Bitcoin is an infinitely complex system that is a zero-to-one invention with little for us to compare it to, so no one can fully understand Bitcoin.
Jameson Lopp, one of the earliest developers in Bitcoin says, “Nobody understands bitcoin, and that’s okay.” Truer words were never spoken. It’s actually a useful starting point for the topic I’m writing about now. I’m absolutely neutral on whether you decide to buy or, better yet, save in bitcoin. My only goal is to help chip away at our collective ignorance.
Michelangelo’s creation of the statue of David gives us a reference point. He claims that he chipped away everything that wasn’t David from the block of stone. Well, my friends, that is what we must do here: chip away everything in your mind that is NOT Bitcoin. Not as easy a task as Lopp suggests. I’m confident that, with each passing block and each passing year, all eight billion souls on this planet will gain a greater understanding of Bitcoin. Perhaps someday we’ll understand it fully, but my money is on we will never fully understand it, nor is a full understanding necessary. I don’t know how my car works or my computer or my phone or my refrigerator or my toaster.
Recently Bitcoin Magazine published an outstanding article called, “Surviving The Narrative,” that does an outstanding job of explaining Bitcoin in a few sentences.
“Bitcoin as a network (capital B) has the function of keeping track of wallets and the amount of bitcoin (little b) in each. So it is accurate to say that Bitcoin, the network, is just a big digital scoreboard (or ledger) and the number in each wallet is the wallet’s assigned value. So when we say a wallet has bitcoin deposited, our mind sees a piggy bank and coinage going in, however, this is an inadequate metaphor for what is actually happening.” — Douglas Feeldro
In the interest of adding further clarification, we can say the Bitcoin network is an interconnected web of computers — some we call “miners” and some we call “nodes” — that keep track of every transaction and the millions of ownership units going all the way back to the genesis block on January 3, 2009. This digital ledger gets revalidated by this web of computers approximately every 10 minutes! Every block of transactions that doesn’t get hacked (and to date not a single transaction or block has been hacked) is a monumental achievement deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize that will never be forthcoming. It is such a profound tool for human rights and freedom that Alex Gladstein has embraced it in his work for the Human Rights Foundation and the Oslo Freedom Forum.
Once you understand the magnitude of the achievement that is Bitcoin, it would be far more accurate to say Bitcoin is the most valuable use of energy for securing an unhacked monetary energy network that the human race has ever witnessed or devised.
There have been 728,539 blocks — each block validates the transactions in that block and all the ones before it — mined in the Bitcoin network at the time of writing. The Bitcoin network doesn’t only keep track of every transaction dating back to the genesis block, it validates that the current block of transactions followed the rules and keeps the chain of unhacked blocks “streak” going until the next block. To many people unfamiliar with Bitcoin, what I just wrote is meaningless. To a Bitcoiner, it means everything. To help those unfamiliar with the kind of feat we’re witnessing, a basketball metaphor will help. Imagine Michael Jordan or Steph Curry making 728,539 shots in a row? Or Tiger Woods making 728,539 10-foot putts in a row? That will start to give you just a glimpse, only a hint, of the achievement that is Bitcoin. I’m not aware of any other digital asset that can get anywhere close to making this claim. There are definitely no fiat currencies that can make that claim and there will never be a central bank digital currency (CBDC) (which more accurately needs to be thought of as a “surveillance coin”) that will even attempt such a feat. That is why Robert Breedlove and many others have called Bitcoin a “zero-to-one invention” or discovery.
Those who claim that Bitcoin wastes energy know not what they say. They clearly don’t understand Bitcoin and they have a “piggy bank” understanding of money. Brandon Quittem, author of many amazing articles on Bitcoin, says, “Bitcoin mining is everything you don’t understand about energy combined with everything you don’t understand about Bitcoin.”
Bitcoin miners are not just enabling honest money transactions between two people, they are maintaining an energy force field around a nearly unbreakable monetary system that is not run or controlled by any flag or corporation or person, and this force field grows stronger by the hash and by the block. To paraphrase Robert Breedlove, the walls of the safe get thicker as more value is stored within it. I seem to recall Trace Mayer was the first to refer to the Bitcoin timechain as “triple-entry bookkeeping.” The bitcoin miners and nodes are the auditors of the network, making sure that everyone in the system is following the consensus rules. All bitcoin miners and nodes are validating every transaction back to the genesis block to be sure no cheating is going on. Until January 2009 with the implementation of Bitcoin, cheating is our way of life for human beings when it comes to money. What would a monetary system that doesn’t allow cheating look like? The answer is Bitcoin.
So I urge those of you reading this to ponder what we’re witnessing and what keeps setting new records for this network of computers that secures, maintains and supports a peer-to-peer monetary system that is not controlled by any government or corporation or billionaire. Try to even comprehend what that means. Words fail me. I observe all the conflict that happens between Bitcoiners; and the conflict between Bitcoiners and alt-coiners; and the conflict between Bitcoiners and no-coiners and I smile. I’ll take my cue from Bitcoin. Bitcoin is amoral and absolutely neutral about whether you join its network or not. My hope going forward for each of you is to remember this reality the next time you get frustrated with your family or friend who doesn’t get Bitcoin. Nobody fully understands Bitcoin, and that’s okay. Stated more personally: Nobody fully understands Bitcoin, not even you, and that’s okay.
This is a guest post by Mark Maraia. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.