Good question. It has made me think.

- Strictly speaking, it is not possible to compute $\theta(t-t')\langle \dot\phi(t)\phi(t')\rangle+\theta (t'-t)\langle \phi (t')\dot\phi (t)\rangle$ ( shorthand notation: $\langle\,\equiv \langle 0 |\,$. Also note that I'm omitting the spatial arguments of the fields ) using the Lagrangian version of the path integral, because to derive this, we are to assume that the insertions (factors multiplying $e^{iS}$ in the integrand of the path integral) are functionals of the fields at a given time (i.e., they are independent of momenta $\pi$). Thus,

$$\partial_t \,\left[\theta(t-t')\langle \phi(t)\phi(t')\rangle+\theta (t'-t)\langle \phi (t')\phi (t)\rangle\right]=\lim_{a\to 0}{1\over a}\left[\theta(t+a-t')\langle \phi(t+a)\phi(t')\rangle+\theta (t'-t-a)\langle \phi (t')\phi (t+a)\rangle - \theta(t-t')\langle \phi(t)\phi(t')\rangle+\theta (t'-t)\langle \phi (t')\phi (t)\rangle\right]=\lim_{a\to 0}{1\over a}\int D\phi\, (\phi(t+a)\phi(t')-\phi(t)\phi(t'))\,e^{iS}=\int D\phi\, \dot\phi(t)\phi(t')\,e^{iS}$$

which agrees with $\theta(t-t')\langle \dot\phi(t)\phi(t')\rangle+\theta (t'-t)\langle \phi (t')\dot\phi (t)\rangle$ only if $t\neq t'$.$^1$

- Example. Let $A(t)$ and $B(t)$ two functional at a given time, then you can check that

$$\int \dot A(t) B(t) \,e^{iS}=\langle\dot A(t)B(t)\rangle+\lim_{a\to 0}{1\over 2a}\langle [A(t),B(t)]\rangle$$

The last term represents the Dirac delta you found after deriving the step function.

- While your question is very interesting, I think that your example is unfortunate since $\delta (t-t')[\phi(x),\phi(x')]=\delta (t-t')[\phi(t,\vec x),\phi(t,\vec x')]=0$. Let me choose an example in which this last commutator is different from zero to show how the time derivative of a correlation function splits in the two terms you mention: $\partial_t \langle \, T\, \phi(t)\,A(t')\,\rangle$, where $A$ is a functional of fields and momenta at a given time. Let's make a general variation (which doesn't modified the path integral measure) of the Hamiltonian or phase-space path integral ($S=\int dt\, \dot \phi\,\pi-H \, $ ). Since the momentum is an integration variable, the integral may not change:

$$0={\delta\over \delta \pi (t)}\int D\phi D\pi \, A(t')\,e^{iS}\,\delta \pi=\\
\int D\phi D\pi\, \left( {\delta A(t')\over \delta \pi (t)}+A(t')i\dot\phi (t)-A(t')(-i){\delta H (t)\over \delta \pi (t)}\right)\,e^{iS}\,\delta \pi$$

As $\delta \pi$ is a general variation and:

$${\delta A(t')\over \delta \pi (t)}=\delta(t-t')(-i)\,[\phi(t),A(t')]$$
$${\delta H (t)\over \delta \pi (t)}=-i\,[\phi(t), H]$$

we obtain:

$$\partial_t \langle \, T\, \phi(t)\,A(t')\,\rangle=i\langle \, T\, [\phi(t),H]\,A(t')\,\rangle+\delta (t-t')\,\langle \, [\phi(t),A(t')]\,\rangle \\ =\theta(t-t')\langle \, \dot\phi(t)\,A(t')\,\rangle+\theta(t'-t)\langle \, A(t')\,\dot\phi(t)\,\rangle+\delta (t-t')\,\langle \, [\phi(t),A(t')]\,\rangle$$

If, for example, $A(t')=\pi (t',\vec x')$, the last term gives $i\,\delta ^4 (x-x')$.

$\\$

Just in case it is not clear enough, let me remark that derivatives do commute with the path integral measure. The key point is that

$$\partial_t \,\left[\theta(t-t')\langle \phi(t)\phi(t')\rangle+\theta (t'-t)\langle \phi (t')\phi (t)\rangle\right]=\int D\phi\, {\phi(t+\epsilon^+)-\phi (t)\over \epsilon ^+}\phi(t')\,e^{iS}\neq\theta(t-t')\langle \dot\phi(t)\phi(t')\rangle+\theta (t'-t)\langle \phi (t')\dot\phi (t)\rangle$$

In addition, I would like to emphasize that ${\delta H (t)\over \delta \pi (t)}$ is a functional at *a given time*, while $\dot\phi (t)$ in the integrand of a path integral must be interpreted as ${\phi(t+\epsilon^+)-\phi (t)\over \epsilon ^+}$, that is, as a difference between fields evaluated at *different* times.

$^1$ Note that the derivative can be defined in different ways giving rise to different operator orderings, see Maimon's excellent answer Path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, be careful with some typo in the expressions: where says $x(t)p(t)$ should say $p(t)x(t)$.

EDIT: To derive some of the results above, one needs to take $\theta (0)=1/2$. However, one can proceed in a slightly different manner to avoid such choice (whi, in my opinion, is totally right). For example,

$$\int \dot A(t) B(t) \,e^{iS}=\int {A(t+a)-A(t)\over a } B(t+a/2) \,e^{iS}=\langle\dot A(t)B(t)\rangle+\lim_{a\to 0}{1\over a}\langle [A(t),B(t)]\rangle$$

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-31 22:24 (UCT), posted by SE-user drake