23 July 2019
A new religion
In San Francisco, on a warm summer evening, a group of computer programmers are having dinner together at a fine establishment. They are celebrating the launch of a new cryptocurrency-based startup that is going to change the world. Everyone is in a cheerful mood, a lot of money has been made today, at launch day. The hard work paid off, but of course there is even more work awaiting them all. Some of them have sticker-laden MacBooks by the side of their plate, colourful plot lines rushing across the screen at a nauseating pace. Due to the decentralised nature of their product, the system needs minimal monitoring once it is running.
Bert, the CEO of the company, taps his glass with a spoon and rises from his chair. He is a man with broad shoulders and black hair that is brushed back with lots of hair gel. He clears his throat. "Thank you all for being here. Today is a very special day and it could not have happened without your dedication. The launch of our product was a complete success and I'm very optimistic about the future. As a token of gratitude, we made some generous transfers to your crypto-wallets." The group cheers. "For more details about the launch, I'd like to give the word to Samuel, our CTO."
A man in his early forties with long, greying hair gets up and mumbles quietly "the word... in the beginning, there was the word..." He adjusts his old, worn out T-shirt and looks around restlessly as if he tries to track the movement of ten flies at once, but then seems to settle for just one. The group goes quiet.
"We have created something great indeed. Bert keeps saying that we are going to change the world. But what if I told you... We created a world!"
"Let me explain. The secret of our blockchain is a set of particular formulas, most of which I devised myself. You may have implemented them, but you never saw the bigger picture!"
He chuckles. At this point, it seems like Samuel no longer tracks a fly but instead reads from an imaginary teleprompter:
"The formulas are actually laws of physics. They model an entire world, just like ours. If someone mines a new block for the blockchain, they first find the longest chain and take the block at its end. This block is a snapshot of a point in time in the modelled world. Then they advance time by a minuscule amount of time, called a 'tick', and try to find an arrangement of all the matter in that world at that next point in time, such that it does not violate the laws of physics. Yes, our blockchain simulates a world. It is as real as ours, with its own time, space and matter! The miners of our cryptocurrency are making sure that the laws of physics are not violated, and anyone who downloads the blockchain can verify that no violations occurred."
The programmers start whispering to each other.
Samuel continues: "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you earlier. I wanted to, I really did. But would you have believed me? Now that the algorithm is realised in our world, my claims are backed by hard evidence. Maybe a primordial soup is forming in that world as we speak."
The unsettled conversations among the programmers become louder. One of them asks: "Bert, did you know?" Bert shakes his head. Another question: "What do you mean, the world is 'as real as ours'?"
Samuel answers: "Oh, we are living in a simulated world just like the one we created. We are breathing blockchain-powered air as we speak. All the physical phenomena of our world are explainable through the blockchain. Time travel, for example, means that someone is disregarding the rule that blocks should only be appended to the longest chain, and is instead appending to blocks from the past. Déjà vu is also known as double-spending." Samuel smiles. "And wormholes? They're hash collisions."
Confusion breaks out as the programmers struggle to digest the new information. One of the programmers takes a big sip of wine, just to empty his glass in a second movement. Another mumbles: "Our CTO is batshit crazy..." All of a sudden, a programmer who calmly listened to Samuel's explanations gets up and says: "Alright, Samuel, then tell me, if our world's laws are verified by miners in a metaworld, who verifies the laws of physics in that metaworld?"
Samuel looks at the group and falls silent. The guy who asked the question takes the silence as a lack of answer and grins smugly. "That one's simple", Samuel replies to the surprise of everyone, "it's blockchains all the way up!"
It is at this point that the lines of the plots on the MacBooks suddenly turn downwards and red, and soon, they flatline completely. It doesn't go unnoticed for long, and as the group gets more and more agitated, pure chaos breaks out. Someone hurls a chair at Samuel, hitting his head and throwing him to the ground. Bert tries to defend Samuel and finds himself in a fistfight against two. Wine glasses break.
Ten minutes later, the police arrives. Multiple people are arrested. Bert's hands are cut open by glass shards and bleeding heavily. Samuel is taken to the hospital, he is unconscious.
These events lie back six years now. Today, Samuel is obsessed with the idea that he can change the past by convincing enough miners in the metaworld to append to the right blocks of our world those six years ago. He still has to figure out how to do that, though. He laments that the staff at the psychiatric clinic does not give him enough freedom to conduct his experiments.
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