Zen and Blockchain
by Alan Waxman MLA
Black Box Cryptography:
Of Zen Noble Truths and Blockchain
You are a black box (空). More appropriately, you and I together, in this shared space, are (in) a black box right now. Big data (縁) flows through, informing our context and ourselves. In this sense(念), we form a cipher (円相) between us, a cryptographic (法) void (無) of potentiality (如来).
We can share(業) certain things, our clothes, our food, even our “time”(時). These things are possible to share because we can shed them, alienable. When we’d rather not actually bother to take off our clothes or meet to share food, we can make images of our clothes, food, and time, and share this simulacrum(空想).
You and I can decide(思) to quantify the value of this exchange, of this present. We can slap price stickers on our clothes and our time, or even more easily price our simulacre versions(行) of our “things”(事). Monetize.
Better to put a price on an image(像) of yourself than on yourself(我), right(正)? The image, the on-screen(写) persona of yourself, is not only easier to market, to become a personal brand, but it also keeps you safe. Why not toss around digital messages, images, selfies in and out, slick and protected? Pretty soon we’ve got all these mega chat rooms running around the world, multiple online businesses and characters going(行). And the digital flows into the digital.
Heck, if we add up(欲) all the dollar signs into a ledger we have a running tally of our digital community value - line graphs on a screen tracing a speculative online digital market. Now, we know Satoshi’s folks bodied(此縁性) the flow(流), by putting something more to “crypto” - the garden in the machine(露地).
This “something”(埃) makes the code a bit more solid, a bit more embodied(現). Ever extending lines that make up the blockchain are verified by shared processes (公案) - the data mining cipher(円相). Suddenly, the digital is looking a little more locked down and unknown(不思).
The internet of things lends itself to this because the physical world and it’s panoply of expressions of context over time (縁起) constantly creates new, unforeseen data flow(泡). When something in the system breaks(侘) it comes to suddenly triangulate even more value in the constantly updating(化) blockchain. Example (礼) is derived by exception (陰陽). Whether math problems, or personal health decisions, it’s the unknown variables that derive the greatest value in the cryptography. The risk.
On the blockchain there is no going backwards. You and I and our data mining internet of things(縁起), a distributed ledger updating in real time. The blockchain is “digital”(裏) but it mirrors the change in the physical community of value, repudiated in the mining processes, a black box of momentous proportions(空).
This feedback continues quickly ad-infinitum(無常), blurring into real time(心相續). Pretty soon, the intricacies and patterns of unknowns; the breaks in the norm(不正常), come to inform the code(法). Deep learning(深層学習) in the neural net(神経回路網).
Artificial intelligence to Intelligence
Perhaps you’ve been preoccupied(苦) with smoothing out the anomalies(不正常), with creating seamless feedback loops(廻) where you know what goes in to create what comes out. Control(配). Make a brand(名). A reliable product. This is the old artificial intelligence approach: make a machine learning model that fixes things and maintains “good” feedback, no big waves. This is the old closed-system approach. Minimize the variables. Make a nice selfie. Get likes. Monetize that shit.
Now imagine a particular cluster of these intricacies, risks, anomalies. Imagine this as a literal black box. From the view outside the box, we see what’s going in and what’s coming out - We see a steady stream of data representative of what’s inside the box(空想). We can paint the box with any image, any simulation we choose to see, and this may affect the inputs and outputs of the box. We can even paint a human face on the box, perhaps even a selfie of ourselves. But, we will never know what’s inside our box(無心相續).
When we realize we are this black box (無心) - we realize that we are the machine and the machine is us, a man/mirror mix. Suddenly Moore’s Law has not slowed after all, just reached an asymptote. Computers shrank from the size of a town, to a building, to a room, to a desk top, to a pocket, and then suddenly vanished entirely. We ARE them, the other, I and thou, in ecstasy. No more man vs nature, with “resources” and “manufacturing.” Enter the anthropocene, the primordial(阿吽), the tea ceremony(茶の湯).
This leap into the unknown stands to release us from the bounded thinking of controlling variables. It stands to transform the act of “programming” into a sensitive opening of intersubjective vulnerability (慈悲). It stands to unleash us from laboring in the dry factories of closed systems to play in the wet lush fields of open system ecologies.
Alan Waxman MLA (awecosocial.com) creates ecosocial design for health equity and cultural resiliency. By operating in locations of fragility in space and time, he aims to bring people together to reopen critical narratives. His Urban Rhythms studios with Mark Morris Dance Group, the Center For Court Innovation, and other partners, have assessed urban patterns by way of participatory engagement; setting up emic spectrums of data derived from meaning for cultural insiders. Resident participants, those who have the most to gain and the most to lose, collaborate to make real time interventions through events, dance, and environmental change. As "Neighborhood Doctor," Waxman has deployed ecosocial design in Brownsville, Brooklyn NY and Kyoto, Japan, where he served as an instructor with the University of Oregon in their Myoshinji Zen temple based urban design program. He works as a landscape designer at Elizabeth Everdell in San Francisco.