Philosopher's Salon at #CryptoLife



So, we had a Philosopher’s Salon for the books at #CryptoLife in Prague. The event took the format of a 2+ hour long semi-structured discussion, with Gabrielle, Chelsea and Emily kicking us off with some thoughts and a rap about Foucault. Yes, that actually happened and it was completely, mind-bogglingly amazing.

The “point” of the discussion was to come out with a good question about which we can all write over the next four months, and then to repeat this every four months to encourage as many people as we can to think and engage deeply with what we’re really trying to achieve as an ecosystem.

There were a number of questions that kept coming up, and I thought this thread would be one place where we could detail and explore some of them a bit more if you’re still looking for some inspiration before breaking out the fountain pen…

Basically, for me, the question that sums up as many as I can of the major themes is:

“What do we humans need to be in consensus about?” as this touches on:

  1. Which “we” are we really talking about?
  2. How do we think about the human impact of engineering decisions. Is designing for the human/with the human at the centre what we should be doing? If so, how?
  3. What does “consensus” really signify, and can we be more precise and exacting with our language such that we can communicate with more people what is really novel and exciting about the work we get to do together? It also implies answering what we can do without “permission”, what the scope of our autonomy really is when balanced against responsibility and the need for certain kinds of agreement in order for any system to function.

This question of signification also extends to what we really mean by words like “trust” and “trustlessness”, or “immutability” - or the fact that some people put nouns like “immutability” in quotation marks - who gets to decide what is abstract and what is just assumed as a given in leaderless communities?

Thank you again for coming, for sharing, and for listening with such attention to each other! Here is a playful celebration which has nothing to do with any of the questions above, seeing as we ultimately decided that reaching consensus about a question that brings consensus into question was lame, so just write what you like and we will give the Philosopher’s Stone kudos trophy away to the piece that generates the most further conversation as agreed upon by the community of philosophers we are all learning to be!


Reflecting on the Philosopher’s Salon and the questions which continue to live within us from Prague, my deepest hope is that everyone who feels called by even one, tiny philosophical bone in their body can be inspired to write with us. Beyond growth from just a single cell, hopefully we can help “rhizomatically” spread even more seeds elsewhere for these kinds of dialogue or considerations spurred by Ethereum and our emergent crypto technology.

For those whose physical presence last week allowed them to experience Prague:

Go back to your body, being there — and think about how it felt, what kinds of thoughts or questions came to it, and why they might be important to explore.

So I went back to my body in that room,
how it felt, when unmoved
how it moved, and still felt
without sole soliloquy
but for an orientation
For some sort of beckoning toward a something.

I want to further explain a few “why’s” for some of the choices made in leading the salon discussion in the way we did.

  • Honesty. If I could not have come out and say what was truly on my mind and part of my being when we were organizing the salon, then I would have felt as if I were wearing a mask. This discussion, and others like it both prior and to be had in the future, needed this tone of honesty — as a baseline. The only way to really try to do that is to go beyond some of the masks which do not truly serve us. Privacy as a default right is something that most definitely serves us, especially within the contemporary world; however, beyond the default, we will never be open to fully seeing and meeting an Other, or the gift-of-the-other, without radical self-honesty, inculcated by the warmth of that empowerment.

  • Narration. It was also important to incorporate ethics-as-an-ethos, so we were keen on drawing inspiration from something called narrative ethics, which is an approach to doing ethics through focus on stories and things like how they are expressed, to help define and “structure” our moral universe. This was underpinned, and combined, with another deeper focus on embodiment, and on what is commonly referred to as the “philosophy of the body” in ethics and aesthetics.

  • Listening. The receptivity, and felt-levels of reciprocal listening, that went on during the salon were, quite honestly, nothing short of astounding. As someone who has experienced countless similar situations, whether through Cafe Philosophique or academic philosophy seminars or even informal gatherings, I could confidently say this is not the rule. I’ve said this outright, both publicly and with individuals when we discussed some feedback from the event. It takes a lot of passion, for sure, but also even more awareness to have that be the case in a room of ~40 people. In kicking off the way we did, by intentionally highlighting this need to focus our attention on not speaking over one another, or repeatedly (gratuitously) interrupting others, and minding our own monologues and voice time, cultivating enough self-awareness to stop ourselves from dominating a conversation, and remembering to try opening up to a discussion question, and not just comment — we hope to have set a greater tone to engage in more of these kinds of discussions in the future.

Why is this relevant? Status loves to celebrate communication, and community dialogue throughout both the Ethereum ecosystem and the wider cryptosphere inherits frames of public discourse in desperate need of both healing and building.

One caveat, nonetheless:

  • We could improve the philosophical (read: ontological) quality of discussions.
    The Salon was an immensely gratifying exercise to test the waters a bit and gauge interest within the community for deeper kinds of considerations beyond hacking technology. That said, I as well as others felt that much of the discussion did often turn a-philosophical, and at times tended to focus again more on the technology, or its possibilities, or “X because something Y is a given”, when in doing philosophy we all know that such a “given” is often the very thing we might question. Such is, albeit, typical of science itself and engineering practice; however, remember it’s equally worthwhile to contemplate grander, thornier, fuzzier, less clear-cut realms of life as human, living-beings in the world.
    Don’t be afraid to delve down this rabbit hole, too.

@cryptowanderer 's summary and recap of the questions is spot-on. What is more crucial that we really need consensus on? What is less crucial that we do not necessarily need consensus on? Or rather: What is more crucial for consensus? What is less crucial for consensus?

Ultimately, this very sentiment echoed in closing the salon when, in true “meta” style with a decentralizing spirit, our agreement was that the philosophical question which we could all explore in writing in the next few months, itself, did not need to be in consensus. For those who like real meta paradoxical fun – yes, one could say there was consensus that the question of whether something begs consensus or not implied directly that no consensus on any single question was necessary. :smiley: