Hamilton's principle in stochastic mechanics

Michele Pavon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we establish three variational principles that provide new foundations for Nelson's stochastic mechanics in the case of nonrelativistic particles without spin. The resulting variational picture is much richer and of a different nature with respect to the one previously considered in the literature. We first develop two stochastic variational principles whose Hamilton-Jacobi-like equations are precisely the two coupled partial differential equations that are obtained from the Schrödinger equation (Madelung equations). The two problems are zero-sum, noncooperative, stochastic differential games that are familiar in the control theory literature. They are solved here by means of a new, absolutely elementary method based on Lagrange functional. For both games the saddle-point equilibrium solution is given by the Nelson's process and the optimal controls for the two competing players are precisely Nelson's current velocity v and osmotic velocity u, respectively. The first variational principle includes as special cases both the Guerra-Morato variational principle [Phys. Rev. D 27, 1774 (1983)] and Schrödinger original variational derivation of the time-independent equation. It also reduces to the classical least action principle when the intensity of the underlying noise tends to zero. It appears as a saddle-point action principle. In the second variational principle the action is simply the difference between the initial and final configurational entropy. It is therefore a saddle-point entropy production principle. From the variational principles it follows, in particular, that both v(x,t) and u(x,t) are gradients of appropriate principal functions. In the variational principles, the role of the background noise has the intuitive meaning of attempting to contrast the more classical mechanical features of the system by trying to maximize the action in the first principle and by trying to increase the entropy in the second. Combining the two variational principles, we get the quantum Hamilton principle, i.e., a variational characterization of the logarithm of the wave function ψ. The Lagrangian is the Lagrangian of classical mechanics with the complex-valued velocity v-iu replacing the classical velocity. The dynamics is given by a stochastic differential equation for real-valued diffusions with complex-valued drift and driving noise processes. From the variational principle we derive a Newton-type law. We finally define the momentum process and show that its mean and variance coincide with those of the quantum momentum operator.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6774-6800
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Mathematical Physics
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics


Dive into the research topics of 'Hamilton's principle in stochastic mechanics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this