The Real Magic of Bitcoin

Posted by majc in Bitcoin on Jul 4th 2014 2 Comments »

Forget everything you’ve heard. Bitcoin is complicated like magic is complicated. It’s not. But things are told to you in an obscure way, amidst a lot of distracting nonsense, which leaves you bewildered. The magician does it on purpose, of course, whereas Bitcoin just isn’t explained very well, and the theatrics which happen around it are highly magnetic.

So where’s the sleight of hand – what are we missing?

Where we really need to look, first and core-most, is here: When you hand over a quarter to someone in the street, the coin moves from one person to another, and everyone keeps walking. Bitcoin doesn’t work that way. Bitcoins are not coins, and you do not “transfer one bitcoin” from one person to another. Bitcoins don’t move.

What happens instead?

When you transact in bitcoin, what moves from one person to another – what changes hands – is ownership of the bitcoin. You sign over your ownership of one bitcoin to someone else, the bitcoin stays put, and everyone keeps walking.

Do you see how that’s different?

In practice, of course, it doesn’t have to be one whole bitcoin: you can sign over ownership of any amount of bitcoin – even tiny fractions.

The important thing we’re seeing here is that the money in this situation – the agreed, accepted store of value that changes hands – is bitcoin-ownership, not the “coin” itself.

Nifty trick? Yes. Complicated? No.

It’s a subtle shift in technique which achieves exactly the same result: “This doesn’t belong to me any more, it belongs to you”. And, like a magic trick, subtle shifts in technique can make otherwise impossible things possible.

In short, the Bitcoin way of doing things – built on this subtle shift in technique – makes some important, potentially game-changing new things possible. And that is Bitcoin’s value. These new possibilities are why Bitcoin means something. They are the reason why Bitcoin is worth something.

We’ll get to what the newly-possible things are in a minute, and why they matter, but when you see smart people getting so pumped about Bitcoin, these technological advances are the reason. They are the real magic of Bitcoin.

And they regularly get lost amidst a lot of distracting nonsense. »

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There is no great need for this stuff to be identified or defined. But if it’s going to be then “Taoism”, as it’s called, is best understood as a martial art: practical, first and foremost. What fascinates people about “The Way” is that it’s only really graspable in doing, and doing skillfully.

What does that mean, “only really graspable in doing”? Introduction to Taoism
Make a fist. Open your hand again. Good work.

Now instruct me. I’m another human being with a hand dangling nervously at my side: tell me the way, explain to me how I should operate my hand, how do I make it move? Can you do better than “uh, well, you just – y’know – you just do it… you just mooooove your fingers, see?”, or even less helpfully, “I dunno, it just sorta happens“?

You’re not broken and you’re not stupid. That is actually how it feels to move your hand as a human being. The Way You Make Your Hand Move never occurs to you.

Kaboom. This is what “only really graspable in doing” means.

Thus… “The Way that can be told is never the Way.”
Indeed… “all its definitions are misleading!”

We’re not invoking magic or mysterious otherworldly origins of power here, and we’re not avoiding the question. It is what it is. The Way is unknowable and indescribable – or un-tell-able. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the divine.

Without explanation, you just do it. Inexplicably, The Way just sorta happens, y’know…?

Introduction to Taoism

Work in progress… more coming.

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There’s a common conception of the Tao Te Ching. People characterize it as upholding some sort of self-imposed, nature-loving twist on laissez-faire political theory: “accept, give in, let Nature take Its course and yield to all oncoming consequences – it’ll work itself out in the end”.

This is wrong. Is the Tao Te Ching just about laissez-faire?

The Book of the Way advocates no such thing. When you build a house, for example, to protect yourself from the elements – thus thwarting nature – that’s an intelligent thing to do.

Nowhere in the words of the Tao Te Ching is an argument made against the practice of building and occupying houses, or anything like it. In fact, as it turns out, the opposite attitude is found, in favour of building houses. It’s right here in Chapter 11. So the Tao Te Ching cannot be about instilling in the reader this overly self-disregarding attitude of “let The Wind blow you where It Will”. We build houses to make a windless space.

With some intelligent questioning and doubting of the laissez-faire characterization then… when you look to see if there’s evidence which will render it false, you don’t have to go far.

Is the Tao Te Ching just about laissez-faire?

If, however let’s say, the discourse here was to do with effective technique, in any given context, appreciating when to yield is a fundamental strategic insight. It’s overlooked a lot, but a good deep understanding of when and what to not-do, what to not-oppose or not-force, is something which anyone, in any walk of life, will benefit from.

So yes, in the writing of this book there is demonstrated an appreciation for exactly this effectiveness of space, timely yielding and not-doing, but the Tao Te Ching comes nowhere near commending (much less recommending) a blanket laissez-faire approach to living, which is both impossible and a bit stupid.

It must be something else.

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The banana is not an atheist.

Posted by majc in Science on Mar 7th 2013 3 Comments »

Atheism is silly.

This is a bit base, but imagine a man wandering about saying “I’m not gay.” “I’m not gay.” “I’m not gay.” at every available opportunity. Imagine that given even the slightest, most tenuous, tangential conversational link to questions of sex, The banana is not an atheist that same verbal response is provoked out of him.

Listening to such a man, we would quickly recognise that he has an odd, supernormal preoccupation with that particular piece of self-analysis.

So too with the self-styled atheist.

The must-constantly-remark-on-not-being-gay man’s thoughts and actions are not free with respect to the subject of sexual orientation. When any connectable suggestion towards the subject arises, his thoughts and actions become ensnared, limited, governed by it.

The must-constantly-remark-on-not-being-theist man’s thoughts and actions are not free with respect to the subject of theistic orientation. When any connectable suggestion towards the subject arises*, his thoughts and actions become ensnared, limited, governed by it.

*E.g. evolution, origins, the universe(s), earth, power, politics, education and ten thousand more points of departure…

In exploring arenas of thinking like the examples above, the Atheist is all too ready to return to particular avenues of thought concerning God(s). He is readily distractible, and his capacity for intelligent exploration is hampered.

Meanwhile, the banana is a bent yellow fruit.

It grows on and lives out its life never once declaring itself an Atheist. You may or may not be a bent yellow fruit, but you are an extraordinarily neocortex’d monkey. And, really, you grow on and live out your life with no more need of declaring yourself an Atheist than the banana.

The banana is not an atheist

Disclaimer: The above banana is not affiliated with any religious organization. It has thusfar lived out the entirety of its life – rich with potassium and vitamin B6 – completely noncognizant of all questions related to the (non)existence of your god(s) and will most probably continue on in this way for the foreseeable future.

Any religious or political opinions you twist into the picture as you look at it are your own responsibility and are not necessarily endorsed or cared about all that much by this blog, its author, or its fictional banana. Any religious/anti-religious threats herein should be directed only towards said fictional banana and its flagrantly lackadaisical philosophical attitude.

No bananas were upset in the making of this post.

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Think Addiction and The Singularity

Posted by majc in Science on Nov 27th 2011 2 Comments »

Lets say you do an fMRI scan on Singularity scientists thinking out the consequences of accelerating technological innovation and smarter-than-human Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). I wonder if, during moments of insight, you might find patterns of activity which correspond to game/reward/addictive experiences? (— What is the Singularity?)

Singularity addiction Thinking is a rewarding process. You can derive immense satisfaction from thought, knowledge, forecasting and successful experimentation. Which is to say the brain lights up and fires a tonne of dopamine at you for it. (Or endorphins or something).

It’s well known that reward-driven behavioural mechanisms can grow uncontrollably. And when such growth is considered counter-productive, we call it addiction. There’s no telling whether this is happening around the technological Singularity.

There is without a doubt an extraordinary intensity of enthusiasm and commitment from many of its proponents. Yet this is to be expected if The Singularity is in fact going to deliver us from even half of the problems it theoretically promises to. Holy shit, eternal life? There are few who would not be excited by the idea of an escape from death. Not to mention the prospect of ever-greater levels of physical health and intellectual achievement in the process – or should I say, in The Process.

And so, with its fantastic promises, although not without risk, this vision of The Singularity, this ideological construct, this reasonable extrapolation of what we know about computation, is rapidly attracting interest and steadily gaining popular support: more and more people building hopefully towards fulfilling some of the most ancient of human desires. »

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Tao Te Ching: Ch. 1 Commentary

Posted by majc in Tao on Nov 11th 2011 No Comments »
  1. The Way that can be told is never the Way.
    All its definitions are misleading.

  2. Undefined, it’s full and undivided.
    Any definition makes it separated things.

How is this relevant?

There’s something about human beings. In one way or another, people are and have always been trying to find a definitive way to wrap up what there is and where it’s going, to fix what’s happening in some sort of image or set of ideas. Tao Te Ching In other words, people continuously try to put together a neatly structured understanding of what, here, is indicated by the nonsense syllable – Tao.

Some walk the planet with the idea that they’ve done it, they’ve got it all figured out – that is, captured in a figure. As human beings, part of us seeks this satisfaction of a finished, decided explanation of things which guarantees truth about where we stand and where we’re headed.

With its opening line, the Tao Te Ching informs its audience that intellectual definition is not the goal. Anything tellable – any obtainable definition or image – is the first thing not to expect.

I wonder if there’s a less reassuring way to start a book about the Way than to declare that the Way can’t be told? Yet the apparently contradictory starting point is key. This is not an instruction manual. Nothing comes of whatever this is except in cooperation with a questioning, doubting intelligence. You cannot be told.

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Teach a man to fish…

Posted by majc in Tao on Mar 27th 2011 No Comments »

Teach a man to fish Give a man a fish…
feed him for a day.

Teach a man to fish…
feed him for a lifetime.

Teach a man to teach men how to fish…
well then it’s a party.

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Go planet, it’s your birthday.

Posted by majc in Tao on Aug 21st 2010 No Comments »

Christmas is totally just, like, so 0-2009 AD and stuff. If geologists would work out when Birth of Earth Day should be, we wouldn’t have to only come together on rival holidays, celebrating Jesus’ birthday or Mohammed’s Barmitzvah. Earth

Instead, we could all have an FDA approved, Certified Organic™ and geotechnically accurate science party, wearing biodegradable, carbon-neutral hats made by robots from underprivileged villages in Africa, to celebrate the formation of everyone’s favourite space-boulder.

Whether you’re a wishful thinking Christian, a homicidal Muslim or a big nosed, money-grabbing… er, Buddhist, surely all we banana munching homosapiens can agree that the Earth’s coming into existence, however the fuck it happened, is worth commemorating. And if the exact day is impossible to calculate, then lets just say it was in the middle of the northern hemisphere’s Summer so that the weather is nice has a chance of being nice in England.

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80% of poker players probably rate themselves in the top 20%. For readers who are, shall we say, mathematically challenged, 80 is much bigger than 20 which means many of us are wrong.

But not all of us. In fact, some people – for example, me – are so inordinately amazing that we have to periodically deploy stupid techniques on purpose just to keep a low profile: to escape the elaborate super-stardom that’s hard to avoid when you’re this damn good at the game.

Golden Opportunity

Of course, as with many things in life, the finest Bad Poker practitioners don’t need to think twice. Their Accidental Generosity™ is spontaneous, a gift of natural selection. And yet, still people ask me the question all the time (at least once a decade) “how does one attain the ineffable wisdom and status of the Bad Poker guru?”

I will tell you. Something. And that something is that there are numerous completely unteachable talents required to achieve the greatest heights of charitable poker playing. If you’re gonna force me to pick a standout quality though, I think the most important is undoubtedly a well developed, almost superhuman ability to interpret bad decisions as good ones.

A bulletproof 400% confidence that it’s always someone else’s fault is vital. »

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“No – you’re a dualist! No you!” Don’t panic, spelling nazis – the title is not mistaken. It’s just a stupid descripto-pun of the battle taking place between proponents of uploadable consciousness and their critics: a fight to the internet-log-off-and-sulk over who’s being the dualist.

Acknowledging any kind of mysterious division between mind and matter is credibility suicide nowadays amongst the inner circle of super sciencey people. Mention soul and unless you’re talking about an out-of-date, Transhumanist Duelism funky music genre or making a dyslexic attempt at communicating that-thing-on-the-bottom-of-a-shoe, your opinion will automatically be dismissed as fast as the disappointingly slow carbon-based computational circuitry in their brains will allow.

No-one in their right proud-to-be-scientific mind wants to be caught indulging (even accidentally) in what is considered by both sides of the ongoing debate to be nothing but wishful thinking; nothing more than a weak and embarrassingly human throwback to religion-like reverence for our own conscious experience and its magical specialness. »

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Yin and Yang by FalconNLThere was a young man who said “Damn,
For it certainly seems that I am,
   A creature that moves
   In determinate grooves,
I’m not even a bus – I’m a tram.”

But then the young man he said “Hey,
For I can’t help but feel I could stray,
   I’m willing to bet
   There’s no path which is set,
I feel free and creative this way.”

Today the young man can’t say how,
But it’s clearly one movement, or Tao,
   The truth he’s revealed
   Is a unified field,
So he plays with the way it is now.

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