What is Money?

Notes on the Nature of Money and its Future

What is money? We use it almost every day, but like the air we breathe, we hardly ever look deeply into what it really is. This is my initial exploration of the question.

The dawn of and expansion of Bitcoin and the phenomenon of cryptocurrency has also spurred these reflections (I will discuss Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies at the end of this piece). In any case I’ve often pondered the nature of money. It seems to have a powerful grip on our minds.

Recently some have criticized cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin having no intrinsic value. But does any type of money (or investment for that matter) have an intrinsic value?

The short answer: Money is a store of value, by the implicit or explicit mutual agreement of the agents of use. The valuation of anything is contextual by nature, and therefore money has no intrinsic value in itself. Money is most often used as a medium of exchange, but this is not an intrinsic property. It is ideally a unit of account.

Money is a vastly useful tool for storing and trading value. Imagine having to engage in barter you had every time you wanted something. Let’s say you needed a stick of butter, and what you happened to have in surplus were a collection of fine, healthy Philodendron plants to trade. You go to the dairy, but the butter maker says she doesn’t want Philodendron plants, but she does need some hay for her cows. So then you need to go find someone with extra hay who wants philodendron plants. Or you will need to find whatever you have you can part with that they happen to want – maybe a pile of bricks or some apples or bricks or a carburetor – if you can even find such a party.

In contrast, money can be traded for anything, because the receiving party in turn can trade it for anything. It’s universal (at least within the culture it’s accepted in, as long as it still has significant value).

By way of evidence, one could do a thought experiment about a type of money, a coin that had value but is never exchanged. For example was held onto and ended up never being traded: let’s say a giant circular stone in your front yard that represents the deed on your house (such as the Yapese have traditionally used on the island of Yap – see below), and that is agreed upon by the entire community on your little island society. And if anyone from that society is given, buys or inherits that coin, that represents owning the house, by deed of giant stone-coin. In fact the entire island has houses of this type and a deed-coin in front. However, for some odd historical reason, no one has ever used them for exchange! It’s an unlikely scenario, but the point is it is possible. In other words, exchange is not a natural, inherent, God-given property of money. Strange but true.

But the converse scenario also makes little practical sense: a currency that has no value (by agreement or intrinsically) but was exchanged profusely. That would be a potentially comic situation: one could imagine all these clowns running around making exchanges with each other furiously with, let’s say, pieces of paper with printing on them, but nothing could be done with the papers except exchange them: one could not use them for any practical material purpose (even toilet paper, because of the printing or type of paper), one could not exchange them for anything else except other pieces of the paper, and one could not convert them to other types of money. It would be farcical.

Some no doubt will say this is the situation with some cryptocurrencies currently! But most cryptocurrencies can be exchanged for other currencies, and do have some, however debatable, intrinsic value as a unique implementation of an instance of a useful class of technology.

Philosophically of course, there is no ultimate inherent value in any money whatsoever, no matter how brilliantly conceived, engineered, or widely adopted. Money only has the value it is given by the psycho-social milieu of assumption, faith and trust of the society in which it exists. In other words, it is a projection. This is easy to demonstrate if you do a simple thought experiment or two.

Let’s say a race of powerful aliens came to Earth, godlike in their intelligence and capabilities, and they had a technology, programmed with a fully advanced neuroscience of human minds coupled with a superintelligent computer system, and some kind of brainwave projector that re-aligns human thoughts along whatever lines is programmed into the machine. They decide to play a joke on humans and re-program everyone on the planet into forgetting what the US dollar is and what it’s for, no matter if its paper currency or numbers on a screen. They program humans to forget that it has any value (to keep it simple we won’t worry about automated exchanges, and just look at a very short term scenario). They do the same for gold, silver and platinum – both the physical metal and representations of it – just for extra fun and to make sure their little joke works.

Zap! Suddenly this money has no value. So why would anyone choose to exchange it, or even care about it, except as a curiosity? It has no inherent value, other than for the physical money for kindling or paper, or paper weights or ballast (especially coins), or for its fiber content or the uses of the metal in engineering. The entire currency collapses. The same would be the fate of Bitcoin or any alt-coin or cryptocurrency, if the aliens decided to zap human minds about it. The companions and communication over the internet would continue to happen, and there would be information in crypto wallets, but it would have no social or psychological value, and therefore no exchange value, because that projection was zapped. One would look at some numbers on a computer screen or in a hardware wallet and they would be just numbers, with perhaps an engineering or historical interest. In the longer run of course things would resurrect themselves and the system would be built back up, and value restored once the mental map was re-learned by individuals and groups. But the point is made.

A less exotic example can be imagined. As the reader may or may not be aware, on the Island of Yap in Micronesia, traditionally the Yapese used large circular stones as money, called Rai stones (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rai_stones). These could stand for anything from the ownership of a house or the smaller ones could be used for the purchase of food. Since the stones are for the most part too large to move (and subject to damage if moved), they are kept in place, and the ownership is recorded orally. Nothing is written down. The “ledger” is in the minds of the Yapese. Now let’s say, back in the day when the island was unknown and there were no other currencies from the outside world in use (these days the Yapese use dollars and Yap are used only occasionally or ceremonially), some plague wiped out all the inhabitants. If a ship of Europeans, or anyone really – for example a boat full of Micronesians from another island with no cultural exposure and no use of stones as currency in their society – were to land on the island, they would not place a monetary value on these coins and not consider them standing for anything, unless they decided to start doing so (for example they might be taken as valuable museum pieces, or the quartz mined from them for various uses).
So one can see it is the social matrix that gives money its value ultimately, and the individual programming of the members of that society.

Money cannot by nature have any inherent value.

This can also be seen if you hand a hundred dollar bill to a Bonobo Chimpanzee, our closest relative genetically. They are a very intelligent sentient being, and their groups have their own culture and means of communication (though it is not a written one). They might sniff it, look at it, play with it, throw it, wipe their ass with it, but they are not going to use it for money, no matter how long you give them money and no matter how much. It’s possible I suppose that a researcher could train them do trade money tokens for food, but as far as I know this has not been attempted.

As a side note money also depends on the concept of counting and numbers, and this is not inherent – despite what Chomsky theorized – even to humans, as proven by the the anthropologist Daniel L. Everett and his patient work with the internet outage (not an uncommon occurance) or one is not on the internet, or some kind of catastrophe occurs, or even a programing or configuration error – a bit or two, out of place, the wrong comma placed in a line of code – the whole silicon house of electric cards comes crashing down, or at least screeching to a halt (as has happened with cloud storage such as AWS outages on occasions).

As a concluding note, since much of my blog has to do with the philosophy of happiness, and “spiritual” or psychological topics, the facts and notions outlined in they essay regarding the nature and power of money, do not imply or mean that money is required for or coupled with happiness. They are on quite independent axis, as will be discussed in an upcoming article.

Thank you for listening.

Be Free, Be Happy.

Notes on Psychological “Boundaries”

Boundaries are often talked about in behavioral terms: don’t cross this boundary, or I feel like my boundaries have been violated, or the respect for boundaries must be enforced or known for oneself so as to stop or remove oneself from a situation. But there is another dimension, an inner or psychological dynamic that I’ve seen in my experience.

I will share my experience with the boundary issue and how I perceive it as having to do with what we call the ego and expansion of falsity, meaning a false sense of self. About 30 years ago I rescued a friend from an abusive relationship with her husband, only to fall into a relationship with her, in which some of the same dynamics came out. Looking back this was an opportunity to see this dynamic. I’ve also had people and whom I did business and in my family of origin with that were extremely dominating and controlling, that gave me further practice in seeing beyond illusion and finding love within.

It is because the suffering, fearful ego-ic sense of self feels so severely a sense of separation and lack that it thus perceives boundaries or limitations of others – in reality there are no others but otherness is felt so strongly – that they must force or manipulate themselves through or over to overcome these boundaries, this alienation. You could see it as living a far deviation from one’s divinity, out on a limb in delusion, blind to it. This ego can even be a spiritual ego, in ordinary seekers or in the most extreme cases being some gurus who take advantage of there position to get sex, money, to abuse and belittle others and so on.

Unconsciousness or self-blindness or lack of insight is another way to put it: at-effect rather than at-choice, even though at some level it is a choice that knowingness knows about in the depths of oneself.

What I saw was an inflated and brittle false self that needed propping up with a sense of control and dominance, covering an extreme insecurity, and a compensation by this constant effort to be what one is not, but think one should be. The lack of respect of boundaries had to do with seeing another person as an extension of one’s own ego, one’s own sense of separation and lack, such that if a perceived other does or is perceived to do something contrary to what the enforce rigid rules and feeling of control dictated, a reaction ensued arising out of this old inherited mechanism: fear, judgement, jealousy, anger… and a sense of unworthiness that is projected outward and blamed on some cause out there, even though it is not out there.

Yet that reaction that created drama also fed the unstable false self, because that which is unreal needs constant energizing since it is fundamentally a lie. That false self projects onto other selves, and if the other self is vulnerable to taking it on, that feeds the loop. This dynamic can also be seen in other forms, such as the politician or actor who needs the “love” of an audience to feel a sense of worth, yet privately collapses into despair, depression, drug use, has trouble in relationships, etc. It is an addictive process, a self-reinforcing loop.

Truth needs no support outside itself and is effortless power. But what is not real has to be a maintained through effort. So it’s a magnification of the usual false self-ing process. TO see it in a more innocent way, consider how we have evolved from animals, and how animals have a mind, alert and active, seeking food, pleasure, fearing and protecting, but also reactive, automatically. This same reactive mind has evolved into a more sophisticated form in the human ego. But we can evolve further than that…

What can you do? The mind may not have the answers, but can be pointed towards what does have the answer. Bring consciousness to whatever is perceived, whether it is within oneself or an “other”, and expand to what surrounds it. It may sound simplistic, but the consciousness that we are knows no boundaries or limits, contains all experience, and holds within it an intelligence far beyond the intellectual machine or the automatic reactions. It is in fact what you are, beyond beliefs and past, which is only memory now. This benevolent observer, this awake awareness is always present, always secure, always available, beyond the mind, merely covered over by personal filters (habits of thinking). It is unattached to any situation or outcome because it is beyond time and place, personal meaning, value and significance, yet contains all in it’s embrace. Perfection knows no limits. Always new, always fresh, clean of the past, happy and free.

You can love them (as a friend) and still leave the situation if they don’t change (and more often than not they won’t) – at least you will feel better. By love I mean in a detached benevolent way, see that they are fearful and suffering – it is more objective and understanding, and automatically loving yourself – difficult to describe but you are in touch with your true self, which is free. The whole dynamic changes all by itself then. They are still, or may be at times, bound up in their false self and reactions, controlled by inner unconscious demons. But at minimum your situation will change once you free yourself. Don’t focus on them (I can’t emphasize that enough), or what they did, or the past. Work on yourself. The only freedom you have is now, to choose, within. This is not selfish but benefits the totality. If you see yourself truly now, you can see others truly now. The whole game is about finding out who you are, now, and freeing yourself. That’s it.

Note: I would suggest something experiential to bolster all this theory and talk. My friend Laura Lucille recently published a new meditation about experiential (direct) knowledge. Sit quietly and listen:
Exploring Experiential Knowledge – Meditation

If Life is a Game, Make Sure You Are Playing The Right Game

What kind of game do you want to play in life? How do you see the world: as a bunch of separate material object or things, of which you are one – sort of a meat robot that has to fight and struggle to survive, and beyond mere survival, get more of the pie, or be a victim or disappointed or frustrated or angry if you aren’t getting what you want?

Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina (2015) • Photo by Universal Pictures International

Articles like these an old friend from the past sent me (asking what I thought) — The Jordan Peterson Moment or The Atheist Who Strangled Me – are more of the realm of opinion-ating, and the battle for mindshare. As a wise young friend, Andrew Hewson pointed out, this is an extension of the animal mind, the primeval survival “ego”, into the human mind ego. Or they are self-advertisement of the author, or entertainment, like much of the news. A way to get your attention. Which generally is a waste of your attention.

But what really matters? Does matter matter?

Who cares what such and such says? What you want is to find Truth. Why because you want happiness. If the battle for things or ideas isn’t bringing you happiness but at best a promise for future happiness or mere temporary pleasure, are you going to settle for that? Do you really believe in your heart of hearts you are that small?

In school we are taught, subtly or overtly, that life is a competition, and this instills fear. Fear can get people moving, but is a double-edged sword and one can react in ways that can be non-productive, self-destructive, or other-destructive, or that merely don’t bring you closer to Truth. It leads you around in a circle at the same level of life satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Fear closes down the openness to being receptive to what is, and makes one more obedient to thoughts that are like parasites on the soul. What you want is not only freedom from those thoughts, but from any thought: to know you are not thoughts and not feelings. However these are worshipped, and there is widespread, nearly universal addiction to thinking and feeling: just look at the state of psychology, therapy, or the symptoms of depression, substance use, greed for money, power, objects, experiences…

There can be game-like aspects or elements of life, at the level of the body or mind, and these can temporarily be worthwhile to engage in to have an advantage on circumstances that are overall conducive at a certain level. For example, there is an apartment I want to rent that fulfills my optimal design for quiet and light, I make sure I get there in time and communicate clearly to the owners the advantages of renting it to me. When acquired, game over. It was meant to be. This can be fun and exciting, but it’s not the end of the world or to affect my happiness if I don’t get it. The universe is a big place and you don’t know what will pop up. You are not dependent on circumstances, but why not optimize them, not from fear but from joy, from opportunity from saying yes to life, to celebrate? Don’t just see “bad” things but allow “good” things too. Pay attention not just to lack but to the totality of what you are.

If Life is a Game, Make Sure You Are Playing The Right Game

The goal is happiness, here and now.

There may be a movement of things in that space, this life, just as there is metabolism going on in a plant or animal: out with the old crap, in with the new crap. I have some money, so I buy a new pair of shoes because the old ones were cramping my feet. I throw out or donate the old shoes, and wear the new ones. But I was happy in the old shoes, they were just uncomfortable at times and inconvenient. Or I get a car that’s better on the freeway for going to visit happy friends, faster smoother and quieter, more efficient. But I’m happy in my old noisy car, which has it’s own charms, like good visibility and spaciousness, and good offroad, but now I can celebrate the drive in a car that goes faster and quieter, in certain circumstances. But I’m happy either way. It’s just an experience, stuff, things, coming and going. There is not net gain in life or net loss: overall everything is still the same universe, the same consciousness, the same here-now-ness, seeing things come and go. People, noises, objects, thoughts, feelings in the body…

Occurring to who? You may *think* you know but do you really know who you are? What you are?

People ask, “What do you believe?” but they are missing the point. Beliefs will get you nowhere, or not very far at all indeed. Except to more beliefs, and a battle of beliefs. With no end in sight. You could spend a lifetime refining and searching and compiling beliefs, ideas, opinions. Or several lifetimes. Or perhaps an infinite number of lives. Like in one of those computer games that simulate life, with all the little critters moving around gobbling each other up and spawning new ones, and going through mutations and endless changes and groupings and ungrouping. Does the mass get closer to beauty love and truth? Or just variations on the same ol’, same ol’.

The real game, if you are fortunate to get that far, is to pop out of the game board, or the simulation screen and look down on the whole thing (yes The Matrix, but translated to life and transcendence) – not in the manner of superior and inferior but as transcending so one can see it – is to see the game for what it is, and not take it seriously. Before you had been lost in the game: you thought you were one of the players, the objects, the little critters moving around on the screen, gobbling and being gobbled. You were totally identified, anxious and on a mood swing, depending on how well it did. Manic if it was eating up all the other critters and getting fat, or depressed if it was getting gobbled and smaller and threatened by death, not reaching its objectives, or dying. Blip, poof, critter number 9,072 pops out of existence from the memory cell.

Interestingly though, no matter what, the game goes on. You are watching it are you not? Someone, or some thing is watching it. Who is that?

You see there are an infinite number of games. Can you enumerate the possible number of games in a universe? And are you attached to an outcome of any one, now, or forever. If it’s just a game does it have any substantial reality.
These are questions that are not asked or that feel too unanswerable, so you go back to playing the game, getting lost in it, being identified with one of the players, or the pieces in the game, the little critters.

And the game goes on.

The choice is yours.

Why reader, do you choose struggle: do you love the drama and violence, limitation and restriction? If it’s in your life, it’s been chosen at some level, even if you claim you don’t choose it – not as a separate tiny thing, separate, tiny alone in a harsh and unforgiving blind cosmos, a machine of gears ruthless turning and beset with other people wanting things or doing things to you.

But there are no victims in reality, and I realize you may not cognize that just yet … I have great empathy and love for those that are suffering – especially since I went through years of intense suffering myself – even if it’s seen for what it is: unreal and all part of the game. This is all paradoxical to the mind and may take a very long time to comprehend, and even sound offensive, or not PC, not popular… ignorance is very fetching to most humans alive today. It’s the name of the game for most of 7.5 billion.

But, you may ask: “How do you find happiness then, if it’s not in the game and I’m not this critter, or what it does, or gets, or… wait, what are you saying? Are you saying give up, or don’t play the game, or quit, or die or what?”

Ah, I’m glad you asked. It means you’re still paying attention, or are at least pissed off or skeptical, or disagreeing. That’s a good start.

What I’m saying is, you’ve already won but don’t know it. Another way of putting this, since there’s nothing ultimate to win per se, is that you are already happy, because it’s what you are.
Bullshit you may say.
But let’s look at it: let’s say it’s possible there is something we could call “causeless happiness”, or a joy that is being in its own nature. Pure, unadulterated peace, love in a absolute or complete sense, not human or any other form but all those forms… sounds crazy, theoretical, pie in the sky New Age, crap… let’s get on with life and the game we’re wasting time, us hardened and smart ones who know what it’s all about (heck if it’s working for you and making you happy, go for it, until it stops working, then you will start seeking again, or in another way. It doesn’t matter, it all self-adjusts to innate perfection of the totality).

If there is this causeless joy or happiness, it would mean that we are spending a tremendous amount of time and energy playing a game that isn’t getting us closer, but just tempts us or goads us on with little bits and fragments of pleasure or temporary relative peace or relative happiness compared to other times. We still need more time. Time, money, energy, thinking, work, hard work… and meanwhile the body ages, things change. So what do we conclude? Time to go faster, work harder, get more, get fatter? Get more lost in “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”. Well whatever floats your boat but be honest with yourself and eventually some light will get through and you get tired, sick and tired of being tired. You’ve tired out the engine. The computer is running slower. Maybe you discover it actually feels better when the computer in the head stops for a moment.

“Thoughts and feelings are lies, because what you are is a lie. So it must lie to keep going.” – Laura Lucille

Then you are on the right track. Notice how good ideas, insights, bright lights sneak through the cracks? Did you will those into existence? Moments of causeless wonder, energy? Do you will your ears to hear, go to hearing classes, or will your vision to see something when you take up in the morning? Do you know the next thought that’s coming or what you will be thinking 5 minutes from now? You feel your body now even if you don’t make an effort.

Things to take into account my friend.

This may sound like a recommendation or being an advocate of being passive. In fact, at every moment, there is an intention, a will (willingness would be a better term) and choosing. But this is not forced but in fact totally free, whether it is conscious or not. (I notice this can be hard to accept by many). Perhaps I will cover this in another essay.

Enough for now…

Be Happy
Be Free