Wednesday, March 23

Understanding Bitcoin and other crypto currencies

Bitcoin and all cryptocurrencies are forms of digital currency, using cryptography (the art of writing or solving codes) to secure and settle transactions on the internet in conjunction to a linked chain using the block chain technology. The block chain systems to support the use of crypto currencies is not subject to any government backed security or regulation.  


Crypto currencies are held in so called virtual wallets and the largest of these is Bitcoin. Subsequently one can use the coins to settle transactions just as you would for traditional cards issued by financial institutions. But the difference is that settlement is provided by the use of the block chain technology. That technology guarantees the fidelity and security of a record of data without the need for a trusted third party such as a bank or financial institution.    

How the Block chain technology works in relation to supporting the use of crypto currencies such as bitcoin is that the owners of the technology develop a secret code. One the code is cracked it provides the instructions for all of the transaction in a designated block to be settled simultaneously on the internet. As each block is settled it is linked in the chain that continues on with each new block of transactions.

Anyone can attempt to crack the code and those engaged in attempting to crack the code are called miners. Once the first miner cracks the code, access is then gained to the secured technology for all the transactions to be simultaneously settled within that block.

The Miners get paid in new issues of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. You need very powerful computers to crack the codes.  Anyone can become a miner but you need huge amounts of computer power to be the first to crack the codes.     

So long as the value of the bitcoin exceeds the miners cost to crack the code the value is sustainable, but can be skewed by speculators just as can be the case for any currency. 

Sunday, March 20

Ralph Waldo Emerson – father of the transcendental movement


Following on from previous discussions where we identified the few philosophers that were of appeal and influence to Frederick Nietzsche, one that was identified was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nietzsche had remarked he never felt more comfortable reading the work of Emerson who was known as the father figure of the transcendental movement. Like the existentialists the transcendentalists was a movement rather than a philosophy whose core beliefs, amongst other things, embraced the idea of individualism or self-reliance to rally against any form of societal pressure to conformity.

Individualism in this context posits each person has the power through introspection and one’s free will to move beyond the physical world into the spiritual realm, to determine an ethical existence or higher mode of thinking.

In this respect Emerson was in the same mould as Hegel who proposed the idea of the thinking spirit that influenced each subsequent generation in a positive manner exemplified in history. So we learn from history as each generation expands upon the thinking spirit that came before it. The problem with this philosophy of course is that society and its traditions inevitably can have corrupting influences and one might query if indeed wisdom has gained momentum over the centuries. Furthermore can we say that history can reflect the true influences as to what transpired and its accompanying reasons? The answer to these difficulties for the transcendentalists was one rejected the societal influences and religious norms to a simpler more enlightened state in tune with reverence for nature. It wasn't a question of ignoring history, quite to the contrary, but more a matter of accepting differ perspectives in a continuous process.  That type of philosophy is in common with Baruch Spinoza who saw GOD in nature which is known as pantheism. Hence there is no need for intermediaries as one reverts to see the beauty of nature in all its abundance. As such Emerson was an idealist who believed one is corrupted by the needs to conform to society and it’s evils to rally against slavery and the materialistic world. It’s easy to see why this approach was appealing to Nietzsche’s philosophy of overcoming and self-reliance.  

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) admirers included the poet Walt Whitman. He also collaborated with Henry David Thoreau, to establish environmental literature with Walden.

Initially he was a Unitarian Minister, after graduating from the divinity faculty at Harvard University. He only lasted a few years in this position to become a popular philosopher who gained prominence with his essays, entitled “Self-reliance” “History” “ The Over Soul” and “Fate”.


His influences were from English and German romanticism and Hinduism.

He is seen by some to be a precursor to existentialism. To reiterate he was a lifelong friend of Henry David Thoreau and inspired the likes of Herman Melville, a fellow transcendentalist, in his epic novel Moby Dick. But we might find some criticism in  Moby-Dick; or, the whale, as Herman Melville was both drawn and opposed to the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson and possibly rejected his idealism.   

On education- we learn from books, nature and actions.

According to Emerson, what you do in terms of actions to be taken determine what you continue to believe to avoid the perils of procrastination and be too trapped in the societal views of the time.

He summed up his thinking by saying that the whole of the world is needed for the education of one person. It is the approach he talks about education on the basis of seeing and examining the world from as many different perspectives as possible.  

Hence Emerson might be regarded as a process philosopher whose religious ideas are grounded in pantheism, which regards GOD as resplendent in all facets of nature but could only be experienced in an ongoing involvement in the present.

Eastern Influences

When he was at Harvard he studied many books related to Eastern and Western Philosophies including Hindu philosophies. 

The Hindu Books he studied were the Gita, Upanishads, Manu, Vedas and Vishnu. Hence many of his ideas bear a similarity to the concepts of Hinduism. In Hindu philosophy a physical universe of sense-perception existence as was proposed by David Hume is not considered reality. Rather it is the Brahman- the Infinite Being or in other possible ways of expressing it such ome might reference the idea of a Cosmic Mind, Universal Consciousness or Absolute. In other words the universe and mind are finite manifestations of a Universal Mind and our worldly interactions are linked to this Ultimate Reality which is the basis of our consciousness. Emerson got many of his ideas in his Essay entitled “The Over Soul”, from this source.

In the same mould Albert Schweitzer was also attracted to the idea of an oneness which he said that the “Brahmins, taught as a great secret the mysticism of the identity of the souls of all beings and all things with the Universal Soul. According to this mysticism all that is of the nature of soul belongs to the Universal Soul. Man carries the Universal Soul within him. And because the Universal Soul dwells in all Being, it finds its own self again in all beings, in the life of plants as in the life of gods. This is the meaning of the famous Tat twam asi (That thou art thyself) of the Upanishads."

Emerson’s Over-soul was also matched up to Brahman in this Upanishad concept as explained in the Gita. Schweitzer went on to develop his concept of reverence for life.


Hence, both Emerson and Thoreau and were both influenced by the notion of selfhood found in Hindu which led Emerson to publish his essay entitled “over Soul”.

To reiterate the Upanishads shows that

the Self is the eternal person, representing the inner

Self of all things. Hence the idea in Hindu philosophy is of a constant rotation of birth and deaths so that by dignity and actions the soul eventually combines into Brahma.

Other influences came from Chinese philosophy and Persian poetry.

Emerson also was drawn to Chinese Daoism, which saw nature as a purifying force.

Lasting legacy

Although the transcendentalist’s movement was relatively short lived it did shape the philosophical underpinnings of America, more particularly in relation to the literature and philosophy of Emerson.  Chief amongst modern day adherents was John Dewy. Dewy incorporated democratic ideals into a merged ideal of liberty based on education and shared values that relied on self-reliance but we’re not tied to any strict religious ideologies but rather more inclined to a comprehensive narrative based principally on utilitarianism. The late Richard Rorty as a modern day pragmatic philosopher, who rejected the idea of analytical philosophy did see merit in the idea of intuition and the more comprehensive narrative suggested by Emerson and the transcendentalists to underpin progress.

Hence Emerson and the transcendentalists helped shape American philosophical thought which remains embedded in some aspects of the Democratic Party even today. 

Quotes on life

This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.  

Finish each day and be done with it.

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.

Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, and drink the wild air.

Without ambition one starts nothing. ...

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

Life is a journey, not a destination.


Emerson was a philosopher ahead of his time who posed interesting questions as to what it means to be human. He attempted to marry eastern contemplative philosophy with analytical western style thinking. Whether that works or not makes for an interesting discussion. I think an analysis of his philosophy hopefully sheds some light into the American libertarian way of thinking.