Geek Culture
Published in

Geek Culture

Ladder in a mirror

Bitcoin symmetry and senselessness

The penultimate proposition made by Ludwig Wittgenstein in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (6.54 — subsequently known as “Wittgenstein’s ladder”) might discourage the reader from attempting the whole work, if read back to front, because understanding the relationship between language and representation (of reality) arrives to a point of nonsense — the propositions contained (in Tractatus) hold no purpose other than being “surmounted”, climbed, and discarded; and all this for seeing the world “rightly”, but where it’s not necessarily given how the world is right or wrong without wrought examination of the environmental “rules” surrounding it.

Wittgenstein’s final proposition (7) is to then address the characteristic of contemplation in human language and for where one cannot speak, one must be silent. That is not to say the human conscience is absent in silence, but the flow of thinking must be aware of a geometrically evident logic, before making any proposition known to the world:

“3.032 To present in language anything which “contradicts logic” is as impossible as in geometry to present by its co-ordinates a figure which contradicts the laws of space; or to give the co-ordinates of a point which does not exist.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922

A later proposition then considers the idea of equilibrium in a “zero method”:

“6.121 The propositions of logic demonstrate the logical properties of propositions, by combining them into propositions which say nothing. This method could be called a zero-method. In a logical proposition propositions are brought into equilibrium with one another, and the state of equilibrium then shows how these propositions must be logically constructed.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922

The symmetry in bitcoin

A determinative outcome in any dispute inevitably involves the quality of representation engaged by each side, and also the enforceability of any agreement represented. Early game theory came to realise symmetry in a bargain was axiomatic in bargaining determination because the bargainers involved could form rational expectations around each others preferences.

The bitcoin design is conscious of this symmetry in its suspicion of (btc) being forked or split:

“So much of the design depends on all nodes getting exactly identical results in lockstep that a second implementation would be a menace to the network.” Satoshi Nakamoto, 17 June, 2010

“In practice, splits are likely to be very asymmetrical. It would be hard to split the world down the middle.” Satoshi Nakamoto, 3 August, 2010

In almost Wittgenstein-like style, Satoshi describes how such “asymmetry” would sound, in relation to the bitcoin network:

“It could tell if it’s not hearing the hum of the world anymore.” Satoshi Nakamoto, 3 August, 2010

The utility of the software in bitcoin is expressed in specific terms by Satoshi, and with a design feature similar to the manual override function built in John F Nash Jr.’s 1954 decentralized architecture for an “electronic brains of the future”, called “Parallel Control”, where such brains are geometrically situated in relation to each other:

“There is no way for the software to automatically know if one chain is better than another except by the greatest proof-of-work. In the design it was necessary for it to switch to a longer chain no matter how far back it has to go.

The only exception to that is the manual checkpoints I’ve added. If it weren’t for those, it would be able to reorg all the way back to the first block.” Satoshi Nakamoto, August 16, 2010

The senselessness in bitcoin

There are a couple of prominent admissions made by Satoshi on his design limitations. Probably the best known is bitcoin mining being described as a “waste” (but with the net waste being NOT having bitcoin available as a medium of exchange).

Again in almost Wittgenstein-like style, Satoshi also describes the limitation of his software in relation to human linguistic representation:

“It’s absolutely safer than a straight payment without escrow, but not as good as a human arbitrated escrow, assuming you trust the human enough.” Satoshi Nakamoto, 26 September, 2009

It is worth considering any predictive proposition having, at any time, the rug pulled from beneath its feet, or becoming like a ladder unsteady before it’s been “climbed and discarded”, e.g. in describing bitcoin “as the future of money” — all the problems bitcoin are said to cause, are not solvable by unilateral remedy, and thus rests the possibility its decentralization is a transient property to multilateral cooperation (or coalitions).

If the utility (of bitcoin) is to therefore represent an inflation proposition to be indexed and adjusted in contracts — providing symmetry to the bargain as a result — then both the sense and senselessness of (bitcoin) involve a consideration of its design axioms as representation in the majority world from where it has been borne.




A new tech publication by Start it up (

Recommended from Medium

Person holding silver bitcoin coin

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jon Gulson

Jon Gulson

Ideas in games, language, and trust.

More from Medium