Hackernoon logoTapping Into Ethereum Grandpa's Curious Consciousness with Dmitry Buterin by@ani-alexander

Tapping Into Ethereum Grandpa's Curious Consciousness with Dmitry Buterin

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@ani-alexanderAni Alexander

Blockchain Marketer, NFT fan, Speaker, Startup Mentor, Bestselling Fiction Author, Podcaster

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When I re-launched the Crypto Talks podcast I decided not putting myself under any pressure of expectations. I don't chase "influencer" status and don't look for pleasing everyone in the space.

What I am looking for is bringing thought provoking conversations and talking to people who are special, unique and are bringing something extraordinary to this world. And obviously I want to enjoy the process too therefore I invite people, who I am genuinely interested in.

Taking all the above, after following Dima on Twitter for few weeks there was no doubt that it would be great to have him over as a guest. So I reached out and he said yes.

You can listen to the audio version here.

Below is what came out of it.

What do you think was the biggest impact that still stayed with you from, uh, from your upbringing and your past? 

One of them is my aversion to governments and their propaganda.

I remember even then when I was in kindergarten, I was maybe five or six. And I had no clue who this Lennon guy was, but I knew that he was important. He was some kind of a Saint or whatever. I've always been full of silliness and jokes. And I remember that I made some kind of stupid joke about him.

Then I felt so scared, like, Oh, I thought something, you know, no know. And, uh, and later on growing up in school and afterwards like, Oh, everybody's pretending to be. 

All about, you know, this communist and socialist ideas and whatnot. And in the meantime in private, nobody cares. And the whole system is, uh, is messed up.

Right? So distrust. Toward governments and distrust toward propaganda and a big disappointment towards the centralized institutions. 

Right? 

Because when you think about this conceptually there, in the Soviet union, there was this concept of a central plan committee. So that was the committee that was supposed to plan for the whole country.

You know, this is like how much grain we should grow, how many apples, how much steel we should produce. They had this wonderful proclamations and plans and whatnot, and they were constantly failing. 

And then you're going into a store and the store has only a few dozen items.

That's kind of your selection. And if you want to buy a toothbrush, you might not be able to buy it this month - maybe in two months time or whatever. So toilet paper, that's a luxury. What are newspapers for, right? 

Another aspect of this as an egalitarian society.

You know, even though this society was very poor in general. And they were the leaders, the guys who were doing all of this pretension meanwhile leaving posh life, but the normal people were all mostly poor. 

Also religion was suppressed. So I grew up with a lot of resistance toward religion as such and it took me until I was maybe 42 when I finally started opening up to what the hell is religion and what the hell is spirituality and stuff like that.

The country was trying to be an efficient machine. So they were producing lots of engineers and scientists. In my education there was more emphasis on science and related subjects. 

How easy was it for you to make that big decision in your life and move to Canada?

I would actually say it was pretty easy because I was 27 when I left Russia. AndI spent my I grew up in Soviet Union, but then the Soviet union fell apart.

And then we had whatever it was, let's say 10 years of this falling apart and the attempt to build something new. And those attempts obviously failed, but, that was a really interesting time because it was a bit of a wild West.

There were also opportunities and many companies from the West coming to Russia and us, people who grew up there just looking at it with wide open eyes.

I was well-positioned. I was at the university and then I became a father very early. But, also I love languages. I learned English early on. I had a pretty quick mind and studied computer science.

So I was able to get a pretty good job at a big US company’s Moscow office. That kinda started me off well early in my career. And then I fell pretty accidentally into entrepreneurship with a couple of my friends whom I worked with and an opportunity came up.

So we started our first business together and that was a joint venture with our Danish software company. And I ended up going to Denmark  quite a bit and loved it and got exposed to the West. Making a bit of money as we started this business, I had this pretty good foundation.

We had  still very uncertain times back in Russia. Russia just defaulted in 98 and then Putin came into power and in some respects, he looked more attractive.

Meanwhile there was all this stuff happening out there in the West, you know? Computers and fashion music and whatnot. When I was able to kind of look at that, there was so much excitement about possibilities out there. 

We looked at different options and then Canada worked well for a bunch of reasons. And then we ended up going there and I'm really happy with that choice of being here in Toronto for the last 21 years (yeah, it's been a while.)

Do you have this sense of home and where is home? 

I’ve spent the majority of my life now here in Toronto. So it does feel like home. And there are so many things I love about the city starting with, it's a very customer cosmopolitan culture. Because I'm a big believer of that. Creativity is closely correlates to diversity, right?

And Canada has been a country, which has been welcoming immigrants for a long time and is a place where lots of immigrants end up settling. There are all kinds of people, all kinds of communities. 

In this way, I'm pretty sure that I can be comfortable in many other places, but I'm comfortable here because my kids are here (well except Vitalik -  he's all over the world now.) and my parents are here. I have a huge community of amazing friends here.

So yeah, it does feel like home. 

But I also know that I can feel at home in many places in the world. 

How did that go? How did you fill that gap of creativity after you had established your let's say logical side.

I think genetically I was gifted with a pretty decent IQ and people who have a higher IQ their analytical part of their brain develops, As always the case when we have a certain tool it would get used to using that tool.

It's like, you know, when, if you have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. So that happens to smart people. I would say predominantly we have a well-designed analytical brain and it seems to work so well with so many things. I heavily applied it to everything. You know, when I was going over to Canada, we had this nice table in Excel was like criteria for like, should we go to Canada, Australia, stay in Moscow, all kinds of stuff.

Obviously, it's a very general statement, but the flip side of this, if you look at a human being, we have our analytical brain and then we have our emotional sensitivity. And when our analytical brain is overused, that comes at the expense of us not having the emotional sensitivity.

It seems to work for quite a while and when applied to what’s called a brain, you can achieve all kinds of success. But the thing is, eventually you'll also start seeing its limitations. 

And you start bumping your head against the wall.

But it worked so well on this project - why does it work for relationships? 

Why doesn't it work so well in a business? 

I have a lot of curiosity. That's a very strong energy in me and always had this curiosity about the world and about different facets of the world. When I became an entrepreneur, it was a very interesting path of learning about the world through that lens.

I was in a technical leadership position, a CTO and co-founder of the business. So my concern was like, let's build this piece of software, but then very quickly it became obvious that I can build this wonderful piece of software, but if people don't buy it, then nothing happens.

So why do people not buy stuff like logically they should! But people are not logical beings that become very clear as soon as you kind of dive into sales and marketing. And also entrepreneurship and leadership. 

You quickly see that business

On the one hand, you can look at this as an engine, right?

With processes and systems and whatnot, but also it's an engine. The way there are so many which consists of individuals, right? And each individual is a unique, infinite aspect of this universe. And if you try to build an efficient process that doesn't care about. And then DeVito, eventually you, uh, engine you're will fell spectacular.

And this is kind of what we see in this society. For me, that was also a big part of my entrepreneurial learning that I wasn't realizing. So for the business to work it's not just about efficiency, playing and billing software and all of this stuff, but it's also about sales and marketing and that's about psychology and the leading people interacting with people, aligning people, it's all about psychology 

And what is psychology? What are humans? 

So that's where my journey started. In learning about other aspects of this universe and then eventually about psychology. And personal development stuff. And, you know, Tony Robbins was also one of and then learning about all kinds of stuff and then spirituality and then kind of everything blew up for me.

And it all merged into one enable unknowable thing. I think it's great. 

Let's talk a little bit about your son - Vitalik Buterin. You mentioned that you became a father very early.  So I'm very curious about did you feel that  he had all of these special talents and how did you approach that? Like when did you discover it and, and, and how did you feel about it? How did you approach it as a person? 

It was pretty clear, very early on that he has a very quick, wonderful intellect and that was a lot of fun to engage with him and give him fuel for the exploration. So his brain from teaching him math and giving him all the IBM PC so that he would start just randomly playing. So there was a  fertile ground. 

For me, it was also a lot of fun because as you know, for a parent, it's like, we kind of want to, the things that we could not get for ourselves, the toys we, for some reason didn't have access to, or we didn't play with, we kind of want that to happen for kids. So I was trying to get him Lego and computers and stuff like that.

And the human mind -  it loves to learn. Unfortunately the way we have been purging that through the modern education system, is becoming mostly very rigid and very focused on testing and whatnot, but for the human mind really learning and playing is the same thing. 

Right?

By three years old, it was clear that his mind was ahead of the kids his age far ahead. There was a lot of fun to interact with him and go through this. And it was also not very easy because when you have some of the aspect overdeveloped comparatively then other aspects of like, for him to be social or even like verbal communication - that was not always easy because he was trying to integrate so much stuff with such a rapid speed. So there was a lot of fun and it was interesting to watch.

Like I remember when he was six and we were buying him Legos he would not build towers. He would build digits actually. He would actually animate those digits.

So kind of his mind was processing all of this stuff and that skills during the both math, which kind of became, uh, if you will love of his. Then he was also interacting with that and all other ways that he could see it from building Legos and using Microsoft Excel to play with stuff and whatnot.

Did you put any pressure on his decision? How much was your role in choosing his path?

Let's say “Oh, this parent made this impact on the child.” For sure. Right. But then, who made the impact on the parent? They have their environment and they have parents, so it's a kind of never ending chain of things. 

So his father is into computer science. His mom was in the computer science. That's where we met - in the university. His mom's parents, his grandfather is a wonderful smart person who was spending so much time with him.

It was all there. Right. And those all make an impact. 

And back to your question. By nature I have very libertarian views.So when I interact with any human, I don't pressure them - including my children. So, from very early on it was really mostly a dialogue. Like we talk about stuff and my job is to try to convince him.

So there was, I hope (he might have a different recollection) but there was not much pressing. 

I was trying to get him interested in things that I would assume would be interesting for such a young, smart, curious mind, like, which were interesting to me. Computers and programming and stuff like that.

And in some ways it did, in some ways didn't quite. For example, I, as a child, was quite interested in hacking. But hacking is quite misunderstood, by doing something bad. But hacking is really all about curiosity. If you have a complex system, and the system is designed to do this - how can we figure it out and have the system achieve a different result. So I was giving Vitalik some books about hacking and stuff like that. 

And that for example, gave him some books by Kevin Mitnick. If you remember that famous hacker. 

Vitalik wasn’t quite taken into this, but the cryptography aspect of it really fascinated him.

So I was feeding him with the stuff that I assumed it would be of interest to him. But then his mind was speaking and choosing what was making sense to him. Right? So it was his own decision.  

For example high school. He wasn't in the public school system until the end of their middle school. But then it was becoming pretty obvious that their school system was not really giving him enough ground for his further growth. So we started looking at private school systems and we looked at a bunch of different options. And one of them was a really fancy scold .... university of Toronto school or something like that.

And they did not admit him. I was like “Oh my God, you know, this guy is so smart and by that time he already had so many achievements - programming Olympics and math.” But for some reason that school didn't like him. Okay, your loss guys. 

We looked at the bigger private schools, smaller private schools.

And then it was his call. He said, okay, I like this pretty small private school. He went to high school and that school was very small. It has only like maybe 40 pupils all together. And he really thrived there. It was a good choice for him because he was able to connect with so many teachers and get the individual attention and also socially open up so much.

Then it was his own decision going to Waterloo, which is one of their universities. Waterloo is one of their top schools in North American for computer science. So that's kind of what he selected and that made a lot of sense to us. 

It feels like we are shielding ourselves with all these titles and achievements and everything else to look probably way more important than we are. Do you think it's because we are afraid to actually face our real selves and look deeper inside? Because we don't know what we will see eventually or like? What is keeping people from going through those experiences?

Well, until you start looking at the most important question, and for me, it's pretty clear that the most important question for any human being to ask themselves is what am I and what is consciousness? 

When consciousness emerges, and this, if you will, quantum soup of existence it, at the same time, it kind of has to emerge with the assumption that, “Oh, I exist and I know something, I know what's good and bad.” So the default characteristic of a human mind is knowing. The human mind always wants to know. Tt wants to know what is good, what is bad and so on.

And the structure of your ego then is really like trying to define - “okay. I know I exist but who is me? What is me? And it constantly looks outward for the things to define itself until it starts looking inside.

Twitter - that's actually where I discovered you. I guess I came across your profile. It's interesting how you treat Twitter in a sense that, it's very natural and it feels like you're just being yourself and you're having fun and you don't really care how it's perceived by others. Many people have so many different reasons for being on social media many of them have the wrong reasons, actually….

I actually all of the reasons I disagree with you, they're different reasons. They seem to be your own for you. Right. But they are right for that particular person. 

Yeah, wrong, wrong for me…. So what  are your reasons? Is this a place where you're just relaxed, bounce around some few ideas or meet people?

Why do we do anything? And this is like, if you answer that question very deeply, if you investigate it, then you really find the answer to everything. And our human mind, our eagerness likes to come up with very complex stories. So I'm doing this to achieve this goal and blah, blah, blah, you know, and the rational mind has all these stories about why one does things, but at the end of the day, we're not driven by the rational mind. 

I'm firmly convinced that the rational mind is just the PR agent.

It can observe this is what's happening. And let me now create the nice story, why this happened. And if the reality doesn't match my story, which happens all the time, then I have to quickly on the fly, adjust my story, and I can blame other people for being bad on myself for being guilty or whatever, or feeling guilt and shame and stuff like that.

But the short answer to your question is like, it's just fun. 

I used to be more on Facebook but it's been the year that somehow the universe gravitated me towards Twitter and I love it because it's very open and I can put a spin on kinds of conversations and then they end up being about crypto, or philosophy or love or somebody that tells me that I'm a fucking scammer and I should fuck off. And this is a wonderful personal development training, like, Oh wow. This human being for some reason thinks like that, interesting! Let's see what kind of emotions we can experience here.

Tell us a bit more about  Blockgeeks and what's the main purpose behind it?

The original idea is not mine, it came from my friend here in Toronto. We were talking and he had this idea so we started the business like maybe four years ago. 

Even back then we were firm believers that blockchain is really a foundation of so many fundamental shifts in how the society is going to be structured. 

And his concept was - let's create this website where we can help more people get educated as developers on the platform. So that's kind of what we've been trying to do for the last few years.

And that frankly didn't work that well for a whole bunch of reasons. 

Last fall, we restructured the business a bit and now we look at a broader perspective, not just trying to educate developers but also educate professionals and all kinds of enterprises and  traders, investors, and whatnot.

Throughout my career I spent a lot of time learning about how to structure businesses, operationally and process and systems and similar stuff.

But then eventually I realized that what is most important is a much deeper foundation. 

What is the purpose of the business? 

Like what are its core values? 

How does businesses make the world better and not just the world out there, but also how does it impact people working on the business and stuff like that.

So this is my passion and I do a fair bit of mentoring, coaching for other people who enter my path and that gives me a lot of joy to help them start thinking about deeper aspects of what they're doing, because if we don't look at those deeper foundations of a deeper motivations of ourselves, then we are bound to face a lot of hurdles until we finally kind of face them, clear them up and so on.

Yeah. I definitely agree with you. I mean, it reminds me of Simon Sinek's "How great leaders inspire action" Ted speech

And let me comment on that too it made me think about some of the stuff we talked about. When they were talking about Vitalik, the role of parents and the human mind, because it's  infinite, it's trying to simplify things. It's trying to put things in a way to define things to make them understandable.

It's like “Oh, so good that he created Ethereum. And you know, that experience created, you know, the dialect and stuff like that. And this is a nice story, which is also total bullshit. 

Because Vitalik created Ethereum… but Vitalik and 1000 other people created Ethereum.

Wonderful, amazing people and all kinds of messed up people and crazy people, the creative people, hurt people. So many people are involved in that and they have been co-creating and then obviously are still a very important aspect of this. 

And then like what created Vitalik? Well, his parents and his environment, his genetics,  all kinds of craziness, and Canada and Soviet Union and like, uh, math and science and cryptography. He based it on his work he was doing for Bitcoin magazine. Right? 

And if it wasn't Vitalik, then other people would have created that. He was one particular attempt  that succeeded. 

I am a technical guy, right? But now my mind likes to think about much more abstract things and much more humane things. So how humans work and stuff like that. So when I look at the crypto project nowadays, I'm way too lazy to look at details and the code and product and stuff like that.

I kind of follow people who I trust that they can do this kind of stuff. But for me, it's much more important to observe how those humans behave as humans.  And what kind of emotions and motivations those humans have. And for me, when I look at the success or failure of a particular project, that's very much determined by how much initial energy is coming from the founder and then the community that forms around that. 

And this has defined the success of the project just as much and actually much more than the actual technical aspects of this. 

I look at some of their products out there and they have some wonderful technical underpinnings and nothing's really happening there because of the human limitations.

I look at some other projects that technically are not very good - they're zero innovation, creativity, but for some reason they captured the imagination of their public and they're moving forward. And this is fascinating for us to observe because you can never say that “Oh, this is the right way. This is the wrong way.”

At the end of the day, we'd have to observe and see, - okay, this is happening and this is happening and that is happening. And this is their mindset is, uh, whenever we would say that things should be, or should not be this way. 

We are really just being very shortsighted because if things are a certain way, then there are some deep reasons for that.

So if there are things that exist and we say “Oh, but they should not be this way! This is bad.” It's like, ok but the universe doesn't care about our judgments. 

Right? 

They exist and they're there. So let's kind of see what is happening there. Let's observe that very closely and see how that plays out.

Yeah, I totally agree with you. Especially in the crypto space communities are the ones who make or break the projects. The power of the community is very strong. You can't really just take them out of the equation.

The write up from Vitalik, which he did at the end of the year 2020 - his closing notes for 2020.

It was a wonderful write up.

But the one aspect that the number of people notice and I noticed that right away - he mentioned that a project has to have a soul. And to hear that from Vitalik, it was really amazing because I know that he has a brilliant technical mind, philosophical mind as well and that he's becoming more and more comfortable with using very soft, but extremely important terms that talk to some crucial aspects of reality.

And what does it mean for a project to have a soul? 

Like, can you define it? 

You can not. 

But then you can look at this and you can feel it right?

I mean, Telegram tried to create their own blockchain and raised lots of money and very smart people and then nothing happened. 

Thank you. And it was really awesome to talk to you. 

We touched on a bunch of different things and the universe is infinite, right?

We've explored, we touched the surface on some things and I'm always happy to talk about all kinds of weird stuff.

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