Recently I read the book Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake, a book which delves into the fascinating world of fungus and mycelium. The specifics are not very relevant however there was an interesting message about systems in general which was made clear from the beginning: there is no individual without a system of smaller parts. The human is made up of trillions of cells and connections, those cells are made up of many proteins and other microscopic building blocks, and those in turn are composed of smaller parts such as electrons and protons. One could go even further to discuss that protons and electrons are made up of quarks and gluons but I think the point is clear, the individual is always emergent from the system of smaller parts.
A good real world example are lichens. Millions of years ago an alga (singular form of algae) washed up on the shore and was unable to survive in its new habitat alone. It was forced by randomness to find a solution or perish. Along came a fungus which, in trade for nutrients provided by the plant, rewarded the plant with a hard exterior shell and many other benefits. The product was neither an alga or a fungus, it was a new creature altogether termed a lichen later on. This process is one of the reasons we humans are here today at all, yet another example of how the individual is emergent from the system.
I promise, if it is not already clear, this line of thinking does relate to crypto. The blockchain world is akin to the alga, washing up on the shores of this new world (the developed economy) and looking for ways to survive, and on the other side of this has come some very non-blockchain looking systems, the lichens. With increased use of cryptos there has been a noticed scramble by developers to finally begin taking seriously their TPS bottlenecks, something I talked about in my last article about a month ago. This has led many developers to begin to find new ways of scaling their networks on layer 1 rather than relying on layer 2 networks such as SegWit.
The solutions people are coming up with are much more than blockchains. A blockchain is a very simple data structure which allows one to store data in blocks and link them together with id’s at the top of each block which are created with the previous block’s id as part of its input. Today, 11/21/20, the number 8 coin is Polkadot, and for those who have not read up on its structure, it is not a blockchain by any means. There are completely new roles in that community for providing security which just doesn’t exist in traditional blockchain schemes. Polkadot is extremely complicated and I won’t go into its structure now but if you want to know what I mean by that I will be releasing a coin of the day on that system sometime soon.
Blockchains are no longer in the business of creating their own segregated economy in which value can be tracked, stored, and transferred. Rather they are all moving towards a structure akin to that of Seele, a little-known crypto with amazing ideas. Seele has what they have coined the “heterogenous forest network” (HFN), a forest of chains which all have many currencies and tokens and apps but run along a similar base-chain, allowing for extremely low barriers between chains for transacting with one another, providing one solution for the siloification issue in blockchain. This is clearly NOT a blockchain structure in the traditional sense of the word.
This movement towards HFN-style networks is an attempt to create a more symbiotic and overarching economy under which users can transact with one another without strictly being within one another’s communities. This is a truly momentous goal, as we have not been able to do this in actual society today, still using different fiat depending on what country you currently reside in, or what country the person you are paying currently resides in. This vision of being able to instantly transact value across different networks is revolutionary even in crypto.
It is also an entirely necessary step. While it was the one to break the ground for the others to emerge and thrive, Bitcoin happens to be one of the worst cryptocurrencies in terms of anonymity, speed, and societal usability, the three claims which caused the extreme hype of 2017 and ensuing bull market bubble rush to 20k. There are a number of penny coins which are faster, more secure for your identity, and have the ability to crudely transact ‘across networks’; though not really because currently these ‘other networks’ are just side chains in the same ecosystem.
The current vision is to be able to have one canonical chain which keeps track of transactions across many disparate chains allowing there to be a central book of transaction records for all chains to see and use for verification. This only expands the silo walls and does not actually fix the siloification of crypto, simply it adds more transactability but only to the extent that other networks join that main chain and those chains actually provide some value.
To reiterate the main point, no individual exists outside of a system of smaller parts. There is always some reducibility, well almost always, but that is for my next article on the funny nature of reality and how crypto could really learn from it, just as it can learn from Lichens how to be more inclusive, or symbiotic. The outcome of the symbiosis of nature often results in entirely new beings, and there is no reason to expect Crypto to deviate from this natural tendency.
Five years ago when my journey down the rabbit hole began, a blockchain was a simple and crude data structure, and it turns out we can do a lot better. In five years from now I have no doubt I will be even further down the hole and blockchains (if they are even still being called that) will be almost unrecognizable by today’s standards.