by Michelle Varron (Last updated November 2018)
I. The Chasm Between Unscientific and Scientific
Isaac Newton is often referred to as the first of the modern physicists and the last of the alchemists. He lived at the border of superstition and science, studying texts on material transmutation and alchemical culture that would be considered by today's standards complete and utter rubbish, while being a member of his day's elite scientific circles, and quite intuitively, using his alchemical leanings as the foundations of modern theories of physics. The famous story about the apple falling on him, however compelling, is untrue. Instead, Newton derived his gravitational theory from less practical inspirations. He was inspired by the configuration of the hearth of the Salomon Temple. From this, he formulated the idea of universal gravitation — likening the hearth and the disciples gathered around it to a kind of universal force that attracts all matter.
Newton's extrapolation of scientific concepts from cultish superstition and esoteric thinking led to the foundations of modern physics. By using alchemical concepts as a springboard, he imagined new fundamental principles that were not only measurable but reproducible. He was caught between his passion for the mysterious, occult and magical, and his scientific vigor — a prodigious gift for deciphering codes, unraveling mathematical formulae and discovering patterns from observation.
Just as Newton was a man of both belief and science, today's crypto-evangelists could be considered a bridge between the past and the future: born into a money system that is largely propped up by belief in states and authoritarian figures, and witnesses to a new form of currency — one that does not rely on trust or symbols, but rather the laws of mathematics, and yes, physics itself.
Of course I am talking about Bitcoin.
Bitcoin exists at a time when we still practice the vestiges of a kind of monetary alchemy. A time when gold is still the leading store of value. And where money is printed liberally in an inflationary model. (Who needs alchemy when you can simply use paper?)
We are in a "Newtonian birth" of monetary evolution, where the old exists but is quickly giving way to the new. And where the new — the creation of math-based currency — arose from unscientific, even traumatic, circumstances. Many would cite the timing of bitcoin's release as reactionary to the global financial crisis. Just like the alchemists, we have labored for centuries to create new methods of forging wealth, relying on symbolism, cultish ideas and beliefs, working back the errors in our computations and compensating with various economic governance mechanisms to manage what is essentially a crude tool. Like the physicists, we have finally arrived at a mathematical solution.
By "we" I refer to us as a collective civilization, but really it is bitcoin's pseudonymous inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, who has skyrocketed us to this stage. Another example of the intelligence and determination of one mind being far more important and influential than the tide of groupthink and collective belief that can often lead us astray. One person (or entity) has catapulted us into a new era.
But this is only the beginning. Money — true computational money, scientific money — is barely at its infancy. The turmoil in crypto markets today (writing this right in the middle of the bloodbath of November 2018) signifies the uncertainty of the cryptosphere. Still infected by old notions and anxiety or greed-propelled systems of speculation, while we are attempting, bravely, to move forward, yet the old psychology predominates.
This is a good time to step back for a moment — really step back — and look at the timeline from a civilizational perspective. We are a juncture where we have potentially invented, or are at the cusp of, true civilizational money. Why do I say this?
Money is traditionally tribal. It is the attribution of tribal qualities and values towards a material store of value or medium of exchange, and today is reflected as the tribalism of nations, for which there are different currencies representing different societies. For tribal money to succeed, the society needs to flourish. Social rivalries and competition leads to the sinister side of tribal currencies — used as the vehicle to fund wars and capture resources for the tribe.
For the first time, with bitcoin, money has not just become non-tribal, meaning, not affiliated with any government, nation or group, but completely agnostic to its user. It has crossed social barriers to become a medium of exchange for Homo Sapiens, regardless of nationality, race, gender or belief system. It is a non-divisive currency, a truly global one, that does not rely on any kind of alchemy to prop it up. It, instead, functions exclusively along the lines of mathematics and physics, employing the fundamentals of how the universe works.
Now how valuable is that! If we pause for a moment, and see what we truly have here, we will realize that we have set in motion something that could transform us fundamentally, because it is so close to the true laws that govern us in the first place. (Not the ones we invented.)
This important step in human civilization has been largely overlooked for what it really is.
The revolution combining game theory, PoW (Proof-of-Work), cryptography, distributed systems, peer-to-peer transactions and decentralization, is embodied in one invention: bitcoin.
Bitcoin in its essence, is a scientific breakthrough — pure scientific money — without concern for opinion. The most fascinating thing about it, to me, is its use of pure tools — the most fundamental of them all — to create what is money's most truthful form to date. Satoshi Nakamoto thought back to first principles, and answered the question, "What is money?" and perhaps, equally important, "What is the money of the future?"
II. Our Time: the End of Monetary Alchemy
When are we? Despite our best efforts, we are not quite fully in the age of scientific money yet. Rather, we are at the tumultuous end of unscientific currency.
We are building the foundations, and the foundations are costly. Creating the seed matrix for bitcoin costs significant investment in machinery, computational power and energy. It took (and still is taking) tremendous effort to scale socially. It is taking even more time, effort and resources to convert the current economic system into one that includes bitcoin in its foundations. One does not simply destroy old money in favor of shiny new discoveries regardless of the human and social cost. The tearing down is painful, and there will be growing pains, pushback from institutions, negotiations and trojan horses on both sides.
Our time marks a crucial point of survival.
III. A Future Ancestor
One day, in the not-so-distant future, energy science will catch up with cryptocurrencies. I believe that to change money permanently, not one but two revolutions need to happen: one already has — a cryptographic universal form of money, bitcoin; the other, not yet — cheap and boundless energy.
These two will tremendously accelerate the Earth economy into a state of new abundance as never before. It will be a perfect exponential reaction where finance will enjoy nearly zero friction.
We will have the best of both worlds: distributed, seamless, truthful money that can be beamed from any satellite or transported beyond the planet, and the clean energy required to power the math that protects it.
I am confident that we are standing on a crucial foundational event for a new civilizational era to emerge. We are now in possession of a new form of economic self-management — one that does not care about the political flavor of the day; one that can traverse geographic (and even planetary) gaps; one that can take us farthest from where we started.
About The Author
Michelle has been an active bitcoin advocate since 2012. Apart from her entrepreneurial ventures in the crypto/blockchain space, she enjoys kung fu and writing science fiction. Follow her on Twitter.