What is trust? Who do you trust and why? Would a world without trust be richer or poorer?Liars and cheats¶
Bitcoin began with the maxim "Don't trust, verify".
That is, trust can only begin where verification ends. Trust is only meaningful once we have fully understood how people can lie.
Because we can codify the ways in which it is possible to cheat, we can also write executable software rules, with deterministic results, that prevent cheating in the protocols we use to define and transfer value.
This demonstrates how to use complementary opposites as a mode of thought to identify patterns of meaning. We can build protocols with strong trust guarantees by defining clearly, and encoding, what it means to lie. To understand trust, you must know the details of all possible deceptions.
These clearly defined and encoded rules do not mean we need no longer trust at all. It means that
💡 there is an implicit shift from trusting those who own the media by which we transfer value, to those with whom we are actually transacting.
Take a moment to reflect on this statement.
Prompt: How can we build protocols with strong trust guarantees?
By defining clearly, and encoding, what it means to lie.
The above is another early Bitcoin maxim which means "Strength in numbers".
It goes back to Pythagoras, for whom "All things are number". The implicit shift towards trusting those we're actually transacting with is enabled due to a fundamental change in the language by which value is defined. Instead of regulatory fiat, enforced by legal prose and human courts backed by the threat of violence; Bitcoin enables a network of peers to create the conditions required for a functional currency through mathematics alone, enforced by deterministic computation.
The saying holds this double entendre which implies both that using numbers and mathematical consensus gives us the strength to lay down what Andreas Antonopoulos will later call 'unassailable facts', while also pointing at that which gives power and meaning to any narrative: the community which believes it. The more succinctly we can express shared truths, the easier it becomes to verify (and therefore trust) the systems we use. This implies that
💡 Trust has something to do with truth.
Publicly verifiable truth means more humans can reach consensus on the basic state of their shared realities and get on transacting in increasingly valuable ways based on new kinds and degrees of trust.
It's a profound feedback loop: use a universal language (math) to define succinctly what it means to cheat, enforce penalties in a deterministic and executable way based on your definitions (code), which allows more humans to experiment with interpersonal trust in ways previously unimaginable.
To dream up important ideas you must think like an idealist; to build systems that will live up to those dreams, you must think like an adversary.
Prompt: How can we make it easier to verify and trust the systems we use?
By succinctly expressing shared truth.
Ultimately, we're not interested in trust based on blind faith. We're interested in verifiability between peers. The Bitcoin source code can be audited by anyone, anywhere in the world - so it's not just ability we're interested in here, but also access. Trust, in a practical day-to-day sense, has a lot to do with transparency and education.
This requires a certain kind of architectural innovation in the very structure of money: no more clients and servers; everyone needs to be a peer. Please read the next piece of curated material - Money Talks - to get a sense for what a peer-to-peer architecture of money is, and what money as a protocol might come to mean in our time. As Nicky Case highlights below, it all comes down to this fundamental game theoretic insight:
We are each others' environment.
Trust and Evidence¶
Any word is understood by virtue of shared experience. When you and I have both seen someone wearing an object on their head shading them from the sun, we can talk meaningfully with each other by using the word 'hat'. This is clear enough for words like 'hat' or 'cat' or 'sat'. However, what about words like 'trust'? How can we cultivate trust in our environments when we are each others' environment? If you try to force or manipulate others to trust you (just as if you try to force others to love you), this generally results in greater suspicion.
One beautiful perspective on this question has been contributed by Joan. Trust is cultivated between us when we together pay attention to what is evident, and it blossoms when we can
"Welcome opposition. Quantum thinking must be learned through practice, and disagreement can be an extremely valuable source of energy needed for learning and growth. The real learning is not engraved in a curriculum, waiting for the student to memorize it; the real learning is the transformational processes taking place inside the person who uncompromisingly pulls the curriculum apart, chews the pieces, spits out the bits that are not to their (current) taste, and digests the rest into a growing understanding of the world, which can only ever be highly subjective. Children know how to do this; it is adults who lead them astray by demanding that children ‘trust’ everything that is fed to them. It would be better to teach kids to trust their own process and the people who welcome their questions and opposition.
"Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Give your time. Open your heart. Give thoughtful gifts. Ask for advice and opinions and ideas. And, by all means, use and talk about money. There are so many ways to communicate value. I think many of us have a very bad habit of demanding respect without ever giving any back. I don’t think any of us can learn without experiencing, that is receiving, first."
Foster dialogue. "Even if I were absolutely positive that I understood what is up and down and good and bad in some matter, and even if I were willing to fight for my ideas to become shared reality, I don't think 'everyone agreeing' should ever be my goal. I mean this in a radical way. I don't think universal agreement (even agreeing to love, or agreeing not to start wars) would lead us to a good place. I'm wary of what the mere abstract wish for everyone to agree does to both a person who has the wish, and to the world. As is mentioned later in Kernel, diversity is nature's response to adversity. If that is so, then we should never aim for complete agreement, but rather trust the process of disagreement to enable something truly useful to emerge over time, some kind of rough consensus which will be (for the moment) both robust and reasonably fair. Knowing that not all will agree that it is fair, we may decide to take steps to protect the rights and maybe even the feelings of those who do not agree, even while going forward with the motion in question and defending ourselves against those who might mean us harm. Knowing that no solution will ever be 'right' in any absolute sense, we may build systems that are open to change along with us. We are well served with a bit of humility which comes from knowing that we can never know the entire picture."
We aim for Kernel to be a high trust, give first community among highly talented, like-minded peers. Some of the key learnings from the game define how we think about the program, as well as the Web 3 space more generally.
All this raises the question, "What is truth?" In this regard, another profound insight has been shared with us by Mike:
"What must be cryptographically verifiable is not 'what the truth is,' but lack of prejudice as to what the truth is [...] To verifiably care about finding the truth, we must verifiably not-care about what the truth turns out to be."
Vitalik Buterin calls this idea credible neutrality. However, Mike's phrasing points at something deeper about the way we resist perspectives different from our own, and the multifaceted nature of the work required to overcome our limited and limiting perception of truth. Knowing that you cannot know means you waste neither time nor energy trying to prove any fact to be absolutely true. All facts are relative. However, facts are represented by values and values differ in important and discernible ways. While we cannot represent the truth with absolute certainty, we can (following the play of pattern) still be clear about what it is not. This asymptotic approach to the absolute is often called via negativa. If you are honest and clear enough, then all your negation might just leave untouched a radiant emptiness, fully alive to reality as it really is.