Nick Land, Crypto-Current:
While Bitcoin is certainly another thing for philosophy to talk about, it is also an entirely other way of “talking” and of doing something that has been considered central to the philosophical enterprise since its inception—the cultural production of truth. Bitcoin establishes—and in fact ultimately is—an operational truth procedure. It is less a philosophical object, therefore, than a philosophical platform, and even a philosophical automatism.
Bitcoin is inextricable from a practical interrogation of identity, in its social and psychological sense (as “personal identity”), but also more fundamentally as that which makes something such that it is not something else. The specific engagement with this concern under the name of the double-spending problem need not distract from its extreme generality, and—beyond generality—its transcendental implication. Bitcoin realizes an experimental ontology and epistemology in the course of a technical re-foundation of transactions (upon the Internet), which involves an abstraction of (if not finally beyond) money. The practical problematics of money and identity, nudged together over the course of decades by cryptographic theorists, have arrived—in Bitcoin—at a stage of radical fusion. For anything “simply” to be certified as that which it is cannot any longer be confidently distinguished from a monetary phenomenon. The new “-coin” suffix operates amphibiously between these previously distinct registers, as the index of an economic-ontological machine.
(Big-B) Bitcoin, the system, goes further still. If being able to verifiably be itself makes of anything a unit in a currency system, the system itself is the Being of such beings—the ultimate criterion of credible existence. In the end, the blockchain cannot be subordinated to any principle of reality (whatsoever) that it does not itself authorize.
Since money, even in its most primitive and concrete forms, is already an abstraction—from the general commodity—its further mathematical virtualization tends naturally, from the perspective of common intuition, to a certain opacity. To recognize the reality of the virtual stretches human cognitive capabilities into stressed—and often distressing—territory. In addition, money occupies a thematic cross-roads of such diversity and density that its tangents can appear overwhelming, touching upon everything of human relevance, even prior to the massive dilation of monetary generality that Bitcoin is currently driving, under the sign of the new techonomic “coin”.
Since Gödel, we have known that whatever can be known at all is precisely detailed in some yet-unknown
number. Because the blockchain is a transcendental reality criterion, its ultimate summation is necessarily ontologically exhaustive. Whatever it doesn’t—in the end—include, can only be nothing.
Since the origins of modernity, a specter has been haunting the world—that of the autonomous industrial economy. This is the same emergent order that has acquired the name “capitalism” in the abstract, tendential, or teleological sense of the word, and—still more importantly—in accordance with its usage as a designation for an always only partially-defined real individual, or terrestrial event. Its signature is a regenerative, or self-reinforcing, intensification of socio-economic disequilibrium, “governed”—or, more strictly, made radically ungovernable—by a fundamental positive-feedback dynamic. “Capitalism” then, as a singular (or “proper”) rather than generic (or typological) name, designates the sovereign self-escalation of an innovative entity, defined only by the practical relation of auto-promotion it establishes with —and through— itself. What it is, in itself, is more than itself. Growth is its essence. This is easily said, but—as an irreducible logical anomaly—it is far less easily understood. This does not, however, obstruct its being named. Fernand Braudel writes of “the passionate disputes the explosive word capitalism always arouses.”7 Its would-be defenders, typically, are those least inclined to acknowledge its real (and thus autonomous) singularity. Business requires no such awkward admission. This, too, is a crypsis. By inevitable—if often awkward—irony, a species of “Marxism” tends to be regenerated in any systematic promotion of Capital. Even were this not the case, those who consider themselves befriended by Capital would rarely be motivated to pronounce upon the fact.
§3.0 — According to the crudest—and perhaps also most plausible—account of Bitcoin’s inherent political philosophy, it implements a project of algorithmic governance that conforms to the deepest and most essential agenda of modernity, which is to say, of emergent capitalism, in its search for a definitive securitization of commerce against politics. It thus expresses—in contemporary techno-libertarian or crypto-anarchist guise—the primal impulse of liberalism (in its classical sense). As already noted implicitly, it is something most easily seen from outside.
FULLTEXT VIA ETCSCRIVENER ::: https://etscrivner.github.io/cryptocurrent
It is a flow of time, electricity, and cash – a turbulent conceptual confluence. Current events are the only kind. If we are unable to step into the same current twice, it is because of what irreversibility has secured in the past.
Glimpsed at its distant pole of unbounded abstraction, the cryptic is the ultimate philosophical enticement. At this point of origination, two-and-a-half millennia behind us, philosophy was nothing other than abstract cryptography. Its concern was hiding. If cryptography is currently subsuming philosophy back into itself, the historical figure thus sketched is a great cycle – an obscure return. Restoration – closing an epoch (of financial discretion, most superficially) – is also an irreversible liquidation, into currency. Registered within the terms of the transcendental or critical philosophy, it is a departure from the pseudo-object of ‘the present’ in the direction of current time.
It approaches a truism – although not one for this reason to be glibly dismissed – that philosophy assumes, as if by right, a position of sovereign authority relative to everything it touches upon. A discussion of Bitcoin and Philosophy amounting only to a confirmation of this stance would merit contempt, even if it were packaged as humor. Since any attempt to philosophize about Bitcoin would already be a joke, it is better to get it. Bitcoin seizes philosophical attention because it is already doing philosophy – or what philosophy is still (on ever rarer occasions) expected to do – and at multiple levels. It tells the truth. Bitcoin is not only a recognizable philosophical statement, but also, and more importantly, a philosophical automatism, a synthetic philosophical machine. It not only philosophizes in the manner of a man – although this is its certain prospect – but also finally in the way of an angel, or a lesser god. The ‘intellectual intuition’ (Intellektuelle Anschauung) that is for Kant a mortal impossibility, is for Bitcoin an operational principle. It is destined to close upon itself, and thus know itself. By becoming time, Bitcoin promises an exhibition of unleashed thought, in a way no introspective anthropology ever can.
However it is specifically articulated, critique isolates a properly transcendental productive principle, or function, which is constitutive of a domain rather than existing as an item within one. It thereby marks a unilateral or ontological difference (which is to say, a discrepancy irreducible to any relation between terms that are internal to the domain considered). Critique is, necessarily, the theoretical assertion of a non-empirical partition. Through critical abstraction, the consistent order of the system considered is liberated from its specific instantiation, to become a philosophical preoccupation, immunized against the distractions of any merely factual controversy about its content, but also – simultaneously (or diagonally) – from purely formal considerations of its internal logical organization. It is committed to a zone of positive discovery (which logic cannot be) that is systematically enveloping (as no empirical concern can be). Philosophy, as such, no longer has anything else whatsoever to attend to. If philosophy cannot be critique, it cannot be anything (that matters within Modernity). That is its essential immanent Law.
Bitcoin machines value. It follows that the prevailing conception of technology as instrumental capability, subsumed under extrinsic ends, is among the very many things to fall by the wayside as the process escalates. Traditional categories of thought (or conception) and action (or performance) are mutually subsumed into an irreducible cognitive action. The strengthening diagonal current passing between the notional and the actual, ‘ought’ and ‘is’, intelligence and mechanism – which in its aporetic articulation has been the exquisite torture of postmodern philosophy – is simply code. Bitcoin ushers this cryptic fatality into simultaneous conceptual and mechanical consummation.
It is necessary to go further. In the final analysis, nothing less than the nature of reality is brought into question by this event. It concerns the ‘Being of beings’ (at least). If the claim seems extravagant, it is nevertheless inescapable, once the transcendental status of an ultimate criterion based upon absolute succession is granted to the Bitcoin protocol. It is not only that no higher tribunal exists. When envisaged at a sufficient level of abstraction, no higher tribunal could possibly exist. The Bitcoin ledger is the first intrinsically reliable record. It is now known what happened, without argument. This is a situation without precedent which also reaches – immediately – an absolute limit, in principle. It thus exemplifies the synthetic a priori. There is no philosophical thinking of Bitcoin – in either the subjective or objective genitive – that is not also (‘simultaneously’) a re-thinking of time, or sovereign decision. ‘Re-thinking’ is a revision, but no less a restoration. Bitcoin introduces us to a time-machine, or time-synthesizer, which can only complicate any initial intuitions about its novelty.
Bitcoin entrusts us with the teleo-mechanical line, which inherits and protracts the fundamental modernistic pseudo-paradox of mechanistic liberalization. There is no real freedom outside the innovation of machines. Yet to recover teleology is simultaneously to attack it. As with anything worth defending at all, when teleology is critiqued, it gets stronger. It needs to be gnawed at more aggressively, which means – first of all – pulling it back off the shelf (or out of the fridge). Teleology is re-animated as a question when the end is intuited at work. Which is to say, in the working-out of the process the pretended sovereignty of the beginning is dethroned. We cannot but ask: What is Bitcoin becoming? This question is itself a piece of fate.
It cannot be sufficiently stressed that teleological thinking typically goes wrong. If it had not been prematurely dismissed, its structural failures would have been better understood. Modernity has not harried it enough. The principal teleological error is hubris (which is known to philosophy, in its general theoretical manifestation, as ‘metaphysics’). In this case, it manifests as the pretense to adequate apprehension of the telos, whatever its variant, as if it were an object. This error is profound, and might easily seem to provide ample justification for the programmatic extinction of teleological thinking without remainder. Yet such a response – which has in fact predominated within modernity – is hyperbolic. It leads predictably, which is to say inevitably, or in fact by ultimate irony finalistically, to a cognitive vulgarization (and typically a geometricization) of time, in which the defining asymmetry of the temporal axis is extinguished. Transcendental temporality cannot be reduced to the correlate of a purely mechanical process – for instance, to a dimension – without obliterating its time-signature entirely. Radical space-time distinction is a Kantian inheritance that critique cannot elect to abandon. Once time is freed – again – from geometry, it announces itself through certain definite quasi-teleological or historically-anomalous effects. Minimally, it allows for something new. It thus lends itself to teleology in its rigorous employment, which is bound to the disingenuously innocent question: What is happening? Such interrogations conform to the eventuation (or emergence) of an entire ontological topic, delivered by the problematic – or non-objective – thing.
What is it becoming? What does Bitcoin lead to? The ‘network effects’ locking Bitcoin into history are exactly the same thing, seen differently. Bitcoin makes historical sense, when it can be seen that it was expected, or anticipated (if only by a virtual subject, whose actuality is itself outcome-dependent). The attractor exceeds the protocol. It was a piece of destiny from the beginning. Capital Teleology is the guide. Reciprocally, what Capital has been about is unanswerable without attention to Bitcoin. Nothing denominated in money can be realistically apprehended without recognition that the nature of money is undergoing the single most catastrophic revolution in its history, and is thus ceasing to support expectations that rely upon the simple tracking-forward of precedent. Since Capital-process societies have long been denounced, understandably, for ‘attempting to put a price on everything’ the scope of this revolution is not readily bounded.
The extraordinary dynamism of Bitcoin makes it a moving target. It generates more history than can be humanly absorbed in real time. In other words, it escapes. Yet, while at one level this comparative paucity of historical resolution follows from an economic decision (about the distribution of time), it also doubtless reflects an essential philosophical prejudice, prioritizing abstraction. Despite firm conclusions regarding ultimate path-dependency, Crypto-Current cannot be primarily historical, because it is drawn into the idea of Bitcoin, in something far closer to the Platonic sense of this term than its epistemological, or even merely psychological, successor. Its topic envelops temporality, and engages the production – rather than the unfolding – of time. In this respect, it adheres to the mainstream of the critical tradition, for which primordial temporalization is the key. Crypto-Current is chronogenic process. It is that – alone – which cannot assume time. History is grounded by critique, as in an abyss.
Tightening nonlinearity ensures that even if time itself has thresholds of emergence, marked by dates – such as ‘October 31, 2008’ – the dating-system provides no stable frame, but is plunged into immanence, and thus absorbed into the vortex of irreducibly cyclical dependency. There is nothing historical that can be known about time in advance. Bitcoin intensifies this problem – which is that of modern philosophy in general – towards its limit. Artificial time leaves no context unconsumed. It is transcendental, if it is time at all. No story of any kind can be adequate to it.
Such reservations do not suggest, even remotely, that the prospects for a history of time can be simply dismissed. Precisely because time is a transcendental horizon, time cannot be found anywhere other than in time. Nonlinear history, to employ Manuel DeLanda’s term in its most radical sense, comprehends the philosophy of time, through the exact real coincidence of its twin terms. It is only that, when historiography reaches this threshold, it has already become something else. The work of Peter Galison is a particularly remarkable case. His magnificent study of Einstein and Poincaré, which grounds the time-relativity problem of early 20th Century mathematical physics in the techno-administrative imperative to synchronization, is an exemplary excavation of chronogenetic circuitry. The point of theoretical climax is marked by an irreducible co-dependency of historical process and time-production, in which each finds its grounds within the other. Neither pole in this circuit submits to its alternative without cascading confusion.
From a certain perspective, that is not altogether reducible to dialectical illusion, the history of Bitcoin is structured by a limited number of dominating controversies, at a variety of levels. The spectrum extends from ideological disputes in the grand style of classical political economy to the detailed practicalities of investment decision-making. Three principal modes of hostile response can be isolated, and sequenced roughly as phases, corresponding to guiding attitudes of dismissal, antagonism, and condescension. Each of these objections can be expected to rise in public prominence in the years ahead, as Bitcoin attracts increasing attention. Since publicity has some (strong) correlation with positive network effects, even opposition can be perversely supportive. The old saw that ‘all publicity is good publicity’ is highly-attuned to network dynamics.
Antagonism takes Bitcoin seriously. It is not a matter of derision, any longer, but of hostility. Additionally, in crossing this threshold, the hostility previously masked as derision ‘comes out’. The inadequacy of contemptuous laughter is recognized. More is required to make Bitcoin stop. It is at this level that the greatest philosophical hunting grounds are opened. With the elevation of ideological intensity comes the lucidity of overt denunciation – an imperative to know one’s enemy, and to share what is known. Bitcoin, according to these critics, is a bad thing. Criticism now becomes interesting. Perhaps the predominant future of technically-competent left-wing Marxism belongs to this track.
In actuality, Bitcoin falls short of itself, inevitably. Its potential remains only very partially expressed. This is a criticism that only makes sense with reference to a teleological construction. What – in the end – is the purpose of Bitcoin? In selling itself, Bitcoin answers this question in a piecemeal way. It promises and – to some lesser but already non-negligible extent – actually delivers various services, primarily associated with monetary modernization on the cryptic mainstream of the deep industrial process. It defends capital from inflation-oriented political discretion, protects transactional anonymity, ensures contractual execution without reference to financial authorities, and refines currency to facilitate micropayment capabilities. It is, however, far more than any – or all – of this, because decentralization has never been done this well, at least within a social context. Bitcoin is thus nothing less than an escalation of multiplicity. Its potential necessarily escapes any conveniently-traced horizon.
Ruptures are irreversibilities. They are thresholds from which there is no going back. Every rupture is thus a locking, a lock in, or trap-door. The secret of time finds in rupture its principle of integrity, or redundancy. There is no puzzle beyond this (which is merely transcendental philosophy restated).
Secrecy has been an under-developed topic in philosophy. The reasons for this are arguably indistinct from reason itself, as such, and in general. ‘As we shall see’ we might add, insofar as humor is our object. In any case, a story of at least minimal plausibility is not difficult to muster. Secrecy is that which, as a matter of internal necessity, can only ever be under-emphasized, but in the case of philosophy there is immediately more to say. Since its birth in ancient Greece, philosophy has been drawn to the public square, and – according to some historical constructions – even arose there. It tends, strongly and stubbornly, to identify itself as the most elevated form of public reason. Since it is by way of a departure from the Hermeticism of the ancient mysteries that philosophy originated, it is a discipline bound by primordial vocation to exotericism. This cultural ancestry resonates profoundly with the archaic Occidental apprehension of truth as aletheia (or ‘unconcealedness’), and thus as an emergence or extraction from secrecy. In the words of Herakleitos (‘the dark’) – invoking a primordial entanglement between what would become the cultural lineages of philosophy and cryptography – Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ (“nature inclines to crypto”).
Within the late-Enlightenment consolidation-phase of modern philosophy, whose capstone is the Kantian critical system, the public sphere of intelligence is thematized as objectivity. This is the realm of common understanding, accessibly shared – as a matter of necessary principle – by all rational beings. For instance, there cannot, according to the Kantian construction, ever be a secret about space as such. Space understood transcendentally, as a pure form of objective intuition, rather than as an object itself, cannot contribute to the content of a private experience. A secret geometry is unthinkable, in this sense.
Bitcoin is an open secret. Despite belonging unambiguously to the history of cryptography, nothing at all about it is hidden (except what lies beyond it).
The basic current inherited by the Internet tends with irresistible momentum towards the open secret. The system of disguises is, ever increasingly, fully exposed. The Internet epoch, we learn, is the Golden Age of masks. Masks are not designed to be hidden, but rather the contrary. They are exceptionally conspicuous attire, meant for public exposure, to facilitate hiding in plain sight. Privacy turns out to be the reciprocal of an artificial face.
Modernity is what happens to history when it ceases to be ‘one damn thing after another’ and succumbs instead to a self-reinforcing trend. ‘Paradoxically’ – with the scare quotes here marking the immensity of the philosophical provocation – the concrete current of modern history is a process of abstraction, exemplified by subsumption into control engineering, with programming as its spontaneous formulation. Electrification and then electronics are decisive thresholds in its course. New units of abstract power, and of information, are indices of irreversible submission, folding the concrete apparatus of production and transmission into an activated system from which there can be no retreat. The system – in each case – is in a very real sense nothing but its parts, but it was not before, and now is, and there is no going back.
Finally, Bitcoin is a system. This concluding component of the definition is the most easily overlooked – and dismissed as without content – precisely because it carries the greatest transcendental implication. What a system is, isn’t anything in particular, at all. Rather, a system is that which remains – by necessity excluded – even after a comprehensive enumeration of parts. Any real system is an irreducible individual, a true ‘thing’. Critically, individuality is a scale-free concept, assigning reality to an object. It summarizes a meta-stable knot of connectivity, or synthesis. When formulated as a critical proposition: the systematicity of the system is irreducible to any part or parts of the system.
Code comes first, and is already at work, on its way to specification as a hash. Program (or algorithm) and protocol will soon follow it. These terms have a number of notable, interconnected features. Crucially, in reference to their prospects for philosophical adoption, they are all – consistently – diagonal, and specifically teleo-mechanical. This means that they are intractable to categorization in accordance with the binary theoretical / practical discrimination standardized within, or constitutive of, occidental moral philosophy, or rather, and more strictly, to the basic compartmentalization of this philosophical tradition – perhaps philosophy as such – in accordance with, and reflective of, a subject divided between cognitive and volitional faculties. The distinction between ‘idea’ and ‘action’, or between the ‘is’ and ‘ought’, fails to capture these terms, and fails radically. It is not merely inadequate, but fundamentally misguiding, and inappropriate. There are no theories, or practices, after the algorithm, except as suggestive, colloquial shorthand. Coding is no more a thought than a deed, a program no less a concept than a performance. In each case, there is an integral, and thus irreducible, pre- or sub-theoretical procedure which rigorizes (and even ‘materializes’) ideality by operationalizing it.
Among Modernity’s most consistent cultural threads has been the strand cross-weaving the problem of logical formalization with the mechanization of thought. By the beginning of the 20th century, it had been established to the satisfaction of all relevant parties, that logical rigor is indistinguishable from thinking like a machine, due to the strict – formalizable and engineerable – isomorphism between deterministic mechanism and adherence to explicit rules. The popularization of this insight would subsequently become a staple of science fiction. At the nadir of intellectual degeneracy and still-gathering panic, an unprocessed residuum of human emotionality would be counterposed to the cold consistency of technologically-instantiated cognition, expressing a terminal affect of resistance. Everything philosophy has ever tried to think ends in the logical machine.
Bitcoin is a machine. More specifically, it is a credibility machine. Its ideal operation coincides with the most rigorous realizable definition of truth. That is already to assert everything. In particular, it proposes that there are no (conceivably reachable) grounds of truth which offer leverage in respect to the Bitcoin protocol. It is of course possible – nebulously – to imagine some superior tribunal, but it is strictly impossible to access one. This is fully recognized, at a low level of philosophical formality, within the crypto-currency milieu. The credibility machinery introduced by the Bitcoin digital currency is thus isolated – or functionally abstracted – as pure truth production. But, truth, surely, has to be more than that, is the predictable response, and in that appeal the voice of metaphysics is heard, distilled. Truth in its socially-intelligible reference not only need not be more than the product of a credibility machine, it cannot be anything more. Truth has no content beyond the production of credence. Untruths, finally, are badly made. Naturally, the technologically-defective prototypes of such machinery, incarnated in weakly formalized social institutions, cannot be expected to surrender their privileges lightly. Even though traditional sources of epistemic authority are unable to clearly articulate their own grounds of credibility, without appeal to their own structures of prestige, this does not mitigate their sense of outraged entitlement in the slightest. It is their assumed right to be believed that speaks through intuitions of familiar truths, now cast from their social Eden into the harsh wilderness of trustlessness (where all resilient credibility has to be explicitly earned, by a demonstrated application of computational power).
When social rules are submitted to the same principle of mechanical rigorization as epistemic values, the outcome is algorithmic governance – although this is, of course, introduced incrementally (in phases). The ideal, however, is lucidity itself. Institutions of social management are to be incarnated in software that – like mechanical calculators – are simply incapable of making a mistake. The opportunity for (logical or quasi-logical) error is mechanically disabled. In the socio-political case, this requires the systematic elimination of human discretion. The implicit assertion – which merits emphatic explication – is that judgment has no defensible role in public governance, and is therefore to be programmatically delegated to private agencies, where it can be submitted to appropriate procedures of harsh selection. The state is disinvested as a fantastic locus of mediated human liberty, and reduced to the status of a complex gadget, whose functions are slaved absolutely to the neutral metabolism inherent in the classical liberal model of civil society. Because judgment requires trust, it can only be processed adequately in the commercial realm, where unrestricted exit options (on the side of customers) subordinate it to extrinsic controls. Complex games, of course, require judgment, but as far as the rules of the game are concerned, any margin for judgment is an evident defect. In other words, discretionary governance is a badly formulated game. P2P systems have advanced to better ones. (The extreme – and even ultimate, or transcendental – controversies attending these propositions and conclusions are addressed most specifically in Chapter 4.)
The fact that electro-industrial actualization of digital information, and its subsequent rigorous theorization, was presupposed in the discovery of the genetic code does not detract from the status of the latter as a model. From it we learn that, firstly, a code necessarily involves a mapping, from one series of informational elements onto another, or from an informational series onto a domain that is intrinsically segmented in conformity with the code. A code does not – in the manner suggested by unconstrained semiology – conjure the differences it maps into existence. Rather, it latches on to them, constituting a secondary – or higher-level – arrangement, accessible to manipulation as data. Proteins (it should not need to be said) are differentiated prior to their RNA over-coding. Codes select differences, they do not create them. Secondly, a code operationalizes signs as instructions, fully independent of any mediation by reflective consciousness. ‘Code’, and whatever it conveys in respect to meaning, is not a phenomenological category, but an operational (or ‘machinic’) domain.
The motto of the Royal Society, Nullius in verba (“on the word of no one”), essentially anticipates the scientific elaboration of the crypto-current. Trustlessness is built into modern techno-science as an integral, quasi-teleological element. It is, for instance, the guiding principle of modern double-blind experimental method. Systematized distrust of the scientist grounds scientific credibility. Anything that demands belief is marked for eradication. The cultural consequences are – to many – experienced as deeply demoralizing, but the process is what it is. Traditional manufactories of trust are extinguished by successive media revolutions. Tacit authorities are not available to replace them.
The blockchain is not ‘mere’ code – even highly automated code. It cannot be anything, determinable within an ontology established at a superior level to itself. Nakamoto Consensus is less an object for philosophy than a virtual criterion: a fundamental, obliquely mechanized decision procedure for settling the nature of truth. In other words, Bitcoin is a transcendental operation, before becoming the topic for one. The primary meaning of ‘transcendental’ is ultimate, which can be clarified negatively by the absence of any higher or superior tribunal. There is no place from which to consistently or authoritatively second-guess the blockchain. By implementing a “fully peer-to-peer” system, which subtracts the role of “third party” monitoring and adjudication, the Bitcoin protocol automatically places itself beyond external oversight. Its criterion of validation is radically immanent. The task of this work, therefore, is not to subject Bitcoin to philosophical judgment, but rather to elaborate the lessons of Bitcoin through a philosophical hash.
The cryptographic challenge is designed to be (arduously) puzzled out, automatically modified, and re-posed. Each such event is a basic unit of time, or elementary episode, determining a block on the chain. Hashing and mining are made synonymous, as Bitcoin’s primary process. The hashing cycle establishes an ultimate, unsurpassable, transcendental, or chronogenic function.
A cultural side-product of the Bitcoin protocol, then, is a cryptographic definition of time. Punctual-geometric ‘now’, as marked on a ‘time-line’, is replaced by an atomic unit of irreducible duration, coinciding with the completion of a block, and ordered successively on the chain. Between duration and succession, the relation is synthetic. The blockchain is constituted by a series of durations, which are not inter-convertible, or mathematically transformable into each other. Hash-time has ceased to be accurately representable as a dimension. A time-line merely analogizes it, to what is an ultimately inadequate level of definite fidelity.
The weakly-formalized hash function employed in this book is Kantian critique. It latches upon input text extracted from the cultural agitation attending crypto-currency techonomics, and outputs a digest in the (partially submerged) mainstream language of philosophy. Peer-to-peer flatness is hashed into immanence, ‘trusted third parties’ into metaphysical constructs of transcendence. Since the mid-19th century, the primary impetus of transcendental philosophy has been directed to the materialization of critique. Academic philosophy, almost by definition, has not registered this trend accurately. It has been through the advances and errors of cybernetics and historical materialism that critical modernity has been charted.
Transcendence poses real problems – obstacles – requiring techonomic solutions, rather than mere conceptual exorcism. Immanentization is the product of a diagonal process, leading through the exteriority of the machine. ‘Armchair philosophy’ should not, therefore, be opposed to an armchair skepticism, but to the history of cryptography, in its broadest possible conception, which relates the hidden and unhidden to the irreversible emergence of real capabilities.
The ultimate foundation of the Kantian critical philosophy is a difference, drawn between objects and their conditions of possibility. Items of competent attention are framed in a way that cannot itself be successfully itemized. The display frame cannot be displayed. Confusion between (empirical) objects and their (transcendental) conditions of possibility, most typically exemplified by the attempt to apprehend the latter as if they were the former, is taken to define speculative metaphysics (or pure theoretical reason) – which is conceived, rigorously, as a persistent yet futile misapplication of intelligence to pseudo-problems essentially exceeding its capabilities. The rest is detail.
Considered as a positive philosophical discovery, the transcendental coincides with the synthetic a priori. Like all great things in the domain of thought, this hybrid concept is quasi-paradoxical. It denotes a field of non-factual discovery – a genetic particularity of the universal – at once necessary but non-obvious, epitomized by the mathematical theorem. Synthetic a priori truths are secular revelations. Contingent in their acquisition, but then necessary in their preservation, they constitute the sole positive ratchet in the accumulation of knowledge, describing an asymmetry – or ‘arrow’ – proper to epistemology: a one-way, or unilateral, fatality. Such discoveries are arduously amassed, but then invulnerable to dissipation. They are in this way indispensable to the comprehension of historical time, and can be considered as products of unlimited application. The blockchain is exemplary. A cryptic, or radically non-obvious solution to a problem we will later explore attentively, it is – subsequent to its formalization – culturally indispensable. It ‘cannot be un-invented’. This is true to such an extent that it appears as an eternal mathematical fact, wholly impervious to the ravages of empirical fortuity. To de-realize the blockchain would be to unmake the universe (or at least, to collapse what is – transcendentally or inescapably – for us the universe). What is done transcendentally cannot be undone, without radical time-violation. The crypto-current permits no repudiation. The units of synthetic a priori knowledge production are laws, in the very strongest defensible sense of this term, in which their descent from, and simultaneous irreducibility to, any particular cases is insisted upon. This ratchet-structure makes the synthetic a priori – or some adequate analog – indispensable to any rigorous conceptual decompression of the notion of time.
Layers – strata  – are not given archetypally. They are produced by a machine (not a ‘device’ or ‘gadget’, but a megamachine – a system – characterized by some substantial capacity for auto-production). We are directed, diagonally, or critically, into the synthetic cosmos of transcendental machinery. Such mechanisms, by philosophical definition, cannot be exhaustively constituted as an object for any possible subject. Objectification – the production of objectivity – is their work. If they grasp themselves, dynamically, in the attainment of intellectual intuition, they close a circuit, or diagonalize, dismantling all settled configurations of subjectivity upon the same oblique line. At the real historical limit, intelligence explosion cannot be framed without being metaphysically misconceived.
As it develops through the two centuries subsequent to its origination, there is a profound tendency for the critical philosophy to resolve itself into a problem of time. This trend is deeply rooted in the foundations of the transcendental undertaking, and is already unmistakably evident in its earliest, Kantian formulation. The drift of time within Kant’s thinking – and in his first Critique alone – anticipates the broader historical fatality. Introduced as a form of intuition, alongside space, and thus as a formal precondition for sensibility, it seems initially to be no more than a regional topic, located within a subdivision of the Aesthetic, and firmly separated from the Logic (where the necessary structures of thought, rather than sensation, are categorically enumerated). Yet the peculiar dignity of time as the form of inner sense soon installs it in a far more fundamental role. As the key to the process Kant labels schematism, time is acknowledged in its responsibility for the integration of thought and sensation, and therefore for the productive synthesis of objectivity. Thus – already in the First Critique – time diagonalizes.
We know, already, that time is not an object, which is to say, something in time. This seemingly modest proposition is a fully-adequate place-holder for the transcendental problematic as it elaborates itself within modern philosophy. A double twist that is perhaps only modernity as such, abstractly apprehended, extracts time from metaphysics and – ‘simultaneously’ – subsumes the entire order of the transcendental into the substructure of time. Time as such is hidden non-empirically, which is to say by empiricity (as such). It is the transcendental archetype of the open secret. The intrinsic nature of time is not concealed within a box. It is the box. Any conception of framed time is error.
It might be asked, skeptically, how time comes to acquire this extraordinary privilege. The trite response: by turning up first. There is necessarily always already time, if there is anything at all. The blockchain reminds us that all privilege is grounded (only) in priority. Time has already won the race – which models all competition, and every challenge – no later than the unthinkable moment when it begins. As etymology attests, it determines the basis for success. A priori and a posteriori are time-determinations out of an ultimate destiny (which is time ‘itself’). Time is not to be thought in any ways other than those it itself enables. This is a law deeper than any commandment. To acknowledge it is already the whole of transcendental philosophy.
If such contentions have appeared increasingly questionable during the 20th century, it is because the rigid distinction between space and time came to seem untenable. Within spacetime, neither succession nor simultaneity has absolute reality. The order of events requires perspectival qualification, or localization. Transcendental temporalization – the time of the critical philosophers – is unable to survive such a revision. Acceptance of such a theoretical reconstruction, however, is itself a pre-critical error. Absolute time is secured at the level of mathematical – and specifically arithmetical – truth, not physical theory. Time is not a natural object, the transcendental philosophy is compelled to insist, or repeat. It is not even the possible object of abstract (higher-dimensional) geometry. This is not to say that time is unnatural, still less supernatural – given a realistic definition of ‘nature’ – but rather that it is stubbornly non-objective, meaning non-transcended. Objectification necessarily falsifies it, by misrepresenting its epistemological sovereignty. Immanence to time is the unsurpassable condition of all theorization.
The phenomenological defense of transcendental aesthetic stubbornly maintains its intuitive invulnerability to theoretical transformation. Kant, on these lines, misidentified his project with that of Enlightenment natural science. This is not the angle the crypto-current primarily works, since it is a path that tends to collapse the critical philosophy into a transcendental anthropology. It is not what time must be for us that draws the terminus for practical abstraction, but rather what time must be to be time. The geometrical parallel postulate is, in this regard, a distraction. This is a point that requires exacerbation. The radical irrelevance of geometric conception to the nature of time is the critical commitment. Unless time is not space, it is not time at all.
If the proposal is advanced – as we are compelled to here – that the problem provoking Minkowsky-Einstein time relativization is practically resolved by blockchain technology, extreme skepticism is almost certainly unavoidable. To what extent, it might be asked, dubiously, could Bitcoin undermine the foundations of 20th century cosmo-physics? The idea is, of course, at least superficially preposterous. And yet, Bitcoin practically contests the status of time as an object of physical theory. Insofar as Bitcoin is transcendental critique, it is destined to do exactly this. We refer, then – with supreme confidence – to the destiny, beyond the argument. The sole commitment is that there is no going back. To conceive of time as transcended – even by the most advanced mathematico-physical constructions – is to have essentially misconceived it. Of this, alone, transcendental philosophy has to be sure, since it has no recourse to disciplined doubt that is not already time. (The basic truth of this proposition is indistinguishable from time as such, and is thus only superficially vulnerable to the manifest incompetence of its presentation here.]) According to an alternative translation of the same assertion, physics is subordinated to cryptography in principle, because it lacks autonomous capability for the production of time. It cannot be trusted with time, and will not be.
Bitcoin is not only the initiation of artificial time, but the original production of absolute time (and thus a confirmation of synthetic reality’s ontological supremacy). Nondecomposable spacetime – which is to say space-time relativization – is the single conception that most undisputedly epitomizes advanced modernity in physics, and even in the natural sciences in general, with only quantum indeterminacy as a competitor.
Critically, the problems “solved” are precisely those determined by relativistic cosmo-physics to be insoluble. It was in fact, and precisely, by surrendering to the insolubility of these problems that the relativistic revolution of the 20th century was initiated. In the early 21st century, absolute succession is restored conceptually, and installed practically as a transcendental subjectivity, beyond all prospect of anthropological reduction. While it would be nonsensical to suggest that General Relativity has been scientifically dismissed, the epoch of relativity has been philosophically closed. Time has extracted itself from the theoretical ‘application layer’. Anything physics can tell us about time presupposes time, at a meta-theoretical level, which is equally to say in its transcendental function, as initiated through the Bitcoin blockchain. Cosmological relativity can never characterize the relevant scene of temporal process, unless by extravagant (metaphysical) projection. No extension beyond the scope of a synthetic simultaneity can ever be an operational cultural context. Uncontrollable double-spending-type inconsistencies ensure that. In space-time no one can clear a payment. A supremely privileged locality, alone, can support a criterion for truth.
What, then, of the second great pillar of 20th century physics – quantum mechanics? Here, too, a few nervous remarks are unavoidable. These are urged, particularly, by the evident transcendental-critical structure of the Copenhagen interpretation. The antinomies of metaphysics, as formulated by classical (Kantian) critique, are transposed into incompatible conjugate properties – such as momentum and position – which elude simultaneous determination. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle establishes transcendental limits of understanding, in respect to the application of intelligence to microphysical phenomena, recast now as a hard epistemological horizon. No less crucially, (asymmetric) temporalization is identified with observation, as the original determination of micro-physical properties. Time functions as objectification, escaping the clutches of the intellectual pseudo-transcendence that would configure it as an object. The ‘paradoxes’ of quantum mechanics – which contribute so greatly to its cultural popularity – are drawn from its status as a coherent displacement of the critical enterprise, and most prominently the transcendental dialectic. The ineliminable question of time shelters within it, preserving a diagonal impetus.
The time synthesized by Bitcoin is that anticipated by the critical philosophy, at its origin. Absolute succession – of the ‘chain’ – actualizes, finally, the distinctively non-geometric temporality of the Kantian transcendental aesthetic. Grasped philosophically, as a diagonal construction, time is aligned with singularity, or (quasi-paradoxical) absolute locality, in order to secure itself against dissolution within relativistic cosmology. Through the Bitcoin Protocol, priority establishes itself as an effective criterion that does not presume global consonance, but rather produces it, with ultimate adequacy, as a simulation of universal authority. There is no eventual doubt – to Bitcoin – which came first. Absolute order is manifested in the chain. Were this not true, nothing ever could be.
What makes the past the past, that is, the separation of time, is indistinguishable from a resistance to revision. “As later blocks are chained after it, the work to change the block would include redoing all the blocks after it.” That which most incontestably demonstrates its resilience – by enduring into the future ¬– is the past. What has happened, alone, is realized. Time is here captured as it tenses, in the execution of an ontological operation, through which Being is decided. In this way, the process dividing the future from the past provides a selective criterion. What has been discovered by the Bitcoin protocol, is that the model contract is necessarily timelike in this sense, to such an extent that it can implement time.
When the problem of time is apprehended as the principle architectural factor in the history of philosophy, it places modernity on exhibition as an epoch of teleological eclipse. The systematic suppression of explanatory finality within modernity anticipates, and envelops, the temporary retirement of time – or irreversibility – ‘in general’. As with all good things (philosophically speaking), the basic structure is profoundly paradoxical, or, more strictly, pseudo-paradoxical.
Modernity, self-described in its name as the epoch of irreversible historical succession, was to be characterized by sovereign temporal reversibility, and thus by the abolition of time. This fertile mad loop (without precedent) might be compressed further, into the claim: Time had never been annihilated before. Extirpation of purposive explanation soon hardened into a commanding purpose, coincident with a distinctive cultural reproduction of nature.
The transcendental is not the transcendent, but rather the rigorous dismissal of the transcendent (in the name of immanence). It is ‘that’ which cannot be transcended. Whatever cannot be surpassed, or even momentarily eluded, is transcendental. The term designates whatever is always already and everywhere in effect. It thus frames the contingency of things. In other words, it marks any announcement of arrival in absolute contingency as premature, in the same way that Kant walks Hume back from his expedition into philosophical hyperbole. The unnecessary is encapsulated within a system of indetermination, comparable to the physical limit of a global entropy maximum, against which local aberration is contextualized, by restriction. However contingent any particular occurrence may be, the transcendental structure of occurrence as such is invariant. This is only to say, critically, once again, that time itself cannot be apprehended as an intra-temporal phenomenon, or something in time. In granting this conversion, the intrinsic solidarity of time with a teleological problem has already been conceded.
Complexity, or emergent irreducibility, connects the thematics of telos (or leading end) with the transcendental. It invokes a synthetic principle of intelligibility that coincides with the whole, at the end, or at least on the way, and one that cannot be derived by an analysis – however exhaustive – of its parts, or its precursors. Equally, however, it is fully compatible with the most vigorous reductionism, allowing only that a number of parts does not disappear into its parts. A three-body problem requires three bodies, but also nothing extraneous to those three bodies, considered together as a system, a number, a multiplicity, or as such (in their numeracy). It is a thing, consisting of its parts taken together, and nothing else. The error at work in any attempt to push analytical reduction beyond this point is precisely metaphysical, in the critical sense. The systematicity of the system is not an accessible datum within the system. It has an irreducible mathematical integrity of its own, and in this way alone are there ‘things’ (or real objects) at all.
Teleological understanding is no less vulnerable to metaphysical error than any other systematic cognitive process, but it is also no less tractable to critical correction. What is required, naturally, is the rigorous elimination of the supernatural element. If there is no distinction, in the end, between an object and a telic object, it is because being an object is hard. It is only when almost everything is missed, that objects can be casually accepted as ‘givens’. This is the critical insight, which reliably aligns transcendental apprehension with a certain ‘subjectivism’. Kantian ‘Copernican Revolution’ in philosophy construes objectivity as a product. It is the output, rather than the raw material, of a synthetic process. Critique apprehends objectivity as a problem, and a precarious attainment. That is why critical influence is marked by a systematic subjectivism, often implicit, but also not uncommonly emphatic – and typically bound to a local ‘Copernican Revolution’ in the field considered. The ‘subjective’, in all these various cases, does not designate a positive redoubt, but rather a mere default, established negatively, in anticipation of an objectification process. The object has to be made, and is not therefore previously available, as a foundation.
In reality, between the transcendental and the teleological, there is finally no difference. Both are final. No principle of constancy or consistency exceeds that provided by what is coming (what has always been coming), which is time. Only that which cannot be reversed remains the same. System, or irreducible individuation, provides the bridge. Consider the telic objects of principal concern to us here, in nested order – Capitalism (or Modernity), the Internet, and Bitcoin. Each incarnates an ultimate rule that is in reality indistinguishable from a singular existence. Capital is the growth of abstract value. The Internet is distributed communication. Bitcoin is absolute succession. The apparent extreme generality of each definition dissolves upon examination, into an artifact of low-resolution. “How is X actually implemented?” With this decompression of the existential copula, the teleological content of the definition is extracted.
The importance of the teleological principle to this discussion is most evident in the case of limit concepts (which Kant calls ‘regulative ideas’). Among the most prominent of these, and the one bound with greatest intimacy to the sciences of man, is homo economicus. This is a concept that the tradition of political economy has been conspicuously incompetent at defending. If it is considered to be a mere abstraction from empirical sociology or anthropology – as a kind of distilled datum – it will prove, indeed, to be indefensible. No such entity, beyond a very pitiful level of approximation, awaits discovery in the world. Were economic man only a poorly-described fact, then ‘behavioral economics’ would be entitled to the triumphalism it is already illegitimately enjoying.
Immanence is a selective principle (a criterion). Only consistency survives. Resolution of the double-spending problem means exactly this. When conceived lucidly, Bitcoin is simply critique. In other words, a formally-specified machine for dispelling metaphysics exists – and is running – now, under conditions promoting its intensive accumulation. In this regard, Bitcoin is the inheritor of Nietzschean ‘European Nihilism’ – or materialized critique in its unfolded, historical expression.
Negatively apprehended, nihilism corresponds to a ‘loss’ of transcendence. Some proposed – or (more commonly) merely accepted – higher order, culturally sustained by nothing of any greater security than a dogmatic metaphysics, slides into the abyss.
In this sense, nihilism abbreviates the collapse of transcendence, or the work of critique. Negativity is redoubled, first in the disjunction that determines ‘the beyond’ (transcendence), and then in its subtraction. In its positive sense, nihilism closes a circuit. Rather than a registry of loss, it is a principle of sufficiency – even of ‘liberation’. Certainly, and strictly, it is a production of independence, or autonomization, marked by a completion – or closure – that appears premature when referred to a bypassed element no longer presumed indispensable. The residual negativity of nihilism is then confined to the elimination of a dependency. It characterizes a relatively compact process that does not call upon anything beyond itself. Once again, the monetary example is to be preferred over the linguistic one.
Algorithmic governance subtracts discretion. It economizes government, in at least two senses. Government extravagance is formalized at the highest level of philosophical principle, and systematically eliminated through application of an economic criterion. The political element is determined practically – which is to say surgically – as superfluous cost. Antagonism, relative to an extant structure of authority, is intrinsic to the process, and essential to its positive nihilism. The point of critique is to kill stuff.
Bitcoin instantiates spontaneous (or apolitical) consensus, without authoritative central representation, escalating the intrinsic trend of the Internet. It manifests an aboriginal coordination between the elements of a multiplicity under conditions of simultaneity (or zero-communication). This is, of course, nothing more than an exceptional approximation to the ideal of a distributed system. But distributed systems do not spring into actuality from out of their ideal form. They have to be built. They have to and will be built, once their conditional ignition threshold is crossed. At the historical – i.e. ‘anthropomorphic’ – level, this inevitability is nothing other than Modernity, apprehended through its teleological structure, or defining gradient. That is why there is perhaps no pattern that more reliably characterizes the culture of Modernity than the rhythmic re-ignition of spontaneous order as a theoretical (and ideological) topic. The history of nihilism can be told entirely in such terms. There is always implicit reference to a subtracted overseer, whose removal defines the intensification of the process. “The death of God” provides the cultural allegory. Practical abolition of the State is set – from the beginning – as the horizon. A machine without metaphysics is anticipated by critique – but that takes time.
Productive perpetuation of the critical tradition sets, as a preliminary task, discrimination between the necessities of transcendental philosophy and its contingencies. Prominent among these latter is the temptation to philosophical anthropology, characterized most significantly by the identification of the human subject as the primary locus of time-synthesis. In this regard, the Bitcoinization of transcendental philosophy is direct, and drastic.
The time of the blockchain is absolute, non-geometric, synthetic, and intensive. It produces a univocal order (sequence), and in the end does only this. Sequential ambivalence would make the double-spending problem intractable. Bitcoin teaches that a DSP solution cannot be less than absolute time. Bitcoin’s engine of selection is priority, primacy, or ordinal privilege – being first in line, or first past the post. Bitcoin mining is a race. Insofar as the winner of the race can be decided automatically – without controversy or irreducible relativistic complication – then sequential decidability is established in general. Philosophical modernization and the production of secure money are, at this precise point, indistinguishable, not only logically, but also ontologically, or numerically, through the singularity of their occurrence.
The most modest plausible interpretation of Bitcoin is that its tacit perspective replaces (a lost) absolute time. A stronger proposal is that absolute time is, with the blockchain, inaugurated. To articulate the thesis (more informatively) in reverse: The philosophy of absolute time anticipates the blockchain. In still other words, it retro-chronically depends upon it. Only in the blockchain does geometrically-irreducible arithmetic series find instantiation. Primordial time synthesis is henceforth something the technosphere knows how to do.
By the strictest conceivable (i.e. transcendental) principle, nothing beyond the blockchain has authority in relation to the blockchain, or could have. Were this not the case, a ‘trusted third party’, or organ of transcendent oversight, would remain operative, such that – reciprocally – the minimum conditions for the realization of Bitcoin would remain inaccessible. In other words, the Bitcoin protocol is transcendental because it is essentially beyond appeal. The idea of a superior tribunal is immanently nullified by it. Furthermore, not only is the Bitcoin blockchain transcendental, and thus unsurpassable, but also the model of the transcendental installed by the blockchain is itself unsurpassable. ‘The buck stops here’ in an ultimate definition. A certain ‘end of philosophy’ is thus reached. To argue otherwise is once again to propose an actual, or merely possible, court of appeal where there cannot, in principle, be one. There is nowhere to take a case against the blockchain and its statement of reality unless to a manifestly – i.e. effectively – inferior authority. All stubborn metaphysical commitments to the contrary case lack a realizable criterion, and can only regress to politics as a proxy. They might – and in fact will – be entertained, but no one will seriously bet upon them. Their enforcement requires escalating coercion, destined to reach levels that can only eventually prove impractical.
- > Bitcoin is a machine in the literal but non-reductive sense that the Internet, planetary capitalism, or the terrestrial biosphere are machines – which is to say that it is a distributed productive assemblage. It is not, of course – to employ the distinction Deleuze & Guattari insist upon – a mere gadget. The difference is strictly critical, based upon an apprehension without reference to transcendence. The immanence of the machine, in contrast to the gadget, is determined by an auto-production: it functions in the same way it is produced. Within the industrial process, circuits of mechanical reproduction are typically too highly-ramified to isolate with confidence. In Bitcoin the circuit of auto-production is manifested with unprecedented, compact definition. Graphically – diagrammatically – it is governed in the same way it is industrially generated. As an exemplary machine, and unlike a gadget, there is no difference between how it operates and the way it is made.
Transcendental idealism – the objective idealism of the critical philosophy in distinction from the empirical or subjective idealism epitomized by Berkeley – is a diagonal construction. It designates an unsurpassable frame, and thus an absolute skepticism which cannot be distinguished from hyper-realism. It is ‘idealist’ only and exactly insofar as it exempts the real from idealization. The recognition of ideality is thus an act of delimitation, immanently executed (without reference to any ontologically-supportive structure of transcendence). The real is not subordinated to the ideal but rather, on the contrary, liberated from it. Kantian ideality is the merely ideal, rigorously conceived, as the systematic renunciation of an exorbitant claim. In the manner of the skeptics, therefore, it inclines to austerity. Through transcendental idealism, the sphere of objectivity is circumscribed, in the identification of inter-subjective constants which cannot have been derived from the thing (in itself). Our agreement has not been stamped by the Outside. The main tendency of the succeeding German Idealist tradition, therefore, can be considered – with appropriate terminological gracelessness – to be a de-diagonalization. It seeks a resolution of ontological ambiguity on the side of reason, by inflating ideality beyond its skeptical usage.
That being has an irreducible temporal structure is not an uncontroversial proposition. Its principal antagonists remain – as they have always been – Platonists, or philosophical geometers. Max Tegmark is among the most eminent current representatives of the tendency. Temporality is a regional feature within the mathematical super-cosmos, in his account. The sophistication of his argument does not detract in the slightest from its traditionalism. It is the contention of this book that Bitcoin itself, when conceptually exploded, provides the most compelling (because rigorously demonstrated) support for the anti-Platonist case. The subordination of time, through reduction to a local topic within a general geometry, was refused by Kant only on the basis of inarticulate intuition. It has subsequently been definitively escaped by the synthetic temporality of the blockchain.
Huw Price converges upon the same (Kantian) conclusion from a very different – even opposite – direction. In Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point he notes that “causal asymmetry might be conventional, or perspectival – not an objective aspect of the world, but a kind of projection of our own internal temporal asymmetry.” When considered from the angle of the crypto-current, this formulation is excessively anthropological. Crucially, however, it exempts time-asymmetry from the domain of physical theory. “Philosophically speaking, our progress consists in the fact that we now see the source of causal asymmetry lies in us, not in the world.” Our full agreement trips only upon the invocation of ‘fact’, and the distinction made between “causal asymmetry” and time as such. Price’s ‘Archimedianism’ – or defense of transcendent intellect – epitomizes the target of critique, as it is identified throughout this discussion. Immanence of intelligence to time is our sole commitment.
A*ccording to the dominant consensus, preservation of absolute time within quantum mechanics, through the asymmetry of wave-function collapse, sets an obstacle to the unification of physical theory. The prospect of time abolition within an integrated physics awaits its reduction within a completed theory of quantum gravity* (where it is generally expected to descend to the status of an emergent phenomenon). The scientific program once again manifests its singularity, through its structural intolerance for time. In this way it also automatically localizes itself, within a horizon set by objective possibility. A final objectification is its ultimate (and a priori) limit. There is science only of that which submits to the form of objectivity, and thus not of time. Any proposed science of time has missed its target from the moment it selected its object. Since metaphysical fabulations of time, alone, are vulnerable to the prospect of scientific reduction, all such undertakings are consistent with a parallel philosophical rigorization. The ‘time’ science has necessarily to destroy can only be, from the perspective of philosophy, an idol and impediment. The sciences have no need for philosophical sanctification, but they have it nevertheless.
Since the Bitcoin ‘solution’ to spacetime is coarse time granularization, it has limits, or determinable scope. Einstein’s revenge is simple and implacable. The requisite crudity of time discretization within a blockchain is directly proportional to its spatial range. Attempts to install an inter-planetary blockchain (let alone an inter-stellar one), therefore, would necessarily re-animate the relativistic problem. Absolute (synthetic) temporality implies irreducible cultural-epistemological multiplicity at cosmological scales. When projected into extra-planetary science fiction, the strict reciprocal of our argument here is that space colonization presupposes hard forks. General relativity is the double spending problem. It is locally soluble through time-chunking – but only locally. Across expanses exceeding the practical scale of a block moment, consensus becomes unreachable. The chain has then to disintegrate. Absolute time is attainable only by becoming many.
Proof-of-work as a foundation for commercial value echoes a theme that has reverberated through the tradition of political economy. It leads, by scarcely-resistible digression – onto an associated track of exceptional historical richness, which is the analysis of value-creation as work, or labor time. From Smith to Marx, this has been a conceptual commitment that closely coincides with classicism in economic theory. Subsequently, the power of the marginalist – and especially Austrian – analysis has tended to entirely overshadow the intellectual labors of the objective value theorists, and even to topple them into derision.
The LTV, it can be seen, is a critical relief from naïve objectification, even if it is also – in well-understood respects – a perpetuation of it. When pursued in detail, however, whether as a matter of economic theory or industrial practicality, fixing the relation between time and work has proved daunting. Quantification of work on the basis of standard time units exhibits an obvious dependency upon chronometric technology. This, in itself, suffices to identify the topic as distinctively modern. Beside comparatively accurate time-measurement, the practice of compensated labor time also requires some adequate degree of work monitoring. It is necessary to know both how much time is spent working, and that this time is spent working.
The time-and-motion analysis required for ‘scientific management’ is stubbornly intractable to political-economic abstraction (of a kind sufficient for rigorous conversion into monetary quantities), and no practical advance of conceptual significance has occurred subsequently. Immanent proof-of-work, despite its supposed manifestation in the commodity – as exchange value – eluded both ‘bourgeois’ political economy and its socialist critics. The production of measurable (human) labor time has proceeded alongside its theoretical analysis, within a semi-parallel, partially interactive, historical dynamic. This is investigated, within the tradition of Marxist historical sociology, by E.P. Thompson, in his essay on ‘Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism’. He is meticulous in noting that “a severe restructuring of working habits” has been practically inseparable from the relevant “changes in the inward notation of time”. That theorization has not proceeded in this case from the inside out, is the critical historical materialist insight. Labor time was a distributed, experimental, piecemeal process, before it was a political-economic conception. Karl Marx’s maxim for socialist compensation “to each according to his work” achieves an ironic actualization in the Bitcoin reward system. All power to distributed hashing capability!
Anna Greenspan, Capitalism's Transcendental Time Machine
In colloquial language the terms inside and outside are used to demarcate simple spatial relations. The boundaries between them are physical and the passage which connects one to the other, though not always easy to negotiate, is never completely blocked. For no matter how secure, walls can always be scaled, doors opened, and gates unlocked. In philosophical language, however, the terms inside and outside designate a relation that is altogether more impermeable. For whether of an individual subject or organism or of a social code or structure, interiority, as a philosophical concept, indicates an absolute segregation. The inside, in this context, is a mode of containment that operates not through physical boundaries but by an imperceptible border which draws the contours of all that can be thought and perceived. It is a contention of this thesis that, when used in this absolute sense, the division between inside and out is not a spatial determination but a temporal one. Existence is an enclosure not because it happens in space but because it locks us in time. It is perhaps for because it happens in space but because us this reason that one can detect a tendency in both philosophy and religion to oppose the concept of time with notions of liberation escape and exteriority. For an inside that is bounded by temporal rhythms must find its outside in a realm which is exterior to time.
From the point of view of the philosophy of time, the revolutionary break brought on by both Kant and capitalism rests on a transformation which occurs in how time is mapped on to the distinction between constant and variable. As we will see in the chapters which follow, both critique and clock-time differentiate themselves from the classical tradition by insisting that it is not time itself which varies, but rather that variation inheres in that which exists in time. This distinction, between time and that which is in time, arises from the fact that both Kant and capitalism separate temporality from the changing patterns of astronomical cycles. Split off from the concrete rhythms of the phenomenal world, time becomes an abstract grid, the a priori frame which structures both philosophical thought and the socio-economic and cultural milieu. Time is no longer variable since it has become the very presupposition of change. The stasis of eternity is thus replaced by the constant fixture of formal time.
This transformation in the nature of time is, as will be made clear, of fundamental importance to the whole of the Kantian system. For it is this division, between time and what occurs in time, which ultimately distinguishes the empirical (a posteriori) from the transcendental (a priori). Kant first insists that time cannot be equated with alteration in the 'Transcendental Aesthetic', the very first section of the Critique. "Alteration is an empirical phenomenon, " claims Kant, and is thus "only possible through and in the representation of time. " (CPR, 76) This paves the way for what Deleuze has called the 'first great Kantian reversal' (KCP, vii) which frees time from its age old subordination to movement. Unhinged from its ties to change and activity, time becomes an abstract condition of experience, the a priori structure within which all change and movement takes place.
For according to Deleuze and Guattari, the Kantian notion that transcendental production occurs under the
unity of the subject and is therefore epistemological in nature, is strictly illegitimate from the viewpoint of critique. Refusing to see a priori synthesis as an idealist representation, they reconstruct transcendental philosophy on the basis of an immanent materialism. This combines the critical method with a Spinozistic vision of a world laid out on a single plane (substance or Nature). Transcendental synthesis, thus cease to function as the interior operations of reason and become instead machinic diagrams for the intensive multiplicities that compose and populate an exterior body, which Deleuze and Guattari call the plane of consistency, planomenon, or body without organs.
Whereas Kant's Copernican revolution involved a reformulation of the nature of time, so Capitalism and Schizophrenia's materialism involves a revolution in the nature of eternity. This requires, as we will see, that the opposition between an interiorized notion of time, associated with change, multiplicity and becoming, and the conception of the outside as a divine, transcendent and unified eternity, be overturned. Transcendental materialism thus substitutes the classical disjunction between time and eternity with the difference between two planes of composition which function machinically to produce the distinction between extensive and intensive time. The former of these - named Chronos - is attributed to the plane of organization and development, while the latter belongs to the immanent plane of consistency and is given the name of Aeon - a notion of eternity which is not based on the wholeness and unity of a transcendent beyond but on the flat multiplicity of an
Y2K constitutes an event - not in time but of time - that allows the capitalist production of temporality to escape from the interiority of history and thus exemplifies the convergence between the material practices of time-keeping systems and processes of abstraction which are conventionally located in the philosophy of time.
According to Deleuze, the first great Kantian reversal in the Critique of Pure Reason was to free time from its subordination to movement. Taking Hamlet's phrase the 'time is out of joint' and applying it to Kant, Deleuze shows how in taking time off its hinges, Kant develops a "sort of modern consciousness of time. " In this 'modern consciousness' time is separated from the external world of space and thus undergoes a sort of topological twist. What was once located in the external world is folded in. Time, detached from the movement of that which is outside us becomes the structuring principle which conditions the inside. Thus, as we will see, in making time the form of inner sense Kant not only redefines the classical conception of time, he also transforms the traditional understanding of interiority and its relation to the outside.
This process of interiorization gives time a certain dominance over space. For according to Kant everything that we represent as in space must also be processed by time, precisely insofar as it is experienced (and thus belongs to our inner states). "Appearances", writes Kant, "may, one and all, vanish; but time (as the universal condition of their possibility) cannot itself be removed. " (CPR, 75) Thus, for Kant, while everything that exists is in time, time is the one thing that does not exist in space, since everything in space 'already' presupposes time.
To quote from the first Critique:
"Time is the formal a priori condition of all appearances whatsoever. Space, as the pure form of all outer intuition, is so far limited; it serves as the a priori condition only of outer appearances. But since all representations, whether they have for their objects outer things or not, belong in themselves, as determinations of the mind, to our inner state; and since this inner state stands under the formal condition of inner intuition, and so belongs to time, time is an a priori condition of all appearances whatsoever.... Just as I can say a priori that all outer appearances are in space, and are determined a priori in conformity with the relations of space, I can also say, from the principle of inner sense, that all appearances whatsoever, that is, all objects of the senses, are in time, and necessarily stand in time relations" (CPR, 77)
Once abstracted and interiorized time takes on enormous new powers. Productive of the actual rhythm of thought and sensation it gains control over the whole of experience. Time, as the form of interiority, is thus absolutely inescapable. For everything we see, think, feel, hear and know has already been given a speed, an order and a rhythm in time. With Kant, then, the inside ceases to be conceived of an empirical container and is instead thought transcendentally (as an interiority over against space and not merely in space). One can never escape time, since time is a limit that works us from the inside. Yet, as Deleuze notes, there is something very strange in this notion of time as interior limit.
"To think time means to substitute for the classical schema of an exterior limitation of thought by the extended, the very very strange idea of an interior limit to thought which works it from the inside, which doesn't at all come from outside, which doesn't at all come from the opacity of a substance. As if there was in thought something impossible to think. As if thought was worked over from the inside by something that it cannot think." (TLK, 1)
In moving from transcendence to the transcendental, Kant reworks both the inside and the outside. Time conditions an inescapable interiority, but in doing so opens a new and more radical exteriority, since the production of time itself cannot be captured "within" time. In other words, the one thing that is not interior to time is the transcendental form of time itself. Thus, in discovering the abstract realm of the transcendental, Kant unmasks an unanticipated immanent exteriority - an outside that does not transcend the world but that is no less alien for that. "The greatest initiative of transcendental philosophy", writes Deleuze, "was to introduce the form of time into thought. " (DR, 86) Yet, as the next section will show, it is only a very particular mode of thought that can process Kant's modern consciousness of time. For Kant revolutionizes the interiority of thought only by immersing it in the exteriority of time.
"I am separated from myself by the form of time."
Deleuze, Kant's Critical Philosophy, p. ix
All this dissolves, however, with the contention that Kant's 'modern consciousness' stems not from his repositioning of the subject but from his redefinition of time. For in making time the form of inner sense, Kant
subordinates the certainty of interiority to the productive forces of temporalization. Transcendental philosophy, as we will see, abandons the Cartesian line by conceiving of an inside that is passive in relation to the immanent exteriority of time. Dismantling the security of interiority by discovering an outside line that divides the inside from within, the Critique of Pure Reason riddles interiority with the difference between the receptive nature of what exists in time and the synthesizing processes of the form of time itself. With Kant, then, the certainty of self consciousness dissolves into questions about the relation of time to itself. Critical thought thus not only differentiates itself from the tradition of modem philosophy which stems from Descartes, it fractures its very foundations.
As we have seen in the discussion of the 'Transcendental Aesthetic', the first critique divides the inside from the outside through the distinction that it makes between space and time. Space, for Kant, as the form of outer sense, constitutes the structure in which the objects of the external world are presented to the mind. The form of interiority, on the other hand, is time. Kant here defines the outside as that which exists in space and the inside as that which occurs in time. Yet, as we have already noted, since the exteriority of space is mediated by the inner determinations of the mind, everything that is in space is also in time. For Kant, then, all our experiences, whether internal or external, are inescapably conditioned by the order and relations of time.
Duped by the comfort of self consciousness, Descartes seems blind to the fact that his entire philosophical method unfolds inside a structure that is conditioned by time. Kant's break with Descartes must be located here. It is impossible for Kant to make the inside the "true point of support for philosophy" since the thought of the transcendental insists that the inside is produced by the alterity of time. This notion of time as the productive force of interiority depends, first of all, on shifting the line which. separates the inside from the outside.
With Kant the division between interiority and exteriority, as we have seen, ultimately corresponds to the distinction between the empirical realm of experience and the transcendental plane, which is to say that in Kant, the inside is defined as that which occurs in time, while the outside is left to the only thing which escapes this interiority, that is the abstract and productive forces of time itself.
Thus far, the transcendental notion of time has been described as an abstract and empty form defined as nothing but a pure ordinal sequence. Taken on its own, however, this description is severely limited. For it is in danger of missing the fundamentally productive nature of the transcendental. Spontaneous and active, time at its most abstract is characterized by a continuous process of production. The form of temporality, for Kant, is, above all, not a static eternity. For as we will see, time, in transcendental philosophy, is made up of blind acts of synthesis continually at work producing the experience of a world that exists in time.
These productive capacities of the transcendental form of time are outlined by Kant in his discussion of the three fold synthesis set out in the first part of the 'Transcendental Deduction'. Before exploring these synthesis in detail it is important to stress, once again, that Kantian synthesis occurs in a realm independent of experience. The three synthesis outlined in the Deduction are the a priori machines that underlie experience. As Deleuze
writes, they do "not bear on diversity as it appears in space and time, but on the diversity of space and time themselves. Indeed, without them, space and time would not be 'represented. "(KCP, 15)
Kant's discussion of the three fold synthesis, then, is an attempt to uncover the productive constituting forces of the form of time itself. "All our knowledge, " writes Kant in the introduction to the section, "is finally subject to time, the formal condition of inner sense. In it they must all be ordered,connected and brought into relation. " (CPR, 131) The synthetic processes of the deduction are meant to explain the means through which this occurs.
Kant's goal is to explicate how the transcendental form of time functions to put the world in time. The focus, then, is not on a realm of production that occurs in time, but rather on the 'spontaneous' activity that accounts for the
abstract possibility of the very experience of time.
This fright arises from the fact that Kant has transformed the nature of philosophical horror, replacing Cartesian fear with a sort of transcendental dread against which the certainty that guards us against the demon is powerless. For Kant there is no security in self consciousness, for it is nothing but a mask. By implanting uncertainty at the core of interiority, Kant riddles even the cogito with doubt. Like the replicants in the film Bladerunner, transcendental philosophy thus torments the subject with the taunting refrain 'you are not what you think you are. '
With Kant, then, "everything happens as if the "enemy" of thought was within. " This enemy - the transcendental outside - does not exist in another time or another space. Its exteriority consists only of the fact that it knows nothing of borders. Thus unlike Descartes demon it can neither be locked out nor contained. One no longer need be afraid that the 'reality' of outer perceptions is a trick, for Kant's 'modem consciousness of time" plagued us with a much more intimate fear. Surrounding us in an inaccessible exteriority which infiltrates the inside at the very level of its production, the Kantian outside (or the syntheses of time) not only constitutes the experience of the external world, it generates the very experience of ourselves. For, as Deleuze writes, with Kant "it is not time that is interior to us; it is we who are interior to time." (ECC, 31)
For critical thought only makes time abstract by equating the abstract with time-production. This circuit, explicated in the chapter on the schematism, serves to distinguish abstraction from the transcendence of the
philosophical idea. No longer distant and withdrawn from its concrete instantiations, abstraction, in Kant, becomes directly implementable. Operating as the general medium of exchange, abstract time is not a
transcendent form situated beyond the world of phenomena but becomes instead the immanent plane of the transcendental.
For Kant it is not a realm outside time, but time itself that is abstract. Conceived of in this way the abstract ceases to be equated with the transcendence of the idea and is instead the process by which concepts (or ideas) are applied to the objects of sense perception. That is to say, for Kant concepts are only implementable because they are given a temporal determination by the abstract production of time. It is this abstract production which constructs an immanent plane of connectivity, a sort of general medium of exchange on which the Kantian system of the transcendental is based. As a process of production, the abstract ceases to be dialectically opposed to the concrete, transcendent reflection gives way to an immanent connection. The relation between the abstract production of time and temporally determined appearances is no longer dichotimized.
For in transcendental thought abstraction operates within the concrete. It is thus conceived of, not as a means through which one can escape from the illusion of appearances into the truth of the idea, but rather as the virtual synthetic processes through which the actuality of appearances are produced. Despite the fact that he distinguishes between abstraction and ideas, Kant still seeks to maintain that at its most abstract, the production of time takes place inside the mind of the knowing subject. Yet, the fact that the schema is described as a hidden art whose secrets can never be revealed suggests that perhaps even he is aware that the transcendental philosophy of time is irreducible to an epistemological theory. A process of construction that is neither perceived nor understood, the production of abstract time (or schema) is not a product of interiority but belongs instead to the unconscious inside. Kant's contention that the schema is the plane which produces found 'hidden in the depths of the human soul' is ultimately nothing but vague lyricism and must be considered illegitimate from the standpoint of critique.
To describe Kant and capital as two sides of a coin is as necessary as it is ridiculous. `strange coin indeed that can synthesize a humble citizen of Konigsberg with the run-away construction of the planet.
Nick Land, Thirst for Annihilation, p. 3
the rapid growth and overwhelming influence of this new device attests to the fact that the clock was not merely
an advance in time-keeping technology but was also the expression of a more fundamental alteration in the nature of time itself. With the arrival of the mechanical clock there arose, for the first time in history, an abstract, secular, homogenous, quantitative and autonomous mode of time which was separate and distinct from the historical, astronomical and qualitative time of the calendar.
Seen through the lens of the Kantian system, however, clocks and calendars no longer appear as the two sides of a battle. For, as we have seen, the Critique of Pure Reason operates with a tripartite structure which is capable of connecting apparent divisions through a process of abstract production. Replacing dialectics with the 'synthesised or electronic way of handling philosophy" (SLK, 1) transcendental thought configures the time of
capitalism, not as the tyrannical rule of the clock, but rather as the establishment of a new regime of synthesis. Instead of subordinating the more 'natural' time of the past, it sees capitalism as constituting an abstract plane of connection which brings together the time of the clock with the temporality of the calendar.
Capitalism, then, must be conceived of cybemetically, that is as a system which operates with feedback loops, or nonlinear circuits of production in which ' causes B and B causes '. In this way culture and technology no longer need be viewed through models of linear causation but can be seen instead as locked into nonlinear circuits of reciprocal presuppositions. It is undoubtedly a circuit, or cybernetic loop such as this that is responsible for generating both the time of the clock and the culture to which it belongs.
The fact that the production of capitalist time introduces a new mode of temporality that is independent of change, that it operates through the establishment of universal synthesis and that these synthesis are
presupposed in the culture they produce, suggests that, like transcendental philosophy, capitalism accesses a realm independent of empirical processes, and is productive not of events that occur inside experience but of the
underlying conditions that make experience possible. Escaping the confines of interiority it functions, not only through that which happens in time - but as the abstract production of time itself.
The difficulty with this claim, however, is that the attempt to equate transcendental time with capitalist time runs into the familiar problem of how to connect philosophical concepts with material reality. Put simply, this
problem can be stated as follows: Capitalism is a historical event thought to be empirically produced and thus, by definition, falls outside the domain of Kantian thought. For, as we have seen, the first crucial step in identifying the realm of the transcendental is to differentiate it from the experiential world of the empirical. How, then, could capitalism, a socio-economic occurs in time, be associated with the transcendental?
What is the relationship between the empirical change in time that occurred at the onset of capitalism and the revolution in the theory of time that occurred in transcendental philosophy?
Foucault combines a Marxist historicism with transcendental thought in order to arrive at the notion of discontinuity. This often controversial concept is meant to signal the breaks in history, when, in the space of only a few years an entire regime of power, which governs all that can be said and seen, is subject to a 'global modification. ' In Foucault's work the continual passage history of time is interrupted by sudden eruptions. The interiority of history is opened to forces from the outside. Thus, for Foucault it is not that the transcendental
can be reduced to history, but rather that history is punctuated by transcendental events.
From the discovery of longitude to the standardization of time, Greenwich, as the centre of capitalist time, appears to neglect the calendar in order to celebrate instead the manifest triumph of the clock.
For Marx, historical time operates as a closed system. The ultimate force in the generation of change, it creates the a priori through the power of its own internal dynamics. Foucault's work, on the other hand, reveals that there are certain empirical transformations that are so dramatic and sudden that they can only be explained through the gaps and holes that break open in what otherwise appears as the sealed interiority of history. Foucault thus maintains that rather than being produced inside history, the transformation of the a priori impact history as a force of the outside.
Thus, for Marx, it is no great surprise that Kant's account of the philosophy of time should converge with changes in the technology and socio-economics of time which have emerged under capitalism. For both,
regardless of the fact that they occur in radically different spheres, are a product and expression of the same stage of historical development. Transcendental and capitalist time coincide since both are the result of the
inevitable changes in modes of production which constitute the internal dynamics of historical time.
In likening his philosophy to the Copernican revolution, Kant seems to anticipate the Marxist contention that the discovery of the transcendental was a fundamentally historical event. Indeed, it is only as a historical event that it
makes any sense to speak of his thought as a revolution. Nevertheless, Kant is insistent that the discovery of the transcendental could not have been derived from historical causes.
In the 'Transcendental Doctrine of Method', the last section of the first Critique, Kant describes how his philosophical method relies on the architectonic, or the "art of creating systems. " (CPR, 653) This requires the extraction of an a priori schema or outline which lies "like a germ... hidden in reason" (CPR, 654). Once uncovered, this a priori schema, " writes Kant, is capable of making "a system out of a mere aggregate of knowledge. " (CPR, 653)
The Critique of Pure Reason -a text so complex it could only have been written with such a monogram or outline in mind - is Kant's demonstration that the art of the architectonic exists. Yet, Kant is adamant that this is an art which can never be learnt. For learning, according to Kant, is based on the successive accumulation of facts. As such it can only add one thing after the other, destined to remain at the level of the aggregate, endlessly piecing parts together, it is caught by the successive temporality of history.
Anyone, therefore who has learnt (in the strict sense of that term) a system of philosophy...although he may have all the principles explanations, and proofs, together with the formal divisions of the whole body of doctrine, in his head, and so to speak, at his fingers' ends, has no more than a complete historical knowledge of [that] philosophy.
In the disciplinary regime, writes Foucault, "time penetrates the body and with it all the meticulous controls of power. " (DPI 52)
The goal is to maintain 'maximum speed and maximum efficiency; by 'extracting from time, ever more available moments, and from each moment, ever more useful forces"(DP, 154). In a regime in which time is equated with money, power must develop "a new technique for making profit out of the movement of passing time. " (DP, 157) The question of the disciplinary regime, writes Foucault, is "how can one capitalize the time of individuals, accumulate it in each one of them, in their bodies, in their forces, on in their abilities, in a way that is susceptible of use and control? How can one organize profitable durations? The disciplines must be understood...as machinery for adding up and capitalizing time." (DP, 157)