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The (ir)relevance of experts: top-down versus bottom-up information flow

top-down versus bottom-up information flow

Origineel gepubliceerd op Medium

Audio versie: Bitcoin Audible

Over the past years and decades, the public debate in modern society has been slowly reduced to “my expert is better than your expert”. Rather than giving substantive arguments, we’ve crippled our public discourse to the point that it’s become an infantile, circular game of “appeal to authority”. This evolution is toxic for social cohesion in general and is eating away at our fundamental concept of truth to the point that its existence itself is in question (the post-truth society). More-over, this top-down information flow approach that defines the modern day experts role in society is far beyond its expiration date, and sustainable alternatives are urgently needed.

There is something seriously wrong with our experts, anybody can feel it. From economists claiming property destruction is a good way to spur on the economy to epidemiologists testifying certain protests can’t spread COVID-19. Everything is upside down. The main goal of this article is to point out why the current gross overuse and reliance on experts and their top-down information flow approach is unsustainable and outdated. Furthermore, I propose a possibly more stable, healthy mechanism for societies to interact with information in a more bottom-up approach. One noticeable consequence of living in the information age and its corresponding undrainable swamp of facts and fiction, is that it has become oh-so easy for ideologues (which I believe many of our modern experts are) to manipulate and misinform people, abusing them for personal or corporate gain. By injecting seemingly trustworthy but ultimately insidious terms as “expert”, “science” and “objective” into their vocabulary, they create this kind of perverse rhetoric that is in essence just a baseless appeal to authority (e.g. science, abused and misapplied at every turn). This tactic has been weaponized to great degree, especially by the main stream media. The results speak for themselves, fake news is a rather weak term to describe the amount of sophistry that has penetrated our public opinion. Here are some examples of hotly debated topics where you both have a large group of experts rabidly defending one side of the argument while at the same time another (not always equally) large group of experts is claiming the exact opposite:

  • Meat is unhealthy, causes cancer and possibly even diabetes and should be restricted to the absolute minimum VS Meat is an essential cornerstone of a healthy human diet.
  • Saving money is dysfunctional behavior akin to hoarding and puts a big strain on the economy as a whole, ultimately leading to economic stagnation and even depression VS Savings are the building blocks of a healthy economy and a sign of a society made up of responsible, forward looking individuals.
  • Nuclear energy is the safest and most carbon neutral energy source available to us VS Nuclear energy is extremely pollutant, expensive and poses a systemic risk to our society and the world.
  • The economy is an organic, decentralized network consisting of voluntary trade and value transfer, leading to a complex system best left to its own devices in order for it to properly function VS The economy is an unpredictable and flawed phenomena that needs the strong guiding hand of a central authority or committee in order to mitigate and minimize its many excesses.

These are all pertinent topics and of course debating them openly is important, but the fact that a simple basic human need as healthy food for example is so ambivalent and controversial signifies a sad state of affairs. Since the opposing statements are often so diametrically contradicting each other, the one thing we do know is that one of both sides has to be wrong, and severely so (this is often the side with the loudest voices and the most subscribers). But how do we know who is wrong and who is right? Which expert should I trust, and when is an expert even trustworthy?

We will start off this article by identifying the root causes that got us in this mess in the first place. But before we do I think it’s rather useful to define the word “expert” in the context of this thesis in order to get a better understanding of what we’re dealing with:

An expert is a publicly acknowledged, credited “professional”. People with a degree from a reputable university. Most of the time these experts have built up an impressive resume/network and are widely respected by the peers within their research domain. Often, but not always, they have published many papers and are regularly cited. Great examples of modern day experts are: Paul Krugman (economist), Jozef Stiglitz (economist), Michael E. Mann (climatologist, hockey stick graph), Neil Ferguson (epidemiologist) etc.. It is also worth nothing that Main stream media is completely in love with this interpretation of the “expert”. Although I myself do not subscribe to this definition of the word “expert” at all (the above mentioned description is definitely non-exhaustive, and later when we get to the heuristics section of this essay we can broaden this definition again to an in my opinion more suitable connotation), the label is persistently and endlessly framed this way by MSM and institutions. I think the line between an expert and a technocrat is getting increasingly blurry in recent years, if there even is one anymore. So with our definitions set straight, lets get going!

The rise of the modern expert

I discern three major reasons for our unhealthy reliance on experts for solving our problems, resolving our conflicts and conducting public dialogue:

  1. Scientific and technological progress has led to an unprecedented proliferation of knowledge. Our world has become complex beyond anybodies scope. Homo universalis is a fleeting concept we tell our children existed a long time ago. In modern society, everything and everybody is “hyperspecialized”. The information age is too much for one brain to handle, I don’t think anybody disputes this. This creates an increasingly difficult to reconcile fragmentation of expertise. It seems like we have no choice but to let the technocrats rule, it’s too complicated! Furthermore, delegating problems to the “expert” is a very expedient way to abdicate yourself from any personal responsibility. And by the time the implications of these initial bad expert decisions come to bear, a plethora of new bad expert advices are lined up to cover up the old ones (notice that experts rather than admitting mistakes, come up with an endless stream of inconsistent and implausible explanations to divert attention). As a consequence, experts have free rein as our ever expanding sea of knowledge and data provides them with the perfect cover to hide and abstruse their opinions and decisions through deception and sophism.
  2. Monetary forces push for certain agendas, this has obviously been the case forever. But most underestimate the extent to which Keynesian economics has vastly accelerated and exacerbated this process/problem. Only the most abstract and reproducible parts of science (e.g. physics and chemistry that have been well verified experimentally) have survived the destruction (although even in these fields concerns could be raised about what direction the research is heading in, for more information read “The trouble with science” by Nick Szabo or listen to this podcast with Giacomo Zucco and Jimmy Song about physics). I will not go into further detail here, but if you want to know more about the subject of monetary interference with our truth finding process, please read the soon to be released “The Fiat Standard” by Saifedean Ammous.

And then we have a third reason, this one more covert and insidious (yes even more insidious than monetary policy, although only slightly). It even might prove to be the most destabilizing. I will discuss this one in more detail as I feel it deserves a little more nuance…

The overarching narrative of the west: The Judeo-Christian tradition

Human creatures never live in a vacuum (nor would this be desirable), and so it is -impossible- for anyone to be a fully rational unattached individual thinker. Although we should always keep questioning any authority (including religions and traditions) in order to keep our social structures from corrupting and enable the constant quest for truth finding, we inevitably have to function within a sense-making framework (or overarching narrative). The question then is, which is more preferable? Is it more pragmatic to focus on the state and its experts as our guiding light? Or should we re-shift our attention more towards tradition and culture as we once did…

Overarching narratives are in retreat, seemingly dissolving in an ever more rapid fashion as (among other things) post-modernism is spreading across the globe. We, as a western world, once had such an overarching narrative. It was called the Judeo-Christian tradition based on the Bible and it laid the groundwork for our values, legal system, customs etc.. At first glance this loss of a common narrative might be easily dismissed as yet another triumph of reason over superstition. With New Atheists (or false prophets?) of the sorts of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins leading the charge, we are no longer held back by millennia old dogma’s and traditions, total freedom awaits! I beg to differ…

Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture….usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions.

-Murray Rothbard

Overarching narratives not only give a comfortable semblance of cohesion, THEY ARE COHESION. As famous Belgian Historian Bart De Wever puts it; Christianity and western tradition form the “precious fabric” that holds the ship together. This ship of western culture is akin to the ship of theseus. Being one of the oldest concepts of Western philosophy, the ship of theseus is a story about identity, transformation and tradition.

As the Greek myth goes, the ship was commanded by the great hero Theseus, after whoms death it was conserved in the harbor for hundreds of years as a museum piece. As the years went by some of the wooden parts began to rot and were meticulously and skillfully replaced by new replica pieces. After a very long time, every single original piece of the ship had been replaced, but the spirit of Theseus’ warship was still palpable when laying sight on the great vessel! So too does tradition evolve over time, replacing the parts that are rotten or outdated by absorbing and integrating newer pieces, without ever losing sight of the greater spirit and essence that the overarching whole has to offer. For tradition is not set in stone, but a delicate and organic process of decentralized interactions of a people over time. What we are doing in the west right now is burning down the whole ship euphorically, claiming it only represents blood and murder. Lamenting we’re better off never sailing the seas again, and never again mentioning the name of forefathers like Theseus who helped shape the identity and culture we live in today! This tendency for self mutilation in the west has dire consequences indeed, leading to the inevitable hollowing out of social cohesion as a whole.

Once we lose our story, our narrative, our tradition, we are lost. We are easily manipulated, not having any foundation of meaning. With no foundation, we blow freely in the direction of the new, loudest narrative.

-Daniel Ajamian

With our foundation getting pulled out from under us, a big void is left in its wake. And slowly but surely, this void is being usurped by the loudest voice left standing. I believe this loudest voice is effectively the state. By losing our common ground, our common past, we have lost an integral part of ourselves and our ability to communicate with one another in our local communities. I regard our Christian religion based on the bible as a form of communication; as the language in which we communicate values and norms to one another to be more precise. Before post-modernism, when two people in a local community knew nothing of each other except that they were both Christian, it immediately created a form of trust between them. They knew they both held up certain principles and respected certain rules. It facilitated interaction and simplified conflict resolution. If people partake in the same language it greatly improves cooperation, whereas divergence in language leads to the fragmentation of communities and their knowledge (for more on the topic of language unification and its many implications, I refer to my previous article). Anno 2021, our common language of values and norms is dying rapidly, leaving only a hollow shell of superficially celebrated customs like Christmas and Eastern. Without the ability to trust in one anothers ability for good will, or potential for conflict mediation, who will we turn to? The state. When you try to strip away tradition, religion and common history, it leaves open a big chasm and only two things remain: the individual and the state. When the “precious fabric” dissolves, mediation between individuals becomes extremely difficult, and every mediation of conflict or dispute has to -reluctantly or not- run through the state apparatus. It is here that the expert comes in with a fell swoop.

In the modern era, when theocratic arguments have lost much of their lustre among the public, the intellectuals have posed as the scientific cadre of “experts” and have been busy informing the hapless public the political affairs, foreign and domestic, are much too complex for the average person to bother his head about. Only the State and its corps of intellectual experts, planners, scientists, economists, and “national security managers” can possibly hope to deal with these problems.

-Murray Rothbard

Without the bedrock of tradition and culture to fall back on, many people have become too dependent on this top-down information model that the state and modern-day experts have set up. We have slowly but surely swapped traditions and local communities for government propaganda as our primary source for information procurement.

This picture reminds me of many of my colleagues at work, listening to the radio news every half an hour for months on end now. Awaiting yet another Corona bulletin in angst. All of this despite the fact that only a few of the people in our local community have tested positive.

Once we start to stray away too much from this amalgamation of rules, principles and habits (set up in an arduous process spanning hundreds of generations) that we call tradition, radical and deleterious outcomes should be expected. I think it is important we reverse this detrimental process before it is too late because if we don’t, we are headed for a bleak and tumultuous future.

The cultural beliefs which give rise to civilization are, like the genes which specify an organism, a highly improbable structure, surrounded in “meme space” primarily by structures which are far more dysfunctional. Most small deviations, and practically all “radical” deviations, result in the equivalent of death for the organism: a mass breakdown of civilization which can include genocide, mass poverty, starvation, plagues, and, perhaps most commonly and importantly, highly unsatisying, painful, or self-destructive individual life choices.

-Nick Szabo

The internet is the cure disguised as the disease

The internet is obviously a net positive for society and humankind. But because it is such a recent evolution in the way we organize society and conduct communication it is undergoing some serious growing pains. One side-effect of the enormous explosion of information we are currently experiencing is that you get a complete mishmash of input being bombarded right at your exhausted brain on a 24/7 basis. Because we are not wired to deal with this nonsensical amount of data, we have to go to increasingly greater lengths to reduce information flow. The way we do this is by making mental/cognitive shortcuts. Sadly the hallmark of any nascent technology is the absence of decent strategies to interact with it. It takes time to build up some acceptable heuristics, especially when you’re dealing with a communication technology. But instead of trying to adapt or learn suitable new behaviours, we cling to our old ways of trusting “the expert”, desperately so. Although the internet seems to compound the problem of the modern expert, in the long haul it actually rather acts as a magnifying glass. You have to know where to look, but bit by bit the internet starts to reveal the man behind the curtain. The internet is not the cause of the problem, it is simply acting as a catalyst. The emperor has no clothes, and more and more people are waking up to this new reality every single day.

Before the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, books (written in Latin, a language only spoken by clergy) were exclusively produced in monasteries where monks meticulously hand copied them word for word. Around 1100 AD, a Latin psalter with canticles was a very exclusive luxury good that cost around 53 shillings which amounts to 2 years of income for a skilled labourer back then (the pages were made from specially treated animal skins). One can image the amount of power and indoctrination capabilities this information monopoly bestowed on the church. Clergy were effectively functioning as the arbiters of “the truth”. Although not as extreme as in the middle ages, today the state has a similar monopoly on the truth through sponsored public broadcast channels, news papers, radio shows.. all bolstered by the unquestioned backing of armies of accredited experts. This monopoly is now being challenged by the internet. As Nick Szabo would say, we are now transitioning from the age of book consciousness to the age of internet consciousness, a period undoubtedly accompanied by great stress and instability. Anno 2021, we are entering into the perfect maelstrom of misinformation. And I’m afraid we will have to go straight through the eye of the storm on this one.

Monetary policy, endless proliferation of knowledge and loss of our overarching narrative all contributed to the rise of the modern expert, but thankfully we now have a tool called the internet that can expose and reverse this pernicious process. Just as the printing press set in motion the reformation in the 16th century through breaking open the information monopoly of the church, we find ourselves in a similar situation with the internet and the state today. The internet as a tool for censorship resistant information flow combined with Bitcoin as a tool for censorship resistant value transfer will allow truthful ideas and truthful speech to blossom like never before. Wikileaks for example could have never taken off without the internet, and since all payment rails and wire transfers to the website were permanently banned by financial institutions in 2010, it could have never survived without Bitcoin. The printing press brought down the corruption of the church in spectacular fashion, the internet (together with Bitcoin) will do the same with the state.

Regional experts VS systemic experts

As Nick Szabo always kindly reminds us, trusted third parties are security holes, and an expert is a trusted third party like any other. This is as true in computer science as it is in finance, nutrition, health etc.. And so, where possible, it’s a necessity to avoid experts and their “expert” advice. But where do we draw the line? Unfortunately, there will always be situations where we have no choice but to trust an expert to provide certain services we cannot fulfill ourselves. The question then is, how do we restrict this to a minimum? To get a better understanding how to assess experts, I propose splitting up experts in two groups.

Regional experts:

These experts are, as the name suggests, acting in a regional setting. When you build a house you must rely on, and thoroughly trust, the expert (architect) that the roof will not cave in on itself after 2 years . When you get cancer, you must rely on an expert: firstly that he detects the illness in time and secondly that the therapy he or she is providing really does have a chance of eliminating the disease. Luckily these kind of experts are interwoven into our local community, which subjects them to constant scrutiny and risk of reputation damage. Their success greatly relies on the positive or negative feedback of local communities through social control. Soliciting a doctor (to get a knee surgery for example), is often an action undertaken after gathering information, or a good recommendation, through local communities like friends, family etc. Furthermore, there advice is calibrated for one specific person or aimed at one particular problem. The advantage of this specificity is that it represents a commitment of sorts, a commitment that prevents them from credibly back-peddling or retracting their responsibility from undesired negative outcomes (something that’s a lot easier for systemic experts, see next paragraph). You could say it greatly reduces the plausible deniability surface of their actions. Another great advantage of regional experts is their limited scope of influence. Since they work on a case to case (or person to person) basis, their advice and service is mainly confined to the local community in which they reside. This greatly compartmentalizes the risk of failure and bad actors. The failure of one small community isn’t nearly as dramatic as the failure of an entire country. This in turn makes for robust societies that learn fast from many iterations and mistakes on the regional scale.

Systemic experts:

These are the experts you see on your TV, you read columns about in the news paper and you have to abide by because some politician says so. Generally i’m not a fan of most of these experts, and frankly most people should not rely on them in their daily lives. It is also here where the ideological warfare for your mind and opinion takes place. Because systemic experts are farther removed from the facts on the ground they have more wiggle room to interpret (see manipulate) the data as they see fit. When something doesn’t go according to their plan, they can “blame the model”, “refute the evidence”,”criticize the sample size”… It never ends. They have no skin in the game. Contrary to regional experts, systemic experts make decisions that affect thousands if not millions of people at a time. In today’s age, when we are faced with systemic experts, we are often times just expected to take their word for it. This trust that millions of people -reluctantly or not- have to place in these systemic experts due to our modern top-down information flow paradigm, makes our civilizations increasingly fragile/unstable.

The engineer [regional expert] is judged by the end product, which is not simply ideas. If he builds a building that collapses it doesn’t matter how brilliant his idea was, he’s ruined. Controversially, if an intellectual [systemic expert] who’s brilliant has an idea to rearrange society and that ends in disaster, he pays no price at all.

-Thomas Sowell

The problem this article tries to address mainly stems from these systemic experts and the exorbitant influence and trust they’ve been able to garner during this past century. Aside from redirecting our focus away from the systemic expert, some other concepts/heuristics are needed to create a robust information flow framework: Individual verifiability and Web of Trust (WoT). Both of which operate in a bottom-up fashion.

Complexity and Individual verifiability

Most of our human needs can and are fulfilled by grass-roots, verifiable goods and services. These items are reviewed and assessed through personal experience and anecdotal evidence. Take food for example, once you divorce yourself from the idea that you need permission from an authority to bless your food intake with their seal of approval, its actually quite achievable to find out for yourself what is healthy for your body and what isn’t. You can use your body for food experiments with a sample size of (N=1). If you leave out candy and alcohol it becomes apparent rather quickly that these are not healthy foods. As a next step you can try to eliminate most carbohydrates, who knows what great results could ensue? Even better, people in your community start to notice your health improvements, and you can share your story so they can try and judge for themselves.

Things that are individually verifiable: Tangible goods like food, furniture, clothing, electronics, local shops and businesses, Bitcoin, gold, gasoline, open-source software, local farms, home computers.

Things that are not individually verifiable: Politics, government spending, macro-economics, global warming, nuclear energy, industrial farming, fiat money, Securities (which have all become digital, closed source), epidemiology, closed-source software, cloud services, Ethereum.

The bottom line is this: is the concept, idea or product verifiable/testable on an individual level or at least attainable through a regional expert? If the answer is yes, then the idea or product is useful without having to trust systemic experts, meaning it can scale, right from your local community all the way up the the global level. If not, we will have to trust systemic experts, who 1) are very prone to human error as they do not have skin in the game and can therefor freely espouse ideas without consequence and 2) will eventually abuse their privileged status of information gatekeepers for personal or corporate gain -as they always have-. In other words, truly scalable and sustainable ideas and concepts are mainly bottom-up (are personally verifiable), not top-down (imposed by systemic experts).

Mapping experts and individual verifiability

Large scale production/distribution resides on the systemic side (quadrant 2 and 4). Experts reside on the Complexity side (quadrants 3 and 4). Its when these two worlds collide in quadrant 4 that we get into the real problem of our top-down information flow paradigm (climate, economics, health, values).

To internalize this framework of experts on the one hand and individual verifiability on the other, I think it’s helpful to use these four quadrants to assess any product or service. On the X-axis we display complexity as a gradient from left to right. The more complex something is, the more time, energy and knowledge it takes to verify. The more complex, the longer the feedback loop (both positive and negative results) gets. We define true complexity (or complete complexity, far right on the X-axis) as something outside the grasp of the scientific method, they are the great mysteries of life and reside in the domain of belief systems. Complexity and Verifiability in this setting are used as reverse analogues. On the Y-axis we display scope as a gradient from top to bottom. In general, the more people are affected by the theory, service or product, the larger the scope and the more it tilts towards the systemic side.

Quadrant 1 and 2 are inherently non-complex, which means they can be verified in a pretty straightforward manner, meaning they do not require the reliance on or trust in experts. Products and services in these quadrants are simply bought at your local store or service provider and live and die by their quality. If the quality is lacking, the fraud can normally be unmasked rather quick and easy.

Quadrant 3 and 4 are tilting towards complexity, which means this is where we start to heavily rely on experts. As long as the scope of the product or service is rather small (quandrant 3), this reliance on experts is contained and subjected to scrutiny from the local community in a healthy and constructive manner (see previous segment about regional experts). When the scope gets larger though (quandrant 4), we get into real trouble. In our current top-down information flow paradigm, we unconditionally rely on systemic experts to tell us what to do when it comes to actions in this quadrant, leading to much of the undesired consequences of our time. Or put another way, systemic complexity is prone to centralization! Ideally one shouldn’t trust a systemic expert, and when confronted with systemic complexity, we should appeal to non-human authorities for guidance. And that’s exactly what we do when we rely on tradition for example. The Bible and natural law are great decentralized sources of values and norms, vastly surpassing the wisdom any human being could attain, promote or mandate (contrast the Bible to the church for example which is a typical example man made top-down information flow). This brings us finally to monetary policy, which is always and everywhere, systemically complex. It is destined for trouble because we’ll have to trust systemic experts, unless of course we can find some non-human authority to solve our conundrum. I pose that this authority is 21 million. Bitcoin doesn’t so much have a monetary policy as it has monetary properties. This is also where the Austrian school shines, as they will be the first to admit that the power of monetary policy is far too great for any human altogether. Rather that relying on a systemic expert in the form of an individual, a board room or a central bank, they rather outsource that power to natural forces (like gold and its unforgeable costliness for example, or Bitcoin and its 21 million cap).

Where outsourcing to non-human authorities is impossible, the only way for civilization to progress is by migrating products, services and theories to the North-West of the graph. This way we insure robustness, rapid iteration and stability on long enough time scales. In general, North-West migration is a rough equivalent of Social Scalability. In the next section I will try to explain how this migration takes place in the real world and how this ties back to Bitcoin (the verifiability of bitcoin on the one hand and the monetary properties of Bitcoin on the other are two different technological breakthroughs).

A measure of reward

Throughout history, improving individual verifiability has always been an instrumental tool to achieve more independence and individual sovereignty. Furthermore, individual verifiability drives civilization forward by enabling immense efficiency and productivity gains. This concept is beautifully illustrated in the essay “A measure of Sacrifice” by Nick Szabo. The tandem of the mechanical clock on the one hand and the sandglass on the other made it possible to revolutionize the employer/employee relationship forever.

The equal hour system [as opposed to the inaccurate canonical hour system] operated at two levels. At the public level, a mechanical clock would ring each hour. At the personal or decentralized level, the sandglass would both measure time within an hour and provide a check against the still-common instances of public clock unreliability and fraud.

-Nick Szabo

In the Dark Ages, the relationship between employer/employee was generally defined by bondage, feudalism or at the very best an immensely inefficient form of non-serfdom labour (piece rates for example, a system that had a big revival in 20th century Communist countries). The advent of technologies to accurately -and- individually measure time in the 14th century gave birth to the institution we now call the “time-rate wage”.

Time-rate employment provides a major productivity improvement over servitude or piece rates. Time-rate contracts however require a reliable and secure -a fair and independent- source of time. With the rather heterogeneous measures of time [pre sandglass and mechanical clock], employer could cheat the employee out of hours, or vice versa, unless they had a securely independent standard of time.

-Nick Szabo

Through the use of precise, individually verifiable time measurement, we unlocked a way to -efficiently- engage in non-serfdom labour on a large scale. The time-rate wage was a giant boon for the employee AND the employer because the “time sacrificed” could now function as a very uniform and efficient shelling point for negotiating purposes. The employee (often) gained his freedom and was insured against (part of) the risks of entrepreneurship. The employer now resided over a workforce that performed labour at its own volition (greatly improving productivity as voluntary cooperation motivated by a proper reward is more conducive to good results than slavery) while at the same time still being able to adequately reward or punish workers (promotions, rate hikes, bonuses or firing).

The Sandglass, the full node of medeival labourers. Making it possible to free themselves from the shackles of serfdom.

As Julian L. Simon convincingly argues in “The ultimate Resource”, time is the only scarce resource. Since the 3rd of January 2009, with the invention of absolute scarcity in the form of a digital commodity, we arguably have a competitor in this domain of scarcity. When it comes to Bitcoin, we often talk about its store of value potential in the context of its limited supply and its medium of exchange potential in the context of the Lightning Network, but what about its ambitions as a unit of account?

Bitcoin is a revolution in the realm of individual verification and measurement of money. Gold was a worthy predecessor for sure, but it pales in comparison to Bitcoin. Whereas gold is harder to spoof than many things, fabrication is still rampant (fake gold bars, jewelry and coins). By running a Bitcoin full node however, counterfeiting becomes a complete impossibility because receiving = the unequivocal proof of validity, its baked right into the transactional process by default! But this explanation doesn’t exhaust its verification capabilities in the least. Yesterday I ran the numbers on my computer, it was fairly easy, just the click of a button.

I audited the entire globe, just from my comfy office chair

My node doesn’t just give me the assurances that what I receive is genuine, it does something far more impressive, it gives me the capabilities to audit the entire globe! Just from my living room I am able, with perfect fidelity, to:

1. Measure and verity the global supply of bitcoin

2. Measure and verify the future supply issuance

3. Verify that all the bitcoins above 21.000.000 do not and can not ever exist (proof a negative)

Bitcoin gives me absolute cryptographical certainty about its limited supply at this point, and every point in the future. This signifies a whole new paradigm of certainty in the realm of money, with far reaching consequences and effects we can’t even imagine right now. A paradigm we can only now for the first time unlock because we are the first to live in the digital age, and proving a negative in the physical world is just as nonsensical as dividing by zero. This brings me to the next meme: 1 BTC = 1 BTC. Because we can now prove a negative in the sphere of money, we have something akin to perfect information. I know that 1 BTC is and will forever be 1 BTC, it represents a completely immutable proportion of the total supply. This knowledge of individually verifiable immutable proportion gives Bitcoin a uniformity that no analogue money can ever achieve. This high fidelity measurement of immutable proportion should not be conflated with the individual subjective value appraisal of the thing being measured, but it is as perfect a unit of account one can ever hope to encounter. Compared to bitcoin, fiat is an immensely complex black box of uncertainty (imagine trying to measure or verify the supply of Eurodollars, oh the horror!!). Once Bitcoin matures, who in their right mind would ever want to do economic calculations using an ancient token whose core characteristics are an unpredictable and frantically changing supply? The less complex your unit of account, the more complex economic calculations you can perform. Just as the accurate measurement of time became an indispensable shelling point to assess human sacrifice, so does the accurate measurement of immutable proportion create a new shelling point to assess reward. Bitcoin is the perfect unit of account, a true measure of reward.

Finally, I would like to demonstrate the potency of individual verifiabilty (and the problems that can arise with the lack thereof) with one last example;

The size of nuclear power plants

I myself am a great proponent of nuclear energy. It both provides a clean, sustainable and reliable alternative energy source as compared to fossil fuels. There are some obstacles though that prevent this great technology from breaking through:

  1. fossils fuels are extremely cheap, reliable and abundant
  2. Because green energy is very popular but doesn’t provide a steady stream of energy, coal and gas companies are needed to support them and are actually booming in recent years!
A life-size mockup of part of a NuScale power module just outside of Corvallis, Oregon.

Until I started writing this article I was convinced that these factors (combined with heavy lobby work) were the only culprits behind the the lack of adoption. However, I’m starting to think that the distrust large swats of the population exhibit towards nuclear energy is not only a consequence of endless fear mongering by anti-nuclear energy ideologues but might also have something to do with the lack of individual verifiability this technology suffers from. Because fossil fuels are not radioactive, people can still easily come into contact with them on an individual level. You fill up your car in your local gas station, you can buy coal in your local shop and so forth. Burning up fossil fuels to generate energy is a simple and easy to understand process that can be replicated on a small scale in a home environment by anybody. This personal relationship we have with fossil fuels provides it with a level of trust that is sadly not possible with nuclear energy. A nuclear power plant is a large imposing edifice, controlled and managed by systemic experts who’s actions and responsibilities are a complete mystery to most people. Nuclear energy lacks individual verifiability. There is hope though, promising advancements are being made with SMRs (small modular reactors). These reactors are 100 to 1000 times smaller in scale then traditional reactors and could potentially be manufactured at a plant and brought to a site to be assembled. Perhaps it is possible to introduce these SMRs directly into local communities, where they can be managed by regional experts who are worthy of the trust of locals, ultimately leading towards more confidence and trust in the technology as a whole.

Web of Trust and how to build one

Does this mean that all systemic experts are obsolete or useless? Quite the contrary, I think they still have a vital role to play, although the position of power they’ve gotten used to will have to be relegated completely. Since the birth of internet and its online forums, it has become increasingly feasible and practical to create a “web of trust” based on certain individuals whom you deem rather likely to be telling something real or worthwhile. Creating a decent WoT is no easy feat by any measure. There is an elaborate amount of vetting required in the process of creating one, preferably this vetting never stops, but given we are computationally limited creatures, it seems reasonable that the high level of investigation -regarding a specific expert in question- lowers a bit after some years. But how do you vet? A very good question indeed. Here I have to refer to Objective Versus Intersubjective Truth by Nick Szabo. Rather than only focusing on what people are saying (which can often seem preposterous at face value) it is extremely important to also focus on their understanding and application of the scientific method itself.

Interestingly, good judgement of authority is based largely on a “meta” understanding, not of the particular science, but of the scientific method itself: is the theory falsifiable and parsimonious, are the experiments repeatable, are the statistical methods valid, and so on.

-Nick Szabo

As Szabo points out, the correct application and understanding of the scientific method should be one of the main criteria for “choosing authorities/experts” to trust. Is the correct application of the scientific method the yardstick they use to calibrate their ideas, to justify their actions and to formulate their convictions? These are the important questions. This is the key to creating a Web of Trust. Of course there are a lot of other important considerations which have to be taken into account namely reputation, credentials, track record etc… BUT as I state in the opening of my article, the whole point of this dissertation is to make clear that traditional credentials and reputation games have been progressively degraded by employing them as cheap tools to defend and promote -insert random ideology here-, rather than using it to give credence to important or relevant data/findings.

Building a WoT comes at a great cost. To achieve a level of comfort and trust towards an expert to the point you are willing to take their advice and actually apply that advice to your own life, I would say it takes at least 50–100 hours of vetting (reading their articles/books, listening to their podcasts/interviews, browsing through their achievements, examining reputation among peers, monitor their interactions with other actors in the space etc.). This statement should give pause, since allocating this amount of time merely to create the potential of adding one person to your WoT borders on the obsessed. Who can be bothered? Well, as I’ve found out on Twitter, quite a lot of people. Relative to the overall population this might not be such a great number of people, but there is a minority of individuals seeded in every society around the world that vehemently swears by devoting large sums of their time and energy to exactly this. And for good reasons.

Twitter is the new university

Twitter is turning out to be the new university. People who want to be educated and are driven, will find this forum to be of invaluable importance. Classic universities used to be indispensable institutions as they maintained all the important literary works which contained the thoughts and wisdom of the great thinkers of history, all concentrated at one physical location. This enabled students to spent their formative years absorbing wisdom, becoming integrated and knowledgeable individuals in the process. Whereas this concentration at one physical location used to be the great strength of universities (since books were published in very limited print and extremely scarce), it has now become their greatest weakness. Since the birth of the internet they have ceased to serve much of their purpose, as all knowledge and wisdom ever conceived by men is available right at our fingertips these days. Classic universities, in response, have devolved into antiquated gatekeepers in their struggle to remain relevant. But, as the internet has slowly but surely eroded the obstacle of restricted information access in the past decades, the limiting factor for an individual to make intellectual progress merely shifted from an accessibility problem to a filtering problem (filtering the information that is relevant from the information that is not).

There is an infinite number of ways to interpret any finite set of phenomena and the world. But there is only a very small set of viable interpretations, confined by both the looming threat of mass suffering and death on the one hand and the necessity for human coordination and competition on the other.

-Jordan B Peterson

A Twitter WoT is an immensely powerful tool to accomplish just that. Whereas the initial investment of time and energy is quite large and cumbersome, the reward is greater still. You have an incredibly powerful human driven information filtering algorithm at your disposal. Only the best and most relevant data -to you- is presented. I think if enough people maintain a decent WoT (and it seems that the appetite is definitely there), and these people make it their mission to inform their local environment (as many Bitcoin evangelists do for example), it can allow information to seep through in local communities, preventing them from becoming to isolated or stale (this can possibly even act as a check on regional experts gone awry). WoTs enable us to indirectly rely on systemic experts by continuously pressure testing their reputations in the free market of ideas now made possible by digital technology. I think the WoT concept can serve a small but vital role as a mediator between systemic experts and the population in general. I will try to explain this with Bitcoin as an example.

Bitcoin and the importance of WoT

Bitcoin is an example par excellence of a product/concept that is grass-roots and individually verifiable. It’s no coincidence that “don’t trust, verify” is one of its main maxims. In this sense, Bitcoin does not rely on trust in experts, that is to say, not directly. The power of the Bitcoin protocol comes from the fact that it is permissionless and has an ever lowering cost of entry. This ensures individuals all over the world can start, if they choose so, to experiment and transact with this nascent technology. Say Bob starts selling goods and services for bitcoin. He has his own Bitcoin node set up at his shop (with BTCPAY for example), and things are going smoothly for over a year now. By this time he has become rather acquainted with the Bitcoin tenets and principles. He knows about the 21 million supply cap and the necessity of a full node for proper verification. There is but one problem, Bitcoin core 0.23.0 is released, and Bob does not understand computer code nor Github. Without inter-mediation, its very hard for Bob to blindly believe the update doesn’t hold any hidden consensus changes or even a bug. Who can he trust to tell him the truth about this new upgrade? It seems we’re kind of stuck here.

I think it’s here that the WoT shines. Because there are a lot of people that are not real experts themselves but who are in direct contact with Bitcoin experts (of which there are maybe a 100 in the whole world if we are being generous?) through for example Twitter, you get a first line of adopters for freshly released software. These WoT maintainers (seeded in all societies) then confirm with their own eyes and funds that the new software is working fine and as intended. Now these WoT maintainers can signal to their local communities that Bitcoin core 0.23.0 is quite alright. Maybe Bob himself doesn’t have any friends who are a WoT maintainer, but his daughter Alice is married to one. Now Bob feels quite reassured by the advice of his stepson to install the new update (and not fall for a malicious hard fork!) and is able to enjoy all the new privacy and bandwidth optimizations!

Notice here that the local communities themselves are at NO POINT directly dependent on or trusting a systemic expert (a Bitcoin software developer in this example). Rather, they depend on other individuals within their local communities whom they trust, eventually linking back to a person with an online WoT. This mechanism in the specific case of Bitcoin is only possible because the Bitcoin software is open source and available to everyone, making sure that individual verifiability plays an integral part in this process. I am by no means claiming that this is the definitive template for building bridges between systemic experts and the population in general. I am merely suggesting this is one of the conceivable pathways for information mediation when it comes to systemic complexity.

Conclusion:

The trust assumptions we have gotten accustomed to over the last century have become outdated and are insufficient to further enhance global cooperation. In our hyper-connected, hyperspecialized world we have become too depended on top-down information flow, an evolution that has led to the distortion of the truth, benefiting the few at the cost of the many.
I propose a gradual shift towards more bottom-up information flow which could possibly lead to a more stable and robust framework that benefits local communities, but also the interaction between them. Bitcoin does this in two distinct ways; 1. outsourcing systemic complexity to unbreakable rules like the codified 21 million limit 2. greatly increasing the individual verifiabilty of money. I personally believe that there is nothing in this world as powerful or indestructible as truthful ideas and truthful speech. I believe that we do now have the tools at our disposal to make sure these ideas can reach their maximum potential and blossom to their fullest!

CODA: Since I’ve become increasingly convinced that Twitter is a powerful tool for many people to start this filtering process in search of meaningful information and the truth while at the same time also playing an integral part in the dissemination of knowledge in a bottom-up fashion, the freedom of speech war that’s been raging on all social media platforms is a very concerning prospect indeed. Twitter employees and censors are applying exactly the kind of “appeal to authority” I try to condemn in this article. You read lines like “our experts” will decide on a case to case basis if Tweet X or Y is “racist” or “biased” and so on. We cannot allow this kind of tampering with our information and expert filtering mechanism any longer. It is slowly incapacitating our ability to search for the truth. I suspect this will continue to get worse, until a tipping point is reached and people hopefully start migrating to an open source, possibly self-hosted, alternative to Twitter.

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