Two Keys

I have become interested in cryptocurrencies, things like Bitcoin, or Ethereum. They are a medium of exchange that is not subject to government interference, for good or ill. This is bad if you share the politician’s view, “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Or it is good if you share a different politician’s sentiment, “Power tends to corrupt.”

But this is not about politics, but how cryptocurrencies illustrate something much more personal than politics. I know overweight Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians. You can find Liberals, Conservatives, and don’t-label-mes who are deep in debt. Likewise, Atheists and Baptists suffer from toxic relationships. Human life derives from actions and their consequences and some of our actions have consequences we don’t want. And inaction or procrastination is an action in this sense.

We resolve not to take those actions, but do so anyway. And afterwards we regret. Regardless of race, creed, or color.

What has this to do with cryptocurrencies is that the underlying mechanism is not immediately apparent. And there are some similarities between the underlying mechanisms of cryptocurrencies and human behavior.

Cryptocurrencies, digital signatures, and secure Internet communications all use public key cryptography. And the driving idea behind all these technologies is a pair of two keys. One key locks and a different key unlocks. Things get very interesting when multiple pairs of keys are used in concert.

Cryptocurrencies need a “wallet” to store their coins. When you create a wallet, you always get two keys: one to receive bitcoins, one to pay bitcoins. (Use this to generate Ether wallets.) For instance, you can follow this guy’s instructions:


I did something similar to create a paper bitcoin wallet.

I printed the paper wallet (at least I heard the printer start) and it should print a piece of paper with two QR codes on it. One of them is private and I will only trust it as far as I can throw the Internet. Hence, i’ve no plans to keep significant wealth in that wallet.

Here is its public key:

Some people call QR codes robot-vomit. That looks about right.

You can use the public key to do one thing and one thing only: send me money. That’s why it is public. If everyone on the Internet sends me one cent’s worth of bitcoin, I will be very grateful. It will buy a lot of catfood.

But you cannot make full use of this crypto wallet without the 2nd key. Everyone on the Internet could send me millions of bitcoins through the address above, but I’d never be able to touch those funds without the 2nd, secret code that I hope got printed just now. It needs both keys to work.

Human behavior is governed by multiple factors like will-power, emotion, community, and habit and it is easy to confuse necessary as sufficient conditions for life-change. You cannot get by using only one of them. For instance, I recently enjoyed a Dave Ramsey rant wherein talked about getting into debt he shouted, “Just stop!”

This reminded me of a Bob Newhart video.

We think the video is funny because it is so obviously true, and so obviously useless.

Are you overweight?

Stop overeating.

Are you in debt?

Stop borrowing.

Do you hate your job/wife/kids/life?

Stop it.

Nevertheless, some successfully lose weight, get out of debt, or whatever.

Mindful of this, I recently encountered this TEDx talk wherein the speaker explores this notion of multiple-necessary-conditions. He uses the analogy of two keys that must be turned simultaneously to achieve life-change.

The video overpromised, because despite saying why we’re all fat, broke, and busy, he was less helpful about saying how to get the “thinker” and the “emoter” on board with some new pattern of behavior.

Our emotions have to be on board with the decisions our “thinker” makes. We have to create pleasing emotional feelings associated with the desired resolutions we make. And create unpleasantness associated with the status quo. The “thinker” and the “emoter” are like those multiple keys in my bitcoin wallet. They have to be used in concert to work.

For each of those “stop it” resolutions I mentioned above, what are some ways we can engage the “emoter” to keep those resolutions?

Steve Poling

Masters degrees in math and computer science. Poet in several computer languages. I write stories about Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft, steampunk, and SF.

Grand Rapids, Michigan