Well-posed problem

The mathematical term well-posed problem stems from a definition given by Hadamard. He believed that mathematical models of physical phenomena should have the properties that
# A solution exists
# The solution is unique
# The solution depends continuously on the data, in some reasonable topology.

Examples of archetypal well-posed problems include the Dirichlet problem for Laplace's equation, and the heat equation with specified initial conditions. These might be regarded as 'natural' problems in that there are physical processes that solve these problems. By contrast the inverse heat equation, deducing a previous distribution of temperature from final data is not well-posed in that the solution is highly sensitive to changes in the final data. Problems that are not well-posed in the sense of Hadamard are termed ill-posed. Inverse problems are often ill-posed.

Such continuum problems must often be discretized in order to obtain a numerical solution. While in terms of functional analysis such problems are typically continuous, they may suffer from numerical instability when solved with finite precision, or with errors in the data. Even if a problem is well-posed, it may still be ill-conditioned, meaning that a small error in the initial data can result in much larger errors in the answers. An ill-conditioned problem is indicated by a large condition number.

If a problem is well-posed, then it stands a good chance of solution ona computer using a stable algorithm. If it is not well-posed, it needsto be re-formulated for numerical treatment. Typically this involves including additional assumptions, such as smoothness of solution. This process is known as "regularization" and Tikhonov regularization is one of the most commonly used for regularization of linear ill-posed problems.

References

* Jacques Hadamard (1902): Sur les problèmes aux dérivées partielles et leur signification physique. Princeton University Bulletin, 49--52.
*McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms, 4th edition 1974, 1989. Sybil B. Parker, editor in chief. McGraw-Hill book company, New York. ISBN 0-07-045270-9
* A.N. Tikhonov, V.Y. Arsenin, "Solutions of Ill-Posed Problems", Winston, New York, 1977. ISBN 0470991240.

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