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zk-Proof of Work

Immanence Machines

"Nature loves to encrypt." —Heraclitus

We have said that technology is the creation of asymmetry. If we have studied the history of the frontier, it is because pilgrims and conquistadors are also in the business of asymmetry production. On a frontier, adventurers of great faith build a city on a hill, which inspires the faith of settlers. The first city is a proof-of-work, the subsequent convergence of settlers is more proof-of-work, and the result is a network effect or abstract singularity: A new world, which accrues value on its own terms, without appeal to any higher tribunal.

Performance art, as the generalization of proof-of-work, is the means by which a man on the frontier broadcasts a credible signal of value and novelty. Performance art is the means by which a tribe or social context is transformed.

If our approach seems strangely abstract and distant from the concerns of blockchain technology, it is only because blockchain technology participates in a much larger story. The future of blockchain technology only becomes legible within a maximally general teleology.

In his short book Crypto-Current: Bitcoin and Philosophy, Nick Land argues that the emergence of Bitcoin was a milestone not just in the history of money but in the history of philosophy.

By solving the double-spending problem (DSP) through a proof-of-work protocol, Bitcoin established a new form of truth production independent of institutions and authorities.

We generally think of technology as the creation of tools to accomplish certain ends. We value certain things, and we search for technologies to achieve what we value more efficiently and effectively. The proof-of-work blockchain is fundamentally different than any previous technology insofar as it machines value into existence.

Proof-of-work blockchains machine value into existence by harnessing natural currents—namely, currents of electricity—into current-signs or currency.

A proof-of-work blockchain is immune to social critique, for it is the technical instantiation of critique. If the machine runs, it is valuable. If it is not valuable, it will not run.

The result of critical philosophy—whether it's packaged in language as an academic discipline, or in code as a protocol such as Bitcoin—is the perpetual evacuation of transcendence and a corresponding generation of immanence. Bitcoin does not pass judgment on anything outside of its own system, and neither does it appeal to any tribunal beyond itself. It tells the truth and cannot lie, but only with respect to its own history; it creates value, but only for those who offer a sacrifice for it.

For Land, the logic that Bitcoin exposes penetrates down to the nature of life itself:

"A case is made for the extreme generality of the DSP as a practical semiotic quandary, roughly coextensive with the existence of life. Resolution of the DSP through a crypto-secure proof-of-work protocol is thus an episode in terrestrial bio-history, and not merely a drastic anthropological—or mature industrial capitalist—innovation (even if it is also both of these). What the protocol addresses is no less than virus, in its broadest extension... To capture instructions is to command resources. This strategic option is no younger than the organism."

It is no wonder that we find echos of of these themes in the dynamics of cultural fragmentation today: ideas, memes, and narratives increasingly have meaning only within particular tribes. We cease to pass judgment on anything outside of our own tribe, and we no longer appeal to tribunals above the collection of tribes, because words no longer have the same meaning in different tribes.

Perhaps most interesting about Land's translation of Bitcoin into the lexicon of philosophy is that most of his analysis applies to proof-of-work chains in general. As he says, any working chain is an abstract singularity. "The eventuation of network effects—i.e. raw or irreducible singularity—does everything. Coinage has no essence beyond its event. From an exact date, something happens."

There are still entirely new classes of computational commodities that have yet to be imagined. We still have no idea what proof-of-work is capable of machining into existence.

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