Exploring The Thesis That Bitcoin Miners Can Replace Global Consensus
An intriguing narrative on Bitcoin emerged this year around the physical security offered by its proof-of-work consensus method. This narrative evolved from Jason Lowery, a commissioned officer in the U.S. Space Force and a U.S. National Defense Fellow enrolled in MIT, whose full-time job is to research Bitcoin for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). His opinions on the topic are his own and do not represent those of the DoD.
As part of his master’s degrees, Lowery plans to write his thesis on how proof-of-work miners are functionally identical to the role of militaries and could be adopted as a surrogate to war with respect to achieving global consensus on the current state and chain of liberty and digital property. What’s particularly unique about Lowery’s thesis is that it fits proof of work as an evolution from the biological and physical patterns of the universe and life itself.
Lowery explains that, billions of years ago, our world was nothing more than a few unicellular organisms. Over time, the state and chain of custody over resources swayed in the favor of multicellular organisms that involuntarily cooperated. Animals evolved and expressed power projection to settle disputes over resources — everything from antlers to dominant behaviors. Fast forward to millions of years ago and we have the rise of hominids. One of those species of hominids, Homo sapiens, developed the cognition for abstract thought and the ability to scale trust and cooperation beyond Dunbar’s number, using a common set of beliefs.
“The game of life is a game of power projection. It’s usually kinetic power projection. One great way to be better at power projection is to cooperate. Cooperation itself is a predatory competitive advantage… History is a running ledger written by the people who won the kinetic proof of work game.”
–Jason Lowery, “Bitcoin Fixes This #73”
According to Lowery, power projection enables people to declare the legal authority to define the chain of custody on the ownership of property and should those authorities become oppressive or weak, power projection preserves the ability for challengers to countervail those authorities and rewrite the chain of custody. This, by definition, is what constitutes a permissionless protocol. Lacking the ability to project power means one tacitly has to trust a third party to define what ownership is.
Lowery argues that militaries are an extension of this four-billion-year-old game of power projection, to achieve consensus on what the legitimate state and chain of custody is. Whether we are talking about the boundaries of our backyards or our own nations, these boundaries are set because power was projected to countervail authority at one time or another in our history, which in turn allows us to set our own state and chain of custody over resources we can control. Militaries project kinetic power to make it too expensive not to cooperate with the people who control the military. Without a military, or some form of power projection, it becomes rewarding to confiscate property and resources.
Without the defense of property, there is no ownership of anything. In other words, militaries are a way to preserve a permissionless control structure over property and subscribing to the legitimate rules of law is a tacit validation of the historical fighting that went into establishing those rules of law. We use the rule of law to avoid having to perpetually fight over every disagreement and cooperation leads to increased power projection. Without the ability to project kinetic power, there is no way to have a permissionless control authority over physical resources.
“The power of every bullet, the power of every bomb, the power of every engine behind every tank, every truck, every ship, every sub, every airplane, the power behind the heartbeat of every service member of every military that’s ever served in the world is measured, quite literally, in watts. Those watts are expended for the purpose of defending property. Defending a rule of law. Defending whatever needs to be defended. And yes, it is super inefficient to create a giant standing military that does nothing but sit there and defend your rule of law or whatever you want to say you own. But, even more expensive than creating a standing military is being invaded or being conquered by another military.”
–Jason Lowery, “Bitcoin Fixes This #73”
How does this relate to Bitcoin? Power projection doesn’t have to only involve kinetic energy, where force is applied to mass to displace mass. It can also be electric, by applying charge to a resistor. Either way, the rules of the game and the underlying physics are the same — both forms of power projection are measured in joules per second or watts. The only difference is how that energy was derived. With Bitcoin, humans are monetizing a new form of property and are effectively transposing war from kinetic power projection game to an electric power projection game.
Humans apply kinetic proof of work to preserve the state and chain of custody in the physical world and physical resources. And while water, air and land will always remain in what Lowery refers to as kinetic “meatspace,” money does not need to be limited to the physical realm.
Money can be shifted from the physical domain to the electric domain and the same principles and proof-of-work, permissionless control structure can be applied to it. As a surrogate to kinetic power projection, no one bleeds from proof-of-work consensus. And, even better, the projection of power does not rely on coordinating or challenging belief structures. By monetizing bitcoin, humans no longer need to fight wars to protect, confiscate or legitimize monetary property.
By making this transition, we get additional benefits. Kinetic power projection games are infrastructure-destroying competitions that typically end in rubble and death. Whereas an electrical proof-of-work competition, in Bitcoin, is an infrastructure-building competition that increases the security of the network and promotes energy abundance.
The second and third order effects of this transition are only just beginning to be understood. For example, Lowery points out that energy abundance can lead to cheaper desalination, which reduces the need to fight kinetic battles over fresh water.
Lowery says that humans are too good at kinetic power projection and the ability to countervail the authority of oppressors — to set the state and chain of custody over money — has become impossible with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We are guaranteed to fail if that were to happen. His thesis will therefore argue that the human race has lost its permissionless control structure over money.
Bitcoin represents a solution to this conundrum. As Lowery puts it, Bitcoin and proof of work are the equivalent of human antlers, built on top of nuclear-resistant digital defense infrastructure, to project power in order to reclaim a digital permissionless control structure over money and digital property.
Bitcoin won’t end war — we will always need kinetic power projection to claim ownership over physical resources. However, Bitcoin enables a global neutral digital money that prevents monetary oppression and dematerializes the kinetic power projection game required to enforce contractual fiat currencies, which are based on the legitimacy of rule of law through militaries. Lowery is fascinated by Bitcoin because it obeys this power projection law he sees throughout nature and in all biological systems. It creates what Lowery calls “mutually-assured preservation,” where competitors are incentivized to cooperate and everyone benefits from their competitors' productivity.
This is in stark contrast to kinetic power projection games which culminate in mutually-assured destruction. By unsubscribing one’s monetary property from the spoils of war, and subscribing to Bitcoin, one can take part in a beneficial migration that elevates civilization, fosters competitive cooperation and enhances our ability to project constructive power as a species, while restoring a permissionless control structure over money. In a world where nuclear weapons have prevented our ability to countervail an oppressor, if they should emerge, Bitcoin is not only a national security imperative, but an imperative for all of humanity.
Lowery will continue to refine his thesis and has invited the Bitcoin community to join and debate him as he refines his theories. It will be interesting to watch how his ideas develop and help us change our perspective on what Bitcoin can mean for the human race and our ability to own money and property in the digital realm.
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