can be solved for in terms of , which can be converted to . This seems likely at least for the given kinetic energy that was used here. A DHO (damped harmonic oscillator) might be worth looking at in the future, as those provide a generic linear second order homogeneous differential equation of motion.
Given fixed starting position and time, and , and fixed ending position and time, and , when a particle travels along a path of ‘least’ action, it obeys the Euler-Lagrange equations for some Lagrangian, :
which is a fancy way of saying the time derivative of (momentum) is equal to (force). The natural variables for this Lagrangian approach are (position) and (velocity), from which and are built.
Given the right conditions, we can recast this formulation into the Hamiltonian approach, where and are the natural variables, and several nice things happen. By ‘right conditions’ I mean conditions that would allow us to return to the Lagrangian approach. One of the nice things that happen is position and momentum can be seen to be conjugate to each other in a way that is impossible for position and velocity. Indeed, Hamilton’s equations illustrate this conjugacy nicely:
where is the total energy function.
If and are so similar, could we not recast this yet again, but in terms of and , much like the Lagrangian approach was in terms of and ? Or if we are feeling zealous with reformulations, why not consider mechanics recast in terms of and , like a derived Hamiltonian approach? These are some questions that occurred to me near the end of last quarter in Dr. Baez’ Classical Mechanics (Math 241) course, when he went over how to transition from the Lagrangian approach to the Hamiltonian approach.
At first blush, these ‘new’ approaches seem to give us less information than the old ones. To wit, in Newtonian mechanics, , so any information about the absolute position appears to be lost to a constant of integration, especially for the approach. But it is worse than this. For each particle being considered, the constant of integration may be different. So not only do we lose absolute position, we also lose relative position. This limits our considerations to situations where potential energy is zero, unless something very nice happens that would allow us to recover .
The nice thing about mathematics versus physics, is that I can cast aside the difficulties of whether or not things are physically relevant, as long as they make sense mathematically. So I will set aside any complaints about possible non-utility and forge ahead. I have not actually looked that far ahead yet, but I suspect the first ‘new’ approach will be somewhat similar to the Lagrangian approach, via the analogy between and . That is, I suspect there will be some function, , analogous to the Lagrangian, , such that:
where and will be interesting quantities, perhaps even position and velocity.
The second ‘new’ approach will almost certainly be lossy, but I suspect it will follow a pattern similar to the Hamilton equations. For convenience, I will write for these:
where is something analogous to total energy, and should have units of power / time.
So I leave, for now, with some things to ponder, and some guesses as to the direction they will lead.