[NetBehaviour] Work in Progress: Blockchain Temporalities

Rhea Myers rhea at hey.com
Thu Jun 10 02:45:58 CEST 2021


Block time tends to be constant, or at least it tends to target a
constant rate. This prevents miners from mining one block per
transaction and taking the block reward, and makes reasoning about
different aspects of block production.

Block rate targets vary from 10 minutes down to one second(!).

People would like Bitcoin to handle many more transactions than it
currently does, and it is here that the block size wars come in. But
changing its ten minute target doesn’t seem to be a thing. 🙂

On June 8, 2021, NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity
<netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org> wrote:
> 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
> <mailto: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
> <mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>>
>  > To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity
>  >     <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org
> <mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>>
>  > Cc: rhea <rhea at hey.com <mailto: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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