Communications in Mathematical Physics

, Volume 69, Issue 1, pp 19-30

First online:

The principle of symmetric criticality

  • Richard S. PalaisAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics, Brandeis University

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It is frequently explicitly or implicitly assumed that if a variational principle is invariant under some symmetry groupG, then to test whether a symmetric field configuration ϕ is an extremal, it suffices to check the vanishing of the first variation of the action corresponding to variations ϕ + δϕ that are also symmetric. We show by example that this is not valid in complete generality (and in certain cases its meaning may not even be clear), and on the other hand prove some theorems which validate its use under fairly general circumstances (in particular ifG is a group of Riemannian isometries, or if it is compact, or with some restrictions if it is semi-simple).