I am working on my talk on the prayer blockchain. And I wrote down a bunch of my thoughts on exchange and prayer that
are not appropriate for the talk but I figured I would post it. This is the first part…
The prayer blockchain is about rethinking exchange and value through the metaphor of prayer.
That is a long title and blockchain is sexy so you you know prayer blockchain
So lets unpack what I mean by a prayer blockchain and why I built it and what you can do it
(I am going to include this in all my prayer blockchain quotes)
First lets talk about Exchange
There are many different ways to exchange things and many different reasons.
The most popular way to exchange something is through the medium of money. I give you $2 and you give me a coffee, probably like $3.50.
I really never thought about money except perhaps how to get it, or worrying how to save it or grow it.
But I really never thought about money from first principles. What IS it? where did it COME from? It is so pervasive
it is almost like the air we breath – the medium that we move through
Years ago, I read David Graeber’s book DEBT – and it blew my mind. I was like oh Money is a social construct.
I am a thoughtful and inquisitive person and I am not sure why it took me so long to see this but there you have it.
Many people trace records of transactions back to temple donations. Like how many sheaves of wheat someone donated or took. Money replaced this in what is called the AXIAL age (by Karl Jaspers). This is the time when the great philosophical systems of the world began. We have Presocratic greek philosophy, Confucianism, the Buddha, the Upanishads, the Hebrew bible. It was the creation of symbolic systems of value and exchange (economic and spiritual). When you have symbolic objects the question arises of how we affix and transform the values that those symbolic objects contain. This can be something like sin, or a computer variable.
These are all systems of reasoning and value, and Money too is a symbolic system of reasoning and value.
Money is just bits of paper that people exchange to keep track of what people own one another. In this respect it is related to DEBT.
DEBT is the idea that you always owe someone something and it too is a pervasive feeling and metaphor in our culture. The thing about money is that it is quantifiable. You always know exactly your relationship to someone else through this particular perspective.
But this is not the only way to exchange things The other big method of exchange is the Gift. The gift is another way to exchange goods and the gift giver and gift receiver are forever linked in a non-quantifiable relationship to one another. Money is fungible, that means each dollar is the same as ever other dollar. It is easy to repay someone that has loaned you a dollar. Gifts are generally non-fungible. A fidget spinner and a bayblade are not the same thing. If I give you a gift of a bayblade it is not equal to the gift of a fidget spinner. Granted I could give someone a gift of $10 or bitcoin. And then the gift would have a specific quantifiable value. But when people exchange gifts there is generally not expectation of payback although there is a feeling of indebted. It is curious who benefits more from the gift – the gift giver or the gift receiver. And then there are material benefits beyond the gift itself. If I am a philanthropist, donating buildings, then my gifts grand me social status and perhaps bring me into a network or reciprocal gift giving.
This is codified more strongly in some cultures. In china for example there is the notion of Guanxi, which is a network of gift giving bringing two people into relation through the exchange of gifts which can never fully be reciprocated.
But back to exchange. What is exchange really about? It is about desire and connection. If I exchange something with someone else it is because someone WANTS something, a new car, or a house, status, or power. Even in the case of gift giving the gifts are not given with out some purpose, if it just the desire to give aa gift in order to give pleasure to another person.
Exchange also serves to solidify connections. Gifts more so than money. If we think about exchange as an equation and the equal sign as a connection. We can easily make both sides of the equation equal in the case of monetary exchange and some how weaken the importance of the equal sign or evaluator. But in the case of a gift we can never make both sides equal since gifts are unquantifiable.
What about PRAYERS! Yes that is my project. What is a prayer. A prayer is a sort of unmet desire or a desire for a gift. It is a connection with something immaterial. If we think about exchange as an equation and money as an equation where both terms can equal one another, and gifts where both terms never equal one another, them a prayer is where there is only one term. It is like a partial differential equation. There is something beautiful and powerful to me about this. That prayers represent an exchange or connection with not only something unquantifiable but immaterial.
In Parmenides’ poem “On Nature” – our protagonist, the goddess, talks about what we can talk about. We can only talk about what IS we can not talk about what IS NOT. There are three interpretations. That this is existential or ontological. We can only talk about what exists, we cannot talk about what does not exist. Another is that it is veridical. We can only talk about what is TRUE, not what is not TRUE. The third is predicative (I think) or essentialist, we can only talk about what something is. Like I am a brunette. We cannot talk about what something is not, like I am a blond (when I am a brunette). Why this is the case and which sense represents the statement of the goddess? This is beyond a blog post about the prayer blockchain.
I always thought this had something to do with the ancient greek mood of the optative which is for talking about things that do not exist. If it rained today I would have worn a raincoat but it did not rain so i did not wear a raincoat. We can say this, so I don’t think this is what the goddess is referring to.
The IS in these statements function as the equals sign in an equation that reconciles values. The veridical function is the function of money. Something is true when both sides of the equation equal one another. The predicative function is the function of the gift, when something is non commensurate with anything else or unquantifiable. It is what it is- it is definitional. The existential function is the function of prayer, the fact that I have a desire or wish is all I need for it to exist. It has no other term that it relates to. I have no idea where I am going with this, but I think a lot about Parmenides, it is the name of my computer.
Back to Prayers.
This is sort of an unmet desire or an unreciprocated desire. It is like the desire for a gift. Now there are many different kinds of prayers in different cultures. This can be a prayer like “Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the lord my soul to keep..” Or the Jewish declaration of faith – the Schma – Hear O Isreal the lord is god the lord is one. Is this a prayer or an affirmation? I am not sure, but the line between prayer and affirmation is blurry. Or a Hindu prayer that you may say as a religious person or a bourgeois yoga practitioner. Ohm na mo guru dev na mo – “I bow to the infinite teacher within.”
So I am interested in how we can reformulate our conceptions of value and exchange to include these sorts of desires.