potential theory

Potential theory is the study of harmonic functions. Potential theory is so named because 19th century physicists believed that the fundamental forces of nature derived from potentials which satisfied Laplace's equation. Hence, potential theory was the study of functions which could serve as potentials. Nowadays, we know that nature is more complicated – the equations that describe forces are systems of non-linear partial differential equations such as the Einstein equations and the Yang-Mills equations and that the Laplace equation is only valid as a limiting case. Nevertheless, the term "potential theory" has remained as a convenient term for describing the study of functions which satisfy the Laplace equation.