digital commonwealth

I am always looking for sources of novel thinking. so if you have some you think I would like, send it to me.

I read an article describing a theory of dreams, which is extended to explain humanity’s desire for art, and which suggests it is not only possible to distinguish between art and entertainment, but necessary.

A belief in an aesthetic spectrum may be all that keeps a civilization from disappearing up its own brainstem.

Erik Hoel - “Enter the Supersensorium”

this article lit a brush fire in my mind. I enjoyed rolling these ideas around, considering the gravity well created by aesthetics, how people might react against such a well, and why such continuous struggles to define the undefinable must not be dropped. if someone asked me who is the most original, but meaningful thinker I’ve encoutnered this year, it would be Erik Hoel.

more of Hoel’s writing can be found here.

I’m writing this piece after returning to the above page and picking “Will the Bitcoin Bubble Pop or Will it Envelope Us All” from 2018. the concentration of good ideas and worthy angles in this work is hard to overstate. Hoel does not speak from the perspective of a firebrand, but instead seems more like a poet or philosopher.

bitcoin as hyperobject

Hoel defines a hyperobject by quoting Timothy Morton:

events or systems or processes that are too complex, too massively distributed across space and time, for humans to get a grip on

then elaborates bitcoin as one of these:

Bitcoin is such a hyperobject, the first of its kind. Bitcoin expands across spacetime, a growing chain of ordered megabyte blocks, both everywhere and nowhere. Its fluid physical manifestations sprout up to gobble up cheap electricity, frigid warehouses stacked with buzzing thermodynamical demons solving computational puzzles that exist only to play a guessing game that is purposefully pointless. Input/output ports, like exchanges, or peer-to-peer sales, or accepting merchants, reach upward like tendrils from this ineffable otherworld where Bitcoin really exists.

it reads like philosophic poetry. there’s an idea in there, that information may be more primal than matter. thinking the thoughts is like staring at the stars on a summer evening, seeing the depth of the universe and having the sensation that you might fall off the face of the earth. there is great depth here, and it feels like a bit of the spirit that I had believed was missing in our time.

Perhaps one fanciful hypothesis is that the brain itself works kind of like an organic blockchain, replicating its model of self and world across its hemispheres and modules, with consciousness being the current decentralized neural consensus of the state of that model.

it is fanciful, but why not? Hoel’s strength is in driving down these blind alleys and finding that they don’t dead end, but open up into valleys that just keep going.

I will not pass up the opportunity to hammer this point:

Unlike the objectively real information in a distributed ledger, the value of that ledger is totally subjective.

objections to bitcoin sometimes take the form of a suggestion that it has no intrinsic value, or that no one knows how much it should be worth. indeed, both points are true, and also true of fiat currency, gold, or anything at all. the subjectivity of human value is inescapable.

and further implications:

in its price action there’s a fundamental enormousness to Bitcoin that marks it as a hyberobject

the daily and monthly peaks and troughs can be conceptualized as Ptolemaic epicycles within the grand cycles that play out on the yearly basis (sometimes even every two or three years).

those grand cycles are the echos of halvenings, the changes in block-reward and resulting scarcity of supply.

There is no way to get from immensely low prices to immensely high prices in a straight line, even if everyone involved believed strongly that the outcome was preordained.

this explanation of bitcoin volatility is deeply satisfying. it doesn’t predict what the price will be on a given date, but it does give a vast space for the mind to wander in, where there are fruitful analogies to runs on cleaning supplies at grocery stores, traffic jams caused by people fleeing hurricanes or floods, or even adoption of new technologies.

a gradual digital commonwealth

Hoel continues to the arc of his reasoning into other forms of trust and exchange in human society. this is the techno-optimist vision writ large. Hoel’s conclusions are similar to Peter Theil’s Crypto is Libertarian, AI is Communist view of the landscape of technology.

This is the idea of a “digital commonwealth” which self-governs its technological and economic evolution, as well as laws and community standards. These digital commonwealths make it clear that the power of blockchains is not to completely eliminate trust, but rather to formalize it.

the current forms of governance feel like entropy stalking us all, but I don’t propose radical changes. if you think you can fly, don’t go to the roof and jump off, try taking off from the ground first. I think gradual adoption of crypto/blockchain by individuals, companies, and governments, will happen as practical implementations of distributed consensus emerge. currency is the first and most obvious hyperobject the fall into the blockchain gravity well. others will follow.