The True Vision of Satoshi Nakamoto

I had planned to write about the philosophy of Satoshi Nakamoto, based upon his writings. Recently, however, I’ve heard about food fights in the Bitcoin Cash camp, centering on “Satoshi’s Vision.” One thing I’m certain about is that Satoshi would not want to be the subject of fights.


I had planned to write about the philosophy of Satoshi Nakamoto, based upon his writings. Recently, however, I’ve heard about food fights in the Bitcoin Cash camp((I think Bitcoin Cash is a fine currency from a technical standpoint, but the behavior of its advocates has soured me on it.)), centering on “Satoshi’s Vision.”

One thing I’m certain about is that Satoshi would not want to be the subject of fights.

Hence today’s article. In it I’m going to explain what Satoshi was really all about, what he/she/they hoped would happen with Bitcoin, and how I think Satoshi would react to the continuing development of cryptocurrencies.

What I’m Basing This Upon

Telling the world what did or would go through someone else’s mind is usually a fool’s errand. That’s why I planned to base my original article on specific writings. Given, however, that people are fighting about “Satoshi’s Vision,” I think the errand is worthwhile, and I hope that Satoshi would agree.

And I have a background for this. I became involved with cryptography and digital currencies in 1995 or so, and I followed those developments closely, not only as an observer but as a participant. I was in the same general crowd as Satoshi, and it wasn’t a terribly large crowd.

And so, let’s get to it. What really was Satoshi trying to accomplish, and what did he (I’ll stick with “he” for convenience) see in the future?

Us and Them

I think a first thing to understand is that Satoshi was clearly a cypherpunk… a cryptoanarchist. In an email of January 16, 2009, he shows his cypherpunk identity:

I think there were a lot more people interested in the 90’s, but after more than a decade of failed Trusted Third Party based systems (Digicash, etc), they see it as a lost cause. I hope they can make the distinction that this is the first time I know of that we’re trying a non-trust-based system.

And in another place, he states, “Then strong encryption became available to the masses.” That’s another cypherpunk/cryptoanarchist theme.

As he began to release Bitcoin, he described it as something he and his friends could use to

“win a major battle in the arms race and gain a new territory of freedom for several years.”((Email of 11-07-2008.))

Notice that he sees Bitcoin as part of an ongoing arms race. And that arms race was, and is, between the advocates of cryptography and the advocates of force. Put simply, they have violent men, guns, and legal orders backed by violence. We have cryptography.

The same passage goes on to state, “Governments are good at cutting off the heads of a centrally controlled network like Napster….”

This was the motivation behind Bitcoin: to create a cryptography-based digital currency, one that had no head for governments to cut off… because weapons can’t cut through crypto.

Satoshi was going through the digital gold currency wars as well (roughly 1999–2009), noting that, “one of the e-gold systems already has a form of spam….”((Email of 01-25-2009.))

Satoshi’s Open-mindedness

Reading Satoshi’s emails and posts (and you can find them all thanks to Daniel Krawisz at, you see a person who is anything but rigid. He has his reasons and expectations, but far more than anything else, he wants this thing to work. He’s happy to consider options, even to change things if they’d work better a different way. And he fully expects the model to change over time. For instance:

When that runs out, the system can support transaction fees if needed.((Email of 01-10-2009.))

Satoshi’s Modest Vision

While Satoshi considered the possibility that Bitcoin would succeed wildly, and to some extent designed for it, he didn’t really expect it. Notice the arms race passage above. Satoshi expected Bitcoin to function for only a certain number of years before the lords of violence found ways to chop it down. And he was deeply concerned that Bitcoin would be attacked before a functional community had been built up:

I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.((Post of 12-05-2010.))

Perhaps Satoshi was being overly cautious, but in those days no one had a clear idea of what Bitcoin was becoming.

Channeling Satoshi

Satoshi didn’t write very much, specifically noting that “I’m better with code than with words,” but he wrote enough for us to get a decent image of his motivations and character. And so, I’ll continue my fool’s errand by telling you a few things that I think Satoshi would say in confidence.

Above all, make cryptocurrencies work. Not just for coders, but for technically ordinary people.

Free markets are useful things, and that includes free markets of strategies.

If we don’t keep adapting, we’ll lose the arms race. Our enemies are not static.

Some adaptions won’t be any good, but it’s better to have a mix of good and bad than none.

We have an unexpected chance for long-term success. Don’t slow down!

Dear Satoshi…

Amigo, I hope you’d approve (at least more or less) with what I’ve written here. But if not, feel free to correct me.

And either way, thank you.

* * * * *

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* * * * *

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6 thoughts on “The True Vision of Satoshi Nakamoto”

  1. Always enjoy your crypto pieces, Paul. Thank you.
    Something I am of-two-minds on and would love your honest opinion… and this has nothing to do with the Core/Cash debate. I am much more interested in the bigger picture. Also, please forgive my very broad use of the word ‘we’:
    In the earlier days of Bitcoin, we thought its use as peer-to-peer cash was the most important use-case… And we envisioned a parallel economy driven by Bitcoin much like you depicted in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men.
    More recently, it has become apparent that Bitcoin as P2P cash is not going to gain mainstream adoption, but there is a wider interest in Bitcoin as a financial asset that could very well lead to mainstream adoption. In this effort to promote wider adoption, we have also compromised on regulatory items (KYC/etc.) that are fundamentally antithetical to the original purpose, and we compromised in an effort to integrate Bitcoin into the legacy financial system.
    As best I can tell, nothing has changed regarding our ability to use Bitcoin as P2P cash in transactions outside of the financial system… so nothing has really been lost there.
    But there is a little bit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to Bitcoin also being integrated into the legacy system to promote wider adoption. Although I think there are probably some positives to this route as well, it certainly diminishes Bitcoin’s revolutionary spirit in my mind. Or perhaps I just need to grow up 🙂
    Do you have any thoughts on this dichotomy?

    1. Hi Joe,
      I think we’re just caught in the slow development of the whole thing. Not long ago Steve Wozniak said that BTC would reach maturity in 10 years, and I think he’s probably right. These things take time, and it can be very frustrating and confusing, watching things develop chaotically, and in ultra slow motion.
      On P2P cash, I think developments are coming. There’s the Lightning network, newer currencies designed to handle tens of thousands of transactions per second, and doubtless many things I haven’t yet seen. And that’s really the hope for the future: Dozens or hundreds of developers finding products and services that are accessible to “the masses.”
      And we may soon have more crypto adopters from “3rd world” places than the “1st world.” Those people – billions of them – have no access to financial services and are cut off from everything beyond their local area. Crypto is a program on their phone that connects them to almost the entire financial world.
      The current moment is when adoption and development are crucial… and in fact are occurring mightily. Some of the projects will fail to reach their goals. Others will be to crypto, what the Mosaic browser was the nascent Internet.
      As for the revolutionary spirit, we should never let that go. Newbies coming from other directions need to see it and absorb it; get-rich-quickers need to run smack into it, and still others need to be reminded. That spirit was and is still the driver of this thing.
      Just remember, please, that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Try to accept (and I know it’s hard) that we sit inside a confused mess of influences and developments. Just keep moving forward and try to inject that revolutionary spirit everywhere you can.
      Always my best,

  2. Paul , Thanks for the up date , as you may remember I am one of those guys not completely sold on Bitcoin , how ever I do see a need for some type of crypto currency. I recently was making an international transaction, and the bank kept screwing it up , I want control of my money. . I am a not a computer expert like you , and people in general don’t like putting their money into things they don’t understand . I do understand economics , so what I would like is for you, or another computer guru like you, to come up with something better than bitcoin, to do that you will need to focus on fixing the weak points of bitcoin and use all the good points . So here in my opinion are things that need improved for you to invent something even better .
    1, Prevent speculation , this is why the price is up and down , people who don’t want to use it as a currency are causing instability which is something you don’t want in a currency .
    2, Currency needs to be backed by something , fiat currency is only backed by hope and belief , not good. Lots of people say Gold , I don’t because there isn’t enough of it they all ready trade more than there is in a day . My choice to back your new currency is Labor , Yes Labor, think about it , most people live on credit now , credit is un-produced labor , you promise labor in the future to buy today (people with jobs) , which brings us to the next issue .
    3 Infinite amount of Currency , bitcoin has a limited amount of coins , more buyers drives price up inflates the price. Backing the currency with Labor , the more work we do the more money is created , without creating inflation .
    Well there is a little food for thought , let me know when I can get my Freemancoins

    1. Hi Al,
      I’ll have to be quick, but I’ll try to address all your main points:
      Speculation: That’s something that we’ll have to put up with until the market is bigger. Remember, this thing start from flat nothing less than ten years ago. We’re going to feel growing pains along the way. That said, I think we’ve seen the worst of it. The next big rise should make the market cap big enough that manipulation gets a lot harder.
      Backing: This one doesn’t need backing. Really. By a lot of theories that’s just wrong (and there’s certainly nothing wrong with honest backing), but Bitcoin is different. It’s a new and different type of currency and operates differently.
      Deflationary: Yes, which makes it a tremendous test case. And there’s reason to wonder whether a general deflation might be a good thing. After all, it magnificently rewards savings. Deflation was fairly common under the gold standard, and it didn’t destroy everything.
      Labor-based currency: Another interesting idea. I think the mechanics might be awfully hard to work out (the labor of the lazy versus the labor of the diligent), but the idea is valid. If someone tries it, I’ll be watching.
      All the best,

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