Making Sense of Novelty: Blockchain Meets Art

n the 18th century, scientists made a discovery that would have a far-reaching impact on the future of science and technology. They discovered that light behaves like a wave. Yet when they tried to describe the wave-like nature of light, they found themselves trapped in language. In their existing vocabulary, a wave was by definition something that moves in a medium - like water waves in water or sound waves in air. They thus assumed that light waves too had to be embedded in some sort of invisible and imperceptible stuff. They called the light-carrying medium the "luminiferous ether".

However, attempts to detect the ether failed and some of the most brilliant minds of the time were left puzzled. “How can light behave like a wave if there is no medium?”, they asked themselves and continued to search for the ether. Their search remained unsuccessful. Today, we know that there is no ether and that light waves do not travel in a medium. Interestingly enough, this insight was not achieved by an experimental breakthrough, but by a change in the language of physics. In the 19th century, the notion of an “electromagnetic wave” was added to the physical vocabulary referring to a type of wave that does not require a supporting medium. Only when science changed the way it conceptualized waves, true progress became possible.

We are in a similar situation today with respect to blockchain technology. We have developed a new technology that allows us to tokenize, store and transmit any sort of value in a fast, safe and decentralized manner. When we ask ourselves how this could be useful in practice, we tend to describe the new technology with familiar concepts and current language. Hence, we say that the blockchain might be something like a “currency”. Yet at the same time we realize that blockchain currencies are in many respects very different from classical currencies, not least because the latter always require some sort of centralized issuer. Much like electromagnetic waves are on the one hand similar to traditional waves, they are also significantly different.

A similar thing can be said about the way in which we think about the economy. It is becoming increasingly clear that free market capitalism–for all its benefits–also creates a plethora of serious problems. Not least because free market systems seem to facilitate something that sociologists have called the Mathew effect: The rich tend to become richer while the poor get poorer. This leads to increasing wealth inequalities and unequal economic opportunities for individuals. Another wicked problem of free market economics is the virtually uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources with all its negative ecological effects from climate change to ocean pollution and species extinction. Yet when we think about the possible solutions to these and other problems, we seem very much trapped in existing concepts. It is well possible that in order to achieve progress we might have to fundamentally change the way in which we think and speak about production and consumption or about trading and investing, much like the physicists of the nineteenth century had to change the way they thought about waves in order to overcome their scientific puzzles.

Fyooz is a project that aims to induce paradigmatic changes in the uses of the blockchain as well as in the ways we invest and trade. Instead of just building yet another crypto currency, Fyooz uses blockchain technology to tokenize the emotional value and attention associated with artists, brands, community projects and all sorts of causes and ideas, thus creating a whole new asset class. By also providing a marketplace for this new type of asset, Fyooz fundamentally changes the idea of trading and investing. Much like the invention of shares and stocks in the 16th century triggered radical changes in the economy, Fyooz tokens create a novel type of monetized asset class opening up new opportunities for individuals to invest in things they truly value. This bears a great potential for inducing an economic paradigm shift, because it ultimately allows to use blockchain technology to democratize the world of investment and trading.

Changing ways of thinking is not easy. It requires not only imagination and ingenuity, but also the courage to venture into the conceptually unknown. Art can be a useful tool in such an endeavor. Ever since, humans have used the language of art–from painting and sculpture to music and performative practices–to express aspects of reality that are not adequately describable by words.

Fyooz has entered in an artonomic complicity with Swiss concept artists Frank and Patrik Riklin in their performative project “Ten Commandments Vol. 2”. Over ten days, the artists carved ten commandments into sandstone tablets. The tablets will be placed in an undisclosed location and the public will be given the possibility to invest in these commandments via the Fyooz platform. The fate of each commandment will be decided in the Fyooz market place.

This will be the first time that the blockchain is used to invest and trade moral and social values that people consider to be worth sharing and upholding. This opens up a whole new way of understanding the essence of blockchain technology. And maybe the words “trading” and “investing” will no longer mean what they have meant before.