Bitcoin’s Gravity

How idea-value feedback loops are pulling people in

“There are some oddities in the perspective with which we see the world. The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be, but we have done various things over intellectual history to slowly correct some of our misapprehensions.”

Douglas Adams

Agreeing on a Set of Ideas

“Before any game can be played, the rules have to be established; before the game can be altered, the rules have to be made manifest. […] All those who know the rules, and accept them, can play the game — without fighting over the rules of the game. This makes for peace, stability, and potential prosperity — a good game. The good, however, is the enemy of the better; a more compelling game might always exist.”

Maps of Meaning

  • fixed supply
  • no central point of failure
  • no possibility of confiscation or censorship
  • everything can be validated by everyone at all times

Spreading ideas

“The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.”

Bitcoin’s Genesis Block

Bitcoin’s ingredients: two parts software, two parts hardware.

“Freedom brings men rudely and directly face to face with their own personal responsibility for their own free actions.”

— Frank Meyer, In Defense of Freedom

  1. Bitcoin’s set of ideas — its value proposition — is attracting people.
  2. Those people freely choose which code to run.
  3. The selected code runs on individual nodes, dictating their behavior.
  4. Nodes join the network, connecting to peers who share their ideas.
  5. The network reaches consensus, enabling agreement on who owns what.
  6. The value, in turn, reinforces the set of ideas defined by its consensus rules: the embodiment of its value proposition.
Idea-value feedback loop.

Bitcoin’s Gravity Well

“It’s very attractive to the libertarian viewpoint if we can explain it properly. I’m better with code than with words though.”

Satoshi Nakamoto

“What is Bitcoin?”

“Nobody can know everything. The complexity of society is irreducible. We cling to mental models that satisfy our thirst for understanding a given phenomenon, and stick to groups who identify with similar narratives.”
Dan Held

Bitcoin’s gravity well.

“So the universe is not quite as you thought it was. You’d better rearrange your beliefs, then. Because you certainly can’t rearrange the universe.”
Isaac Asimov

Attraction and Repulsion

“The miracle of physics that I’m talking about here is something that was actually known since the time of Einstein’s general relativity; that gravity is not always attractive. Gravity can act repulsively.

Alan Guth

“Tracking narratives is a good way to help people understand that there are, in fact, a menu of beliefs competing for their affiliation; […] Trying to identify where one narrative ends and another begins is a challenging task, as ideas tend to have permeable borders.”

Nathaniel Whittemore

Different ideas are captured by different gravity wells.

“Everyone knows nowadays that people “have complexes.” What is not so well known, though far more important theoretically, is that complexes can have us.”

Carl Jung

Orbits and Collisions

An artist’s impression of Bitcoin and its satellites. Source: KQED Science

Feeding on Ideas

“And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.”

Book of Numbers

The Value of Conviction


“For one can fall victim to possession if one does not understand betimes why one is possessed. One should ask oneself for once: Why has this idea taken possession of me? What does that mean in regard to myself?”

Carl Jung


  • Thanks to Hasu, whose incredible feedback helped to shape large parts of this article. His writing on Unpacking Bitcoin’s Social Contract was my inspiration for writing about Bitcoin’s gravity.
  • Thanks to Nathaniel Whittemore for his writings on narratives and feedback on earlier drafts of this article.
  • Thanks to Ben Prentice for proofreading the final draft.
  • Dedicated to the bravest space cat of them all (* April 2017, † April 2019).




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