“Whole civilizations rise from stories – and can rise from nothing else.”
-James P. Carse¹
The Ethereum whitepaper² was the first story. In 2014, it laid out a vision for the decentralized world millions now spend countless hours exploring, building, or thinking about. Ethereum Papers are an attempt to continue the tradition of using words to build worlds – to clarify and reason about a place that doesn’t exist yet.
Like the protocol itself, Ethereum Papers have no ultimate destination. We play for Team Ethereum where the goal is not to win, but to keep playing. Admittedly, it’s an unusual game. Its inventors have no control over it, and no one knows how or when it will end. We only know that anyone can play the game, the rules are the same for everyone, and the game changes as it is played.
The overall narrative of blockchains, crypto, web3, or whatever term people make up in the future is being shaped now and Ethereum Papers intend to play some small role in this process.
The Federalist Papers made the case for the U.S. Constitution – a major change in how a young nation was to be governed. Ethereum Papers make the case for Ethereum: exploring why the protocol matters and how it might serve as the foundation of our collective digital universe. Those who don’t like this idea should start the Anti-Ethereum Papers.
“...the ratification of the United States Constitution which, while quite elaborate, was primarily elaborate in the redundancy with which it applied the principle of checks and balances of power. Thus most citizens only read one or a few of The Federalist Papers that explained and defended the Constitution, and yet got a reasonable sense for what was going on.” -Vitalik Buterin³
Ethereum can be thought of as a new version of the internet, one where the power to dominate others is minimized. Though this network is believed to be built on technological foundations strong enough to defend itself, the technology alone is cannot create a system that is both widely used and widely trusted. Only legitimacy⁴ achieves that.
The world of crypto is full of jargon. New ideas and concepts require new words, but new words can also intimidate and confuse – intentionally or not. Understanding enhances legitimacy and to be understood means communicating in a language people can relate to.
Effective advocates invite and welcome. Whether in the form of essays, poems, and songs, or novels and graphic novels, the aim is to write in a way that people can understand, in a language they are familiar with, and in stories they can relate to.
The negative stories that have painted the ecosystem so far have been effective at gaining attention and creating doubt, but this technology is intended for centuries not years. We plan, build, and think for the long-term. Fleeting attention will always follow mimetic cycles of euphoria and despair, but deep understanding – and the conviction that comes from it – must take its time. It can only be earned through patience and resilience.
Ethereum is its own world with its own rules. NFTs are objects in that world.
In the years to come: NFTs may die out as a passing fad, the Ethereum network may be replaced by a completely different blockchain, or a global catastrophe may render all these technologies pointless. We are on the frontier of a rapidly changing digital world and every promising medium for storytelling, creativity, and expression that becomes unlocked from this shifting landscape is a path worth exploring.
NFTs allow writers, and other creatives, to have complete ownership of their work. Writers have the freedom to create first drafts, special editions, and as many versions and iterations of their work as they see fit. This creates a new class of creator and a new class of audience. Instead of simply being a consumer, the audience becomes a collector, investor, advocate, speculator, and consumer all at once. The writer and audience co-create a world in which they mutually benefit; they both become incentivized with the same goal: to spread the word.
“Humanity is a curious species. Every once in a while, somebody gets a good idea. Others copy the idea, adding to it their own improvements. Over time, many wondrous tools and systems are developed. Some of these devices – calculators, thermometers, microscopes, and the glass vials that the chemists use to boil and distil liquids – serve to make it easier to generate and try out new ideas, including ideas that expedite the process of idea-generation.” -Nick Bostrom⁵
If Ethereum is a protocol on which new ideas can be built and tested, the intention of Ethereum Papers as NFTs is to expedite the process.
The blockchain creates a living record of events – one that can be trusted to be true because the rules are built on a practically unbreakable system of mathematics called cryptography. This history of events, which can’t be faked or corrupted means every NFT, and every idea represented by an NFT, is its own source of truth. As an NFT, ideas and stories are solidified on the blockchain.
What was said, when and by whom becomes part of the public record. If the record cannot lie and is always visible, then the record itself and our interpretation of it, becomes a source of legitimacy that is powerful in ways we are just beginning to understand. At the very least, the simple existence of the record gives us a single shared objective reality.
Permanence can be thought of as the expectation that the state of objects, players, and rules of the world will continue as is. If history is based on the past – that the past happened, and it happened this way – then permanence is the belief that the record will continue to be written according to the same rules.
For a system to be legitimate, we must have some faith in its permanence. Otherwise, why would anyone waste their time? We cannot know for certain, but we fully expect U.S. dollars to have worth tomorrow. So too do some of us expect Ethereum to be around in 100 years.
Objects on the blockchain need the expectation of permanence. Creators and collectors alike must have faith that the canvas they are using will extend into the future – long enough for their creation to grow in value, whether that value be financial, cultural, or personal.
Every medium shapes what is written on it. Writing on paper is different from writing in sand, which is different from carving words into stone. For those with faith in the protocol’s continued existence, the expectation of permanence makes writing on Ethereum like carving words into digital stone.
Blockchains are about how humans come to agreement about what is true; how to reach consensus. Because these systems can hold and express power, how consensus is achieved become social and political questions.
Decentralization is about how broad, diverse, and numerous are the people who reach consensus on a blockchain. The more prolific and boundless are a people, the harder they are to control and manipulate – the same is true for blockchains. A decentralized blockchain is a robust one. It is harder to corrupt and harder to destroy. Being resistant to corruption allows for a more trustworthy history while being difficult to destroy guarantees more longevity.
A more decentralized blockchain is more legitimate.
Decentralization is not simply a technical factor. It is a cultural aspiration closely linked to neutrality, fairness, equality, and transparency. Judgments about legitimacy and decentralization are subjective and human, which could be argued makes them the most important factors. Blockchains are something humans do as a collective, and humans beings are collectively subjective.
Why Ethereum? Technically, it has the most numerous and diverse maintainers⁶, builders⁷, and users⁸. Subjectively, the Ethereum community has a culture that aspires to be decentralized. Decentralization is not only a moral and philosophical aspiration, but a practical one, one more likely to guarantee a trusted history, permanence, and ultimately legitimacy.
Ethereum Papers are about inviting people to a new world – a new way of doing things. It reflects a community’s ideas and aspirations. We’re not exactly sure where we’re going, but we do know the more people that join us, the better this new world will be.
Consider this your invitation.
Finite and Infinite Games (1987)
This is the version 2 of the Ethereum Papers. Version 1 is here: