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The Lazy UniverseAn Introduction to the Principle of Least Action$
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Jennifer Coopersmith

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198743040

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198743040.001.0001

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(p.12) 2 Antecedents
The Lazy Universe

Jennifer Coopersmith

Oxford University Press

Early ideas about optimization principles were brought in by an eclectic group of extraordinary thinkers: the Ancients (Hero, and Princess Dido), Fermat with his Principle of Least Time, the Bernoullis, Leibniz, Maupertuis, Euler, and d’Alembert. Also, Stevin was the first to invoke the impossibility of perpetual motion in a proof, and Huygens was the first to put Galilean Relativity to a quantitative test. The Swiss family of mathematical geniuses, the Bernoullis, tackled isoperimetric problems, such as the brachystochrone, and Johann Bernoulli discovered the Principle of Virtual Velocities. The flavour of the eighteenth century is shown in the evocative tale of the König affair, and the correspondence between Daniel Bernoulli and Euler. It is shown how symmetry arguments, leading ultimately to an energy-analysis, were competing with Newton’s force-analysis. The Principle of Least Action and Variational Mechanics, proper, were developed by Lagrange, Hamilton, and Jacobi.

Keywords:   optimization, Maupertuis, brachystochrone, Least Time, Euler, Leibniz, Bernoullis, Fermat, Stevin, isoperimetric

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