Enter Blockchain: The Non-Evolutionary Recovery of Genesis in Contemporary Discussions of Innovation and Emerging Technologies
Genesis refers to digitally verifiable history in the invention and development of blockchain technology. At the beginning of the blockchain era, Satoshi Nakamoto created (coded) the first ‘genesis block.’ We don’t (yet) know who Satoshi is[i], if even he[ii] is a single person or more than one person. We do know, however, that Satoshi’s monumental white paper was published on November 1, 2008[iii] and that the first ‘block’ on the bitcoin (BTC) blockchain was mined on January 3, 2009 (more below).
The two events above are defined not by features typically associated with ‘naturalistic’ evolutionary theories: randomness, lack of direction or purpose and externally pressured agent-less acts of impersonal nature, without any character(s) involved. Rather, these events are personal, intentional non-evolutionary creations or acts of human invention and innovation. Specifically in the case of blockchain technology they are the result of computer programming and coding, or ‘developing’ if that is your preferred alt-evolutionary term. One could even call the invention and creation of the bitcoin genesis block a ‘revolutionary’ event, as it symbolizes the significant on-coming challenge to government-backed fiat currency systems worldwide in the rise of digital currencies[iv]. But we don’t need to get ahead of ourselves as that is indeed a daunting notion in our current time of global unrest and system transition.
As Jamie Redman writes about it 8 years after the fact, “The genesis block was the starting point for the bitcoin blockchain on its path to becoming a revolutionary network for peer-to-peer transfers of value[v].” This short article does not address the potential impact of blockchain for people and societies, though one may consult other sociological writing about blockchain at SERRC. For those conducting science and technology studies (STS), the movement of blockchain in the latest Gartner ‘hype cycle’ past the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ in July 2017, and its growth in application and usage around the world[vi] shows that blockchain has indeed grown beyond mere speculation or unfulfilled promises. Simply cautioning that ‘neo-liberalism’ will ‘have an effect’ on blockchain as I was told when speaking about it at one academic conference is equivalent to doing nothing but talk, i.e. merely philosophising about what is actually changing the world. Blockchain is not just coming; it’s already here.
The genesis block[vii] is also called Block 0[viii], which extends from Satoshi having coded and mined it. There is no naturalistic, externalist ‘non-Satoshi’ evolutionary explanation for it and if there is, then we’ll expect ideological ‘evolutionists[ix]’ to come up with one quite soon in response to this article. My prediction is they won’t do so because they can’t provide a coherent explanation without hand-waving away the specific details. Thus, most evolutionists likely won’t even try, but rather in their conversations about blockchain divert to avoid the genesis block.
Though Satoshi first used the notion of a ‘block’ in the white paper, he did not therein use the term ‘genesis block.’ Satoshi stated that, “A timestamp server works by taking a hash of a block of items to be time-stamped and widely publishing the hash.” (2009: 2) In other words, the time-stamp marks the original production and completion of the genesis block. Thus, the start (genesis) of that blockchain and with it the elimination of any and all ‘just-so stories’ and evolutionary speculations about its origin.
Time-stamping enables us to trace the non-evolutionary origins and development of blockchains over time, now and in the years to come. Thus, we know exactly when Satoshi’s bitcoin genesis block was completed, Block 0: 2009–01–03[x] 18:15:05 GMT. Also, we know when the first block after the genesis block, so-called “Block 1” was completed: 2009–01–09 02:54:25 GMT. The same is and will be true for all subsequent blocks in any given blockchain; they are all time-stamped to verify the block’s (non-evolved) completion. The time-stamping makes them immutable on the distributed ledger of that blockchain.
We don’t need to look into the technical features[xi] of the genesis block for the purposes of this paper. Nevertheless, it should be noted that “the Genesis Block, unlike every other Bitcoin block, doesn’t reference a previous block[xii].” This re-affirms the meaning of ‘genesis,’ in that the genesis block is the origin or source, the start and beginning upon which other blocks in the blockchain are or can be built. No previous reference is needed.
The phenomenon of genesis blocks in blockchain technology thus compellingly and incontrovertibly answers a basic question if there are “things that don’t evolve into existence” with a simple: Yes. It answers negatively to the exaggerated claims made often by some hardcore ideological evolutionists, claims that are unverifiable by natural science itself; that ‘everything evolves[xiii].’ Satoshi’s genesis block was not an ‘evolutionary’ phenomenon (still, it happened ‘in history’) and it did not ‘evolve’ into existence. Its origin was human-made and not just a ‘natural’ or ‘biological’ phenomenon. This simple anthropic point cuts deeply to the core of a naturalistic ideology that has poisoned the well of human free will, choice and purposeful action by off-loading ‘selection’ merely to the environment, taking it away from ourselves.
A secondary question nevertheless remains, different from the first and main point of this article. Can and should it be said that a blockchain ‘evolves’ after the genesis block has been created and completed? I would argue that is the wrong language to describe the kind of intentional, purposeful, goal-oriented change-over-time that is happening in blockchain ledger communities, and indeed, in the invention and innovation of any manufactured technology. That said, I am nevertheless well aware that some people, even some of the most knowledgeable in the game[xiv], disagree, and (still) think and speak saying that blockchains ‘evolve.’ That view will in my view eventually be corrected when the non-evolutionary alternative presented by some ‘non-random’ social scientist eventually trickles out into peoples’ understandings and vocabularies.
Simply put, without a genesis block there can be no blockchain[xv] and likewise without possessing the key to that block, few people would be convinced that any claimant to the title could possibly be the real Satoshi Nakamoto[xvi]. Satoshi holds the key to the genesis block because he made it himself. This explains the basic logic that, “Eventually all chain branches meet at the genesis block[xvii].” Again, the logic of this should be entirely facile even for the most relativistic of persons to comprehend, or indeed for anyone willing to think for themselves without the excuse of trying to forcibly use the term ‘evolution’ to account for “anything and everything[xviii]”. Even so, it is expected that many readers will return to their old usage of ‘evolution’ to describe all origins and processes, given that they can’t (yet) see who Satoshi actually is with their own eyes.
For anyone, especially those familiar with the dissonant conversation among predominantly individualistic, sectarian USAmerican Protestants, who may at this point be thinking gleefully to themselves, “Hey folks, we’ve got a new young earth creationist in our midst!”, please check that thought immediately at the door. No, I am not an ideological creationist or a ‘young earther.’ The discussion of genesis blocks is clearly not about ‘creationism’ or the age of the Earth. Yet one surely need not be only a quasi-scientistic creationist in order to properly address the language involved in the genesis of blockchain and thus to oppose the continual exaggeration of evolutionary theories beyond their proper natural scientific domain. Indeed, that should be seen now as simply a responsible, balanced position to take in precaution against intellectual extremism (cf. ‘universal Darwinism,’ ‘literary Darwinism,’ etc.) and in defence of the astonishing creativity and innovation that went into building the first genesis block that laid the foundation for the blockchain.
A key point now seemingly proven by the genesis of blockchain is that one can safely and responsibly exclude ‘evolutionary’ explanations of the genesis block from the discussion table. Don’t bring them to the blockchain space anymore. This is one place we can calmly and assuredly state: enough is enough with ideological evolutionism. Externalist evolutionary theories would merely put the invention and innovation outside of Satoshi’s creative reach. It would be as if Satoshi had no personal creative choice and activity in the making of blockchain. Rather, evolutionists must argue by the logic of their ‘theory’ that the surroundings technologically determined the ‘emergence’ of blockchain, not by Satoshi or anyone else in particular. And that’s just plain silly.
O.k. so now that the simple, reinforced argument has been made on the non-evolutionary genesis of blockchains, some will wonder if it carries any important social message whatsoever or if it is just semantically trivial. Why does the non-evolution of genesis blocks and blockchains matter in the larger scheme of things? Why even bother pointing out what is so obvious for most normal people who have not committed themselves to promoting evolutionist ideology that to over-use and indeed misuse or even abuse the term ‘evolution’ may seem to them unproblematic? For people who care about human creativity, the message is simple: the origins and existence of genesis blocks enable a new conversation beyond the confines of evolutionary naturalism. This is direly needed because the term ‘evolution’ has been so widely used and often misused, and even sometimes abused such that it has come to mean almost everything and therefore nothing much of anything at all. Enter blockchain and exit the outdated ‘evolutionary’ way of explaining origins that subsumes human creativity and choice.
Genesis taken in proper context is thus recovered as a ‘non-evolutionary’ phenomenon, verifiable by time-stamps in the case of blockchains. Otherwise, we are forced to suffer an anti-historical ideology that divorces reality from personal participation, with such a position having significant consequences involving our social responsibility and actions. With that warning in mind, it is understood nevertheless that recognising this feature of blockchain will mean over-turning one main idea about society and change that a considerable number of scholars have held and believed in their entire careers. If they insist on being stubborn in their hyper-evolutionism, then that’s just unfortunate for them, with a new understanding of technological innovation now available.
In short, at the risk of being repetitive, one cannot get a chain of blocks without a beginning to that chain, which means a ‘beginning-less’ theory of blockchain simply does not make sense. In other words, without the genesis block, there can be no blockchain. Therefore, the only way there could possibly be an ‘evolutionary’ explanation of the origin of the genesis block is if there is and was no Satoshi Nakamoto.
As for me, I conclude there is no ‘evolutionary’ explanation for a genesis block and that any attempt to force such an explanation (e.g. saying ‘it is a natural scientific law, so therefore it must be true in the artificial and social worlds too’) will be inherently empty of causal adequacy and in the end ultimately dehumanising. It would needlessly avoid both the human agency involved and the time-stamps that offer proof of block completion. The first block in any blockchain will be generated intentionally, not without purpose, plan or goal.
Satoshi Nakamoto concluded the breakthrough paper claiming to have made “a system for electronic transactions without relying on trust.” In that spirit, there is no need to trust me that the genesis block did not technically ‘evolve’ into existence, but rather was intentionally invented. Be welcome to follow the evidence for yourself and decide how blockchain began, when, where (less clear) and why (a much larger and richly explorative question). I am convinced you will come to the same conclusion I have about its unevolvability. Since there was a character or characters (even unknown ones) involved in making intentional innovations, we find in blockchain the perfect antidote to evolutionist ideology being perpetrated by social propagandists on unknowing students and citizens using technological determinism.
Satoshi’s development of the ‘genesis block’ was an amazing accomplishment; a non-evolutionary event that will be celebrated as a great human achievement for years to come. Let us put aside the evolutionist Emperor who is wearing no clothes (Richard Dawkins falls short even of getting a nomination for this position) and celebrate Satoshi’s wonderful invention for what it is — the greatest tool in living memory, perhaps ever in human history, to enable a global-social renaissance based on new value creation and enhanced inter-personal trust — rather than what it is not; yet another ultimately value-less result of un-genesis-like evolutionary processes.
Nakamoto, Satoshi (2008). “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” https://bitcoin.org/en/bitcoin-paper
O’Brien, Justin and David Harding (no date given). “View the Genesis Block.” https://21.co/learn/view-the-genesis-block/
Redman, Jamie (2017). “Bitcoin’s Quirky Genesis Block Turns Either Years Old Today.” https://news.bitcoin.com/bitcoins-quirky-genesis-block-turns-eight-years-old-today/
[i] Although it is claimed here on Medium that the USA’s NSA actually knows who the real Satoshi Nakamoto is in the following recent article, the author did so without reporting on any other nation’s intelligence agencies’ knowledge on the topic or providing any direct evidence: https://medium.com/@amuse/how-the-nsa-caught-satoshi-nakamoto-868affcef595
[iii] The original paper is timestamped Sat, 01 Nov 2008 16:16:33 -0700: http://firstname.lastname@example.org/msg09959.html
[v] Redman (2017)
[vii] The author is still trying to ascertain the first usage of the term ‘genesis block’ in this on-going (non-evolving) investigation.
[ix] Ideological evolutionism is the position that evolution is not (yet) widely used enough and that it should be used more widely than it currently is, even beyond the confines of biological sciences, to include all social sciences and humanities as well. Ideological evolutionists are those who embrace ideological evolutionism.
[x] For USAmerian citizens who are still stuck using an unpopular global format, this means January 03, 2009.
[xi] For those interested in why bitcoins in the genesis block can’t be spent, for example, much discussion has already taken place. “No one knows why the genesis block was created to be unspendable, as there is no explanation in the Satoshi source code version 0.1. Additionally, the genesis block was hard-coded, and nearly all altcoins derived from bitcoin have this initial unspendable block reward.” — Redman (2017)
[xiv] Substitute the word ‘exchange,’ and the meaning is more accurate: “I should briefly define ‘evolution of data.’ For example if a database is keeping track of the ownership of a thing, and at first I own the thing, and then I give it to you, so now you own the thing, that’s data evolution: the data saying who owns it has evolved. The database would have two rows: the first saying I owned it, and the second saying you own it now so please ignore the first.” — Antony Lewis (https://bitsonblocks.net/2017/02/08/yes-but-whats-new-with-distributed-ledgers/)
[xv] As Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin states, “Ether will NOT be usable or transferable until the launch of the genesis block.” https://blog.ethereum.org/2014/07/22/launching-the-ether-sale/ / http://3amdeveloper.com/terms-and-conditions-of-the-ethereum-genesis-sale/