- How blockchains are related to time travel and our universe
When broken down into it’s simplest forms, the universe is just a vast array of time, space, matter and energy. Viewing it in this light, a lot of similarities between blockchains and the universe become apparent.
The First Law of Thermodynamics and blockchains
Our universe is complex, and there are a million ways to analyze it. But if we want a simple way to deconstruct our universe, all we have to do is sum it up with one sentence —
Matter and energy make up everything that exists.
Humans, planets, and stars are all made of matter and energy, and they are all trying to accumulate more of it. Whether it’s living things obtaining energy through food to survive, or the gravitational field of the sun pulling in more matter, the universe thrives on fighting for energy.
So how does the ethereum blockchain relate to this?
To start, ether is the asset inside the universe of the ethereum blockchain that makes the network have real value. This is similar to how matter and energy give our universe real value and make it exciting to exist in, rather than just being a large vacuum of empty space. All the mining, all the tokens, and all the scams committed are done to obtain more ether. It is essential to the functionality of the blockchain, and everyone wants to obtain more of it.
With this relationship, you can infer that if the blockchain were a universe, ether would be it’s matter and energy. However, it actually gets more interesting when you consider the ways our universe and “the blockchain universe” differ.
There is a law known as the First Law of Thermodynamics that governs the universe we live in. Basically it states that energy and matter is neither created nor destroyed.
The ethereum blockchain does not have a law like this.
Ether exists in a universe where every 17–18 seconds 3 ether appear out of nowhere and are placed into an ethereum account through the process of mining. This is a universal blockchain law of the ethereum blockchain.
This is just one blockchain law. There are plenty of different ways to design a blockchain. They can be designed so that the native token is neither created nor destroyed. This would be identical to the universe we live in. Or a blockchain could burn tokens, which would be similar to destroying matter.
These subtle differences make for vastly different universes. It raises the question, why is our universe a constant matter and energy universe? What other options could we have had, and what would our universe look like if it were so?
Proof of stake and Gravity
Gravity can be envisioned to be similar to the proof of stake model in a blockchain. A proof of stake model’s main reward function is based on how much stake of the native token you have. The larger the stake you have, the more token rewards you will receive. This is how new tokens are created, and it is what ethereum is aiming towards with their casper update, as they migrate away from proof of work.
Proof of stake is similar to how gravity works in our universe. With gravity, the more particles you have close together, the larger the gravitational pull. This will result in more particles of matter being drawn into the gravitational field towards the object.
The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and Ethereum accounts
The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time.
If you have ever heard of term “you can’t unspill spilt milk,” this is essentially what the second law is referring to. Matter and energy are continuously spreading far and wide throughout the universe, which causes the entropy of the universe to continually increase.
How does this relate to milk? Well, when you spill milk, it ends up all over the counter and the floor, and there is no way to get it all back in the glass. This is the idea behind entropy. When it is sitting still in the glass, the entropy of the system is lower, as all the milk is contained in the glass and not moving. Once it is spilt, it is impossible to get it all back in the glass in the same state it was in before the spill. Some of it can get absorbed into the floor, or other particles will be mixed with the milk when you attempt to put it back in, along with thousands of other options.
So with that in mind, lets now think of milk as being the energy and matter that is floating around our universe. Then, once you consider the whole universe as an isolated system, start to picture the matter and energy getting spilt in all different directions as the universe expands. This is continuously happening, and as it is happening our universes entropy is increasing as well.
Now picture the big bang, the moment when all matter was created at the birth of our universe, this was the lowest point of entropy.
Then think of the Ethereum genesis block. At this moment the blockchain had the least amount of accounts. Today there are over 25 million ethereum accounts in existence, and this number is increasing. Seen in this light, you can say that the entropy of the ethereum universe is also always increasing. There is no way to lower the amount of accounts that have ever had ether in them, since every transaction is recorded on the blockchain.
So we can conclude that the entropy of both universes are increasing. In our universe it is by the expansion of the universe and the movement of matter and energy filling up this new space.
In the ethereum universe it is by the expansion of available accounts, and the dispersion of ether throughout them .
This leads to the conclusion that ethereum accounts play the same role as space does in our universe. They store ether inside of them, just like space stores matter and energy. Ether cannot exist without ethereum accounts, just like matter cannot exist without space.
Heat Death of the Universe and Gas Death of a Blockchain
Heat death of the universe is a thought provoking idea which can be hard to understand, which is why we’ll try to explain in as simply as possible here. Basically it is the situation where the universe continues to expand forever, and it will eventually get to a point where everything is so far out and spread apart that nothing really has any energy to move around. At this point the universe has reached maximum entropy.
To paint you a picture, imagine being in a small isolated 10x10 black room and spraying white gas everywhere. The gas will start to spread out and go all over the room. Eventually all the gas will settle and spread. Once it is settled, there is no more movement or change happening, and now it has reached the highest possible entropy. If nothing else interferes, this is how the room will stay forever.
We know with ethereum that the number of accounts will continue to increase. Therefore it is conceivable that eventually, the amount of ethereum accounts that store ether could be so high that not a single one has enough to do a transaction. The blockchain would then be stuck in a gas death of the blockchain universe scenario.
It is unlikely that heat death and gas death are going to occur anytime soon. But it is interesting to investigate complex systems at their extremes. Looking at complex systems at their largest scale can reveal new ideas that were not apparent when just looking at the small details.
Blocks and Time
Time only goes in one direction — forward. Matter and energy can go back and forth with positive and negative values in different directions. Everything that exists in our universe must obey these rules.
Time moving forward keeps our world stable and in order, along with other universal constants and laws that are at play. These are essential requirements, and it is hard to realize from the point of view if our tiny human existence that if any one of the universal constants changed, the world we live in would be completely destroyed.
For example, what would happen if all of a sudden gravity increased by 50 percent? Chaos would ensue. Not only would it be much harder for all of us to walk, but our whole solar system would become unbalanced and the earth would probably shoot off into space somewhere and cease to be a life harbouring planet.
That would really suck!
Luckily, time is the glue that keeps the universe moving forward, and we have no reason to think this will change anytime soon.
How does this all relate to blockchains?
Well, Ethereum uses blocks to keep time moving forward, and to account for every single ether in every single account.
Ethereum’s blockchain creates a new block every 17 seconds or so. These blocks update every ether transaction between every ethereum account, and ensures that no ether is double spent. The time factor here is very important, and with a blockchain there should be no way to reverse time. Because if you can reverse transactions, the whole security of the system is jeopardized.
There is however, a very well known, but hard to pull off vulnerability in blockchains, the 51% attack. Simply put, this is when more than 50% of the nodes mining the blockchain decide to act against the normal consensus rules of the blockchain, and act in their own interest to falsify transactions that did not happen.
It is scary to think this is a real possibility, but the beauty of this vulnerability is that if it were ever to happen, the network under attack inherently loses all of its reliability and usage, which would then crash the price of the coin native to the blockchain. It it a genius idea developed by Satoshi , as it makes it very hard for an attacker to seriously consider attacking a network. Even so, a 51% attack must be avoided at all costs, as it breaks down the universal blockchain laws.
Time Travel and 51% attacks
Time travel is a mystery of the universe. We haven’t even come close to achieving it, but we have theorized its possibility.
The negative impacts of time travel are often overlooked. If it were ever to happen it would wreak complete havoc on our universe. If we could mess around and go back and forth through time, our universal laws would begin to break down, similar to how the occurrence of a 51% attack on a blockchain allows for the breaking down of the security and usefulness of the blockchain itself.
If someone invented a time machine and they brought it with them back in time, they would change the complete course of history just by bringing the time machine into the past.
If this happened, you could imagine a situation where the time machine would spread like a virus into every single moment of time as more and more people begin to time travel. Then every person who ever existed would live in a universe with time machines, which means we would have time machines today.
What time travel can do is a scary thought, but luckily anyone trying to actually achieve time travel is wasting their time (no pun intended). The second they get the power and resources to travel back in time, they’ve ruined the security of the universe because we can no longer rely on our universal laws. They would be stuck in the same situation that Satoshi created for a 51% attack on the bitcoin network!
The Big Bang and a Blockchain Genesis File
The Big Bang Theory is not an event that happened at one point in space, which is a common misconception. The big bang theory is the event that creates space time itself. Before the bang, nothing. After the bang, everything.
Now let’s think about the genesis file of the ethereum blockchain. Before the genesis block is mined, the ethereum blockchain universe does not exist. After it is mined, in an instant it exists with millions of ether distributed into the presale accounts, and it is the beginning point of time for the blockchain. The 1st block mined is the big bang of the blockchain.
And it gets interesting here. Of course we know what came before the existence of blockchains like ethereum and bitcoin. A group of humans planning it, testing it, and launching it on a decentralized network, while continuing to nurture it’s growth when it becomes a live network. They picked every variable and algorithm to build these blockchains for a specific purpose, to serve humans with a decentralized trustless distributed ledger.
By now you’re wondering, “Well if some human engineers created the genesis file for the ethereum blockchain, who created the genesis file for the universe and The Big Bang? And why would they have any desire to create our universe?”
No one knows. But we know that we built a blockchain like ethereum to give humans the ability to transact with each other in a trustless network. It was built to serve ourselves.
So maybe our universe was built to serve a purpose of whoever/whatever conceived of it. There could be an evil genius who created our universe just to extract energy from it. Rick and Morty already came up with this hypothesis, where he built a whole universe inside of a battery just to power his spaceship.
Hopefully, the purpose of universe is more meaningful. Just for pride.
Blockchain forks and parallel universes
The idea of parallel universes is a complex theory we are uncertain of, but we’re going to dive into it here anyways, and try to explain it as simply as possible once again.
There is one interpretation of a parallel universe, where the parallel universe is the exact same universe we live in, except it has different physical constants.
In a lot of ways this is similar to a blockchain fork. If we consider ethereum and ethereum classic, they were once the same blockchain. Then when the fork happened, they split off into two separate blockchain universes.
At this point there is no way for the the ethereum blockchain to be aware of the existence of the ether classic blockchain. They have the exact same past history up until the fork at block 1,920,000, and then they diverge. With physical constants being changed in software updates they end up having different universal laws and different account balances. They become parallel blockchains, unaware of each other’s existence, and sharing a common starting point.
It makes you wonder, has our universe ever been forked?
I hope this thought experiment makes you think deeper about our universe and blockchains. We created these blockchain universes that operate on their own without interaction from us, while they follow the consensus rules and laws to benefit us.
Both physicists and blockchain engineers can learn by studying each other’s fields, as the comparisons are spooky similar when you look at them through the lens of a universe. One deals with the universe at a massive scale that we live in and don’t understand, the other deals with a small simulated blockchain universe that was created by humans, where we can comprehend it’s inception and purpose.
Please ask any questions or expand on the these topics with your own ideas in the comments, I would love to hear your thoughts! And I’d love even more to hear some counter arguments, as I don’t believe all of these analogies are perfect! You can reach out on twitter as well @davekajpust.
- Date of publication:
- Tue, 02/13/2018 - 15:39
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