Nick Land: Crypto-Current: Bitcoin and Philosophy


…at the heart of bitcoin is a process that combines the irreversible passage of time with the exponential advance of technology through Moore’s Law: the ever increasing number of cycles per second of computation.

—George Gilder

By becoming time, Bitcoin promises an exhibition of unleashed thought, in a way no introspective anthropology ever can.

—Nick Land

Many of us have watched this strange beast arise in our midst, a technology that seems to defy the odds and bring about a quiet revolution in life and thought that have yet to be fully explicated much less understood. Bitcoin  is a substanceless substance made of bits and atoms at once, a cryptological  device that links value and its measurement, and is spurring the greatest information revolution the world has ever seen. At the heart of this new technology is time

“The way to measure value—proof-of-work—is through the pure expenditure or sacrifice of time. As … Nick Szabo put it, ‘We can arrange our affairs around the measurement of sacrifice rather than of its results . . .1

Georges Bataille in a lucent essay (1933) “The Notion of Expenditure” would expand upon this need for sacrifice: “Expenditure involves a loss, that is, it involves significant waste of resources that have no link to utility as such. Bataille terms loss as “unconditional expenditure, no matter how contrary it might be to the economic principle of balanced accounts (expenditure regularly compensated for by acquisition)” (Bataille “Notion”, 118). In his Accursed Share he would develop this notion saying:

The living organism, in a situation determined by the play of energy on the surface of the globe, ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of a system (e.g., an organism); if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be completely absorbed in its growth, it must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically (Bataille Share I, 21).

The Bitcoin Revolution

As George Gilder in Life After Google relates it the “genius behind bitcoin comes from a dynamic vision in which computer resources—storage and processing—always grow faster than the blockchain. It is the epitome of value creation in a world of abundant goods and services and a scarcity of time. Linear time reflects the span of life—the time domain. The frequency domain is bounded by the speed of light. Together they can represent the sources of value in the world.” In an imaginary interview beween Satoshi Nakamoto whose Bitcoin whitepaper (pdf) started this revolution and Gilder we are introduced to a new system which does not merely measure value, but “enables transactions and verifies them and thus can vastly enhance the world’s creation of wealth and expansion of liberty.” (ibid.)

The International System of Units (abbreviated “SI” from the French Système internationale) has established seven key metrics, each founded on a constant of physics: the second of time, the meter of length, the kilogram of weight, the degree Kelvin of thermodynamic temperature, the ampere of electrical current, the mole of molecular mass, and the candela of luminosity. These measures cannot float because their constancy underlies and interconnects all the worldwide welter of human industry that keeps us alive and prosperous. (ibid.)

Throughout human history, people have understood that money plays a key role as a measuring stick. Currencies are not commodities, part of what they measure. Measuring sticks cannot be part of what they calibrate. They must have their roots in a grid of measurement beyond the reach of commerce. Self-referential loops—whether physicists measuring atoms with atoms, or philosophers gauging minds with minds, or economists measuring commodities with commodities—doom their users to Gödelian futility. (ibid.)

The SI regime confirms that fundamental to all immutable standards of measure is time. All seven key units rely on physical constants, frequencies, and wavelengths that are bounded in one way or another by the passage of time. As the only irreversible element in the universe, with directionality imparted by thermodynamic entropy, time is the ultimate frame of reference for all measured values.  (ibid.)

Nick Land: Re-thinking Time and Value

Nick Land has released an introduction to his new book to be published sometime this next year on his blog site Urban Future (2.1) – Crypto-Current: Bitcoin and Philosophy This new work seems to have sparked Land’s unique blend of intellectual insight and academic outsider stance in regards to both the state of philosophy and the economy in our time. And time after all is of the essence: “There is no philosophical thinking of Bitcoin – in either the subjective or objective genitive – that is not also (‘simultaneously’) a re-thinking of time, or sovereign decision. ‘Re-thinking’ is a revision, but no less a restoration. Bitcoin introduces us to a time-machine, or time-synthesizer, which can only complicate any initial intuitions about its novelty. It has been on the way for centuries (at least). ” As Land relates it this new book’s “topic envelops temporality, and engages the production – rather than the unfolding – of time. In this respect, it adheres to the mainstream of the critical tradition, for which primordial temporalization is the key. Crypto-current is chronogenic process. It is that – alone – which cannot assume time. History is grounded by critique, as in an abyss.”

A few snippets from the introduction are in order:

When all relevant terms are stripped of encrustation with maximum rigor, critique is accurately characterized as anarchism in philosophy. It is that, alone, which cannot know any higher law. Whatever tries to transcend it can only repeat it, or less. We call this time, which can never be anticipated or out-lasted. Above Temporalization there is nothing. To engage in critique is to think in the name of time.

Asymmetry, as operationalized within public key crypto-systems, is an implementation of time – a temporalization, or current. Things go one way rather than another. It is cryptography, then, finally, that unlocks the historical meaning of philosophy, by retrieving the keys of time. Bitcoin realizes absolute succession as accomplished artifice. The cycle is closed.

There is something more than a progressive causal series at stake in the arrival of Bitcoin. Preliminarily – and from historical necessity – this concern proceeds under the sign of teleology. It has to be noted clearly from the beginning, however, that an unambiguous defense of teleology would be no less unbalanced than its simple negation, amounting to mere regression. Between final and efficient causation it does not suffice – either in the end, or effectively – to choose. The philosophical obligation is always diagonal. In this case, Bitcoin entrusts us with the teleo-mechanical line, which inherits and protracts the fundamental modernistic pseudo-paradox of mechanistic liberalization. There is no real freedom outside the innovation of machines. Yet to recover teleology is simultaneously to attack it. As with anything worth defending at all, when teleology is critiqued, it gets stronger. It needs to be gnawed at more aggressively, which means – first of all – pulling it back off the shelf (or out of the fridge). Teleology is re-animated as a question when the end is intuited at work. Which is to say, in the working-out of the process the pretended sovereignty of the beginning is dethroned. We cannot but ask: What is Bitcoin becoming? This question is itself a piece of fate.

This isn’t the place to introduce or explain Bitcoin, Blockchain, or it’s history up to this point, rather the above is only to titillate one to investigate and read Land’s work in process… it’s connections to philosophy, thought, economics, and the system of the world that it is producing, one that will replace the current Silicon Valley Moghuls and their googleplex world of iron horse AI’s and Big Dataism. 

  1. George Gilder. Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy. Gateway Editions (July 17, 2018)


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