Before I begin, I must apologise. And I must apologise as this is a somewhat lengthy article. But I do urge for the patience of the reader and hope such patience – if followed – finds its reward.
“What man sees depends both upon what he looks at and also upon what his previous visual-conception experience has taught him to see.” – Thomas S. Kuhn, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”.
In life we tend to be most comfortable when surrounded by those things we know. Be they our friends and family. Our most cherished possessions handed down through the generations, or again, to the simple morning radio station we may listen to as we drive to work each day. Each of these things sub-consciously taps into – and by default – underpins our daily routines. This, in one sense, is what it is to be human. A gathering in one place towards things which consolidate our very being and self-understanding. A leaning towards those things we feel we “know” – as we tend to be creatures of habit who dislike change. But what then when “change” happens? – as say, in the 2007/8 financial crisis, the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression of 1929? What happens when our world and its foundations are shaken? When our pre-conceptions are turned on their heads? At once, our world is turned upside down and what we once thought was solid, simply runs through our hands like the sands of time. And it was, in part, against this backdrop, this “existential question”, that we must introduce one Satoshi Nakamoto.
Nakamoto – our hero of this narrative – is widely acknowledged as the “father” of Bitcoin, even if the actual person or person(s) themselves remain elusive. In its simplest form, bitcoin was created because for Nakamoto there was a problem of “trust”. More specifically, a problem of trust at the very heart of our current financial system. As he states in his original whitepaper: “The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that’s required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust. Banks must be trusted to hold our money and transfer it electronically, but they lend it out in waves of credit bubbles with hardly a fraction in reserve.” In short, the current financial system is “broken” and the crisis of 2008 was simply a symptom of this malaise.
In this way, bitcoin can be seen as both a reaction and a challenge to the current financial status quo. And it’s a “challenge” to the current system as it strikes at the very foundations of how we are organised. It knocks on the door of credos by introducing concepts entirely anathema to organisation as we know it. Bitcoin was conceived not just as an alternative to the current regime, but as an opponent challenging to overthrow it. A battle to the death where only can win. And it achieves this by creating an “alternative” way of thinking and being. An alternative way of thinking and being based upon the twin pillars of “de-centralization” and “luck”. And I say “luck” apprehensively, as in one sense – although not so much now with the rise of bitmain – bitcoin was and still is a “lottery”. And it is a lottery because without a central bank or Government to issue currency, bitcoins can only be generated by means of a simple guessing game. A guessing game in which players compete to solve a fiendishly difficult mathematical problem whose prize is the right of ownership to those new bitcoins “created” from finding the solution to the puzzle posed. No longer is the “power” of a huge central bank required to generate new currency, as “money” generation is now down to a simple competition to solve a riddle. In hindsight, this may look naive due to the rise of huge mining pools, but at the time it was a leveler and legendary. And it was legendary because it proposed an entirely different model to the universe that we once understood. And only one we are now just beginning to understand.
Simply put, Nakamoto posited a completely different way we are rewarded for “work”. This is a reward system not based on “what” you produce, but one based on what you are willing to invest into the “means of production”. Rewards are only offered to those who participate. You’ve got to be in it to win it as the common saying goes. And if this sounds Marxist and Utopian, that’s because in one sense it is. But one that is equally grounded in the endeavors of rigourous mathematics, economics and hard science. Imagine proposing a system where you aren’t paid for how many hours you work. Or a system where you don’t earn interest based upon how much capital you have and how many loans you can make therefrom. No. We are at the casino people, and rewards are shared equally, via pure chance, and the longer we sit at the table the greater the chance we have to win. But a lottery system does not always reward equally for effort, as gone forever is our benevolent Adam Smith “invisible hand”.
This proposed de-coupling of reward (or “return”) to investment, while deceptively simple is at the same time so completely profound that we need to draw upon an example from history within a completely different field – namely biology – to explain the gravitas of the powers that are currently at play.
In 1859, a young biologist published a ground-breaking work. That biologist was Charles Darwin and within those 502 pages of his seminal work, “On the Origin of Species”, he let loose an idea that challenged the scientific and Biblical pre-conceptions at the time. What Darwin and Nakamoto share in common in this regard is they both introduce the notion of “chance” within their respective fields. According to Darwin, the central innovation of his work is not the theory of natural selection itself, but the more basic, turn to randomness as a way to explain natural phenomena. This application of randomness was so controversial that even Darwin himself tried to “mask” it, replacing words like “accident” and “chance” with terms like “spontaneous variation” in later editions of his work. And it is both controversial and powerful because according to this world view, there is now no need for a central Creator (or God) with a central “plan”, but simply the factor of “chance” anchored to no shore.
And like Nakamoto today, one of the problems Darwin faced in his time was that his thinking was mis-understood – which still continues to this day. How often have we heard that Darwinism means that we are “descended from apes”, when an actual reading of his work makes clear that this is patently not true. To correct or clarify, what he actually proposed, is to say that we share a “common ancestor” with apes. This “ignorance” or failure to understand a nuance is much reminiscent of the famous 1860 Oxford evolution debate in which during a heated exchange at the time, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (a questioner) asked Thomas Huxley (a defender) whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey.
This is a clear example where clarity and understanding are required – if only as evidenced from the conclusions drawn from the lack of those two imposters towards our understanding of the same. The true challenge to the church from Darwinism is not that we are descended from monkeys (and by default not from the spiritual omnipresence of a greater, omnipotent being), but rather, we are simply a chance occurence not spun out of the head of a Divine, central plan.
And much like Wilberforce was ignorant of the true radical nature of Darwinism, so many within the current financial staus quo are ignorant of cryptocurrency too. When Jamie Dimon (boss of JP Morgan) says “bitcoin is a fraud” that’s “worse than tulip bulbs”, he is missing the point. He is still clinging to the “old” way of thinking and has not realised that the true challenge that both Darwin and Nakamoto present is this very element of “chance”. Bitcoin is only a “fraud” because he does not comprehend that the trillions of dollars his bank moves each day is really only down to “chance” – and this from the man at the head of the bank who paid a $13 billion “fine” for their part in underwriting fraudulent securities in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. When we consider this, surely we can ask the question to the critic: “Who is the “fraud” and ignorant now?” Little wonder that he soon he re-cantered on this statement and “regrets” his comments to say bitcoin is a “fraud”. When the flashlight of truth is shone upon you and you are caught “pants down”, the only avenue of the fool is “regret”.
But ignorance is so often a human condition. And one often bourne from the status quo and the “greed” inherent to protect what is yours. In the same way that Bishops aplenty were lining up to castigate Darwin for his slanderous assertions, so we have a queue of fiat, old money thinking “monkeys” lining up to cast their critiques on a “paradigm” which challenges their very right to be. When we have the likes of Warren Buffett, “the Sage of Omaha”, say at a recent Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual shareholder meeting that cryptocurrency is “probably rat poison squared”, one does have to think. And the first thing that strikes me is “why” the absolute vitriol is without nuanced understanding? Is it because such comments come from ignorance, or something more? Do they, unlike Wilberforce, truly comprehend the magnitude of the edge of the precipice upon which we stand before right now, like a King Kanute trying to stop the tide? Or are they coming from an agenda which seeks to preserve the “old order”.? A way of “preserving” their hierarchy of when things are challenged? Well, to understand this, I think it is appropriate to understand the writings of a philosopher of science from the 1960s – one Thomas Kuhn.
Kuhn, through his seminal work “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, sought to highlight and explain the “mechanics” of Scientific progress. But his conclusions were so startling that they shook the very foundations of the scientific world. And he challenged the accepted orthodox because he introduced the simple concept of “irrationality” or “emotion” to the very heart of scientific progress – a concept totally alien to the perceived wisdom of “scientific method” at the time, where progress proceeds in a “rational”, “scientfific” , linear path. For Kuhn, we have a general sense of our world. We look at things in a certain way and understand things according to this perspective. This is his notion of what he calls a “paradigm” – the over-arching norm of our thinking into which all things (including science) find their home and make sense. Our “world view”. The problem, of course, is when our current pattern of thinking doesn’t match the facts. What happens then? Such an event occurred when the prevailing way to explain the planetary trajections according to Ptolemy found it more and more difficult to explain the new-found observations witnessed after the invention of the telescope. The observational “facts” simply did not fit. And when the facts do not fit the theory, we enter into a “crisis” stage. Do we continue with the old system and get creative with it? Adapting it with what Kuhn calls “ad hoc” tweaks? Or do we simply ditch it for a new theory that can explain everything with without the need for being creative?
This “choice” is the irrationality which each of us must choose. And when we enter this “crisis” stage, Kuhn suggests that competing theories are often advanced which to succeed, break with the old, much like Nakomoto posited a competing theory with his ground-breaking white paper. In simple terms, the solutions to the “problem” do not add up. We have only one “system”, – our “existence” as we like to call it – but our understanding are “incommensurate” with the current, prevailing world view. Just as Copernicus’ solution to the planetary trajection of the stars was completely at odds with the Ptolemaic system. No longer did the Sun revolve around the Earth, but it was in fact the Earth which revolves around the Sun. And this incommensurability does not simply extend to turning the prevailing thought on its head – it actually ruptures the orthodox to the extent that the old believers cannot communicate with the new. We are talking different “languages” and see the world in different ways and nothing can seem to reconcile our differences, especially as the new pre-supposes the annihilation of the old. If this sounds familiar, one only has to think again of Jamie Dimon’s most recent comments on bitcoin and cryptocurrency to understand this.
To contextualise the magnitude of this kind of thinking from such simple ideas as “chance” and “de-centralization” and “irrationality”, one only has to consider the thoughts of Western Enlightenment philosophers from the 18th and 19th Centuries, whose very self-same theorizing led to the “toppling” of God from His perch on high. It is the the very same idea which Darwin and Kuhn and Nakomoto tap into. If the centrality, the “keeper” of order is no longer required, then there is no need for God (conceived as a central oranising entity to bring order to our world). Just as in the same way that there is no need for a banker if I am my own altcoin bank. So powerful is this concept of chance and its power to destroy our world-view many often turn to the idea of “randomness” – which is simply a “crutch” between order and chance for the undecided. A mathematical conundrum grounded in statistics founded on uncertain ground. This is the half-way house that Kuhn did so much to dispel. One cannot have it both ways. We cannot have our cake and eat it, but must choose where we stand. Taking an example from physics to explain this – and more specifically quantum mechanics – Werner Heisenberg put forward to the world a proposition he termed the “Uncertainty Principle”. This basically says, the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. Or to put it another way, you’re laying in bed and your alarm clock goes off. Do you think about reaching for that clock and smashing it silent, or do you just do it. You cannot think about doing it and do it at the same time.
Once we understand this, I think we have a clearer picture of the true magnitude of cryptocurrency and the radical revolutionary tendencies that it has unleashed. An earth shattering change of perception with truly ground-breaking ramifications. Bitcoin’s power does not just come from its ability to challenge the status quo. No. It’s real power comes from the very fact that it has the potential to completely change our perceived norms and world view. This is the real revolution – and one from which only history will be the judge. So un-sheath your swords my friends as this is no mere EOS based “wizard” battle, but a true battle for beliefs and ideas – and one in which history will judge us as to whether we have “chosen” the winning side.
Are we ready my friends, for our battle lines are drawn? Our hearts are full and intentions pure – let us, for once attack, no?