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Author Topic: A Philosophy of Bitcoin - Do We Need One? YES! (Metallism, Semiotics, and more)  (Read 3078 times)
jedunnigan (OP)
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June 09, 2013, 10:01:31 PM
 #1

Social semiotics posits that “meanings and semiotic systems are shaped by relations of power, and that as power shifts in society, our languages and other systems of socially accepted meanings can and do change.” (Wikipedia) Because bitcoin introduces both a new framework for understanding [digital] monies and the power structures therein, it’s easy to see why the conversation of social semiotics as it relates to bitcoin is a cogent one. Let's take a look at the work of Maurer, Nelms, and Swartz to get a better understanding.

So where do we start? How about with the basics:
Quote
“What proves crucial in our view about the semiotics of Bitcoin is the embracement of a monetary pragmatics: Bitcoin enthusiasts make the move from discourse to practice in their insistence that privacy, labor, and value are ‘built into’ the currency’s networked protocols. This semiotics replays debates not just about privacy and individual liberty, but about the nature of money, as a material commodity or chain of credits.
...
We characterize Bitcoin’s semiotics as a ‘practical materialism’, which in turn is expressed via a digital metallism. We borrow these terms from the theorist of money Geoffrey Ingham’s (2004) coinage ‘practical metallism’. Ingham uses this phrase to refer to the discursive work of commodity money theories in “naturalizing the social relations of credit that constitute money.” The discursive politics of Bitcoin involves a similar foregrounding of materiality and backgrounding of credit relations. Despite the supposed immateriality of digital bits of information (Blanchette 2011), matter itself is very much at issue with Bitcoin, both in how it is conceptualized and in how individual Bitcoins are ‘mined.’”

But what does that really mean?
Quote
“Inside the operations of the Bitcoin code lies a sociality of trust that is alternately expressed and obscured by a practical materialism with two components: concerns about privacy and concerns about value. Bitcoin’s practical materialism allows the chatter in the code, the proof of work, the materiality of the machines humming and whirring in mining rigs to be simultaneously backgrounded and foregrounded. This is not simply commodity fetishism. The code and the labor are backgrounded when Bitcoin adherents become latter-day goldbugs… From this perspective, Bitcoin represents a promise like any other money form, but a promise underwritten and backed by an algorithm and its manifestation in a digital peer-to-peer network.”

Okay, so what?
Quote
“In detecting in Bitcoin an economic argument about the money supply, inflation, government, and the inherency of value, enthusiasts again trace the outlines of a practical materialism, in which the meaning of Bitcoin can be found hardwired into its code. That which makes Bitcoin meaningful– that is, its value — is specifically that which is intrinsic to it.”

In other words:
Quote
“Bitcoin is meaningful and valuabe not so much as an actual complementary or alternative currency, but instead as an index of much broader discussions over the nature of money, credit and capital in the world today. The monetary value of Bitcoin rests as much in the future potential that its users imagine for it as on its current, relatively limited capacity to act as a medium of exchange. Similarly, its semiotic value grows out of the aspirations of Bitcoin adherents.”
...
“The point is not whether Bitcoin ‘works’ as a currency, but what it promises: solidity, materiality, stability, anonymity, and, strangely, community. Indeed, in its endeavor to cut out intermediaries with the capacity to direct or limit the flow of funds among users and instead build a networked world of individual nodes able to exchange directly and ‘freely’ with one another, Bitcoin combines a practical materialism with a politics of community and trust that puts the code front and center.”

What rings true for me about this paper is its attempt to begin laying the groundwork for a philosophy of bitcoin as it relates to the [changing] nature of money. As posited by social semiotics, the existence of terms such as ‘digital metallism’ and other signifiers of the bitcoin protocol’s intrinsic qualities reflect the shift in power (financial, social) that bitcoin has set in motion. I believe that a philosophical framework for understanding bitcoin will begin to arise out of necessity. Currently there is no real framework for this endeavor (programming languages not included), but perhaps its time we start building one. Given the practical materiality of bitcoins it seems fair that any philosophy of bitcoin should not be metaphysical, but instead practical. What do you guys think? How would you frame it?

Original post: https://btcgsa.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/a-philosophy-of-bitcoin-do-we-need-one/
Source: http://www.scribd.com/doc/130774747/When-Perhaps-the-Real-Problem-is-the-Money-Itself-The-Practical-Materiality-of-Bitcoin-by-Bill-Maurer-Taylor-Nelms-and-Lana-Swartz
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jedunnigan (OP)
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June 11, 2013, 12:24:09 AM
 #2

Are you theorizing the blockchain as a semiotic discourse? If so, how would you define the signifier and signified in this particular context? I have my response to this, but I want to be sure I understand your correctly before stating it.

I am theorizing the bitcoin protocol as a semiotic discourse (blockchain included). The signifier in this case being the code written by Satoshi and the signified being the practical materiality of bitcoin.
reg
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June 11, 2013, 08:26:48 AM
 #3

Social semiotics posits that “meanings and semiotic systems are shaped by relations of power, and that as power shifts in society, our languages and other systems of socially accepted meanings can and do change.” (Wikipedia) Because bitcoin introduces both a new framework for understanding [digital] monies and the power structures therein, it’s easy to see why the conversation of social semiotics as it relates to bitcoin is a cogent one. Let's take a look at the work of Maurer, Nelms, and Swartz to get a better understanding.

So where do we start? How about with the basics:
Quote
“What proves crucial in our view about the semiotics of Bitcoin is the embracement of a monetary pragmatics: Bitcoin enthusiasts make the move from discourse to practice in their insistence that privacy, labor, and value are ‘built into’ the currency’s networked protocols. This semiotics replays debates not just about privacy and individual liberty, but about the nature of money, as a material commodity or chain of credits.
...
We characterize Bitcoin’s semiotics as a ‘practical materialism’, which in turn is expressed via a digital metallism. We borrow these terms from the theorist of money Geoffrey Ingham’s (2004) coinage ‘practical metallism’. Ingham uses this phrase to refer to the discursive work of commodity money theories in “naturalizing the social relations of credit that constitute money.” The discursive politics of Bitcoin involves a similar foregrounding of materiality and backgrounding of credit relations. Despite the supposed immateriality of digital bits of information (Blanchette 2011), matter itself is very much at issue with Bitcoin, both in how it is conceptualized and in how individual Bitcoins are ‘mined.’”

But what does that really mean?
Quote
“Inside the operations of the Bitcoin code lies a sociality of trust that is alternately expressed and obscured by a practical materialism with two components: concerns about privacy and concerns about value. Bitcoin’s practical materialism allows the chatter in the code, the proof of work, the materiality of the machines humming and whirring in mining rigs to be simultaneously backgrounded and foregrounded. This is not simply commodity fetishism. The code and the labor are backgrounded when Bitcoin adherents become latter-day goldbugs… From this perspective, Bitcoin represents a promise like any other money form, but a promise underwritten and backed by an algorithm and its manifestation in a digital peer-to-peer network.”

Okay, so what?
Quote
“In detecting in Bitcoin an economic argument about the money supply, inflation, government, and the inherency of value, enthusiasts again trace the outlines of a practical materialism, in which the meaning of Bitcoin can be found hardwired into its code. That which makes Bitcoin meaningful– that is, its value — is specifically that which is intrinsic to it.”

In other words:
Quote
“Bitcoin is meaningful and valuabe not so much as an actual complementary or alternative currency, but instead as an index of much broader discussions over the nature of money, credit and capital in the world today. The monetary value of Bitcoin rests as much in the future potential that its users imagine for it as on its current, relatively limited capacity to act as a medium of exchange. Similarly, its semiotic value grows out of the aspirations of Bitcoin adherents.”
...
“The point is not whether Bitcoin ‘works’ as a currency, but what it promises: solidity, materiality, stability, anonymity, and, strangely, community. Indeed, in its endeavor to cut out intermediaries with the capacity to direct or limit the flow of funds among users and instead build a networked world of individual nodes able to exchange directly and ‘freely’ with one another, Bitcoin combines a practical materialism with a politics of community and trust that puts the code front and center.”

What rings true for me about this paper is its attempt to begin laying the groundwork for a philosophy of bitcoin as it relates to the [changing] nature of money. As posited by social semiotics, the existence of terms such as ‘digital metallism’ and other signifiers of the bitcoin protocol’s intrinsic qualities reflect the shift in power (financial, social) that bitcoin has set in motion. I believe that a philosophical framework for understanding bitcoin will begin to arise out of necessity. Currently there is no real framework for this endeavor (programming languages not included), but perhaps its time we start building one. Given the practical materiality of bitcoins it seems fair that any philosophy of bitcoin should not be metaphysical, but instead practical. What do you guys think? How would you frame it?

Original post: https://btcgsa.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/a-philosophy-of-bitcoin-do-we-need-one/
Source: http://www.scribd.com/doc/130774747/When-Perhaps-the-Real-Problem-is-the-Money-Itself-The-Practical-Materiality-of-Bitcoin-by-Bill-Maurer-Taylor-Nelms-and-Lana-Swartz


I do not think you can separate the metaphysical from the debate. When I first was attracted to bitcoin I stated that its strength is the fact it does not exist in reality and therefore cannot be taken away from any individual.  I was dismissed from the forum as a troll!. fundamentally everything originates as a concept (Bacon argued there were only concepts) but I agree that the materiality of the protocol is profound for civilisation. It is true that the subjectivity of the concept means there are as many interpretations of bitcoin as there are minds to think about it!. However I view that as a deep lake from which we can fish for ways to enable the concept to endure for the benefit of all. certainly discuss the practical and social implications of signifiers and signified but please do not divorce from the original concept. reg.
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June 11, 2013, 04:48:52 PM
 #4

I do not think you can separate the metaphysical from the debate. When I first was attracted to bitcoin I stated that its strength is the fact it does not exist in reality and therefore cannot be taken away from any individual.  I was dismissed from the forum as a troll!.
Thanks for the response reg.

When you say 'it' cannot be taken away from an individual, do you mean conceptually? As in once you learn something (in this case bitcoin) you cannot unlearn it? The seed is planted, so to speak?

Quote
fundamentally everything originates as a concept (Bacon argued there were only concepts) but I agree that the materiality of the protocol is profound for civilisation. It is true that the subjectivity of the concept means there are as many interpretations of bitcoin as there are minds to think about it!.

You're right, I probably should not have been so quick to dismiss the metaphysical qualities of the bitcoin concept. Can you be more explicit with how you believe bitcoin manifest's metaphysically? Is it simply that it is a concept?

Quote
However I view that as a deep lake from which we can fish for ways to enable the concept to endure for the benefit of all. certainly discuss the practical and social implications of signifiers and signified but please do not divorce from the original concept. reg.
Yes, the opportunity to over think and hyper analyze this discussion is always present. I will keep that in mind, thanks.
reg
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June 11, 2013, 06:42:35 PM
Last edit: June 11, 2013, 08:49:25 PM by reg
 #5

I do not think you can separate the metaphysical from the debate. When I first was attracted to bitcoin I stated that its strength is the fact it does not exist in reality and therefore cannot be taken away from any individual.  I was dismissed from the forum as a troll!.
Thanks for the response reg.

When you say 'it' cannot be taken away from an individual, do you mean conceptually? As in once you learn something (in this case bitcoin) you cannot unlearn it? The seed is planted, so to speak?

Quote
fundamentally everything originates as a concept (Bacon argued there were only concepts) but I agree that the materiality of the protocol is profound for civilisation. It is true that the subjectivity of the concept means there are as many interpretations of bitcoin as there are minds to think about it!.

You're right, I probably should not have been so quick to dismiss the metaphysical qualities of the bitcoin concept. Can you be more explicit with how you believe bitcoin manifest's metaphysically? Is it simply that it is a concept?

Quote
However I view that as a deep lake from which we can fish for ways to enable the concept to endure for the benefit of all. certainly discuss the practical and social implications of signifiers and signified but please do not divorce from the original concept. reg.
Yes, the opportunity to over think and hyper analyze this discussion is always present. I will keep that in mind, thanks.

yes "it" is but in both senses-metaphysical and physical. I was attracted to bitcoin because of the possibility of transference of autonomy over oneself from "others" to oneself alone. wittgenstein struggled with private and public language but it seems to me that if you conceive an idea but never express it (he argued for thoughts that can't be expressed linguistically) you have sole autonomy over that. it (the idea) cannot be taken from you. however if you express that idea in any way viz; language. art,music,algorithm then it is in the public arena and can and has been taken from you and used to benefit or disadvantage others.primarily through social structures such as religion,political and financial categories.so our first contact with any metaphysical concept (unless it is our own) is through the expression and interpretation of others. to that extent as individuals we have lost authority over that part our autonomy.historically to be part of any community you adhere to a common belief in say a deity or belief or forced into a political system or believe or forced into a fiscal system.leaving religion and politics aside for now uniquely bitcoin returns autonomy over the physical expression of their fiscal assets to individuals, to themselves alone. reg
jedunnigan (OP)
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June 11, 2013, 09:25:11 PM
 #6

yes "it" is but in both senses-metaphysical and physical. I was attracted to bitcoin because of the possibility of transference of autonomy over oneself from "others" to oneself alone.

Quote
leaving religion and politics aside for now uniquely bitcoin returns autonomy over the physical expression of their fiscal assets to individuals, to themselves alone.

Spot on, I think that is exactly what I was going for! Well said. Thanks Smiley

Quote
wittgenstein struggled with private and public language but it seems to me that if you conceive an idea but never express it (he argued for thoughts that can't be expressed linguistically) you have sole autonomy over that. it (the idea) cannot be taken from you. however if you express that idea in any way viz; language. art,music,algorithm then it is in the public arena and can and has been taken from you and used to benefit or disadvantage others.primarily through social structures such as religion,political and financial categories.

But under that premise have we not already 'lost' Bitcoin by expressing the idea? Or are you saying that the bitcoin protocol cannot be taken away from us in the traditional sense... and that's what makes it so powerful?
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June 11, 2013, 09:37:47 PM
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God I hate philosophy students.  Undecided

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June 12, 2013, 02:15:32 AM
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God I hate philosophy students.  Undecided

rubbish. witgenstein kicks ass!
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June 12, 2013, 04:24:58 AM
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I agree a official philosophy would be great.
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June 12, 2013, 04:47:21 AM
 #10

There does not need to be a formal philosophy for bitcoin.

Any philosophy is emergent from the use of bitcoin itself.

The code and the blockchain are what matters, not the speculation of Internet slackers.

https://twitter.com/Lorenzo_Money -- Bitcoin Address: 1EttqaSSCksRAXrwejoChs5zmGjSikN9mC -- http://lorenzomoney.wordpress.com/
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jedunnigan (OP)
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June 12, 2013, 06:17:32 AM
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The code and the blockchain are what matters, not the speculation of Internet slackers.

Perhaps you didn't read the post--this is exactly what the philosophy would be: a semiotic discourse derived from the code. Speculation as you call it would just be the act of acknowledging shifts in language and power structure that extend from the code/bitcoin ecosystem.
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June 12, 2013, 11:59:14 AM
Last edit: July 13, 2013, 05:32:52 PM by Zangelbert Bingledack
 #12

This isn't about semiotics directly, but as an overall start for serious consideration of Bitcoin with an eye toward deep insights that have practical utility (what else is philosophy, if not this?), I'd start with:

  • Bitcoin, the protocol, is - like customary law - the product of human design, yet not controllable by any person or group (the dev team has limited, tenuous influence but their updates are only accepted at the pleasure of the community, even if the more established players like MtGox currently have disproportionate sway in such matters).
  • Bitcoin, the protocol, sets the parameters for Bitcoin, the ecosystem, to develop as a (Hayekian) natural order of individual humans.
  • Bitcoin, the network, constitutes a public memory system that eliminates the need to use money (or trust) for transactions. It can do so much more as well.

Natural orders are antifragile, become extremely sophisticated but take time to do so, tend toward exponential growth in many aspects, and what they become depends on

1) the nature of the individual "cells" that comprise the natural order (in this case humans)

2) the parameters on the system (the Bitcoin protocol)

3) other environmental factors (in this case the level of related technology, etc.).

1 is generally unchanging because human nature and conventions don't change quickly and 2 changes only with major changes to the Bitcoin protocol, so those may be of little interest.

However, 3 is changing at exhilarating speeds right now, with Internet, the spread of smartphones, and the development of technologies like BMOT. Of course, Bitcoin itself is changing the technological environment, like the Internet did, enabling even faster advancement. The Internet made the cells in this natural order we call global society more apt to collaborate and learn faster from each other, resulting in Bitcoin, which in turn allows the cells (us) to extend our global collaboration into actual economic cooperation in myriad valuable areas through mutually beneficial exchange.

As one major example of the changes, Internet + Bitcoin + Google Glass and other cutting-edge technologies are set to expand the scope of the international division of labor dramatically, both geographically and in terms of fields covered. For example, you could use an app to find and hire a mechanic in India to help you fix your car via Google Glass and pay him in BTC at a price that is both shockingly low for you and wonderfully high for him - trade is made of win, and the bigger the sphere of trading and the more direct it gets from person to person, the higher the standard of living for everyone.

Roger Ver says he's most excited about the changes to society Bitcoin will bring about, but many think Bitcoin's impact on society will be fairly limited. What I think these people don't see is that by changing the technological environment in which society operates on such a fundamental level, the types of structures that develop within the natural order of society will change in a profound way, just like very slightly tweaking the rules in Conway's Game of Life will produce vastly different patterns and structures.
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June 14, 2013, 01:56:56 AM
 #13

  • Bitcoin, the protocol, is - like customary law - the product of human design, yet not controllable by any person or group (the dev team has limited, tenuous influence but their updates are only accepted at the pleasure of the community, even if the more established players like MtGox currently have a disproportionate say in such matters).
  • Bitcoin, the protocol, sets the parameters for Bitcoin, the ecosystem, to develop as a (Hayekian) natural order of individual humans.
  • Bitcoin, the network, constitutes a public memory system that eliminates the need to use money (or trust) for transactions. It can do so much more as well.

Great stuff ZB, thanks for putting the time into responding. I will have to put some time into formulating a response before I can understand the fine details of what you're saying. I'll definitely respond here but I may expand on btcgsa, referencing you of course, if that is okay with you. Let me know mate.


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June 19, 2013, 07:45:38 AM
 #14

By all means, reference away. All ideas here are for spreading. Each of those links I included have had a big effect on how I see Bitcoin and its significance, but they do take a while to read.
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