Crypto-Current (009)

§0.3 — Chapter Three engages semiotics – or signs about signs. It concentrates upon the status of Bitcoin as a solution to the double spending problem (or ‘DSP’). A case is made for the extreme generality of the DSP as a practical semiotic quandary, roughly coextensive with the existence of life. Resolution of the DSP through a crypto-secure proof-of-work protocol is thus an episode in terrestrial bio-history, and not merely a drastic anthropological – or mature industrial capitalist – innovation (even if it is also both of these). What the protocol addresses is no less than virus, in its broadest extension. It corrects the intrinsic economic crisis of the sign. Semiotic values are instructions, and necessarily coinages. They make a difference, of ‘economic’ consequence. Duplicity – ‘hijacking’ – is thus automatically incentivized. To capture instructions is to command resources. This strategic option is no younger than the organism.*

§0.31 — Potential duplicity is a foundational semiotic concept, with extension far beyond the anthropomophic sphere. Virus already effectuates it (without any recourse to metaphor). The sensitivity of any system to code is, primordially, a vulnerability to capture. The programmable is the reprogrammable. Zoosemiotics is enveloped by this dilemma. No organism that takes advantage of clues, or cues, escapes their strategic ambiguity. Reading risks misreading essentially, and long before language. The hazard of trickery, by mimics, or deceivers, was not an invention of man, still less of digital information systems.

§0.32 — Spam, nevertheless, dramatizes the inherent tendency of the duplicitous sign with peculiar sharpness. It is no coincidence that the genesis of Bitcoin is deeply-interconnected with the practical problem of spam filtration. Spam experimentally demonstrates anti-money. In this, it has been a great teacher. Any functional system of message value credentials, negatively determined against spam, is already an embryonic digital currency.

§0.33 — Robust credential production makes money, whose ultimate basis is counter-duplicity. Bitcoin variants, or ‘alt-coins’, belong firmly to the same field of problems. Alt-coins are, at least partially, duplications – quasi-copies, or rough clones. The superiority of Bitcoin, in respect to competitive ‘alt-coins’ can rest only in its originality, or ‘first-mover’ advantage, since nothing precludes the emergence of a perfect copy. The eventuation of network effects – i.e. raw or irreducible singularity – does everything. Coinage has no essence beyond its event. From an exact date, something happens. There is no doubt more that can be said, but it cannot stretch to full-specification of the phenomenon, even in principle. Bitcoin is, both rigorously and redundantly (or in multiple senses), a production of singularity. Non-duplicity captures this in its most generically-intelligible dimension. A DSP-solution defines a semiotic, irreducible to the signifier or the index (to sense or reference), and already tacit in the nature of the monetary sign.

§0.34 — Explication of the ‘double spending problem’ (or ‘DSP’) necessarily produces, or reproduces, an economic theory of the sign. It restores exclusivity, or – in the language of the economists – the rivalrous sense of the semiotic entity, as commercial token. Resolution of double spending can only be a compression to singularity, as grammatical function and implicit concept, but more basically as practical resource. The conservation of value establishes its real and intrinsic – i.e. autonomous – ground. In this way (alone) it establishes its conditions of existence, in a circuit, by resourcing itself.

§0.35 — The generality of the DSP is evident in many other dimensions. The double opens the door to proliferation without limit. In this respect, double-spending invokes the double of the doubling period, rather than that of double-checking, or double-entry book-keeping, both of which figure on the other side of the account. According to the defining procedure of double-entry book-keeping, whenever money is added, on one side of a ledger, it is subtracted on the other. This requirement implements a distinctive semiotic procedure, irreducible to either signification or designation, which can be named allocation. It is only with regard to its allocative function that a sign can be spent, which is also to say, function as a rivalrous good in the economic sense. To transmit a sign, while still keeping it, in the fashion of language, is the essence of the DSP. A DSP solution, such as Bitcoin, is therefore – by necessity – an assault upon the linguistic model of the sign. Money is not a language. Insofar as it rises to prominence within semiotic theory, it necessarily dethrones the linguistic ideal. Within the anthropomorphic domain, it is precisely in becoming non-linguistic, and non-representational, that signs start to work. Signs are operators, which makes them worth stealing. They are keys, or passes. Virus grasped this more than three billion years ago.

* Deleuze & Guattari thematize this topic as the surplus value of code, as illustrated by the sexual instruction capture, or hacking, of the wasp by the orchid. The sign, duplicity, and resource acquisition are compactly integrated within the very widespread phenomenon of mimicry.

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