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volume II: Synopsis

section V: Applied Divinity

page 39: Work

Why do we have to work? The Christian interpretation of Genesis sees the need to work as a result of Original Sin. Here we see work as an organic feature of the life of the Universe. Work is the process by which the world creates the physically embodied messages through which it communicates with itself and reveals itself to us. Manual labour - Wikipedia, Genesis

It seems that all living elements of the Universe must work to maintain their existence. Ultimately their fitness is judged by the quality of their work, whether it be in finding food, reproducing or, in the modern world, selling their abilities to a corporate entity. We must work to live, either personally or by proxy. In general, the better we suit the prevailing conditions, the better we will be rewarded. A corollary of this (at least in a just society) is that the standard of our lives is related to the quality of our work.

Work is thus an intrinsic feature of the Universe, the realization of a new entity or stationary point, such as a crop, a washing machine, a computer, a text or a religion. We see work at all scales, ranging from jobs measured by individual quanta of action to the total process of the Universe.

From this description, we can see that the world works very much as we do. We make big things, like a house, by ordering thousands of lesser actions, like driving a nail. As we follow the physiological trail from the hammer hand down to the atomic processes in our bodies, we see how building a house can be modelled as an ordered set of a huge number of quanta of action.

Classical physics sees work as the energy required for a force to move its point of application through a distance. I do work, for instance, when I climb a ladder against the force of gravity, changing my position from 'on the ground' to 'up the ladder'. Work is required to establish my new position. Work (physics) - Wikipedia

After centuries of thought, classical physicists found that they could understand the behaviour of their world best using Hamilton's Principle of stationary action. The action of a process is the time integral of its Lagrangian. The Lagrangian at any moment is the difference between the kinetic and potential energy. The action is said to be stationary if a small change in the process produces no change in the action. Hamilton's principle - Wikipedia

The beauty of Hamilton's principle is that it carries over from classical physics into quantum physics, forming a bridge between them. All the information in quantum mechanics is carried by the variable known as the phase. Dirac and Feynman realized that action and phase are in effect two names for the same reality. Feynman & Hibbs: Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals

In classical physics action is an abstract quantity defined by a particular mathematical expression. In quantum mechanics action is a set of concrete objects, the quanta of action, which serve as the atoms of process or change in the Universe. We may see them as the fundamental physical unit of work, of something done.

Quantum mechanics is a method for defining events and computing their probability. Feynman wants to know how the World gets from state a to state b in the continuous, infinite dimensional formal world inhabited by quantum mathematics. In other words, he wants to know how work works, since the purpose of work is to change some situation from a to b, dirty dishes to clean dishes. Quantum mechanics - Wikipedia

The rules for defining a path through the world of possibility are very simple: First, given P = probability of an event, and Φ = probability amplitude (a complex number representing action or phase), we find that P = |Φ|2;

Second, 'When an event can occur in several alternative ways, the probability amplitude for the event is the sum of the probability amplitudes for each way considered separately. There is interference: Φ = Φ1 + Φ2, P = |Φ1 + Φ2|2';

Third, the amplitude for an an event comprising one event following another is the product of the amplitudes for the two events: Φ = Φ12; and finally

Fourth, 'If an experiment is performed which is capable of determining whether one or another alternative is actually taken, the probability of the event is the sum of the probabilities of each alternative. The interference is lost: P = P1 + P2. Feynman: Lectures on Phyics III: Quantum Mechanics page I-10

Feynman's path integral method puts all these ingredients together in a manner first suggested by Dirac. He uses the time honoured mathematical method of physics: calculus. Assuming that the world is continuous, we first analyse a phenomenon on an infinitesimal local scale to create a differential equation. This equation is then integrated to obtain the overall picture. Dirac

Even though it is applied to quantum mechanical amplitudes, Feynman's method uses the classical action, that is the time integral of the Lagrangian, to compute the action for each path and locate the path of stationary action, which we understand in the network model to be the path that embodies a halted computation.

This leads us to ask: how does the Lagrangian relate to computation? In particular, what is the significance of the difference between kinetic and potential energy? An answer might be to associate potential energy with stationary structure, that is memory, and kinetic energy with the motion between stationary points. We assume that the Universe is pure activity and that the stationary points in this action are induced by the Universe mapping onto itself.

We thus identify a duality in action: stillness and motion are aspects of the same action: we might call them duals of one another. Since they are dual, we expect them to have the same magnitude, so that we might guess that the Lagrangian of a realized process is always zero, so that the action is also zero (and stationary). Since action (phase) is a periodic function, zero is indistinguishable from any other integral multiple of the quantum (360 degrees) of phase. The duality of potential and kinetic energy makes this relationship hold for an action comprising any number of quanta.

The path integral approach (which works) assumes that we can understand the quantized world by treating it as continuous. Since, in reality, there no such thing as a fractional quantum of action, the fact that realistic Lagrangians are always zero may explain why the calculus works so well.

If the world is quantized, the continuum imagined by physics is a fiction. It does no harm, however. There is no information in a continuum since there are no marks to represent information. A continuum is a symmetry, a nothing. Things become real when the symmetry is broken, a process known in quantum mechanics as 'the collapse of the wave function', that is the realization of a stationary point in the quantum dynamics.

We gain further insight by comparing this quantum mechanical paradigm for work at the microscopic level with our everyday experience of work in the human layer of the Universe.

Every job requires some knowledge or 'knowhow'. Highly skilled jobs may take decades to learn. This knowhow is the formal or stationary side of the task. This knowledge must be coupled to energy, that is a sequence of actions, to actually do the job. Every job requires encoding information in a physical way to create some product, whether it be a motor vehicle or a sale. We work by breaking symmetries, taking blank pages and covering them with writing, forging amorphous metals into specific shapes of filling the unmodulated airwaves with words and music.

We try to work efficiently to keep the costs down. We want to minimize the total number of quanta of action needed to do a job by finding efficient algorithms to complete our tasks. Hamilton's principle suggests that the world has the same idea.

Work is often not easy or pleasant, since it requires a certain amount of energy and discipline. To maintain a peaceful society, work needs to be shared and rewarded. Ideally we all act as parallel processors dealing with the task of living. Parallel processing, especially in a complex environment, requires good communication. The maintenance of such communication is work in itself. It is particularly the work of religion to show everybody a meaningful place in the whole and to assist them to work well and reap just rewards. Fred Block: Resilience of the welfare state flummoxes free marketeers

(revised 28 May 2013)


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Further reading


Click on the "Amazon" link below each book entry to see details of a book (and possibly buy it!)

Davis, Philip J, and David Park (editors), No Way: The Nature of the Impossible, W H Freeman 1987 Introduction: 'Think about the miracles of religion: a virgin gives birth, a man raises the dead and walks on water. Are these possible or are they impossible? Decide. ... what really counts as impossible? ... You can prove logical impossibilities, but do they say anything about the real world? You can assert practical impossibilities, but are they really impossible? Why bother about the question? Because mankind is inspired by the challenge of the impossible ...' [pp xiv, xvi] 
Ehrenreich, Barbara, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Owl Books 2002 Amazon Editorial Review:'Essayist and cultural critic Barbara Ehrenreich has always specialized in turning received wisdom on its head with intelligence, clarity, and verve. With some 12 million women being pushed into the labor market by welfare reform, she decided to do some good old-fashioned journalism and find out just how they were going to survive on the wages of the unskilled--at $6 to $7 an hour, only half of what is considered a living wage. So she did what millions of Americans do, she looked for a job and a place to live, worked that job, and tried to make ends meet. As a waitress in Florida, where her name is suddenly transposed to "girl," trailer trash becomes a demographic category to aspire to with rent at $675 per month. In Maine, where she ends up working as both a cleaning woman and a nursing home assistant, she must first fill out endless pre-employment tests with trick questions such as "Some people work better when they're a little bit high." In Minnesota, she works at Wal-Mart under the repressive surveillance of men and women whose job it is to monitor her behavior for signs of sloth, theft, drug abuse, or worse. She even gets to experience the humiliation of the urine test. So, do the poor have survival strategies unknown to the middle class? And did Ehrenreich feel the "bracing psychological effects of getting out of the house, as promised by the wonks who brought us welfare reform?" Nah. Even in her best-case scenario, with all the advantages of education, health, a car, and money for first month's rent, she has to work two jobs, seven days a week, and still almost winds up in a shelter. As Ehrenreich points out with her potent combination of humor and outrage, the laws of supply and demand have been reversed. Rental prices skyrocket, but wages never rise. Rather, jobs are so cheap as measured by the pay that workers are encouraged to take as many as they can. Behind those trademark Wal-Mart vests, it turns out, are the borderline homeless. With her characteristic wry wit and her unabashedly liberal bent, Ehrenreich brings the invisible poor out of hiding and, in the process, the world they inhabit--where civil liberties are often ignored and hard work fails to live up to its reputation as the ticket out of poverty.' --Lesley Reed  
Escher, Maurits Cornelius, and John E. Brigham (translator), The Graphic Work: Introduced and explained by the artist, Taco 1989 Introduction: '... then there came a moment when it seemed as though scales fell from my eyes. I discovered that technical mastery was no longer my sole aim, for I became gripped by another desire ... Ideas came into my mind quite unrelated to graphic art, notions which so fascinated me that I longed to communicate them to other people. ... The ideas that are basic to [my prints] often bear witness to my amazement and wonder at the laws of nature which operate in the world around us. ... and here is yet another reason for my astonishment - no matter how objective or how impersonal the majority of my subjects appear to me, so far as I have been able to discover, few, if any, of my fellow-men seem to react in the same way to all that they see around them.' pp 5-6 
Feynman, Richard P, and Robert B Leighton, Matthew Sands, The Feynman Lectures on Physics (volume 3) : Quantum Mechanics, Addison Wesley 1970 Foreword: 'This set of lectures tries to elucidate from the beginning those features of quantum mechanics which are the most basic and the most general. ... In each instance the ideas are introduced together with a detailed discussion of some specific examples - to try to make the physical ideas as real as possible.' Matthew Sands 
Feynman, Richard P, and Albert P Hibbs, Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals, McGraw Hill 1965 Preface: 'The fundamental physical and mathematical concepts which underlie the path integral approach were first developed by R P Feynman in the course of his graduate studies at Princeton, ... . These early inquiries were involved with the problem of the infinte self-energy of the electron. In working on that problem, a "least action" principle was discovered [which] could deal succesfully with the infinity arising in the application of classical electrodynamics.' As described in this book. Feynam, inspired by Dirac, went on the develop this insight into a fruitful source of solutions to many quantum mechanical problems.  
Margretta, Joan, and Nan Stone (collaborator), What Management Is: How it works and why its everyone's business, Free Press 'A rare animal - a management book that is lucid, interesting and honest. It will helpo managers see the wood as well as the trees in their everyday work, and help them to explore the wider management literature, with guidance on which of it is codswallop (a comfotable majority) and where lie the nuggests of wisdom. Economistback
Monk, Ray, Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, Vintage ex Jonathan Cape 1990 1990 Review: 'With a subject who demands passionate partisanship, whose words are so powerful but whose actions speak louder, it must have been hard to write this definitive, perceptive and lucid biography. Out goes Norman Malcolm's saintly Wittgenstein, Bartley's tortured, impossibly promiscuous Wittgenstein, and Brian McGuinness's bloodless, almost bodiless Wittgenstein. This Wittgenstein is the real human being: wholly balanced and happily eccentric ... ' The Times 
Prigogine, Ilya , From Being to Becoming: Time and Complexity in the Physical Sciences, Freeman 1980 Jacket: 'How has order emerged from chaos? In this book, intended for the general reader with some background in physical chemistry and thermodynamics, Ilya Prigogine shows how systems far from equilibrium evolve elaborate structures: patterns of circulation in the atmosphere, formation and propagation of chemical waves, the aggregation of single-celled animals. In an effort to understand these phenomena, he explores the philosophical implications of the work that won him the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.' 
Toynbee, Polly, Hard Work: Life in Low Pay Britain, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2003 Amazon customer review: Poverty Bites:' Hard Work is the British version of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Journalist Polly Toynbee does justice to the genre. She works mind-numbing jobs that pay just enough to keep her in poverty. She packages pastries and cleans hotel rooms, she lives in a squalid flat she can barely afford, and she tries to make ends meet on minimum wage. It is very depressing. Toynbee finds that being one of the working poor is to be defeated at every turn. When she gets her dark, damp, unfurnished flat, she has to borrow money from the Housing Authority to furnish it because she won't get paid until she has been working for at least two weeks. She can't make an appointment to see the doctor because her job doesn't allow any paid time off. She can't try to get a better job because all the employers want to schedule interviews during her work hours (and she can't afford to take time off) or they want her to devote the day to waiting for an interview. She can't even make her views as a voter known, because to get to the voting station would mean unpaid time off from work, or an hour on the bus and in line waiting to vote after a 10-hour shift on her feet. Life is a constant Catch-22 and she finally admits defeat when she has to move out of her apartment because the building's front door doesn't lock, there are drug dealers in the lobby, and she can't afford a phone. In between descriptions of her alternate life in the slum, she splices discussions of the politics behind the policies regarding wages and poverty in Great Britain. Even for someone who isn't familiar with British government, it is very clear. It is also obvious that we in America have a lot in common with Britain.' H. Cota "takingadayoff" (Las Vegas, Nevada) 
Dirac, P A M, "The Lagrangian in Quantum Mechanics", Physikalische Zeitschrift der Sowjetunion, 3, 1, 1933, page 64-72. 'Quantum mechanics was built up on a foundation of analogy with the Hamiltonian theory of classical mechanics. . . . there is an alternative formulation of classical dynamics provided by the Lagrangian. This requires one to work in terms of coordinates and velocities instead of coordinates and momenta. The two formulations are, of course, closely related, but there are reasons for believing that the Lagrangian one is the more fundamental.' Reprinted in Julian Schwinger (editor), Selected Papers on Quantum Electrodynamics, Dover, New York, 1958.. back
Fred Block Resilience of the welfare state flummoxes the free marketeers 'Nations with generous social welfare programs are the world's best economic performers, writes Fred Block.' back
Genesis The Book of Genesis 'Genesis is the first book of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), the first section of the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures. Its title in English, “Genesis,” comes from the Greek of Gn 2:4, literally, “the book of the generation (genesis) of the heavens and earth.” Its title in the Jewish Scriptures is the opening Hebrew word, Bereshit, “in the beginning.”' back
Hamilton's principle - Wikipedia Hamilton's principle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'IIn physics, Hamilton's principle is William Rowan Hamilton's formulation of the principle of stationary action (see that article for historical formulations). It states that the dynamics of a physical system is determined by a variational problem for a functional based on a single function, the Lagrangian, which contains all physical information concerning the system and the forces acting on it. The variational problem is equivalent to and allows for the derivation of the differential equations of motion of the physical system. Although formulated originally for classical mechanics, Hamilton's principle also applies to classical fields such as the electromagnetic and gravitational fields, and has even been extended to quantum mechanics, quantum field theory and criticality theories.' back
Manual labour - Wikipedia Manual labour - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Manual labour (British English), manual labor (American English) or manual work is physical work done by people, most especially in contrast to that done by machines, and also to that done by working animals. It is most literally work done with the hands (the word "manual" comes from the Latin word for hand), and, by figurative extension, it is work done with any of the muscles and bones of the body.' back
Quantum mechanics - Wikipedia Quantum mechanics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a theory of physics providing a mathematical description of the interaction of matter and energy.' back
Work (physics) - Wikipedia Work (physics) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'In physics, (mechanical) work is a scalar quantity that can be described as the product of a force times the distance through which it acts, and it is called the work of the force. Only the component of a force in the direction of the movement of its point of application does work. The term work was first coined in 1826 by the French mathematician Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis.' back is maintained by The Theology Company Proprietary Limited ACN 097 887 075 ABN 74 097 887 075 Copyright 2000-2018 © Jeffrey Nicholls