Biologists have known for a while that DNA plays a critical role in determining how an organism develops. Many have called it the blueprint of life. While this analogy does partially reveal the role DNA plays, a “blueprint” implies a plan generated from an outside source. Recent research has suggested that DNA works more by facilitating patterns of chemical relationships that play out over time, and in the process create the organism as a whole.
This distinction may sound small, but think about a blueprint. Everything is planned out ahead of time by the architect, leaving no room for spontaneous creativity on the part of the building itself. Hence, the building is not alive. If there is one thing we know unequivocally about life, it is that it is fundamentally creative. While DNA can set up patterns of interaction, it cannot dictate with any certainly how an organism will react to unpredicted environmental stimuli. Organisms face unique and unpredictable challenges all the time, and as such must constantly evolve both their genomes and the neural connectivity in their brains.
So what does all this have to do with currency? Groups of humans that have a shared purpose can be thought of as a social organism. Genomes, brains, and immune systems are all examples of adaptive networks within a single organism. And, memes serve a similar function in social organisms, since languages allow the formation of adaptive social networks. Ant colonies, bee-hives, and dog packs are all examples of social organisms in the animal world using rudimentary memes to enable group communication. Single organisms become part of social organisms through various forms of coordination. To explore all the ways this can happen here would be unnecessary since there have been countless excellent books and blog posts written on the subject. However, for the purposes of this blog post, it is interesting to note that one of the most influential forms of social coordination in our society is currency.
We know with certainty that different types of currency create different tendencies in the types of collective behavior human social organisms exhibit. A currency design cannot predict this collective behavior in the sense of a blueprint, but rather it sets up a series of possible discrete interactions that, when taken as a whole, manifest as a collective behavior. Nothing can predict with accuracy how a social organism will react to a new set of circumstances. However, once it experiences a certain threshold of stress, it usually evolves new social contracts and currencies that fit the new circumstances. In this light, currency can be thought of as a one form of social DNA.
Sexual reproduction gave eukaryotic cells the ability to have much a greater range of creativity than their prokaryotic forbearers. Creativity and novelty were introduced into the DNA in each generation, and successful adaptations were passed on to subsequent offspring. Our current social organism has many fudmental flaws that can be traced to the fact that our current monetary system is stuck. It keeps reproducing the same dysfunctional behavior in the social organism, and it badly needs to adapt. But it doesn’t just need to adapt into a newer version of the same fundamental process. It needs to adapt the way it adapts. Open source currencies will do for social DNA what sexual reproduction did for biological DNA. They will radically increase the ability of the social organism to adapt to new and changing circumstances. What’s more, we will almost certainly need this capacity to deal with the challenges the 21st century has in store. Please visit The MetaCurrency Project to see how we might actually make this happen.