Satoshi on academia

The list of things we can learn from bitcoin appears neverending.  This is a reflection not just of the genius of Satoshi or the current state of affairs, but also of the holographic nature of the world (or at least, of the tonal model of it).  In other words, we could learn almost anything about the world by studying just one thing in it.

Of course one can construct apparent exceptions.  Trying to learn about the history of Japanese literature by starting to study the interior structure of a lump of granite is not the best way to go about things. The connections there are very tenuous.

One place the connections are not as tenuous is the connection between bitcoin and academia.  In particular, lets take a look at HOW Satoshi told the world about bitcoin.  Sometimes, the method of speech can convey a lot of meaning.  In this case, it's really a whole lot.  There are other connections between bitcoin and the future of academia, relating to politics and finance, but we will leave those aside for now.

In particular, Satoshi provided a solution to the longstanding academic problem of distributed consensus, a.k.a. the Byzantine General's problem.  This was established by many authors as an important and perhaps impossible problem of computer science, networking, and information theory.  He did so in a post to a public forum.  So what, you might say.  Person has information, person conveys information.  What's the big deal?

The big deal is that this is basically saying "fuck you" to all of academia.  There is an established protocol of conveying new advances in knowledge, and it typically involves:

1) Established journals
2) Establishing personal reputation
3) Referencing the existing literature
4) Collecting the rewards

Satoshi said "no thanks" to all of this (that's a little more polite isn't it).  He didn't use an established journal, so none of his choices of words were shaped by institutional editors.  He used a pseudonym; this was not about his academic reputation in terms of landing that professor job or editor position later.  He didn't make a lot of references, to friends and colleagues of the editors and reviewers, which is de rigueur in academic publications.  He didn't collect his impact factor or his citations for use in furthering his career or establishing himself as future curator of what gets to go in this or that publication.

So, why do you think he did it this way?  I can't put words in anyone's mouth but the way I see it this is a demonstration.  He was telling us, hey, not only is it possible to use money which is well defined, but also it is possible to speak the truth and make advances in intellectual pursuits without obeisance to ancient traditions and outmoded social structures.

Wow!  That is some heavy shit, wouldn't you say?  And similar to the state of world currencies prior to the arrival of BTC, this is a message the world absolutely is ready for.  Very few experts, when questioned in person, put much stake in impact factors and academic titles when it comes to identifying other experts.  Reputation built up by direct interaction is much more important.  Sure, at first one might look at publication record and citations, but most people recognize that a few words from a trusted colleague will trump those almost always.  Most fields of knowledge, however arcane, have a few people who are recognized by those in the know as crème de la crème, and often they are not the big names in publication, academic position, or citations.  That's just the way it is.  Today I wouldn't be surprised if more people read Vixra than Nature.  Seriously!  [edit: well probably false but closer to truth than many realize]  Even though it's 99% garbage.  A lot of people are more interested to hear even potential advances than rehashed establishment ideas, even if it means wading through the sewers waist deep.  There is some serious rot in the tree and Satoshi is not the first person to suggest a shakeout.

So what happens next?  Many of the authors active in coin forums are disgruntled former or not-quite-made-it academics.  After all, bitcoin is the currency of choice for the world's literate people.  Literate here implies intellectually curious, which implies likely some experience with academia.  These folks are upset because their genius was not recognized, and they didn't want to be the round peg shoved into the square hole.  So, they were filtered out by one of academia's many filters.  These folks will get together, and immediately start repeating the same mistakes again (They only look like mistakes to an objective view.  Becoming an oppressive dictator, after deposing the previous oppressive dictator, might not look like a mistake to for example the new dictator blinded by the same blinders he took from the head of the previous dictator).  New open forums like Arxiv.org, will become more and more exclusive, while the new "open discourse" will slowly start to reference the same few new leaders.  New filters will be put up to "keep out the riffraff".  Some of this will be reasonable and necessary, while others of it will be purely the sad behavior that makes today's child abuse victims into tomorrows child abusers.

Anyhew, posers gonna pose, readers gonna read.  Perhaps Satoshi didn't give a shit enough to even raise the middle finger, and I am putting way to much import on the choice of publication style.  There are those out there who just want to learn and contribute, and don't really care about some of the politics.  Here's to those folks, it's you that shape the world (though it may take some crazy time to filter down, if indeed you can get your thesis out of the prison at all).  The rest of us will stand around with our dicks in our hands, talking shit about your work until it reaches critical mass at which point we will claim credit for it.  Count on it.