The Bitcoin Constant
The Center Cannot Hold: 10
We can agree that the conditions on Earth are sufficient to support intelligent life. We are a product of the universal environment. Therefore it is safe to say the conditions in the universe at large are consistent with those that can support intelligent life, however slim the odds.
We can also agree that the conditions on Earth are sufficient to support Bitcoin. Bitcoin is emergent from and a product of 300 thousand odd years of our intelligence evolving. While the invention of Bitcoin can be attributed to Satoshi, there is no such thing as causation. Humans can perceive only a succession of events. Attribution allows us to arrange events chronologically in language. Attribution is a history more or less agreed upon, so that the conversation can continue in any meaningful way. One could easily continue to reach further into history, attributing the invention of Bitcoin to the cryptographic and electronic cash innovations that came before it. Although, in my opinion, it is ultimately Satoshi’s packaging of prior innovations, paired with simple but hugely consequential traits such as the difficulty adjustment, the scheduled supply issuance, and the terminal scarcity, which signaled Bitcoin’s invention.
Invention can here be differentiated from innovation, as the implications of Bitcoin, its consequences, its effects, are irrevocable. Inventions cannot be put back in the bottle, as the course of humanity is on some scale altered after their advent. Innovations on the other hand alter the course of inventions. The Lightning Network is a remarkable innovation that has altered the course of the invention of Bitcoin. (I’m fairly certain Pete Rizzo first taught me this distinction in conversation.)
The emergent fundamental guarantee of property immune to governance is perhaps the element that most assured Bitcoin a place in the realm of humanity-altering inventions. Naming other inventions of consequence is left as an exercise to the reader.
As conscious organisms we might be a rarity, however, the fact of our presence and ability to make observations about the universe allows us to assume that the fundamental physical constants of the universe are compatible with intelligent life, and therefore with Bitcoin, but to what extent?
Why do the fundamental physical constants of the intelligent life equation seem fine tuned to accommodate intelligent life, and therefore Bitcoin life? (Note my assumption that Bitcoin is alive. It has been bootstrapped to promote its own production, and prevent its own production. It is a white marble that cannot be put back in the bottle. But what comes after Bitcoin? Nothing. For us there is nothing after Bitcoin. It is our first and final money.)
This is what’s known as the anthropic principle. Our understanding of the universe is filtered through a human bias, our vantage point. But because we, and Bitcoin are a product our universe, emergent within it, and beholden to its fundamental laws, the transitive property of universal constants makes it possible for us to gather some knowledge about it.
One physical constant is the total amount of mass and energy in the universe. Picture a full stack of cards. If you shuffle those cards enough times, a sequential flush will occur. If you continue to shuffle them, in time, any and all possible sequences of that deck can and will occur. Within the constraints of our universe, a universal deck of mass and energy, we can be thought of as a statistical emergence. Bitcoin too, can be thought of as a statistical emergence, one that is predicated on the prior emergence of a certain intelligence. (While I have not yet considered whether and to what extent Bitcoin is intelligence in any meaningful way, I am certain machine intelligence will be built on Bitcoin, as Bitcoin is in fact, the best solution to the problem of programmable value accretion in software.)
The important takeaway is that the fundamental laws of nature here on Earth are consistent with those found anywhere in this universe. If they were slightly different, the universe would be inhospitable, and therefore unobservable. We can observe some universe, though as we know, in our current state, we are ill equipped to observe the universe as it actually is, and further, without Bitcoin, without technology built on decentralized money and property immune to governance, our understanding of what goes on in the universe would have remained severely limited, myopic in scope, helplessly trapped within the subjectivity of the empirical fallacy.
We do not sense the Earth’s rotation under our feet, or our bodies hurling through the cosmos. In our current state, the vast majority of occurrences in this universe are too fast or too slow, too large, too small, too far, or invisible to our centralized, empirically limited frame of reference. Most of what happens happens not only outside of human perception, but it is completely unnecessary for us to be able to perceive it from the vantage point of genetic adaption, in our current state.
Genes get themselves replicated at the expense of their rivals. That is all. Genes undergo random variations and tend to pass on those variations which promote their production, and inhibit their destruction. Bitcoin shares this function in a sense. The network is fluid, it responds dynamically to attacks and grows in way that decentralizes its hash power, and promotes its continued growth. Bitcoin’s code is also upgraded and altered slightly over time in ways that promote its production. Over time, alterations that are harmful to the network’s continued production are dropped, and in most cases prevented from entering the protocol at all.
Similarly, new blocks of valid transactions are added to the ledger, promoting Bitcoin's growth in another way. Invalid transactions are warded against, and cast out, protecting the network.
The Lightning Network could be considered one result of Bitcoin’s genetic variance. The Lightning Network was an experimental continuation of Bitcoin, whose network’s survival is totally dependent upon Bitcoin. Although, Bitcoin does not depend on the Lightning Network for survival at all. The two benefit mutually from each other. The Lightning Network is Bitcoin’s symbiote.
Sometimes people refer to Bitcoin’s ability to self promote when they say the incentives are aligned. I think this phrase gives too much agency to humans in regards to the continued success of Bitcoin. What does it mean for Bitcoin to succeed? On its own terms it simply means that it continues to operate. Bitcoin is deaf and dumb to its U.S. dollar price, and also to our languages, measure, and ideas of success.
The process of evolution is not linear, nor have we had much conscious say in our evolution as a species. Though through selective breeding humans have tried in the past to interfere with or manipulate this process. A large scale eugenics program to boost human intelligence or select for desirable physical traits is a morally and politically unviable route. Though most dogs and much of the food we consume are products of genetic modification through highly selective breeding.
Embryonic selection, however, choosing even one embryo over another (in the context of in vitro fertilization) for its genetic potential is a practice which is thought could boost a human IQ 4.2 points. IQ is by no means the be all and end all of intelligence, but take it here as one simple measure. A 1-in-10 embryo selection may represent an upper limit of what would currently be practically feasible for one IVF cycle. Select 1 from 1000 embryos and it is thought that 24.3 IQ points could be gained. Successive generations of embryonic selection yields an even higher IQ but with diminishing returns. Countries will probably hold out on adopting such practices large-scale on moral or religious grounds.
Obviously it would take a decade or two for the genetically selected children to mature and make a considerable impact on the work force and the innovation of their host country. However, the first country or countries to find a cost-effective way to broadly adopt these practices, and use complementary technologies such as stem cell-derived gametes, to enable iterated embryo selection in vitro, compressing multiple generations of selection into a few years or less, while simultaneously incentivizing their budding population of hyper-intelligent humans to stay in their host nation (with Bitcoin?), could in time achieve a collective super-intelligence, and a decisive strategic advantage over countries that opt out. The geopolitical game theory of Bitcoin adoption plays out similarly, with early adopters being rewarded, and laggards being penalized, and the last adopters or non-participants being out-resourced completely and left unable to compete.
The advantages of such a process in tandem with advances in technology built on Bitcoin are unending in terms of social problem solving and the longevity of the human race. The disadvantages though, the potential for power seizure (imagine a class of humans more intelligent than any who has yet occurred) and social disaster are equally imaginable. There would certainly be bugs, unforeseen developmental and social consequences for the individuals allotted outsized and unprecedented IQ levels.
Embryonic selection could be thought of as a gray marble that falls from the bottle of irrevocable human feats in engineering. It is debatable or remains to be seen whether and to what extent, and on whose terms such a process would be a net positive for humanity. Without a doubt the nations or mega-corporations that realize the geopolitical comparative advantage embryonic selection could give them will begin to experiment with it privately, if not publicly. It will be interesting to see whether these first movers will also be among the first to put Bitcoin in their respective national or corporate treasury and adopt it as a currency. It is difficult if not frightening to imagine the decisive strategic advantage the first country to adopt both Bitcoin and embryonic selection will have over the rest.
24 October 2021