Crypto-Current (001)


§0.00 — Crypto-current exists if secrecy has a trend. Such a suggestion is naturally obscure. It coaxes attention toward the surreptitious direction of things. ‘Crypto’ is simultaneously the topic, and the retraction of the topic. This evasiveness is compounded by the complexity of its complement. The current eludes docile conformity with the order of objects. This is – apparently – quite independent of any strategic commitment to concealment. It is a flow of time, electricity,* and cash – a turbulent conceptual confluence. Current events are the only kind. If we are unable to step into the same current twice, it is because of what irreversibility has secured in the past. A double blockage then – produced, in a stream, as concealment and as sedimentation. Subsequently, everything we have to say here is already over (but unseen).

§0.01 — Is it really necessary to be so cryptic? This question will do, as a trigger. It seems – however querulously – to ask everything our title seeks to, and more than a book is able to comprehensively engage. The implicit reciprocal: Is it not possible to be clear? What begins with a minor irruption of cognitive irritation, agitated by a few specific words, opens into a history of secrecy invested with hazily-discernible momentum, and beyond, into the dark Herakleitean gnosis – matrix and crypt of Occidental philosophy – Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ (“Nature loves to hide”).** The provocation of integral obscurity leads to the 10,000 things.

§0.011 — Glimpsed at its distant pole of unbounded abstraction, the cryptic is the ultimate philosophical enticement. At this point of origination, two-and-a-half millennia behind us, philosophy was nothing other than abstract cryptography. Its concern was hiding. If cryptography is currently subsuming philosophy back into itself, the historical figure thus sketched is a great cycle – an obscure return. Restoration – closing an epoch (of financial discretion, most superficially) – is also an irreversible liquidation, into currency. Registered within the terms of the transcendental or critical philosophy, it is a departure from the pseudo-object of ‘the present’ in the direction of current time.

§0.0111 — Streams run downwards.*** Engagement with Bitcoin brings us into communication with hidden inclinations, whose indicators mark productions of directionality – gradients, or temporalizations.**** Between real succession and such abstract inclines there is no difference. Entropy describes such an ‘arrow’ most basically, but upon this are built a succession of stream-tapping technologies (hydraulic, thermodynamic, informatic), reinforced by directional mechanisms, beginning with clockwork ratchets, and then proceeding – from the early industrial-era – through check-valves, into electronic forward-bias diodes (rectifiers), and software-implementations of one-way or ‘trap-door’ functions that support asymmetric crypto-processes, and irrevocable contractual commitments. Current emerges from the machinery of time, which is to say from operational asymmetries. ‘Flows’ are easily – and often lazily – invoked, without even notional attention to their engineering details. Far too much is already understood about the mechanics of irreversibility to leave such vague suggestions as a stopping point.

§0.02 — Economies are assembled from flows. Unsurprisingly, therefore, their native codes are currencies, or current-signs. As societies mobilize matter-energy resource streams, their monetary conventions register these flows by inversion, and strict reciprocity. Hole-flow in electronics is a close analog. Every non-barter commodity exchange, or non-financial transaction, catalyzes a flow, by pricing it. The ‘real economy’ is thus automatically captured, by a monetary code, even when – as is overwhelmingly typical – this quantification through signs is never aggregated. Since money systems install an intrinsic economic intelligence (preceding all reflective theorization), economics – uniquely among the sciences – inherits a field of objectivity whose arithmetization has already taken place. This same delicate shadow, cast into business ledgers (pre-denominated by currencies), at once facilitates and registers a system of flows, in a twin production of economic objects. Business is recorded in the way it is produced. Dynamization of the commodity – or economic circulation – is not reducible to, but nevertheless strictly corresponds to, transference of signs.

§0.021 — The economic event, then, is co-original with its semiotic double. It is enabled by signs, before being represented by them. Even the secondary processing, through aggregation, of such information has a pre-theoretical foundation. Powerful economic agencies – most significantly the state’s tax authorities – concentrate commercial data, long before scientific political economy begins to re-compile it, as an analytical object. Logos arrives late.

* Crypto-Current is not, by intention, a book about electricity, but it is quite probably a book about electricity nevertheless. Crypto-current (the thing) works itself out that way, in stubborn obscurity. Electronic publishing is no more than a late phase of its eventuality – although, essentially, among the most conspicuous. Electric current – measured in Ampères or ‘amps’ – conventionally takes the algebraic symbol ‘I’, derived from the French intensité de courant (current intensity), as used by Ampère in the formulation of his force law (1820). It is exactly current intensity, apprehended at a superior level of abstraction – and therefore without the benefit of any yet-stabilized, compact notation – that provides our topic. When posed in the Kantian fashion, our question – determined now at a scale that is bound to escape us – asks: How can there be anything like current, in general? It is, of course, time that is put into question here, but in such a way that electricity – and more specifically hyper-electrification – conducts the interrogation. Even within this widened domain, Ohm’s Law (1827), I = V / R – current is equal to potential difference over resistance – provides a definition we will not, and actually cannot, find reason to depart from, unless in an abstract direction. Our task, rather, is to generalize it, without subsidence into metaphor. Current is not a figure for something else. It is the thing itself – or real time – even, or perhaps especially, when it is most artificial.

** The surviving Fragment 123 of Heraclitus (Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ) hides much within its natural English translation, Nature loves to hide. A glance at the Greek is required because it is especially important for us to note that concealment is already crypto. In its invocation of a crypsis intrinsic to nature – an integral obscurity – the fragment captures a topic anterior to any dissociation of epistemology from ontology. It evokes an active or strategically self-directed dynamism of the unknown. Concealment is determined as a potency on the side of the ‘object’, or rather – far more precisely – the side of ‘that’ which eludes determination as objectivity, rather than merely a deficiency attributable to the subject. ‘How do we know?’ is far too confident a question. ‘How does it escape knowledge?’ interrupts the epistemological presumption. ‘Ignorance’ is thus construed positively, as a natural production.

*** In Chinese language and conception, drawn from the practicalities of water clocks, 下 (xià) or down is the direction of the future, while 上 (shàng) or up is that of the past. Temporalization is descent. Water models time, to some degree of adequacy, while also hiding it. As already for the Greeks, and still for us, it in some way flows. If translated into the terms of occidental theology, The Fall never ended. Onwards is down, at least in abstract inclination.

**** Morgen E. Peck writes: “… a bitcoin miner can … be confident that the other miners are not changing entries on the blockchain, because in Bitcoin there is no going backward.” A re-installation of irreversibility is the primary achievement.