Archive for Rational Mechanics and Analysis

, Volume 203, Issue 3, pp 969–1008 | Cite as

Fokker–Planck Equations for a Free Energy Functional or Markov Process on a Graph

  • Shui-Nee ChowEmail author
  • Wen Huang
  • Yao Li
  • Haomin Zhou


The classical Fokker–Planck equation is a linear parabolic equation which describes the time evolution of the probability distribution of a stochastic process defined on a Euclidean space. Corresponding to a stochastic process, there often exists a free energy functional which is defined on the space of probability distributions and is a linear combination of a potential and an entropy. In recent years, it has been shown that the Fokker–Planck equation is the gradient flow of the free energy functional defined on the Riemannian manifold of probability distributions whose inner product is generated by a 2-Wasserstein distance. In this paper, we consider analogous matters for a free energy functional or Markov process defined on a graph with a finite number of vertices and edges. If N ≧ 2 is the number of vertices of the graph, we show that the corresponding Fokker–Planck equation is a system of N nonlinear ordinary differential equations defined on a Riemannian manifold of probability distributions. However, in contrast to stochastic processes defined on Euclidean spaces, the situation is more subtle for discrete spaces. We have different choices for inner products on the space of probability distributions resulting in different Fokker–Planck equations for the same process. It is shown that there is a strong connection but there are also substantial discrepancies between the systems of ordinary differential equations and the classical Fokker–Planck equation on Euclidean spaces. Furthermore, both systems of ordinary differential equations are gradient flows for the same free energy functional defined on the Riemannian manifolds of probability distributions with different metrics. Some examples are also discussed.


Free Energy Riemannian Manifold Markov Process Positive Semidefinite Planck Equation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of MathematicsGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Department of MathematicsUniversity of Science and Technology of ChinaHefeiPeople’s Republic of China

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