My two year old loves talking about “working mans”.

Any kind of construction, excavation, or manual labor he sees gets him excited. I told him I used to build houses, so now he says I used to be a working man, and now I’m a business man.

I always assumed this kind of professional sequence, but never thought about it explicitly. When I was a kid, I had lawn jobs and paper routes, then worked in retail, etc. I knew this wasn’t what I’d do forever. I figured I’d work with my hands until I was valuable enough to work with my mind. It seemed a natural progression.

In a way, this progression is an embodiment of a philosophical shift over the course of individual human life. We begin in a matter before mind sort of world. We’re bumping into everything, grabbing everything, trying to understand the world with physical apparatus. Mental patterns begin to form based on the physical experience. Over time, the mental side becomes deeper, more complex, and more useful than the material side. We can envision a lot more than we can experience.

At some point, all the cliches about “Believe and you can achieve” start to make sense. We understand that belief is a precondition for action, and ideas are the birthplace of man-made objects. We move into a mind before matter world. The further along I’ve gotten in life, the more in this direction I’ve shifted. Nearly every issue has at its core something that begins in the mind. Most unhappiness isn’t rooted in or fixed by material conditions. Or if it is, the material changes necessary must first begin in the mind.

Perhaps humanity as a whole has moved along this continuum as well. Once matter has been molded in an instinct-for-survival sort of way, mind becomes more dominant. Consider speaking, writing, and coding. Things that reshape the material world by transforming thoughts into something that alters the thoughts of others, then actions, then material outcomes.

Bahm-Bawerk referred to economic progress as the deepening of the production process; an increase in roundaboutness that resulted in greater wealth. Material experience is direct and instant. Mental work is indirect and through time via long causal chains.

The working man becomes the thinking man, which is to say his work becomes less direct and also gains leverage.

The challenge with this shift is maintaining sufficient connection to the outcome that you don’t lose motivation. Seeing bricklaying as cathedral building is easy compared to seeing designing the dashboard for the software tool that the chemist will use to measure the additives going into the bricks that will get shipped to a contractor who will hire bricklayers as cathedral building.