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(Dated: July 14, 2013)

I motivate Hamilton’s equations of motion using a geometrical picture of contours in phase space.

The following considers a single cartesian coordinate x with conjugate momentum p.

function ↵(x, p), so that:

1. There exists a function H(x, p) which is constant

@H @H

along a particle’s trajectory in phase space and is ~v = ẋx̂ + ṗp̂ = ↵(x, p) x̂ p̂ . (3)

@p @x

time-independent.

p

From Postulate 2, ẋ = m, so that we could eliminate

2. The momentum p is defined as p = mẋ. ↵(x, p):

" #

@H

3. Motion within phase space is characterized by in- p @x

~v = ẋx̂ + ṗp̂ = x̂ p̂ (4)

compressible fluid flow, so that the phase space ve- m @H

@p

~ · ~v = 0.

locity is divergence-less: r

when @H@p 6= 0. In what follows, I use the form of ~ v in

Equation 3 and Postulate 2 to verify that ↵ is a function

p of x and p that does not depend explicitly on time, since

p

ẋ = m sets the overall speed.

Using Postulate 3, the divergence of the phase space

velocity field is zero, giving:

~ · ~v =

r @ ẋ @ ṗ

@x + @p (5)

@↵ @H @↵ @H

= @x @p @p @x =0

This expression, which is equivalent to saying {↵, H} =

x 0, tells us that ↵ is a constant of the motion using geo-

~

metrical logic. It is equivalent to the statement that r↵

~

and rH are parallel if both are nonzero since:

FIG. 1. Illustration of contours of H(x, p) in phase space.

x̂ p̂ ⇠ˆ

~ ⇥ rH

r↵ ~ = @↵ @↵

0

@x @p

@H @H

@x @p 0 (6)

h i

II. DERIVATION

= @↵ @H

@x @p

@↵ @H

@p @x ⇠ˆ = ~0

At any position on a contour of H(x, p), the gradient: where a third dimension ⇠ has been added for convenience

which is perpendicular to the (x, p)-plane. If the gradi-

~ = @H x̂ + @H p̂

rH (1)

ents of ↵(x, p) and H(x, p) are everywhere parallel, then

@x @p the contours of ↵(x, p) and H(x, p) will coincide since

the contour of a function is at each point perpendicular

points perpendicular to this contour. This is represented to its gradient. A contour of H is thus also a contour of ↵.

by the red arrow in Figure 1. I can define a vector ~⌘ Since ↵(x, p) is constant along a particle’s path, setting

~ in the (x, p)-plane:

perpendicular to rH ↵ = 1 amounts to rescaling the value of H(x, p) on each

contour, which does not change the implications of Pos-

@H @H tulate 1. Equation 3 thus gives us Hamilton’s equations

~⌘ = x̂ p̂ (2)

@p @x of motion:

@p

@H (7)

dicular to the gradient, which is perpendicular to the con- ṗ = @x

tour, we find that ~⌘ points along the contour of H(x, p). from which Postulate 2 gives us:

Since a particle’s motion is restricted to contours of H

by Postulate 1, its instantaneous velocity in phase space p2

H(x, p) = + V (x) (8)

will be parallel to the contour it is on and, thus, ~⌘ . The 2m

magnitude of the velocity is not fixed; however, it can be for some function V (x) interpreted as the potential.

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