Path of least resistance

Path of least resistance

The path of least resistance describes the physical or metaphorical pathway that provides the least to forward motion by a given object or entity, among a set of alternative paths. The concept is often used to describe why an object or entity takes a given path.

In physics, the path of least resistance is always taken by objects moving through a system. For example, water flowing downhill follows the path of least resistance as it is pulled downward by gravity. Electricity flowing through a circuit behaves similarly; while every available path has some current flowing through it, the amount of current through each path is inversely proportional to its electrical resistance. Atmospheric disturbances (storms) flow on the path of least resistance by flowing toward zones of low barometric pressure, where lower air density offers less impedance to the storm system than higher pressure zones.

One exception to this rule is in the realm of quantum physics, where particles behave in a probabilistic rather than deterministic manner.

The path of least resistance is also used to describe certain human behaviors, although with much less specificity than in the strict physical sense. In these cases, resistance is often used as a metaphor for personal effort or confrontation; a person taking the path of least resistance avoids these. In library science and technical writing, information is ideally arranged for users according to the Principle of least effort, or the path of least resistance. Recursive navigation systems are an example of this.

Note: The path of least resistance applies on a local, not global, reference. For example, water always flows downhill, regardless of whether briefly flowing uphill will help it gain a lower final altitude. In physics, this phenomenon allows the formation of potential wells, where potential energy is stored because of a barrier restricting flow to a lower energy state.

ee also

* Calculus of variations
* Mountain pass theorem
* Principle of least action
* Principle of least effort
* Variational principle

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

• path\ of\ least\ resistance — • (the) line of least resistance • (the) path of least resistance n. phr. the easiest way; the way that takes least effort. In becoming a doctor like his father John had really just followed the line of least resistance. Some parents take the… …   Словарь американских идиом

• path of least resistance — noun the easiest way In marrying him she simply took the path of least resistance • Syn: ↑line of least resistance • Hypernyms: ↑fashion …   Useful english dictionary

• the\ path\ of\ least\ resistance — • (the) line of least resistance • (the) path of least resistance n. phr. the easiest way; the way that takes least effort. In becoming a doctor like his father John had really just followed the line of least resistance. Some parents take the… …   Словарь американских идиом

• (the) path of least resistance — the line/path/of least resistance phrase the way of doing something that causes the fewest problems We took the path of least resistance and bought him the car he wanted. Thesaurus: ways of solving problemssynonym Main entry …   Useful english dictionary

• the path of least resistance — • line of least resistance • the path of least resistance the easiest (though probably not the best) way or course of action (same as to take the easy way out) …   Idioms and examples

• take/follow the path of least resistance — see ↑resistance • • • Main Entry: ↑path …   Useful english dictionary

• the line (or path) of least resistance — the easiest course of action. → resistance …   English new terms dictionary

• the path of least resistance — ► the line (or path) of least resistance the easiest course of action. Main Entry: ↑resistance …   English terms dictionary

• (the) path of least resistance — the way that is the easiest. Thieves usually take the path of least resistance, taking the cars that are easiest to steal …   New idioms dictionary

• take the path of least resistance — to act in the way which will be easiest because you will not have to argue with other people about it. You could always take the line of least resistance and go with the majority vote …   New idioms dictionary