Here’s an analogy for the buzzword of our time, “blockchain technology”. Much like my other post, “The biggest decentralized system ever” [1], this idea draws parallels between what this cutting-edge technology does, and what happens in nature. The key here is the comparison to the propagation of knowledge.

First we have to get rid of the notion that there are original ideas. In an age of patents, copyright and intellectual property, many of us have been tricked into thinking that new ideas and knowledge just magically appear out of nothingness, often due to our own genius, but I disagree. ALL knowledge is iterative.

Every single idea that has ever, and will ever, be born, is built on top of the accumulated experiences of all life that has gone before. Think about it. If you were designing a ground-breaking “new” app, do you think you’d know where to start if you’d never seen another app to give you a frame of reference? If the internet didn’t exist? If the mathematics that allow for electronics hadn’t been figured out? If electricity itself hadn’t been harnessed? If the various manufacturing processes that allow for computers to exist hadn’t been developed? and on, and on, and on…

So, to tie this back in with blockchains, imagine new ideas that propagate over time as being akin to new blocks in the network. The most convincing will stick and continue to grow, while those that aren’t will be lost in obscurity. Those that spread wide enough will take their place in the blockchain of history.

The parallels don’t just stop at this type of ‘surface’ knowledge either. They extend much further back, deep down in our primal, genetic roots. “Genetic knowledge” that is hardwired into us by ancestral animals. Things like instinctively being wary of certain predators, reflexively jumping at loud noises, learning how to use our limbs for the first time when we’re born and a million other things too.

The further back we go, the more ingrained this knowledge seems to be. For example, we all possess an ancient reptilian part of our brains that “knows” to regulate our breathing, circulation, digestion, temperature, fight or flight mechanism and more, all left over from when we were less evolved creatures.

This type of “knowledge” is baked into our very being, and is almost impossible to rewrite. Similarly, the further you go back into a blockchain, the harder it becomes to change it. Technically it is possible, but it would take a gigantic, sustained effort to accomplish. In the same way, you could brainwash someone into going against their basic instincts, but their new way of being ultimately wouldn’t propagate into the gene pool, making it pointless in the bigger picture.

This humility in realizing that we all “stand on the shoulders of giants” is really key in understanding what blockchains are all about.