Painting a Portrait of Bitcoin

Part II of The Essence of Bitcoin:

You can listen to my reading and discussion of this article on the Dumbest Guy in the Room Podcast here.

Painting a Portrait of Bitcoin

In this article, I want to paint a mental picture of Bitcoin in action.

This is not easy to do. Bitcoin isn’t a physical entity. No actual light bounces off it, so ‘seeing’ it directly with the eyes isn’t possible. Neither is hearing it, smelling it, tasting it or touching it.

Recalling the Essence of Bitcoin — Moral Virtue Bound to Mathematical Proof

Bitcoin’s essence, as I wrote in part I of this series, has to do with its binding of moral principles — principles that can be violated — with mathematical ideals that cannot be violated. The moral principles I discussed were virtues such as truth, fairness, and voluntary trade. The mathematical ideals Bitcoin incorporates with these virtues are proofs — proofs of knowledge, proofs of work, proofs of truth.

The First Element in Our Portrait — Transactions

In painting our mental picture of Bitcoin, I want to begin with a blank canvas and then add elements to it that correspond to aspects of Bitcoin.

Let us start by examining every transaction in Bitcoin. Every single transaction is inspected for complete mathematical truth.

First, it can spend only coins that have not yet been spent.

If it is spending pre-existing coins, it must mathematically prove that the spender has knowledge of the private key(s) to the coins being spent.

If it is the special “coinbase” transaction that discovers new coins and collects fees from other transactions, it must be associated with an entire block of valid transactions (which all adhere to the previous rule), and which also mathematically proves that the necessary work has been done to bind that entire block to the previous block.

Every single transaction — every one — is a proven statement of truth, adhering to the moral principles of either “This is my money to spend according to the rules of Bitcoin” or “I have worked to earn this money according to the rules of Bitcoin”.

In picturing this in your mind’s eye, focus first on a single transaction — a true statement, which is verifiable. You can picture it any way you want. For me, I just picture it as a “shiny” sentence. It shines because it’s true and its truth can be verified.

Our Second Element: A Block

Let’s picture a block next. A block is a bundle of hundreds of proven transactions, wrapped in another shiny proof — the proof of work. But each block also has an unseverable link to the previous block.

In fact you can imagine that the previous block is embedded in each block — because it actually is. Like those Russian dolls that fit inside one another, each block contains the unique mathematical fingerprint of the previous block.

The word “block” tends to denote a sharp-edged object that is a cube or brick-like. You don’t have to picture it in that shape. Pick whatever shape you feel represents truth, work, and containment of truth. That’s what a block is after all. It contains all these proven truths — new transactions and all the previous blocks — and wraps them in another truth — proof of work.

That wrapper is shiny too, representing truth, but completely transparent, hiding nothing and allowing anyone to see through it all the way down to the original block and to see every transaction within each one.

Bitcoin In Motion

Bitcoin doesn’t stand still. It is constantly in motion. It moves only forward, outward and upward. The number of valid blocks can only grow. It can never shrink. The pace of growth is incredibly steady, like a locomotive. It moves at an average speed of one block per ten minutes. Sometimes that speeds up a little. Sometimes it slows down a little. But it always ‘catches its breath’ and re-regulates to that steadfast pace no matter what is thrown at it or taken away from it.

So picture Bitcoin moving by growing — expanding by one block that surrounds all the other blocks and adding its bright shining proof of work as the seal around everything that came before. Like how a tree forms a new ring each year around the previous rings, Bitcoin forms a new block around the previous blocks every ten minutes.

What Surrounds Bitcoin?

Outside the newest block hovers a swarm of new, unconfirmed transactions. Those that are mathematically true — the shiny ones — are permitted to stay nearby, for they will be confirmed into a new block eventually. Any that are not mathematically true — those that are lies — are instantly zapped and turned to ash.

Miners surround this structure making copies of these shiny transactions and working away to try to form a valid new block. Occasionally one shouts out “Eureka! I’ve found a valid block” and they hold it up for all the other miners and node operators to inspect. Each tests for themselves the validity of the block. If they confirm that this proposed block is pure and true, containing the proof of work and only valid, true transactions, then Bitcoin steps inside this block and the miners begin work on the next one.

This process never stops.

That is Bitcoin in this picture, but it is not the whole picture.

The Plebs

Bitcoin is surrounded by people. As Bitcoin marches forward, it is surrounded by growing throngs of people who have come to witness this pristine being of pure truths. They stand in amazement and wonderment.

Many are engaged in undertaking the ‘rite of passage’ of verifying each and every transaction and block in Bitcoin’s entire history for themselves. This is called running a full node.

New people are always starting this process to verify for themselves the complete and flawless truth of the blockchain.

Others still, for the first time, are reaching the end of this process and catching up to the present, overjoyed to have seen for themselves that the whole thing is, as promised, only truths, without a single error, omission or lie.

None have ever seen anything like it before. Flawless. Huge. True. Growing. Unstoppable.

Many cast their fiat money before it — money they know is a lie — and receive in exchange satoshis, which they know are truths. They proudly hold up their satoshis with looks on their faces of pride and happiness at being able to hold, for the first time in their lives, the real truth.

Some behave as they would in front of a wishing well. They cast their fiat coins into it and pray that Bitcoin will grant them enough wealth to buy a home in which to raise a family, or to pursue another dream. Those that have been patient see those wishes granted!

The crowd keeps growing. More and more people are drawn to this truth machine — this truth being. None have ever seen anything like it before and they are mesmerized. Mesmerized by its shining, radiant beauty — the beauty of flawless, beautiful, truth.

The Dark Souls in the Distance

In the distance, there are dark souls. They are scared. These are the souls of the liars. They once held power over billions of victims, but the victims are suddenly freed. Freed to walk towards the truth. Released from the chains of lies that held them back which the liars have created.

And those darks souls are not just scared, they are in a complete panic! They see the unstoppable growth of Bitcoin closing in on them.

Slowly, but steadily and unstoppably Bitcoin advances.
One step at a time.
Always forward.
Every ten minutes.
Marching.
Marching to end the dark souls’ reign of lies with its shiny, unstoppable blocks of pure truths.

Step Back and Observe The Complete Portrait

This is Bitcoin.

The being of truth displacing lies with honesty, for everyone in the world.

Destroying the lies that imprison people