The quest to understand our origins is an innate part of our psyche as humans. You can see evidence of this stretching as far back as we kept records as our ancestors grappled with the idea of where they originated from, whether it was a (relatively) simple question of lineage or the larger question of where we, and all that we know of, came from. Modern science has made incredible leaps in this area, expanding our understanding to show that we live in a universe that is old beyond any of our wildest guesses and is home to more wonders than any could have dreamed of. Still the ultimate question, of where everything began, still puzzles us although as of today we’ve begun to lay down the first few pieces in this puzzle and they’re magnificent.
You’re likely familiar with the concept of the Big Bang, the theorized event that gave birth to our universe and marked the beginning of time. However the specifics of what happened during that time are the subject of intense debate among the scientific community and there are many theories that model what may have happened. One of the most popular theories is that during the Big Bang the universe underwent a period of massive inflation in the tiny fractions of a second after it began, expanding faster than the speed of light. There was a lot of indirect evidence to support this (like the fact that our universe is still expanding) but direct proof of this occurring had been elusive.
That was until the telescope picture above, called BICEP-2, caught a picture of something that could only exist if that theory was correct.
Our universe still has remnants of the Big Bang hanging around in something called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). It’s a kind of radiation that’s pretty much uniform not matter which direction you look into, something which is pretty peculiar when you consider just how wide and varied everything else we can observe is. BICEP-2 was searching for something in particular though, a pattern in this radiation that could only have happened should the early universe undergone a period of rapid inflation. The technical term for this is primordial B-mode polarization and was widely believed to have a value of below 0.11 based on previous maps of the CMB. BICEP-2 on the other hand has come in at a 5 sigma confidence level (1 in 3.5 million chance of being random, the gold standard for confirmation in this field of physics) as 0.2, excluding many models and theories that were based on that assumption. It opens up a whole new world of physics and is the first direct proof of the inflationary model.
To understand just how huge of an impact this is going to have on the world of physics you just have to see the reaction of Andrei Linde, one of the first to propose such a model, and his wife Renata Kallosh (also a well renowned theoretical physicist) reacting to the news:
It’s one thing to find proof of something and it’s another thing entirely to show something can not be. This discovery is powerful not because it shows us that a certain model is correct more it has shown us that the widely held belief was in fact wrong and we need to start heading in another direction. Confirmation of this shouldn’t be far off (indeed the team behind the discovery held onto the results for a year to make sure) and with that we’ll enter into a new world scientific debate, one that was so much more informed than before.
Cryptocurrencies and I have a sordid history. It began with me comparing BitCoin to a pyramid scheme, pointing out the issues that were obvious to many casual observers and receiving some good feedback in the process. Over time I became more comfortable with the idea, although still lamenting the volatility and obvious market speculation, and would go as far to say I was an advocate for it, wanting it to succeed in its endeavours. Then I met the community, filled with outright hostile individuals who couldn’t tolerate any criticism and acted like they were the victim of the oppressive government regime. I decided then that I wouldn’t bother blogging about BitCoin as much as I had done previously as I was just sick of the community that had grown around it.
Then came Dogecoin.
Dogecoin, for the uninitiated, is a scrypt based cryptocurrency (meaning that it’s a memory-hard based currency, so the ASICs and other mining hardware that BitCoiners have invested in is useless for mining it) which bears the mark of the Internet meme Doge. The community that sprung up around it is the antithesis of what the BitCoin community has become, with every toxic behaviour lampooned and everyone encouraged to have fun with the idea. Indeed getting into Dogecoin is incredibly simple with tons of guides and dozens of users ready and willing to help you out should you need it. Even if you don’t have the hardware to mine at a decent rate you can still find yourself in possession of hundreds, if not thousands, of Dogecoins in a matter of minutes from any number of the facet services. This has led to a community of people who aren’t the technically elite or those looking to profit, something which I believe led to the other cryptocurrency communities to become so toxic.
I myself hold about 20,000 Doge after spending about a week’s worth of nights mining on my now 3 year old system. Whilst I haven’t done much more than that it was far, far more than I had ever thought about doing with any other cryptocurrency. My friends are also much more willing to talk to me about Dogecoin than Bitcoin with a few even going as far to mine a few to fool around with on Reddit. Whether they will ever be worth anything doesn’t really factor into the equation but even with their fraction of a penny value at the moment there’s still been some incredible stories of people making things happen using them.
For most of its life though the structural issues that plagued BitCoin where also inherent in Dogecoin, albeit in a much less severe manner. The initial disparity between early adopters and the unwashed masses is quite a lot smaller due to Dogecoins initial virility but there was still a supposed limit of 100 billion coins which still made it deflationary. However the limit wasn’t actually enforced and thus, in its initial incarnation, Dogecoin was inflationary and a debate erupted as to what was going to be done. Today Dogecoin’s creator made a decision and he elected to keep it that way.
One of my biggest arguments against BitCoin was its deflationary nature, not because it’s not inflationary or whatever argument people think I have against it, more that the deflationary nature of BitCoin encouraged speculation and hoarding rather than spending. Whilst the inflation at this point is probably a little too high (I.E. the price instability is mostly due to new coin creation than much else) it does prevent people attempting to use Dogecoin as a speculative investment vehicle. Indeed the reaction from a lot of those who don’t “get” Dogecoin have been lamenting this change but in all honesty this is the best decision that could be made and shows the Dogecoin creators understand the larger (non-technical) issues that plague BitCoin.
Will this mean that Dogecoin will become the cryptocurrency of choice? Likely not as with most of these nascent technologies they’ll likely be superseded by something better that addresses all the issues whilst bringing new features that the old systems simply cannot support. Still the fact that there has been an explosion in altcoins shows that there’s a market out there for cryptocurrencies with feature sets outside of what BitCoin provides. Whether they win out all depends on where the market wants to head.