[NetBehaviour] Work in Progress: Blockchain Temporalities

Soenke Zehle s.zehle at xmlab.org
Wed Jun 9 09:37:20 CEST 2021

Thx very much for this. It seems (no tech expert speaking here) that
the shift from proof-of-work to proof-of-space-and-time is putting
another twist on the question of blockchain temporality?

Btw, as (budding) fan of Blumenberg / theories of metaphor I continue
to be astonished by the poverty of language when it comes to tech.
Chia's recipe for success ("A farmer’s probability of winning a block
is the percentage of the total space that a farmer has compared to the
entire network", https://www.chia.net/faq/), for example, sounds just
like sth from the EU's infamous "general agricultural policy" world
(you scale you win) - and it came right with a global shortage of
storage systems


Am Mi., 9. Juni 2021 um 07:11 Uhr schrieb Eryk Salvaggio via
NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>:
> Great work. Struck by the absence of “blockchain” from the original white paper and the wide possibility of reimagining the “timestamp server.” The blockchain has always had a gears-in-clocks aspect of it for me. I explained it to some Swiss folks this way once. In San Francisco I explained that the blockchain are the panels in an infinitely written comic strip: “this happened, then this happened, then this happened.”
> But now I have a question: I’d always assumed block time was also being pushed forward by demand, by transactions. No transactions, no new blocks, no puzzles. With Bitcoin the story in my head is a clock ticking at the speed of commerce. In the same way that if we all stood still maybe the clocks would too. (With Ethereum the story gets more complicated).
> Now I’ll think about the sky’s potential as a timestamp server: a mechanic sundial designed to spin a small shadow-casting shape in time with the system, the sun writing new blocks into a photogram cyanotype until it’s fixed by rain.
> Thanks for this!
> -e.
> On 8 Jun 2021, at 8:42 pm, Paul Hertz via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org> wrote:
> Yes, thanks. Lot to mull over.
> -- Paul
> On Tue, Jun 8, 2021 at 9:56 PM Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com> wrote:
>> Find the reference to qm somewhat problematic but this is an absolutely
>> stunning account - at least for me - I've learned a lot from it. Thank
>> you!
>> Wow! - Alan - hope there's a full essay/book emerging -
>> On Tue, 8 Jun 2021, rhea via NetBehaviour wrote:
>> > Date: Tue, 08 Jun 2021 18:31:08 -0700
>> > From: rhea via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
>> > To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity
>> >     <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
>> > Cc: rhea <rhea at hey.com>
>> > Subject: [NetBehaviour] Work in Progress: Blockchain Temporalities
>> >
>> > Bitcoin secures itself by rewarding the people who run it with payments in
>> > Bitcoin. To get the rewards for publishing new blocks of transactions to the
>> > Internet every ten minutes (on average), Bitcoin miners compete to solve
>> > simple but time-consuming cryptographic puzzles. When Bitcoin launched,
>> > miners could use desktop computers. But as Bitcoin became more valuable it
>> > became worthwhile to use more and more powerful hardware in larger and
>> > larger amounts to continue competing for the block rewards. Bitcoin was
>> > written to handle this. Its difficulty algorithm creates a new target schema
>> > for the block reward puzzles This algorithm targets ten minute block times,
>> > and it will make the block puzzles as easy or as difficult as is required to
>> > do this.
>> >
>> > That singular objective, pursued without concern for externalities, means
>> > that Bitcoin's difficulty algorithm is a paperclipper. Its ever-increasing
>> > energy usage, which has caused such moral panic, would boil the oceans if it
>> > thought that the difficulty had to go that high - but then what wouldn't?
>> > This is the purpose that it embodies in unbounded cryptoeconomic incentives.
>> > For Bitcoin, securing the metronomic heartbeat/pulse/breath/throb of ten
>> > minute blocks of transactions is all that matters. Bitcoin exists to secure
>> > the value of those transactions over time. To nestle in that temporality is
>> > to subject oneself to blockchain temporality as surely as Stelarc's "Ping
>> > Body" was subjected to internet geometry.
>> >
>> > Block height is a clock. I've met people who have timed meatspace events to
>> > it. Block height has a calendar of "halvenings", block reward changes, that
>> > are treated as festivals, along with scheduled protocol forks and
>> > activations. It's more complex than that, though. Cyclical and linear time
>> > interplay in the blockchain as they do in capitalism, which is hardly
>> > surprising given Bitcoin's anarcho-capitalist roots. The different temporal
>> > scales and intensities folded into the blockchain in order to produce it
>> > make it a Deleuzean egg. Which, through a deliberate misreading, makes it a
>> > world. We can call it a welt if it helps, which it doesn't.
>> >
>> > The word "blockchain" does not appear in Satoshi Nakamoto's 2009 Bitcoin
>> > Whitepaper. Instead the pseudonymous creator (or creators) of Bitcoin talk
>> > about the creation of a timestamp server to ensure the succession of events
>> > (transactions) within a system. Time, for Bitcoin, is pure succession just
>> > as number is pure succession for XXXXXXXXX. It is in this sense that time on
>> > the blockchain is non-relativistic (as per Nick Land). Worse, that time
>> > occurs *in* time, breaking XXXXXX's argument that it cannot. We can recover
>> > from this a little by pointing out that it does not occur within itself, but
>> > in an outside temporality, and a reassuringly relativistic one. Still, it
>> > occurs in time, and produces a time of pure succession.
>> >
>> > Bitcoin is the technonomic instantiation of Deleueze?s fourth synthesis of
>> > time. It is an empty repetition determined by the future. For Bitcoin that
>> > future is the block height (not the date or the Unix timestamp) when all 21
>> > million Bitcoin will have been minted, and the reality of that future
>> > determines its present - a hyperstition secured with an increasing fraction
>> > of the Earth's computing resources  by the block difficulty targeting
>> > algorithm.
>> >
>> > This is a purely intensive world, an undialectical history within itself.
>> > Step back and the onchain world and its history are shown to be incomplete -
>> > the private keys that create its transactions are not part of that world.
>> > This veil of ignorance, similar to the sub-quantum realm's role in
>> > contemporary physics, also applies to on-chain time. The Unix timestamps
>> > placed in each Bitcoin block leak the offchain time that each block occur
>> > at, but they could be a lie. They must increase over time, but compared to
>> > the block height (the block number), they do so in irregular leaps. Block
>> > heights are certain, timestamps less so.
>> >
>> > Like cybernetics, block formation is probabilistic, converging on certainty
>> > over time as more and more blocks build on top of the chain. This process is
>> > irreversible, not just due to probability but to the trapdoor function-based
>> > proof-of-work system that secures the Bitcoin blockchain. Although it can be
>> > walked via the chain of hash values between blocks.
>> >
>> > Blockchain temporality comes into being with the blockchain, and vice versa,
>> > at the same moment. This is similar to the reciprocal emergence of
>> > capitalism with capitalist time as described by Anna Greenspan in
>> > "Capitalism's Transcendent Time Machine". This is important because
>> > different temporal orders afford different social orders. We can notice
>> > this, or we can continue to stan or sulk at atomic clocks.
>> >
>> >
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