There was some disagreement about the use of metaphors among the OG philosophers of the 17th century. British thinkers such as Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes or John Locke hated them. They deemed metaphors too artificial and misleading because they wanted to be as precise as possible. Of course, we live in the 21st century now – and we have Bitcoin. Metaphors and analogies are in fact helpful because they allow us to explain a new topic in familiar terms. Something new becomes something known. So, without further ado, here are the ten best Bitcoin metaphors and analogies from the master thinkers in the space – ranked from #10 to #1.
#10: Bitcoin is oil (source: unknown)
This Bitcoin metaphor has been making its rounds in the Bitcoin community for years. The funny thing is that everyone uses it differently. That’s what’s so great about metaphors: they have multiple layers. So, according to one logic, like Bitcoin, oil is something that seeps into everything. This means that it’s unstoppable because sooner or later it will penetrate every corner of the world – including the financial system and the world’s most powerful organizations. What a great thought. But there’s more to it. Oil is the raw material for chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers and, of course, plastics. That means it’s a super-commodity and everything is built on it, like derivatives. It’s also the fuel of our world – what an amazing metaphor.
#9: Wire Clippers (Timothy C. May)
Of course, this one is not a true Bitcoin metaphor, but such a prophetic quote from an Orwellian year deserves a spot in this list. The “wire clipper” metaphor is from Timothy C. May’s Crypto Anarchist Manifesto from 1988. In this short essay, the pioneering computer scientist outlines the power and relevance of cryptography in the Information Age. He predicts the success of technologies like Bitcoin and also governments’ reaction to them: “The State will, of course, try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, the use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration.” In the closing lines, he drops his incredible metaphor: “And just as a seemingly minor invention like barbed wire made possible the fencing-off of vast ranches and farms, thus altering forever the concepts of land and property rights in the frontier West, so too will the seemingly minor discovery out of an arcane branch of mathematics come to be the wire clippers which dismantle the barbed wire around intellectual property.”
#8: Bitcoin is like the Mona Lisa (Max Keiser)
This is one of the most playful yet fitting comparisons, and it can only have sprung from the mind of Max Keiser – dropped on the Citizen Bitcoin podcast. “Bitcoin is the Mona Lisa” is like a sub-metaphor connected to the Bitcoin Renaissance theme and, of course, a direct reference to the masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci. Similar to Bitcoin, there’s a mystery around the Mona Lisa. The painting shows a woman looking at you, yet you don’t know who she really is. Her look is enchanting, as Max points out in the Citizen Bitcoin podcast: “She’s staring right at you and seems to represent an intelligence, some alien intelligence. This is Bitcoin, it’s looking at you. It has its own intelligence.” But the mysterious stare which follows you wherever you are has a self-awareness to it, which Max ties to Bitcoin’s Difficulty Adjustment. Since Bitcoin adjusts the difficulty of mining new blocks every two weeks based on the constant awareness of what’s going on in the network, it has an element of self-awareness, too. Since this feature is based on how much energy miners put into the network, it ties into the game theory: “This technology has a good idea of how to hack our human species in a way that keeps us mining and not give up. It touches your greed a little bit.” What a stunning Bitcoin analogy.
#7: Bitcoin is a Sewer Rat (Andreas Antonopoulos)
This list wouldn’t be complete without the great Andreas Antonopoulos, and this is one of many people’s all-time favorites: Bubble boy and sewer rat from a speech at the Draper University in San Mateo in 2015. The whole thing is about the difference between intranets and open networks and how intranets are thought to be secure while, in fact, they are these extremely insecure places “where you’re running things like Outlook and old versions of Apache that haven’t been patched”. The open internet, in comparison, forces things to be more robust and to respond to vulnerability. Andreas explains that intranets create a “Bubble Boy”, which refers to the movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” – the boy in the bubble, of course, has no immune system. In comparison, Bitcoin is a sewer rat: “It’s probably got a couple of strains of bubonic plague on it which it treats like a common cold.”
#6: The Bitcoin Renaissance (Max Keiser & Stacy Herbert, Brady Swenson)
This theme is incredibly powerful and encouraging. It wasn‘t possible to verify the exact origins but Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert are using it for the Orange Pill Podcast and its part of Brady Swenson’s introduction to Citizen Bitcoin. The Italian Renaissance was arguably Europe’s richest cultural period of all time and humanity was flourishing on many levels – arts, architecture, crafts and wealth. Florence was the epicenter and an endless source of masterpieces and creative geniuses. Dante, Michelangelo, Boccaccio and, of course, Da Vinci keep us in awe to this day. History gives us multiple reasons why it happened where it happened. One of them is sound money based on the gold florin coin. This was the best money for centuries and it even rose in value compared to other debased coins. This allowed citizens to set the time preference low and think in multi-generational terms. The florin was the first gold coin minted in the Occident in the 13th century. It was struck out of pure gold throughout its existence down to the 16th century. It was sound money, just like Bitcoin is. And, as we can see, Bitcoiners too set their time preference low – and “stack Sats” for big dreams instead of indulging in consumption.
#5: Bitcoin is a Swarm of Cyberhornets (Michael Saylor)
One of the many incredible tweets from Michael Saylor has become an instant classic: “Bitcoin is a swarm of cyber hornets serving the goddess of wisdom, feeding on the fire of truth, exponentially growing ever smarter, faster, and stronger behind a wall of encrypted energy.” This surely takes the breath of every true Bitcoiner. As always with Michael Saylor, this has multiple layers of meaning – too many to unravel here. Most importantly, the cyber hornet metaphor points out how Bitcoin has an army of defenders running the network and defending it from attacks. Unlike the fiat system, it’s not backed by a government and its military force, but rather by an innumerable number of diehard believers – or hodlers. They keep the network and their nodes running and would rather vanish from the earth than sell their Bitcoin. This beautiful metaphor also works visually – you can almost hear the sound of the hornets in a similarly high-pitch sound that resembles mining hardware.
#4: The Bitcoin Reformation (Tuur Demeester)
Even the earliest cryptographers have turned to the late middle ages to find analogies for the technical advancements they saw approaching – Timothy C. May compares them to the printing press. Tuur Demeester takes it one step further and compares the concept and impact of Bitcoin to that of the reformation – to arrive at the Bitcoin Reformation. In this brilliant and well researched piece, Tuur Demeester argues that Bitcoin, encryption or the internet are not just trends. They herald a wave of change that exhibits similar dynamics to those of the 16th-17th century revolution that took place in Europe. There are many layers to this analogy. There is nothing but parallels between Martin Luther and his rage against the priests enriching themselves and Satoshi Nakamoto referencing the bailouts for banks. Similar to banks today, the Catholic church was a gatekeeper. It controlled the keys to heaven via the forgiveness of sins, a ritual usually conducted by priests. Similarly, the fiat-settled banking system has a gatekeeper function that allows it to control the keys to wealth and pensions of the world’s citizenry. Just like the Reformation freed religion and empowered the individual, Bitcoin has the potential to abolish hierarchical power structures in the classic fiat system. The fantastic similarities that Demeester outlines are all too obvious. It’s also not surprising that the date Satoshi Nakamoto chose for the publication of his White Paper is a nod to this – October 31st, Reformation Day.
#3: Satoshi is God (Max Keiser)
Who other than the great Max Keiser could come up with such a deep metaphor? Again on Citizen Bitcoin. Of course, he also comes up with a great story that explains God’s logic behind – potentially – creating Bitcoin: As the creator of the multiverse, God wouldn’t like what’s happening on planet earth, one of his favorite creations. It looks like it’s being destroyed by ecological catastrophes, wars and, of course, too much fiat money. However, since God would have a hard time traveling to earth and appearing on CNN, as this would shock humans, he has to find a way through the back door and worm himself into the human conscious and subconscious minds. So, God asks himself: “What’s the one fallibility humans have? Which of the seven sins’ back door could I sneak in through?” Max argues that the answer would be ‘greed’. “So that’s potentially who’s playing us. Satoshi could be God, who’s hacking his way into our species to lure us through our greed to the hardest money ever created in the universe.”
#2: Bitcoin and the Number Zero (Robert Breedlove)
This is one of the most fascinating reads in the Bitcoin space: Bitcoin and the Number Zero. It’s not one of the easy ones but very gratifying. In his article, Robert Breedlove shows that the concept of the number zero and Bitcoin have much in common. Each is an invention that led to a discovery that fundamentally reshaped its overarching system. For Bitcoin, that system is money. It was reinvented with the concept of digital scarcity. For zero, it was mathematics. Both were unstoppable ideas that were met with strong ideological resistance in the beginning. However, as we know, no force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.
When the number zero was introduced, it was a revolutionary concept. Although the idea of “nothing” wasn’t new, of course, it had no numerical representation. An Indian mathematician changed this around the 7th century, thus allowing the indication of orders of magnitude and a more efficient performance of arithmetic calculations. Much like what happened with Bitcoin after the publication of the White Paper, the concept of zero eventually spread – it was passed through trade networks eastward into China and westward into Islamic and Arabic cultures. It was this western advance of zero which ultimately led to the inception of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system. After many adventures and much opposition, the symbol we use today was eventually accepted. The concept of zero flourished and it has since played a vital role in mathematizing the world – just like Bitcoin’s impact will be felt for generations to come.
#1: Bitcoin is a Fire in Cyberspace (Michael Saylor)
Ever since Microstrategy CEO Michael Saylor publicly appeared on the Bitcoin scene, he burst out some of the most incredible tweets. Some of them are mind-bending and this one is arguably at the top: the fire in cyberspace. In this metaphor, Bitcoin is the promethean gift that changes the course of human history. According to Greek mythology, the god Zeus hid fire from humans, but Prometheus had an affinity for his earthly creations, whom he had made of clay. Prometheus, who was known for his intelligence, decided to give fire back to humans, and the gift of fire was the starting point for human arts, culture and civilization. This is just what Bitcoin does by providing sound money and the ability to save. It allows us to lower our time preference and focus on higher goals.
From a historical perspective, the importance of mastering fire cannot be overestimated. Fire as a starting point for culture and civilization is by no means an exaggeration. The ability to have and control fire was a huge step in the course of our civilization. It enabled us to heat food and digest it better, as well as to eat animals and increase the overall diversity of food sources. It also meant protection from wild animals or the ability to clear huge fields from plants without much human labor. Later on, it even unlocked the secrets to metal, which in turn brought forth tools and machines. It additionally meant burning fuels and powering engines.
If you think about the way fire works and is kept alive, there’s even another layer of meaning to it: It demonstrates the power of network effects. Imagine a fire in the wild that attracts people for its warmth and light. Smart humans will feed the fire with wood and see how it grows even more powerful. It becomes brighter, warmer and stronger – and even more attractive. The bigger the fire, the more it consumes and gives back. This is why smart people who understand the benefits of fire constantly feed it, similar to Bitcoiners who contribute to the network. Just like wildfire, Bitcoin has spread and grown to a pretty much unstoppable size, and it will only get bigger.