§2.5 — Conceptual house-keeping leads to a very brief excursus into the work of Martin Heidegger at this point, since his ‘fundamental ontology’ marks an apogee of critical lucidity, with the transcendental determination of time as its key-stone. With greater formulaic definition than Kant ever achieved, Heidegger sustains the essential impetus of critique through the insistence that time cannot be apprehended as intra-temporal being. Alongside the explicit foregrounding of the time problem in its transcendental radicality, a further indication of the critical consolidation occurring within the Heideggerian corpus is the compression of transcendental-empirical difference to ontological difference, or the difference between Being and beings (Sein and Seiendes). Despite the terminological perfection of this formula, employment of ‘ontological difference’ within this book is limited, and strictly economical. It refers to a systematic discrimination coextensive with transcendental philosophy, rather than to anything further – or indeed to anything at all – that is distinctively Heideggerian.* Its structure and philosophical function will be frequently invoked. The complementary consolidation of critique, through the confident assertion that beyond the transcendental there is not even nothing will be henceforth presumed. Philosophy has no further recourse.
§2.51 — It is not Heidegger’s project – overtly, at least – to reconstitute philosophy subsequent to the destruction of metaphysics. His terminological inclination, on the contrary, is to identify ‘philosophy’ with the metaphysical aeon closed by fundamental ontology (though not simply ended by it). If philosophy is to prolong itself – in disregard of its Heideggerian obituary – it has nevertheless to define itself through a ‘simultaneous’ and reciprocal discrimination in regards to both the a-temporal and the intra-temporal. Its attention can be fixed neither by the timeless Idea, nor by the time-structured object, but only by time as such. Time is neither beyond, nor among, things in time. It is neither transcendence, nor factuality, but rather the intrinsic principle of the non-geometrical diagonal line. Decryption of immanent order is the destiny of transcendental philosophy, whatever the nature of the subjectivity that will be fabricated to accomplish it.
§2.52 — By far the most persistent clue that Bitcoin is (or bitcoins are) intrinsically rifted by a consistent, if elusive, ontological difference has been supplied by the explicit bivalence of its attendant orthographic conventions, scattered among microscopic editorial decisions of very limited conceptual clarity. According to one representative source, “Since Bitcoin is both a currency and a protocol, capitalization can be confusing. Accepted practice is to use Bitcoin (singular with an upper case letter B) to label the protocol, software, and community, and bitcoins (with a lower case b) to label units of the currency.”** The difference between Bitcoin and bitcoins cannot be denominated in bitcoins. It is, then, strictly ontological, or transcendental-philosophical. A genesis of objectivity is at stake, which no objectification can capture. Bitcoin is not merely bitcoins, while also not being anything else. “So, it’s like time, then?” (Yes, a lot like time.)
§2.53 — Linked closely with the strictly orthographic question of correct Bitcoin capitalization are a series of cognitive-semiotic adjustments and adaptations concerning the status of ‘Bitcoin’ as a proper name, the difference between ‘Bitcoin’ and ‘bitcoins’, or between ‘Bitcoin’ and ‘BTC’, and – perhaps most substantively, in the short-term at least – between Bitcoin / bitcoins and ‘the blockchain’ (or blockchains).*** All of these concurrent confusions matter, some urgently, and obviously, others more subtly, within a longer history of critically-charged proper or common nouns. The emerging distinctions are freighted with dramatic philosophical significance. The gulf between the protocol and its applications, when deepened to the limit of abstraction, envelops the entire space of thought.
§2.54 — Such orthographic decisions, which intersect with thematic discriminations – or attempted discriminations – between Bitcoin (specifically) and ‘blockchain technologies’ (in general), can appear as no more than negotiations over an arbitrary convention, if not mere terminological tics. There are only the subtlest indications that the stakes in this process of semiotic sorting rise to the recapitulation of transcendental-empirical difference within political economy. Yet the fact that this new terminological settlement is occurring as highly-accelerated spontaneous linguistic evolution, in the complete absence of explicit philosophical guidance, counts towards a generous estimation of its importance.
§2.55 — Any concept worthy of adherence and consistent employment merits linguistic compression, not merely as a matter of convenience, but as a confirmation of singularity, or irreducible integrity. It is only in the overtly non-decomposable sign – whether word or symbol – that the concept attains terminal semiotic consolidation. Merely partial consolidation, as exemplified by the decomposable designation of ‘ontological difference’, holds open an invitation to systematic philosophical error. It suggests, tacitly but inevitably, that what is thus named is a type of difference (specified by supplementary predication, or adjectival refinement). Entire schools of neo-transcendental critique are able to propagate themselves within the space thus produced, nourished by the relapse of ontological difference into an ‘ontic’ determination (between beings, or objects), which is to say, by a ‘fall’ of transcendental-empirical difference into – ‘mere’ – empirical distinction. It is to be expected, therefore, that the ‘postmodern’ phase of the critical enterprise would be characterized by the insinuation – and even, more bluntly, by the simple assertion – that the incessant re-animation of metaphysics is itself a transcendental structure. Such conclusions are facilitated by incompletely compacted signs, when not directly generated by them. Transcendental philosophy has as its own condition of possibility a rectification of names. Bitcoin is by no means incidental to this.
§2.56 — Although the world is probably not yet ready for the question of the price of Being, if it ever will be, its most fundamental ontological problems are bound to the fate of a digital currency system, nevertheless. The intrinsic abstraction of money is not obviously delimitable. To twist a Spinozistic formulation: We do not know what money can do. The process of monetary sophistication, which is by no means restricted to ‘financialization’ in its contemporary sense, automatically projects a convergence of money and intelligence as it tends to the monetization of general-purpose problem-solving (by subjecting it to the discipline of price-discovery). Crypto-digital currency inclines to the distributed production of a synthetic cognitive medium, attesting to the primordial complicity of Capital teleology with the production of artificial intelligence. Within the industrial social order (capitalism), markets manifestly – and consistently – drive the production of intelligent machines. Modernity demonstrates no stronger trend. (Theoretical expectation supports this proposition no less firmly than empirical evidence.****)
* The articulation of ontological (or transcendental-empirical) difference as a systematic discrimination between ‘Being’ and ‘beings’, as advanced most notably by Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), can be recommended for its exemplary lucidity and purity of critical principle. Die ontologische Differenz besteht darin, dass Sein kein Seiendes ist (“Ontological difference rests in this – that Being is not a being.”) While this expression does not perfectly translate objectivity is not an object, the difference is of only marginal technical relevance. The critical insight is preserved with comparable security in both formulations. Time is not an entity (in time) has to be added to this short series of adequate substitutions. (Bitcoin and bitcoins, Being and beings, what’s the difference?) Within Heideggerian Destruktion and Derridean deconstruction the practice of placing signs ‘under erasure’ (sous rature) – by emphatically deleting them – dramatizes the persistence of metaphysical compulsion. Remarkably, this arcane philosophical convention has long been pursued in the micro-semiotics of struck-through currency signs (of which the crossed-B symbol for Bitcoin is the most recent example).
In Being and Time it is quite rapidly concluded that we ourselves – when ontologically identified as Dasein – are in each case that being through which the question of Being can be raised. Ontological difference is already a circuit. In the work of the traumatized post-war Heidegger, this point of departure is incrementally stripped of its tacit anthropological frame. ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ displaces the analytic of Dasein. Technology (Gestell, translated into English as ‘standing reserve’) is thus apprehended as a transcendental subject, rather than a mere concatenation of objects. Revisiting this meditation in the context of Bitcoin, and indeed distributed protocol systems more widely, is almost certain to be philosophically illuminating. It is not attempted here.
Nick Szabo offers a valuable stratoanalysis of the distinction: “When it comes to small-b bitcoin, the currency, there is nothing impossible about paying retail with bitcoin the way you’d pay with a fiat currency – bitcoin-denominated credit and debit cards, for example, with all the chargeback and transactions-per-second capabilities of a credit or debit card. And there are clever trust-minimizing ways to do retail payments in the works. Capital-B Bitcoin, the blockchain, is going to evolve into a high-value settlement layer, and we will see other layers being used for small-b bitcoin retail transactions.”
*** See: ‘Is It Bitcoin of bitcoin? The Orthography of the Cryptography’
**** Since political economy is essentially torn by ideological conflict it provides only unstable support for general conceptual definitions. Were this not the case, it would be impossible to find a superior locus for the rigorous determination of intelligence than the techonomic matrix. What defines intelligence most essentially is general-purpose industrial capability, the precursor to which is anticipated by animal brains, among other biological systems. The market process is the transcendental criterion for evaluating (‘pricing’) this supreme synthetic resource. To second guess its judgment is exactly to succumb to the calculation problem (as Mises classically outlines it). Within the arena of ideological controversy, this proposition can expect dismissal for its ‘circularity’. Of course, it is circular (which is only to say: self-grounding, cybernetic, immanent, or critical).