Seed Phrases Enabling Liberation & Longevity
This is a speculation post about integration of crypto technology into human culture on an epochal time scale.
A seed phrase (also referred to as a recovery phrase) is the string of 12–24 words auto-generated by your crypto wallet that gives you access to your wallet in case you lose it, deleted and need to recreate it, switch wallets, etc. The literal recovery key personalized to you/your wallet is actually a list of ultra-random numbers (the more random the combination, the less likely someone could hack into it, the more security you have), but your wallet randomly pulls from a bank of 2,048 simple words and puts them together to represent your numerical recovery key, thus producing a phrase. The reason for this number-to-word conversion is because humans are better with words than with numbers—we will have greater success committing words to memory than random numbers. So, the recovery codification begins by having zero linguistic meaning, but immediately moves toward adopting signifiers to augment its usefulness to people.
Still, though, the progression from zero linguistic meaning to some barely-there semblance of meaning is very slight. People are intimidated by self-custody wallets because they are afraid of losing the seed phrase or forgetting the words or sequence. Many crypto holders and Bitcoin Maxxies consider self-custody to be the ideal state that we should all strive for when it comes to gaining true financial sovereignty. When questioned about the perceived difficulty around remembering seed phrases, a common answer is that people can create mnemonic devices to their phrase and that will help them remember. A mnemonic can take the form of an acronym, rhymes, or sentences of associated ideas that can help in recalling the phrase. Both seed phrases in and of themselves and this idea of people memorizing rhyming couplets that have clandestine meanings make me think of esoteric or religious utterances such as spells, incantations, prayers, etc.
The Kybalion is a book full of teachings by Hermes Trismegistus, the founder of Hermetic philosophy. It is part of an esoteric tradition and seeks to pass on sacred knowledge of how to harness the power of the universe for the sake of individual freedom and flourishing. In the introduction they go out of their way to say that this knowledge is closely guarded and only available to those who seek it out. Publishing a book about it may seem counterintuitive, then, but the Three Initiates (the author) stress that, "The lips of Wisdom are closed, except to the ears of Understanding,” and, "if you are a true student, you will be able to work out and apply these Principles—if not [....] the Hermetic Teachings will be as 'words, words, words' to you." They are basically saying that the philosophy and ideas published will appear random to anyone not truly ready to comprehend.
This is one far-reaching hypothetical, but we could imagine a future (hundreds of years from now) where a seed phrase is turned into something meaningful and the information is passed down as esoterica. Why is it important to make this comparison? Because it is essential to adopt methods from the past to get around modern methods implemented in societies of control. (See Postscript on Societies of Control by Gilles Deleuze.) Secret societies, religious brotherhoods, witches' covens, they all have certain languages and codes used to be able to speak privately to one another and this collectively empowers them against forces of control. In the context of a tool like Bitcoin, a seed phrase grants access to a wallet containing financial freedom and individual sovereignty, and passing down that seed phrase to heirs in your family or tribe will become crucial as time passes. The seed phrase itself, and potentially its signifier-mnemonics, will be what is transmitted.
To me, what makes a seed phrase resemble magic the most is the way in which it will be handed down through generations. First of all, when a wallet gives you your seed phrase, they explicitly warn against storing it digitally. The default suggestion is to write it on a piece of paper. From there it gets more elaborate like telling you to write it down on multiple papers and store them in multiple safes in multiple locations etc. These secure storage methods are good in the context of our modern times, but information in safes can still get lost. If crypto and BTC does last for as long as they are slated to, the real way secure storage will be managed will be through humanity’s longest-running form of documentation and recording: oral tradition. Bitcoin goes folk.