NFTs and the marketplace of ideas. How to become the proud owner of Kant’s categorical imperative or Rousseau’s general will
As non-fungible tokens continue to conquer the world, the debate on what exactly an NFT is for has become richer and more consequential. In a previous post I compared an NFT to an ownership certificate used in contemporary art. As most contemporary art is conceptual by nature, ownership in a physical object is less interesting and important than ownership in a concept or idea. I continue to believe this is the most promising field for NFTs.
It is disappointing in my view that NFTs continue to be captured by the spell of graphics. Since an NFT does not grant you ownership or intellectual property in an image, picture or any graphic content, why should we be interested in “graphic NFTs” at all? My first NFT, issued earlier this year, was not a visual NFT but a conceptual one. My second NFT will be no less conceptual or ideational.
More recently, the argument has been made that NFTs could refer to virtual objects existing in virtual worlds. For example, a virtual city with virtual houses could be the object of property titles and NFTs would be the technology allowing us to get there. These discussions are only getting started, but I am not convinced they can take us very far. If the houses or paintings existing in these virtual worlds are conceived as pure images or graphics, then everyone can copy them or appropriate them and the doubts I expressed above about “graphic NFTs” would also apply to the metaverse. But if the NFT would, for example, restrict entry or access to a virtual house, this would have to be done through more direct metaverse programming…
Be that as it may, I am much more attracted to the project of NFTs as ideas. Imagine Kant had issued the “categorical imperative” as an NFT. It could be worth billions today. Other ideas such as hell or courage or irony are so old no one knows who invented them. But a market in ideas conceived as NFTs could solve this. I envision such a market as a powerful tool to determine the value and originality of ideas, while providing a powerful social incentive for the development of more and better ideas. Notice that because ideas are purely abstract, they are exceedingly fit to be represented by purely abstract entities like NFTs.