Connection between nonlinear energy optimization and instantons.
How systems transit between different stable states under external perturbation is an important practical issue. We discuss here how a recently developed energy optimization method for identifying the minimal disturbance necessary to reach the basin boundary of a stable state is connected to the instanton trajectory from large deviation theory of noisy systems. In the context of the one-dimensional Swift–Hohenberg equation, which has multiple stable equilibria, we first show how the energy optimization method can be straightforwardly used to identify minimal disturbances—minimal seeds—for transition to specific attractors from the ground state. Then, after generalizing the technique to consider multiple, equally spaced-in-time perturbations, it is shown that the instanton trajectory is indeed the solution of the energy optimization method in the limit of infinitely many perturbations provided a specific norm is used to measure the set of discrete perturbations. Importantly, we find that the key features of the instanton can be captured by a low number of discrete perturbations (typically one perturbation per basin of attraction crossed). This suggests a promising new diagnostic for systems for which it may be impractical to calculate the instanton.