Crypto-Current (016-c)

§1.06 — The rest of the mail composes a separate systematic unit, devoted to introducing the Bitcoin protocol in (a little) more detail. It takes the form of a sub-headed five-point list, striking for its informality. What initially appears as a logical structure buckles significantly under analysis. The second point, for instance, is essentially a re-statement of the first, separated only by distinct emphasis, since the functional completeness of the P2P network and the absence of any need for trusted third parties constitute a single (or numerically identical) accomplishment. The third point, while approximately accurate, might be considered misleading in two ways. While permitting anonymity, the Bitcoin protocol does nothing to positively protect it. The passive facilitation of anonymity is both unremarkable and, from a technical perspective, notably weak (as would later become evident). Satoshi’s two final points are also interconnected, although in this case the articulation reflects a real synthesis – or techonomic advance – rather than mere semiotic overspill or logical redundancy. The socio-technical Bitcoin machine validates itself in the same way it spreads.

§1.07 — Philosophers searching for the systematic order of the Bitcoin protocol in the logical architecture of a list such as this are looking in the wrong place – comically so, one might easily think. The chat is not the code. Yet, everything attending the arrival of Bitcoin is of such monumental philosophical importance that errors of over-reading can still serve as a corrective to neglect. Much more is still being missed than over-interpreted where the Bitcoin phenomenon is concerned. The occurrence is outpacing its sense.

§1.08 — The problem is not that this fragment is being read at all, or with exaggerated attention, but that it is being read the wrong way, insofar as it is considered to be a logically-ordered list, or a table of categories, rather than the linguistic translation of a circuit diagram. Disorder – and ultimately paradox – is the positive attainment of a cybernetic statement.* It is especially notable that Satoshi’s five-point list of Bitcoin ‘properties’ explicitly describes a cycle, ending where it begins, in a return to the topic of double-spending and its effective prevention. This circular formulation, too, is a mark of technical functionality, rather than logical indiscipline. Bitcoin loops back, to close upon itself, because it works (and demonstrates that it works, through actual perpetuation of its existence). ‘Problems’ of self-reference are an operational virtue, requiring positive achievement. The guiding principle is not conceptual comprehension, but machinic closure.

* Fritjof Capra recalls a conversation with Gregory Bateson that captures the mutual entanglement of mechanical and logical circuitousness:
“… when you get circular trains of causation, as you always do in the living world, the use of logic will make you walk into paradoxes. Just take the thermostat, a simple sense organ, yes?”
He looked at me, questioning whether I followed and, seeing that I did, he continued.
“If it’s on, it’s off; if it’s off, it’s on. If yes, then no; if no, then yes.”
With that he stopped to let me puzzle about what he had said. His last sentence reminded me of the classical paradoxes of Aristotelian logic, which was, of course, intended. So I risked a jump.
“You mean, do thermostats lie?”
Bateson’s eyes lit up: “Yes-no-yes-no-yes-no. You see, the cybernetic equivalent of logic is oscillation.”

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