There were many funny things about Leah Goodman’s claim in Newsweek that a California engineer invented bitcoin. One was her observation that he put two spaces after a period — just like the inventor of bitcoin. Another was her observation that his relatives said he was “brilliant”, without giving any examples. His brilliance had remained perfectly hidden – until now. A third was her conclusion that he was obsessed with secrecy and distrusted government – just like the inventor of bitcoin (according to her). Felix Salmon was quite wrong when he said there are some very strange coincidences and the pieces of her argument “fit elegantly together”. Actually, her argument is worthless from top to bottom. Salmon was right, however, when he said that the engineer’s English shows he couldn’t possibly have invented bitcoin. As Salmon says, Goodman ignored this itty-bitty problem.
Who is the inventor of bitcoin? I’m sure it’s Nick Szabo, a former law professor at George Washington University. This idea first surfaced a few months ago in an anonymous blog post based on textual analysis. Szabo used certain phrases in the original bitcoin description far more than a bunch of other possible candidates. That is real evidence. The hypothesis that Szabo is the inventor passes several other tests as well:
1. Right time zone. The original bitcoin postings appeared to come from the Eastern (United States) time zone. Szabo lives near Washington, D. C.
2. Prior to bitcoin, he had similar ideas. As far as I can tell, his previous ideas were the closest of anyone’s.
3. Yet the original bitcoin proposal didn’t reference his work. The usual reason for not mentioning a predecessor’s work is that you want more credit. Yet the creator of bitcoin didn’t want credit. Failure to mention Szabo’s work is so strange it may have been Szabo’s way of telling insiders he’s the inventor. In other words, this fact makes sense if Szabo is the inventor. It remains unexplained if anyone else is.
4. Szabo failed to get excited when bitcoin emerged. It was based on his work (more or less). Like everyone, including me, Szabo had been told countless times that his ideas were worthless, crazy, stupid and so on. (“Money just doesn’t work like that, I was told fervently and often.”) Because of that treatment, I greatly enjoy pointing out confirmation of my ideas. It’s such a fundamental pleasure there’s a word for it: glee. If he wasn’t the inventor of bitcoin, Szabo should have gleefully followed its progress, pointing out over and over how this showed his original ideas were right. He didn’t do this. Again, this makes sense if he was the inventor — he didn’t want to draw attention to how close bitcoin is to his published ideas. It remains unexplained if anyone else is.
5. The clincher, for me, is that he wrote an article about the emergence of money that is compatible with my theory of human evolution. His article says money emerged from collectibles. Collectibles are an important part of my theory. I say they emerged because they helped skilled artisans, who were innovators, make a living. For most people, collectibles are trivial, whereas I’ve written often about the Willat Effect, which I believe is the psychological rule that created them. It isn’t easy to be consistent with my theory. I’ve read dozens of theories about human evolution. Whenever they explain the same things as mine (e.g., evolution of language), they have been inconsistent with my theory. Two examples are Jared Diamond’s ideas and Daniel Dennett’s ideas. Szabo’s essay is the only the second example I have seen of ideas that fit mine. The aquatic ape theory, which is about what happened before the events of my theory, also fits; Szabo’s ideas are about what happened after the events of my theory. Szabo’s ideas about the emergence of money are very non-obvious (especially because you have to realize the centrality of collectibles) and are compatible with a theory he cannot have heard of. I doubt anyone agrees with me that compatibility with my theory is a great plus but it is obvious that if you understand how money began, you are in a much better position to invent a new form of money than if you don’t. The difficulty of mining bitcoins corresponds to the difficulty of making collectibles. You could randomly pick anyone, including cryptographic experts, and the probability would be extremely low they have a good theory of how money began. Yet Szabo does.
I ignore the coincidence of initials: NS and SN (or NS).
Szabo’s achievement is good news for me because we have a similarity. He was a law professor. They are not supposed to invent new and useful things. No law professor before Szabo invented anything remotely as new and potentially important as bitcoin. I am a psychology professor. They are not supposed to make useful discoveries about health. I have made discoveries/inventions about health that are certainly new and might some day be important, such as the Shangri-La Diet and the underlying theory, the effect of morning faces on mood and daily brain testing.