The principle of least action – or, more accurately, the principle of stationary action – is a variational principle that, when applied to the action of a mechanical system, can be used to obtain the equations of motion for that system. In relativity, a different action must be minimized or maximized. The principle can be used to derive Newtonian, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian equations of motion, and even general relativity (see Einstein–Hilbert action). It was historically called "least" because its solution requires finding the path that has the least change from nearby paths. Its classical mechanics and electromagnetic expressions are a consequence of quantum mechanics, but the stationary action method helped in the development of quantum mechanics.

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• The principle of least action – or, more accurately, the principle of stationary action – is a variational principle that, when applied to the action of a mechanical system, can be used to obtain the equations of motion for that system. In relativity, a different action must be minimized or maximized. The principle can be used to derive Newtonian, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian equations of motion, and even general relativity (see Einstein–Hilbert action). It was historically called "least" because its solution requires finding the path that has the least change from nearby paths. Its classical mechanics and electromagnetic expressions are a consequence of quantum mechanics, but the stationary action method helped in the development of quantum mechanics. The principle remains central in modern physics and mathematics, being applied in thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics, and string theory and is a focus of modern mathematical investigation in Morse theory. Maupertuis' principle and Hamilton's principle exemplify the principle of stationary action. The action principle is preceded by earlier ideas in surveying and optics. Rope stretchers in ancient Egypt stretched corded ropes to measure the distance between two points. Ptolemy, in his Geography (Bk 1, Ch 2), emphasized that one must correct for "deviations from a straight course". In ancient Greece, Euclid wrote in his Catoptrica that, for the path of light reflecting from a mirror, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. Hero of Alexandria later showed that this path was the shortest length and least time. Scholars often credit Pierre Louis Maupertuis for formulating the principle of least action because he wrote about it in 1744 and 1746. However, Leonhard Euler discussed the principle in 1744, and evidence shows that Gottfried Leibniz preceded both by 39 years. In 1932, Paul Dirac discerned the quantum mechanical underpinning of the principle in the quantum interference of amplitudes: for macroscopic systems, the dominant contribution to the apparent path is the classical path (the stationary, action-extremizing one), while any other path is possible in the quantum realm. (en)
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• Euler's principle
• Maupertuis' principle
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• The principle of least action – or, more accurately, the principle of stationary action – is a variational principle that, when applied to the action of a mechanical system, can be used to obtain the equations of motion for that system. In relativity, a different action must be minimized or maximized. The principle can be used to derive Newtonian, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian equations of motion, and even general relativity (see Einstein–Hilbert action). It was historically called "least" because its solution requires finding the path that has the least change from nearby paths. Its classical mechanics and electromagnetic expressions are a consequence of quantum mechanics, but the stationary action method helped in the development of quantum mechanics. (en)
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• Principle of least action (en)
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