This article explores the wider ramifications of the understandings and misunderstandings of crypto-currency. (This article assumes that the reader knows what is a blockchain. If not, see this video)
Though I am not really an expert in this area; last few weeks was intense. I have been following the developments over last few years — then dropped off — only to pick the thread over the last few months and accelerated recently.
I have fair amount of expertise in the area of BIM and use of information in architecture. Last few months have been fascinating as I could make serendipitous connection between concepts from crypto-currency with architecture.
I now believe that there are some points for us, as a society, to look at the broader philosophy that is emerging around distrust.
On one side are those who believe in some kind of central control; like the central bank of a country. Either they directly bow down to such a control or they resign themselves to such central controls; thinking that there can be no other way.
Then there are more libertarians who want no central control whatsoever and insist there should be freedom of the individual. They are impressed by — and hence advocate — intellectual efforts such as the blockchain, distributed ledger and so on.
Maybe the real way out to emerge is not to first look through the narrow eye-hole of the needle of finance; but from a broader use and misuse of trust in our society.
Of course, what should emerge in this article would be a hypothesis — even conjectures. But I hope this would result in some more discussions and debates before arriving at the true meaning of all such developments.
The confusion in financial circles also seems to have surfaced due to the various socio-economic forces we are currently facing in this century.
I; for one, believe that with the rise of the far right and fake-news phenomena in several countries, this debate is all the more relevant and strident.
Is this is a new debate? I think not. It is as old as humanity.
It goes all the way back thousands of years; and points to traits that allowed humans to band together and made us a nervous lot who eventually survived and dominated all other living forms.
Humans always had the ability to rhetorically communicate issues to fellow human beings. Even the finest of nuances of these issues gets communicated.
It has therefore been a fundamental necessity to develop techniques to filter out what to trust and what not to. In some cases, trust was obtained from a central authority — the alpha person of the family unit for example.
In some other cases, it arose out of collaboration and consensus emerging from the collective. The entire village sits together, tells stories and carries out other rituals. (I am grateful for Harari’s book; Sapiens, which supports my long held viewpoint regarding all this)
I can find allegorical connection to the “blockchain” in the way we retain the list of credible “transactions” in our minds.
Think of the mind as a tabula-rasa to begin with.
The first entry (or the “genesis block” as they say) is placed at birth. It is always deemed to be true and fully credible. When we notice something we believe in which is of value to us (aka a “transaction”); an entry is made next into that space. That next entry into that list — or chain — would be “linked” in a real meaningful manner to a previous entry — an earlier transaction we held to be true. In case of the very first entry; it would be linked to the genesis block.
The entire chain of conclusions in our minds are linked together and it is important that we trust each entry in there and all of them fit together into our central world-view.
If any of the entry is proven to be false; it usually upsets us and can even make us question the entire blockchain. Any cognitive-dissonance due to inconsistencies in this list can be painful.
I am of course taking poetic liberties here — of course the mind is not all that simple or so directly related to blockchains.
However the central point is that each entry in our mental list is authentically signed just so that we are sure that we have some centrally consistent set of thoughts. Remember this point about signature as I explore this in more detail later in this article.
As an architect, I have always seen the connection of meaning to the built-forms around us. Buildings have always been the largest database that humans handle.
Each human is the proverbial “database cursor” moving within the fractal database of a building from room to room, The rooms in the building dutifully reduces the information load on us. It allowed us to manage our knowledge quite well.
The built form is fractal too — because each room would have self-similar structures of a building itself in ways of cupboards, drawers in the cupboards and so on self-similarly all the way down.
What is fascinating to me is that the built-forms not just allows the graceful handling of really big data (way more than what “big-data” is regarded in computer science) but it also provides a way to authenticate what we hold to be true in our minds.
I had indicated that there is some kind of “signature” on each of our thoughts (poetically at least) in the blockchain held in our minds. Now I want to hypothesise that the the context of the built form around us is a central ingredient of such signatures.
Think of a priest sermonizing in a church, wearing his traditional robes. Think of another person in shabby clothes sermonizing you out on the street.
Even if both are giving the exact same advice; we know that the “signature” of the talk stated by the priest would be considered more authentic than the one on the street.
There are two important ingredients in the way we sign and claim some value transaction is authentic in our mind. One is the verb itself — what happened (sermonizing etc) and the other is the architectural context; the noun, inside which the action happened.
This curious phenomenon was quite nicely and empirically demonstrated in the now famous Joshua Bell prank by The Washington Post — where they deliberately displaced a famous violinist into a corner of a metro station. Though he played the violin as mellifluously as expected, not many could acknowledge the music, let alone acknowledge the master himself.
When people encounter the same authentic person out of the usual architectural context, they experience a cognitive dissonance when deciding on the content of the message. To put it simply, the signature of the value-transaction goes awry.
The Internet is full of either the Joshua Bell effect or its converse — where a blockhead is considered to be credible and authentic.
People are so caught in the hubris of the false dawn of the Internet; we don’t pause to realize that the “architecture” of this new space we find ourselves in is extremely poorly constructed — people who are trying to ‘carve out’ spaces and building structures in this new space have not yet understood all such philosophy.
This has led to narcissists and other self-centred blockheads trying to usurp the immaturity that is all pervading on this poorly defined space of the Internet.
I think the invention of the blockchain in this era of crypto-currency is a natural consquence of the woeful lack of trust that unfortunately is deeply embedded on the Internet.
It is good that such a development has happened on the Internet — at least it gives us some insight and allegories for our lives. I think it is important to step back and connect all such development on to the broader canvas of life — instead of talking purely from a computing perspective.
Let me give an example of my own exprience: I had the fortunate experience of being stalked by a blockhead for years on the Internet. Let me call this person ABC.
On a side note; “C” stands for “Cat” and my friends who know about this can guess what A and B would be.
So Mr ABC has understood enough about the Internet to believe that the darkness of anonymity on the Internet has given him the super human capability to attempt to distort my signatures on the Internet.
Whenever I used to announce something or the other about my insights on the use of computer in architecture, a comment by ABC would appear somewhere there and he believed it would muddy the perception people have about me.
Some of the stuff this person attempted is beyond hilarious. When he was caught trying to do some dastardly act on Wikipedia; and was warned by the editors there that he could be blocked, see what he wrote on his user-talk page at Wikipedia. The IP address is there for all to see; and those curious would get more clues on the general geographic area he operates from.
What is interesting is that I am reasonably sure that this kind of attempts at spoiling the “signature” cannot happen very easily inside the context of the physical architecture we are in. For example; can this ABC come to a meeting in the real world where I am talking and speak such crap he writes on the Internet.
Now many who know me personally; also know the kind of in-your-face kind of person that I am. However, I think that they also know that I have enough material to support my stances — and all are couched in the architectural reality of the real world.
For example; when I talk about my main work on the software I wrote for designing buildings, I also have buildings made using that software.
I am not much bothered by Mr ABC’s attempt to usurp the blockchain in people’s minds and change the notion of credibility. He is one such blockhead among many others that do similar naive, adolescent expressions of envy all over the Internet. I am too small a fry to be of any consequence.
However, this form of twisting around the immaturity of the philosophical understanding of our complex lives that needs to be attended to. There is a lot more damage that can happen than attempts to distort my credibility.
I have been working on taking the concepts of how information exists in architecture out from esoteric technical side that architects (of the building variety) deal with; and use it even outside of buildings.
For years I have used the aforementioned home-grown design system called TAD (The Architects Desktop) to design and manage the construction of buildings. It handles information from right from early stages of design. It is free and that project is one of my central occupation of my time. The group using TAD is a small but I am grateful that it is growing fast. (If you are an architect, please download and use it from www.teamtad.com)
I am close to developing a method of allowing the metaphorical “signing” via architecture to obtain authenticity. Last few years, I have conducted several experiments to check these theories and I am happy to note that the results were quite useful.
Hence along with TAD, I am also exploring the need to delineate the aforementioned context into that of the Internet. The progress is slow, but thankfully it has been steady.
I need to be careful and invite comments and debates; lest my own blockhead nature color the context and distort the “blockchain” of what I propose.
End note: It turns out that the “signature” of the original Josha Bell article itself was distorted by some anonymous person/s on the Internet. See the rejoinder article https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2014/10/14/gene-weingarten-setting-the-record-straight-on-the-joshua-bell-experiment/?utm_term=.6654868a3182