Perception and Bitcoin

Part 1: “What is actually going on?”

“I don’t know; let’s see!” — Alfred Korzybski

This is going to be a story in three short parts that tries to draw a connection between how we perceive the world, and the way Bitcoin establishes something that one of its core developers calls “truth”. We won’t start there, though. Instead, we’ll start off by inquiring into the question of what is actually going on.

Pondering such questions seems to be the domain of “professional philosophers”, poets, and dope-fiends, and as such hardly a very serious way to spend our life. Here’s the problem, though: in actuality, we do little else but keep answering that question. We are always telling ourselves stories about what is going on around and inside us. In fact, we can’t imagine living any other way. Almost everything we do is rooted in our deep-seated beliefs, prejudices and world views.

Now, that is hardly an original notion. It has been stated in a myriad of ways by a myriad of people over the millenia. There is nothing mystical or supernatural, or even deeply philosophical about it: the function of our brain is to assemble images from our perception, memories, cultural influences, upbringing etc. to make sense of the world and not be eaten by predators. Questioning those images uses up our precious energy and time and takes away the security we find in them.

This unfortunately often leads to the assumption that one knows what is actually going on, instead of actively inquiring into it. The more deeply rooted those assumptions are, the less we can actually see them as such, creating the illusion that the story you’re telling yourself is what is actually going on. It makes us susceptible to stories that are being enforced upon us, be it the story that people of different nations are somehow fundamentally different, or that a new 4k TV will fill the void inside you.

One of the biggest issues here is the source of those stories. Governments, companies and gurus are inherently driven by self-interest, and that self-interest involves you not being interested in questioning them. If there are no nations, there cannot be influential governments. If there is no demand for gadgets, Amazon and Apple go bankrupt. The unfortunate side-effect to those stories are nationalism, racism, consumerism, materialism, and a whole lot of other “-ism”s that lead to inward and outward conflict.

This observation leads us back to the question of “what is actually going on?”. Which story is the correct one? What shall I use as a blueprint for my life? Is there even a possibility of seeing truth that is not tainted by my images and illusions, or are we forever lost inside our stories, playing them back as a commentary track for our lives?

So far, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that we can ever know truth other than by living it (tat tvam asi and all that). Science is often looked upon as the tool that will eventually get us to that knowledge — and many scientists including Einstein believed that we will some day find out “the answer to life, the universe and everything” — so far, however, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that it will ever happen. Every basic theory about how the world works seems to be regularly superseeded by new theories and world views. We keep finding out that atoms are not atomic, time is not absolute, and the observer is not different from the observed. It’s almost as if we’re living the process of constant attunement to that evasive “truth” of what is actually going on. It seems obvious, then, that this very attunement is threatened when we confuse mental images and stories about truth with truth itself. It’s also quite clear that rigid institutions which very function is self-serving delusion of its citizens or customers will probably lead to more conflict in the long run.

Part 2 outlines the basic function of Bitcoin in the context of perception.