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✍️ Trust

What is trust, and why is it first on the list of Core Learning Objectives?

Liars and cheats

Bitcoin began with 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.

Such 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

Vires in numeris

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 mathemtical consensus gives us the strength to lay down what Andreas Antonopolous 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 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.


Ultimately, we're not interested in trust based on blind faith. We're interested in deterministic 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 architectual 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.

Deeper down the rabbit hole

Of course, all this raises the question, "What is truth?" Note that we're interested in shared truth above, i.e. consensus. Absolute Truth is beyond the scope of this course, though you can use the same framework to think about it. One does not approach an absolute by trying to define it, but through being clear about what it is not. If you are honest and clear enough, then whatever is left over after all your negation must necessarily be the truth.

Further references

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.

Trust 1

Trust 2

Trust 3