Bitcoin's Hyperreality

Bitcoin's Hyperreality

By Jelly Fish | cryptofun | 14 Dec 2020


It's a tough task for average people to read contemporary philosophers, especially so-called "post-modern" philosophers. When I read those "post-modernists" (I had to, because my majors at the uni were arts of all sorts) even translated in my language, I always felt as if I got stuck in a shitswamp of words, and the more I try to catch some meaning -- the deeper I sink into words, words, and moar words... Well, maybe I'm simply too dumb for the post-modern philosophy, but another guy, a professor of physics, definitely waaay smarter than me, seemed to have similar problems...

However, even if I'm too dumb to understand anything of contemporary philosophy, I still respect it -- because of one French guy named Jean Baudrillard. Actually, upon reading the guy's works and biography, I'd say that he was definitely cranky quite a lot. Nevertheless, besides introducing the term consumer society, he re-invented the terms simulacrum and hyperreality.

In post-modern philosophy it's normal not to provide clear definitions of terms, thus driving physics professors mad. And Mr. Baudrillard was probably the only person on Earth who knew exactly what simulacrum and hyperreality is, but as usual, he didn't provide any straightforward definitions. So, I have to explain it myself, as simply I can (and I hope contemporary philosophers wouldn't kill me for such a blasphemy).

Simulacrum is a symbol that actually has no referent in the real world (i.e. it's an idea of something that doesn't exist), but the very existence of the symbol makes us believe that its referent does exist too -- and we act upon this assumption. Simulacra (simulacrums) constitute the hyperreality which is blended into reality, like augmented reality of Pokemon-Go, only sometimes it's quite hard to distinguish which things are "real" and which are "augmented".

Simulacrum is "a copy without an original". Let's pretend you want to have Leonardo's Mona Lisa at home, you paint Mona's "replica" or make a photocopy, and put the copy on the wall. Now let's pretend that no Mona Lisa actually exists, and even Leonardo himself was never born. What you have on the wall is "a copy of a chef-d'oeuvre of a famous artist of the past". Your friends are impressed, art critics bake reviews, museums call for exhibitions, historians pile monographs on the "yet undiscovered treasury", auction houses guess estimates. Your "copy with no original" created hype in real life, thus augmenting some hyperreality to reality.

For those who read thus far and still haven't understood anything -- I'd say that your head is all right, and now you know how "contemporary philosophy" can look like...

"So why d'ye pouring all that shit again?", you might ask.

Ok, let's talk about crypto.

First, I'd want to differentiate between blockchain and cryptocurrency. While cryptocurrencies are indeed based on blockchain, the blockchain technology is more (in theory, at least) than just a base for "cryptocurrencies". And I'm talking not on blockchain technology but rather about cryptocurrency.

In 2008 Mr. Nakamoto proposed a purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institutions. It was a solution for a funny puzzle mix of math theory and IT technology. A slightly brute-force idea, but still functional. The only problem was how to pin that idea to something in reality.

Mr. Nakamoto put it this way: What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party. Well, did it really that needed, to begin with? Actually, so far reality had existed rather well without anything like that. And then it appeared there were not so many people ready to sell or work for bitcoins, even peer-to-peer and trust-less. Bitcoin pizza was a good notable anecdotal exception.

Yup, the idea was a simulacrum desperately in need to be bound to reality somehow, to find a cause to exist, a "use-case". The logical way was to create infrastructure for swapping bitcoin to "ordinary" money and back. People were much more willing to work for BTC if they could change BTC for dollars, euros, or yens. Such swapping infrastructure was a tough task, with indirect transactions and a shitload of various middlemen along the way. However, it was accepted, because otherwise, bitcoin would remain an interesting idea with no connection to reality.

The next logical step was speculation. Even a monkey understands that if you can swap -- you can swap forth low, then swap back high and get a premium. The exchanges came, again with middlemen, fraud, blackjack, and hookers. The ideas of "trustless peer-to-peer transactions" were largely forgotten, now we talk about "store of value", "investment vehicle" and "a new asset class". We even want middlemen back. Myriads of crypto coins, what they are actually useful for, besides speculative circle-jerks? Buy coin A, swap it to coin B, put B/Z pair into a liquidity pool, receive coin Y, swap it for A, and sell A back.

Trustless transactions -> swaps -> speculation -> "store of value" -> what's next? Together with constantly complicating infrastructure it may look like an "evolution" -- but does it?

However, I don't mean that bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and friends are "fraud" or something alike. I don't mean that someone wants to dupe the world. I don't talk about "betrayal of Satoshi's vision" (btw, what the fuck is that?!). I don't even talk about if BTC is overpriced or underpriced.

What I mean is that once there appeared an idea for a math/IT puzzle, the idea was supposed to solve a real-life problem, and now it's searching for a real-life problem it can solve. We still believe that there's such a problem (mainly because the solution already exists) and act as though the idea will solve it -- otherwise, why would anyone want any crypto? A copy from hyperreality in search of its real original, as Mr. Baudrillard might probably call it.



Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels


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Jelly Fish
Jelly Fish



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