Imagine a two-body system of masses under a classical mechanics model. The separation and mass-ratio doesn't matter for this example. Presume they are initially stationary.
Now suppose that we hold one of the masses, m1, permanently stationary with an external force opposing the gravitational force due to the second mass. This external force changes over time such that it always balances the gravitational force on m1.
Take the frame-of-reference centred on m1 - the stationary mass.
- If we think of the two bodies as as system, then we would say that the centre-of-mass will accelerate from stationary, and will be displaced in the same direction as the external force. Therefore, positive work is being done on the system by the external force (energy is added to the system).
- However, consider the bodies individually. For m1, it experiences no net force. Nor is it displaced. Therefore, we must conclude that no work is done on m1. m2 only experiences a gravitational force, and so is accelerated from stationary in the direction of the force. Therefore work is done on m2.
But, if energy is transferred to the system from an external source (as suggested from 1), which of the two objects received this energy?
It can't have been m1, since it was stationary. But how m2 gain this external energy when the external force acted on m1?