By Chase Sewell
February 18, 2015
The temple is holy because it is not for sale
Ezra Pound in his Cantos (1959).
Pure information is not bought and sold so much as it is shared. It’s taught. It’s traded. Oh, dear consumer, to explain it all at once we’d have to go back to the beginning together. But there isn’t much time, because the train is leaving the station.
The true revolution underway in the cryptocurrency movement is independent from the application of the technology or its influence on business. As disruptive and transformational as using bitcoin to hail an autonomous vehicle may be, or as empowering for libertarians as will be the Open Bazaar for global commerce and pseudoanonymity, the true power of bitcoin lies in something much more elusive to pinpoint intellectually. It’s the pinnacle case for evidence that multiple, disparate cultural systems are merging together—peacefully and cooperatively. Never mind the nickels.
For more about the moral ethos makeover, see NYU’s Kwame Apiah & book, “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.”
The blockchain’s use of nodes for a consensus is a Trojan horse. Its involvement with money is the shiny gemstone that lures in the monkey mind, akin to plant reproduction strategies that lure bees with honey but pack a genetic payload of dense complexity. Thus, as the crypto-horse gets drawn further into the depths of Centralized Troy, it will become more obvious that the shift underway is analogous to Charles Einstein’s account in his “Sacred Economics” of reciprocity and mutual exchange. That is, the economics of bitcoin doesn’t discriminate against nation states, castes, or creeds. It defies institutions of control and debugs centuries of stifling dogmas—initiating an opportunity for people to collectively engage what John C Lily famously referred to as “meta-programming the human biocomputer.”
In this way, bitcoin empowers the individual, yet its disruptive potential lies in the aggregate of its collective power—via the network effect, or swarm. Such “emergent phenomena” is any complex behavior or event that emerges from the combined activity of many singular entities within a larger system. As widespread adoption continues to develop, the evolution of the individual gets hashed into the cultural protocol, as it were. For more information on self-organizing systems research, check out Harvard’s Kilobot Project.
Are we all changing together? Interestingly, it used to be taboo to refer to evolution in terms unrelated to genetics. Of course, now our modern Kurzweil society is presently getting so Sci-Fi weird these days it’s hard to even entertain such a restriction on seeing human culture as being pulled through the ringer of evolutionary change. Epigenetics now regularly imports environmental variables into the discussion of genetic information and systemic change. Bitcoin will similarly import a wider discourse and academic consideration over time as it evolves.
Image from Sympoetic.net
For much of society throughout human history, the commercial control of meme-making was reserved for the aristocratic few, separated by their proclivity for networking, a penchant for literacy, and a predisposition to exclusionary opportunities. With the new “flattening” of the world, heralded in by the internet digirati, programmable money and open education, the playing field is gradually being leveled. Such a move of technological transcendence has been anticipated in various corners of discourse, including the “Spiral Dynamics” model of human development based on work by various psychologists. It basically puts forth that humans are capable of constructing new, complex systems and models of the world. Meaning, we’re highly malleable and fluid creatures largely unconstrained by conventional habit. Surprise!
Instead of perpetuating cultural blueprints ad infinitum, at this nexus in time we’re now learning how to “speak” or code information into existence, as philosopher Terence McKenna would say as he waxed poetic on nature’s affinity for bravery and novelty. Bitcoin moving towards true decentralization is each individual realizing they are connected in an iridescent daisy chain to every other individual across timestamps and spacestamps— the arbitrary latitudes and longitudes dissolving in the face of algorithmic powerhouses.
ep·i·gen·e·sis (ĕp′ə-jĕn′ĭ-sĭs) The theory that an individual is developed by successive differentiation of an unstructured egg rather than by a simple enlarging of a preformed entity.
This new network has no tribal chief. The mathematics at its crux betrays all the institutions and levels of control we’re comfortable with. Suddenly the only real authority becomes the realization that we are capable of programming reality. As opposed to the tribal hierarchies of old, bitcoin is inclusionary. One testament of this is the popular method for anticipating surges in popularity by quantifying Google search queries. In doing so, bitcoin enthusiasts are looking out for James Joyces’ playful acronym of HCE, or “here comes everyone.”
Discussing the network effect is still tricky business. Addressing its reality is often misperceived as distrustful enthusiasm. Logarithmic charts, consequently, are seen as manipulative. But straight lines in nature are not the norm. Computer science is fond of straight lines on circuit boards. But nature is busty and curvy, baby.
Image from sympoetic.net
The bitcoin creation algorithm is asymptotic, while the current rate of bitcoin adoption is potentially exponential, limited only by the human population.
Over the years of media battering, bitcoin has gradually embraced the axiom that “There is no such thing as bad press.” One parallel to this is drug awareness education that for decades continually spun negative sentiment around drug use, while studies now show it had essentially no influence on usage. If anything, the forbidden fruit effect created by authority lured in more curious minds. A similar phenomenon is occurring with the legal act of a national ban on bitcoin. This political behavior, ironically, may inadvertently lead to an increase in interest and widespread adoption, further strengthening the network effect. See: legality of bitcoin by country.
Like the case of banned books, what were once titles actively sought out and either destroyed or suppressed, are now featured in reading lists and history columns, shining an enduring spotlight on their content that was rightfully recognized as disruptive. Nipping new ideologies in the bud before they bloom was an attempt to control what could become the new collective behavior.
The hundredth monkey effect is a studied phenomenon in which a new behavior or idea is claimed to spread rapidly by unexplained means from one group to all related groups once a critical number of members of one group exhibit the new behavior or acknowledge the new idea.
Becoming excited about the network effect invites sharp criticism, but bitcoin enthusiasts are not alone. The December 2014 edition of Wired magazine displayed at length its affinity for the film, Interstellar. A letter to the editor criticized it for being a commercial advertisement. The editors responded that they were just passionate about it. It’s not marketing. It’s passion. As Neil deGrasse Tyson once quipped about space exploration, bitcoin is something that gives us permission to dream again. Although all of humanity may not make it to space anytime soon, we can all actualize the benefits of “the overview effect,” of viewing the earth as a sphere in a system of relationships. Similarly, the economic and social systems we’re now embedded in can be seen as topological, featuring their own sexy curves, and beckoning citizens to emblazon them with further change.
 Measured by number of unique wallet addresses & number of transactions on the network