The Power of Mimetic Desires

How a human phenomena drives everything around us...including crypto markets
Jul 5, 20214 min read

Dear Bankless Nation,

Last week, Ryan and I recorded with Luke Burgis, author of the book Wanting: The Power of Memetic Desire in Everyday Life.

I discovered Luke and his book while listening to Hidden Forces with Demetri Kofinas (another guest of the pod!)

Even before finishing the podcast, I had already ordered his book and DM’d Ryan about how we needed to get Luke on the podcast.


Because Mimetic Desire is a force that expresses itself in basically all parts of daily life, but its effects are especially potent inside of the context of crypto.

The crypto industry has a habit of stripping away BS, and getting straight to the source of what’s real in our world. Mimetic desire is one of those deep truths you find clearly visible on the surface in our industry, that would have otherwise taken ages and ages to unearth anywhere else.

This Market Monday is an underhand to prep you for the podcast. Don’t miss this one; Ryan and I will likely be referencing it frequently moving forward in the Bankless ecosystem.

Listen: 🎙️ 72 - The Power of Mimetic Desire | Luke Burgis

What is Mimetic Desire?

Mimetic Desire was originally named and theorized by René Girard, who said:

Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.

The thing that sets humans apart from animals is our ability to coordinate. Our communication abilities are complex. Our capacity for language is strong. Human brains have this innate ability to be in sync with the thoughts, intentions, and behaviors of others. This strong sense of inter-personal perception is one of the many things that allow humans to coordinate to such a strong degree. If we can precisely determine what is going on in the thoughts of others, we can more capably coordinate with others.

The power of Mimetic Desire goes so deep that its effects can be observed by recently born babies, which indicates that mimetic desire infiltrates our brains as early as our brain is formed.

You want that block? Now I want that block. (source: Luke’s substack)

Mimetic desire has been with us as a species throughout our evolution. We know this because of the relationship between mimetic desire and mirror neurons, which are neurons that are found in all kinds of animals—not just humans.

Mirror neurons are neurons that fire when you are mimicking something you have recently observed.  They help you more effectively copy the movements and actions of others. These neurons are crucial for babies and children in development to learn how to appropriately act in this world. Mirror neurons allow babies/children to observe others, and then act like others so that they can learn what other people think is important.

This is the beginning of mimetic desire, where we learn to want by learning what others want. As we grow from babies to children, to adults, we look to others in order to understand what they want, and we use this information ourselves to guide what we want. Babies observe the wants and desires of others to establish a scaffolding of understanding of what is important and worthy of our attention.

What is easier? Going through an investigative process of learning “what do I want? What is important” for every single object or concept you encounter? Or, just copying what other people want and desire?

It’s easier to be adapt to society if you desire the same things as everyone else.

Ok…Why is this relevant?

So what’s this have to do with going bankless?

How are mirror neurons going to help me use crypto to break up with my bank?

Spoiler: Bankless isn’t just a guide on how to use tools found in the cryptocurrency industry, but also a framework for why these tools work at all.

To understand crypto, we have to get to the bottom of things.

And it turns out mimetic desire is at the bottom of nearly everything.

Not just the bottom of crypto. Mimetic desire operates at the base layer of everything  human beings have touched. Crypto is no different. But in crypto, mimetic desire is a little more transparent, a little easier to reason about, and a lot more illustrative.

Here are four non-obvious things created from mimetic desire:

1) Market Bubbles

List all the market bubbles you can think of.

The Dot Com bubble…the 2008 housing bubble…the Tulip Mania… the ICO craze… perhaps there are a few other market bubbles in history…but that’s about it right?

Wrong. Market bubbles are rampant throughout human history. They’re found so consistently that it’s obvious they’re embedded in our DNA. The human psycho-social layer causes market bubbles, not some exogenous event or technological discovery. Humans and our susceptibility to mimetic desire causes market bubbles.

2) Money

Were you born with a desire to use the US Dollar, Euro, Yuen, or whatever your local currency is? Of course not. You want money because it’s the thing that everyone else wants. Money is useful to you because it’s useful to everyone else.

Is money the object that represents the instantiation of mimetic desire?

3) NFTs

In Vitalik’s article on Legimitacy, he writes that NFT value is based on two things..

  1. pride in holding the NFT and ability to show off your ownership
  2. the possibility of selling it in the future.

I think here’s right on. But both of these are products of mimetic desire. Without mimetic desire NFTs are valueless.

There’s more in the podcast…

In addition to these topics, we discussed how…

  • The internet supercharges mimetic desire and crypto creates a way to value it
  • Crypto tribes like the Link Marines and XRP are really mimetic tribes
  • How mimetics intersects with Vitalik’s ideas on Legitimacy

Once you see for the first time you’ll see it everywhere.

Listen to the podcast now.

- David

P.S. Happy 4th of July to our American readers. In crypto, we like our independence. Going bankless is about keeping it. Hope you enjoyed the weekend!


Not financial or tax advice. This newsletter is strictly educational and is not investment advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any assets or to make any financial decisions. This newsletter is not tax advice. Talk to your accountant. Do your own research.

Disclosure. From time-to-time I may add links in this newsletter to products I use. I may receive commission if you make a purchase through one of these links. Additionally, the Bankless writers hold crypto assets. See our investment disclosures here.

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