As Vladimir Lenin said, there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen. What makes our times particularly turbulent is that we are simultaneously at the late stages and transitional moments of three big cycles:
- Carlota Perez’s technological revolutions / financial capital cycle (50-60 years)
- Strauss–Howe generational cycle (80-100 years)
- Ray Dalio’s empire / reserve currency cycle (200 years)
If you don’t understand these cycles and how they interact with each other, you can’t understand what’s coming at you. Collectively, they explain the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, the clash over Hong Kong, political extremism across the world, and the rise of Bitcoin. It is in moments of greatest danger like ours where once-in-a-lifetime opportunities lie.
As a polymath and Bitcoin maximalist, I see Bitcoin as a portal to ideas of great thinkers of which I’m a student: Gustave Le Bon’s crowd psychology, Eric Hoffer’s fanatical mass movements, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s antifragility and skin in the game, Friedrich von Hayek’s distributed knowledge and monetary competition, Jorge Luis Borges’ illusion of reality, Friedrich Nietzsche’s will to power, John Nash’s game theory, and much more that I’m yet to discover. It never fails to amaze me to see how these ideas, through Bitcoin, are playing out everyday right in front of our eyes, and I’m grateful to be part of the greatest social revolution of our time.
How I imagine Jorge Luis Borges would write about Bitcoin:
In Bitcoin we find the idiosyncrasies of each of its forks to a greater or lesser degree. Every fork modifies our conception of the original Bitcoin, as it will modify the future. If the forks had never existed, we would not perceive the qualities in Bitcoin. In other words, Bitcoin would not exist. The fact is that the sum of all the forks creates Bitcoin. Bitcoin is faithful to its own forks.
Büro Ole Scheeren took the needle of the tower and bent it back into itself to create a loop. There is no beginning or end. Walk around the base of the tower, and you see it go from strong and imposing to unstable and fragile. It’s the perfect symbol for a post-truth world.
A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, as Herbert Simon said. When attention is scarce, secrets can be hidden. Dialogues from G. K. Chesterton’s The Sign of the Broken Sword illustrate this vividly.
Father Brown: Where does a wise man hide a pebble?
Flambeau: On the beach.
Father Brown: Where does a wise man hide a leaf?
Flambeau: In the forest.
Father Brown: What does he do if there is no forest?
Flambeau: What does he do?
Father Brown: He grows a forest to hide it in. A fearful sin.
Flambeau did not answer.
Father Brown: And if he wished to hide a dead leaf, he would make a dead forest. And if a man had to hide a dead body, he would make a field of dead bodies to hide it.
Facebookers write for the next few minutes or hours. Newspapermen write for the next few days. Corporate entertainers (consultants, economists, and all sorts of “thought leaders”) write for the next few months or, more rarely, years. A minority of academics write for the next decade or beyond. Men of letters write for time and for memory.
Life is short. The shorter the half-life of the information, the lower the signal-to-noise ratio, the less time you should spend on it.
1. Immanuel Kant’s observations on student note-taking in 1778:
Those of my students who are most capable of grasping everything are just the ones who bother least to take explicit and verbatim notes; rather, they write down only the main points, which they can think over afterwards. Those who are most thorough in note-taking are seldom capable of distinguishing the important from the unimportant. They pile a mass of misunderstood stuff under what they may possibly have grasped correctly.
2. Jorge Luis Borges’ 1942 short story Funes the Memorious on a person with perfect memory:
With no effort, he had learned English, French, Portuguese and Latin. I suspect, however, that he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions. In the teeming world of Funes, there were only details, almost immediate in their presence.
In five years’ time, I predict that you’ll see Uber rides in which both drivers and passengers are not humans.
It’s easy to see on the driver side: Uber has already announced that it is testing self-driving cars. On the passenger side, you’ll soon see decentralised autonomous investment funds running on blockchains, not controlled by humans. For funds holding Uber shares, their algorithms will decide that it’s good for Uber’s share value by ordering Uber rides using some of their funds.
Imagine the profitability of such kind of rides: no passenger liability insurance, driver benefits, air-conditioning, and all other costs associated with human beings. It’s a win-win for both Uber and the autonomous investment funds.
Welcome to the digital economy.