What you need to know
Looking for details on the drop? Here’s what you should keep in mind.
- We have a new website. Check it out to learn more about the vision for Philosophical Foxes’ and where we’re hoping to take the project. I hope you like it.
- The new collection drops February 3 at 5 pm ET. To make sure you don’t miss it, we’ve created a calendar link. Click here to add it to your agenda.
- It will take place on OpenSea. We’ll be hosting a Dutch auction on our OpenSea page – click here to visit. You might want to bookmark the page.
- You’ll be able to browse Foxes before the sale goes live. Though you won’t be able to purchase an NFT until 5 pm ET, you'll be able to start browsing the collection as soon as you receive the link, 60 minutes before the auction begins. We’d recommend picking out your favorite Foxes so you’re ready to roll once the doors open.
- We’ve opened a Discord. The “Ethereal Cafe” is a place for supporters of Philosophical Foxes to meet, jam, and think. Some amazing people are already onboard. You can join us here.
The Bayeux Tapestry is a material drama. Commissioned in the 11th century, it tells the story of William the Conqueror's successful procurement of the English throne, won in vicious battle. Across its seventy meters, the viewer sees boats approach the British shoreline, horses stumble and fall in battle, supplies maneuvered to frontlines, noblemen drink and feast, and heads severed in ferocious skirmishes. It is both spectacle and chronicle. Indeed, the astrophysicist Carl Sagan called it the "newspaper of the time," noting that Halley's comet appeared in one of the tapestry's friezes.
The Bayeux Tapestry was the product of many hands. At least, we think so. Perhaps dozens of embroiderers may have worked on its sections simultaneously, sewing miniature melodramas that, when put together, created a super-narrative. A total of 626 distinct characters feature across its fabric, without including the 202 horses and mules. Each has its own story, some meeting their demise, others headed for glorious victory.
Nearly a millennium has passed since the Bayeux Tapestry was made. Our ability to coordinate vast, interlocking projects has increased exponentially. And yet, as I noted in a piece on the subject, I believe our greatest "multiplayer" works are yet to come.
It is through this lens that I see the future of Philosophical Foxes. The Generalist's NFT project is an experimentation in storytelling, intellectual property, community, and multiplayer media. It is an opportunity to create a vast visual literature, to sew a tapestry in pixels.
In today's piece, we'll examine what this means and how we've reached this point. In particular, we'll make sure to cover the following:
- The story behind Philosophical Foxes. Created in October of last year, Philosophical Foxes very nearly involved a convoluted murder mystery.
- Reflections on the first drop. Our genesis collection of 100 Foxes and 11 solo thoughts sold out quickly and sparked secondary sales.
- How to make 1,000 new Foxes. We took an unorthodox approach to creating our artwork. While inefficient, it had clear advantages.
- Where "Narrative 1" will take us. Our current Roadmap ends with "Dreaming Foxes" and the opening of a portal to a new world.
- The themes we're exploring. Philosophical Foxes exist to pioneer on-chain storytelling. That involves playing around with "progressive personality" and "narrative composability."
How we got here
The fact that we're here at all was not something I could have imagined a year ago. In hindsight, it feels like one of the most natural expansions of The Generalist's ethos and values.
I spent the month of October 2021 in Lisbon. My fiancée Ali and I visited for a few days in late-2019 and loved it. We dreamt of going back for a longer stint, though that was less a plan and more of a fantasy at the time. Both of us had jobs that required us to be in a physical office, and I was a venture capitalist focused on the New York market.
As many of you will know from "The Generalist Turns 1," a lot changed over the two years succeeding that first visit. By mid-summer of 2021, we were both working fully remotely, and the pandemic had subsided enough for us to travel. We headed to Lisbon.
While I was working on my OpenSea piece, Ali said something that should have been obvious to me. I can't remember the exact words, but it was something to the effect of, "maybe before you publish 8,000 words on this company, you should use it to buy something?" Good point. I had made NFTs before (see: Coinbase) and been airdropped a couple but hadn't ever purchased one on OpenSea.
One of my best and worst qualities is that I tend to let my enthusiasm get the better of me. Find something funny? I want to riff on it until we take the joke far enough that our stomachs hurt or we can't bear to talk about it anymore. Show me a song that I like? I will now need to listen to it two hundred times in a row until the first beats make my ears grimace.
For reasons I can't fully explain, Ali's suggestion that I make a purchase on OpenSea set off one of these mental wild goose chases toward extremity. Sure, I thought, I could buy an NFT. But what if I made one – wouldn't that be cooler? And what if it wasn't just one but a whole collection, and what if it riffed on storytelling, and wouldn't that be a good way to learn about NFTs together and – oh, they should be foxes! – what if they were real characters (how? What does that mean?) and what if I dropped it in a week?
One of Lisbon's many beauties is that many of its buildings are covered in ornate tiles. They make patterns, pictures and sometimes seem to tell stories. If you squint, they seem to make the buildings look almost pixelated. That week, I walked the stretch between Santos-o-Velho and Chiado with NFTs on the brain. I couldn't shake the idea. I was sure there was something to it. By the time I'd published the OpenSea piece, I'd already decided: it was time to make some thinking foxes.
Over the next week, I toyed around with the core concept of "Fox NFTs with inner lives." Before I landed on the name "Philosophical Foxes," I considered the wordy "League of Thinking Foxes," adding a domain to my Google account. I also spent two days of that week writing an involved murder mystery with the plan to plant different clues as "secrets" across the collection of Foxes, making it possible to solve only if every NFT holder divulged their information.
We ended up in a neater, sharper place. On October 17, 2021, The Generalist published a piece called "NFTs that Think," articulating an observation that many of the projects that had taken off in the space had "thin IP," a change from traditional iconic creations. CryptoPunks, Bored Apes, and others gave NFTs unusual physical characteristics but didn't tell us anything about their personalities.
I argued this was a missed opportunity, particularly as NFTs move past the boundaries of a profile picture into games, comics, and TV shows. Whenever it comes time to build rich stories around these properties, creators have codified only the least important traits on the blockchain. How will a specific BoredApe deal with rejection? What does a particular CryptoPunk do in a crisis?
That we couldn't summon even a passable answer to these questions represented a departure from our greatest, most enduring narrative properties. Were you to throw Jay Gatsby, Anna Karenina, James Bond, Miss Havisham, Tom Ripley, Elizabeth Bennett, Humbert Humbert, Sherlock Holmes, or even Peter Parker into a given scenario, we would have a strong sense of how they would or would not act. Even if they might look different from one medium to another, one version to another, we know who they are.
How can you bring this kind of depth to NFTs? What primitives do you need to make something that looks like a profile picture truly narrative-ready?
Philosophical Foxes represented my attempt to answer these questions. By giving Foxes distinct thoughts, philosophies, emotional baggage, virtues, and secrets, each NFT had the necessary qualities to extrapolate and tell stories. Drop an absurdist Fox, with a sharp tongue, Oedipal Complex, hidden past, thinking about their prom rejection, into a scene, and you have somewhere to go.
On the same day we published our piece, we minted 100 Foxes alongside 11 "solo thoughts." It was evening by the time we finally opened up the collection. To save myself from obsessively checking OpenSea, email, and Twitter, Ali and I planned to go to dinner. After all, I figured, it would probably take a few days for the collection to sell out.
Sometimes, it feels like your little corner of the internet catches fire. I have felt it three times: when Durable Capital threatened to sue me and fintwit memed them into submission, when I published my piece on Tiger Global, and launching Philosophical Foxes. It felt like just seconds after I'd sent my email outlining the premise that the first Foxes started to sell.
One, two, three, ten, twenty. The entire collection sold out in about thirty minutes, and a lively secondary market started. Despite most Foxes minting at or below 0.2 ETH, within hours, they were trading at 20x to 25x that price. This was…good? Bad? I'm still not sure how to think about it.
What was unequivocally awesome was seeing some of my favorite people on the internet buy in and hold. Many more messaged, noting that the project resonated deeply and saying they wanted to be a part of it. Some made suggestions for future iterations, holders hoped for a place to meet and talk, and some of the sharpest people in the industry validated that we'd created something genuinely novel. Talent agents started to reach out.
There was clear demand for an NFT project taking a different approach to on-chain storytelling and a community built around it. What began as an experiment seemed to take on a life of its own.
At the time of writing, Philosophical Foxes has a floor of 2.3 ETH, which is ~23x the lowest mint price and ~9x the average. Total trading has reached 173 ETH, and the collection is distributed across 80 collectors.
Don't miss our next briefing. Our work is designed to help you understand the most important trends shaping the future, and to capitalize on change. Join 54,000 others today.
How we made this
On February 3 at 5 PM ET, we're dropping Philosophical Foxes' newest collection. It will feature 1,000 Foxes and 300 solo thoughts and kick off our first "narrative."
Every once in a while, someone sends me a message asking how to start an NFT project. The truth is that after our first drop, I didn't know. Most profile picture (PFP) projects begin with 10,000 NFTs; ours had 111. Many launch a Discord or Telegram before their mint; we have a not-very-active Twitter page. Some run giveaways and contests to build a following; we had this newsletter. Most of these decisions were more accidental than tactical, but I think it ended up being an advantage. Rather than launching a complete collection straight off the bat, we created an MVP, giving us the latitude to learn and iterate. In that respect, this project has moved more like a startup than an art collection.
After three months of working on this newest instantiation, I have a better answer to the question – though I'm still not sure it's the right one for most people. For better or worse, here is the story of how this newest chapter came together and the decisions we made along the way. That we're here at all is thanks to an incredible ad hoc team that came together.
As alluded to, most PFPs are defined by their visual elements. While that is explicitly not the focus of Philosophical Foxes, creating something I didn't think was beautiful would hurt. To make that happen for the first collection, I reached out to a pixel artist I admired, Gordon Zuchhold.
We settled on a pixelated visual style with an intentional sense of color composition, implemented across fourteen distinct "species." That proved a sound decision artistically (Gordon's creations are dazzling), but a tough one operationally. It's not easy to make 111 pieces of art by hand, but it's considerably simpler than designing 1,300.
Initially, we planned to get around that by creating our new collection algorithmically. After all, that was standard practice for PFP projects. The way this typically works is by defining different layers. You create a base outline, pick a few variables, and randomly add features on top of that base. It's a little like playing with Mr. Potato Head – you have a blank face and can plug any manner of different accessories onto it. One time you might give him a pair of glasses, another you might add a mustache – mixing and matching create variety. (Of course, not all projects are fabricated this way though it was the predominant mechanism we found during our research.)
We had not created Foxes with this methodology in mind. How do you turn a piece of art into layers retroactively? We experimented with auto-filling different panels with colors to try and achieve something similarly expeditious. We didn't get very far. Though it was possible to create something that kinda, sorta looked like our original foxes, they lacked a sense of composition. Colors didn't harmonize as naturally, and shading was lost.
While it is undoubtedly possible to create something like Foxes algorithmically, we decided it would be faster and more reliable to work with an artist. There was also something philosophically apt in maintaining the same process as the originals – all Foxes would now be artist-made.
This time we worked with a friend of Gordon's, Cristian Meza. Not only is Cristian an incredible artist, but he immediately grasped the spirit and vibe of the project. He designed every NFT in the new collection. It's worth noting that finding exciting color combinations and beautiful compositions across 1,000 Foxes is no mean feat.
Making Philosophical Foxes by hand was the right decision for us but is certainly not the fastest path for someone just getting started.
This approach is part of why this collection remains small – though it is not the most important one. While releasing a "10K" collection is more common, I want to continue building this project iteratively and protect against instability. As we'll discuss a little later, the mission is to make Philosophical Foxes one of the most enduring, interesting, and valuable projects in web3 – that will and should take time.
In pursuit of that goal, we will act in the best interest of Fox holders. I have high conviction that adding 1,300 NFTs will increase the project's value in the long term, oxygenating the ecosystem, seeding a passionate community, and financing further development. While increasing supply by 100x from the genesis drop might be more lucrative, it runs counter to the goal to create a powerful, endemic movement.
Every Fox is thinking of something. As with the artwork, each of these has been created by a human, in this case: me.
Coming up with 1,300 distinct thoughts was challenging but extremely fun. Look at my browsing history over the past few months, and you'll find a long list of Wikipedia rabbit holes, poetry detours, clueless clicking through physics concepts, and protracted visits to paradoxes, thought experiments, and other esoterica. Many thoughts came from this semi-focused exploration, while others popped up when I was bored in the back of a cab, going for a walk, or brushing my teeth.
Is there any logic to what Foxes are thinking? Only in the way that dreams have a rationality while you are in them. There are quirks and in-jokes and little stories embedded that dance figuratively between them. I can remember some of these allusions; I have already forgotten many. Still, they are in there.
The total effect is, I hope, one that invites thought. Look at the collection, and you see the start of 1,300 threads to follow. The phrase "Rokeach in Ypsilanti" might not mean much at first, but Google it, and you'll discover a strange, riveting psychological story. Look at "Free the Sculpture," and perhaps you'll be reminded of what Michelangelo once said: "I saw the angel in the sculpture and set him free."
Not all are profound. Some are silly, funny, self-absorbed, dim-witted, and vapid – just as we are. But all are, I think, worth your time, worth some moment of reflection.
Metadata plays a crucial role in Philosophical Foxes. After all, the central premise of the project is that our NFTs' internal characteristics make them unique. Philosophical alignment, virtues, and baggage all live here. For the first 111 NFTs, I went through them one by one, adding the traits I felt fit most with their thought and personality. If a certain Fox was a nihilist, there's a good chance I added the baggage "Probably a Slytherin."
While this was fun, it was extremely time-consuming. It also didn't seem robust. Was there any logic behind how I distributed traits? Was there enough room for happy accidents, interesting juxtapositions? It was too confined to my mind.
We set about creating something fairer and faster – but that retained fundamental sensibilities. To help, I turned to Secret Sqvirrel. One of the fun parts of building this new iteration is that it involved friends and readers of The Generalist, and Sqvirrel was one of them. After the genesis drop, they had written me an email sharing some thoughts for the project that aligned exceptionally well with its long-term vision. They also offered to bring their considerable technical expertise to bear in helping with the next phase.
To that end, Sqvirrel was tasked with automatically generating NFT metadata based on specific probabilistic rules. We defined those by deciding whether a particular thought was tied to a specific philosophy. For example, "The Will to Power" Fox has to be a nihilist given its connection to Nietzschean philosophy, whereas "Lost Love" could fit any number of worldviews.
Regardless of whether a thought connects directly to a philosophy, that philosophy should impact which baggage and virtues are selected. For example, if a Fox adheres to the philosophy of r/WallStreetBets, they should be much more likely to have the baggage of "Says YOLO a lot." Meanwhile, a Fox that's a relativist should be expected to "Do that thing on LinkedIn where every line is a separate paragraph" more frequently than others. (Only a moral relativist would condone such behavior 😉.)
This system relies on inherently subjective inputs. Once formulated, the metadata it generates is devoid of human intervention. The result are traits that feel right and have an internal logic but can still surprise you. Not every adherent of Peter Thiel's must be a "chronic interrupter" or "extremely persuasive." Randomness and sense can coexist.
As discussed, a ferocious secondary market sparked after our first minting. Faced with the potential to secure a 10-20x mark-up, many of those that joined hours earlier sold.
This is entirely reasonable but not desirable. Perversely, the winners of this transaction are those with the weakest conviction. At the first opportunity to make a return, they sell. This is not meant as a judgment but an observation. Five ETH was worth more than $20,000 at the genesis sale. That's a lot of money, especially for something you snagged at $800 forty minutes earlier.
What complicates matters is that those best at capturing a collection at the minting price are often sophisticated buyers. While this didn't seem to be a significant problem last time around – there was no lead-up, no way to prepare – it was an outcome we wanted to avoid.
How could we build the highest-conviction base as efficiently as possible? After much research and deliberation, we've decided to host a Dutch auction for the v2 collection. (This comes after a limited pre-sale open to members of The Generalist and current Fox holders.) We hope this staging and mechanism forges an extremely engaged, aligned community.
If you're not familiar with it, projects like Artblocks and Mutant Ape Yacht Club have used the Dutch auction format. It works by setting a "ceiling price" and ticking down until a "resting price" is reached. For example, one Artblocks project set a ceiling of 5 ETH and slowly dropped that price to a floor of 0.25 ETH. We think it's the best structure for a project like this for a few reasons:
- It discourages fast-flipping. Dutch auctions reduce the chances of minters quickly selling out for a mark-up by starting at a higher price and ticking down. We want to attract collectors excited to be a part of the journey for the long term.
- It produces better matching. As you know by now, every Fox is a real character. They have thoughts, philosophies, virtues, baggage, and secrets. Because they're unique, different pieces will appeal to different people. A Dutch auction allows collectors to pay more to secure their favorite NFT. We want the maximum number of people to end up with the Fox or solo thought they love most.
- It reduces the odds of a gas war. Since a Dutch auction is spread out over a longer period, bids are less concentrated. That means the Ethereum network doesn't get as congested, and gas fees are kept lower. This approach means less money goes to miners and more to the project itself.
It would not have been possible to create this structure without Jorge Izquierdo. Like Sqvirrel, Jorge and I met through The Generalist and have become friends. He contributed to our multiplayer piece on DAOs and is a member of our community. During my stay in Lisbon, we met in person for a coffee and a talk.
In addition to being one of the most tenured crypto architects in the world, having co-founded Aragon, Jorge is also one of the kindest, humblest, and most thoughtful people I've had the pleasure of getting to know in the space. It is, frankly, unreal to have someone with his pedigree building Philosophical Foxes' smart contracts and auction infrastructure.
Where we're going
We are just getting started. While I'd recommend checking out the new Philosophical Foxes website to get the extra 𝓌𝒶𝓋𝓎 version of where we're headed, there's a lot of thinking that doesn't neatly fit into its confines. (The lovely work there is thanks to Peter Dimitrov and Daniel Georgiev.)
Let's jump into how we're thinking about the road ahead and share some of the ideas that will define our journey.
We are at the beginning of Philosophical Foxes's first "narrative." While this functions as a roadmap, it centers around a specific story. Over time, narratives will build on each other, deepening the connections between Foxes and a world of our own making.
Narrative 1 is "The Story of How We Learned to Sleep" and culminates with the creation of "Dreaming Foxes." Here are some more details about the steps along the way. As a note, percentages refer to the total number of items sold.
- 0%. We release a genesis collection of 100 Foxes and 11 solo thoughts. [COMPLETED]
- 8%. We open the "Ethereal Cafe" – our Discord – to early patrons. (It is now open to everyone!) [COMPLETED]
- 8%. We share the entire collection of 1,100 Foxes and 311 thoughts with the world.
- 30%. We drop ten wild foxes into the wallets of existing holders. These look distinct from the rest of the collection.
- 50%. We drop eleven solo thoughts into the wallets of existing holders.
- 60%. We share a secret that reveals one NFT is hiding something profound.
- 75%. An ancient lost love poem is discovered that sheds light on the Foxes' origins.
- 90%. Our sacred garments enter production. (In other words, we are going to make some amazing merch, with limited editions available exclusively to holders.)
- 100%. A powerful hypnotic mist spreads across the Foxes' dwelling causing vivid hallucinations and wild visions. Called "The Somni," this event opens the door to a new dimension and creates Dreaming Foxes.
While I'm excited for each of these steps, the star of Narrative 1 is The Somni. From the first week of working on this project in October, I knew I wanted to create foxes with dreams. Not only does it open up narrative possibilities – dreams are the domain of great truths and great mysteries – but it expands the terrain. How will foxes act in a different portal? What might come of it?
Pragmatically, Dreaming Foxes are a way to expand our pack while rewarding existing collectors. Each Fox holder will have the chance to mint a Dreaming Fox, while solo thought owners can mint a standalone dream.
In time, we might see thinking Foxes enter a dream realm, and Dreaming Foxes move into the world of the waking.
In crypto, composability is usually referenced in relation to Decentralized Finance (DeFi). Different financial elements like lending, savings, or payments can be isolated and recombined. These components act like "money legos," stacking together into novel structures.
One of my goals with Philosophical Foxes is to experiment with the concept of "narrative composability." What does it mean to break a story down into components? And if you manage to do that, what can you create?
To start, you would need a good character. The first phase of this project has been geared towards that end. Every Fox has meaningful depth that guides how it should act in certain circumstances. Moreover, solo thoughts allow Foxes to add characteristics over time, a process we refer to as "progressive personality." Just like us humans, Foxes change and develop by addition.
These aspects ensure we have the attributes in place for a realistic protagonist, but we need "story legos." While I'm still in the early stages of thinking this through, one place from which we can take inspiration is Joseph Campbell's seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In this book, Campbell argues that the world's great myths fit a common structure. He outlines a series of steps beginning with the "call to adventure" and culminating in a return home.
Could we separate each of Campbell's stages into discrete blocks that holders could use to bolster their Fox's narrative? What if the specifics of each stage reflected the personalities of the Foxes themselves? After all, the right journey for an existentialist is different than one for a Manichean.
We needn't stick religiously to Campbell's framework either. For example, we could begin by creating a series of "dilemmas" for Foxes. Imagine your Fox finds an envelope full of $10,000. What would it do? A Kantian that puts others first would hand it in at a police station. But an egomaniacal hedonist would probably blow it all in Atlantic City.
Through dilemmas, we learn even more about who are Foxes are and what makes them that way. Like solo thoughts, these experiences may even add new traits to our protagonists.
Now, what if these experiences touched other Foxes? What if the decision of the nihilist affected the stoic? How can stories intertwine, lace between each other? By breaking narratives into pieces, we can turn them into rich lore. The resulting product might have the complexity of an MMPORG but some of the elegance of a novel.
It is not impossible to imagine the world of Foxes interacting with other projects. Could the selflessness of a Bored Ape ruin a Fox's grift? Could a Dreaming Fox share a vision with a Seer from the Crypto Coven? Foxes will aggressively experiment with narrative potentials both in our world and perhaps beyond.
Though I didn't realize it until recently, the potential for this kind of multitudinal narrative is encapsulated by the "Multiplayer Media" thesis mentioned earlier. As a reminder, in that piece, I argued that many of the great works of art over the coming decades would be created by large teams of loosely organized contributors. Rather than a single writer pecking away at a novel, hundreds of participants might come together to create a vast story of their own.
Philosophical Foxes is an instantiation of that premise. Just as dozens may have worked on the Bayeux tapestry, this project is a chance for us to learn and play together, weaving a tale of our making.
Don't miss the next Philosophical Foxes drop, happening Thursday February 3rd at 5PT ET. You'll also receive weekly briefings from The Generalist.
So far, we have focused on the goals for Philosophical Foxes as a creative project. No less important are our ambitions for the kind of community it becomes. My hope is for it to serve as our very own web3 playground, a place for us to experiment and learn among friends. It will also be the place we drive the Philosophical Foxes project forward. (In that respect, and many others, it has very different goals than The Generalist members' community.)
To that end, we are opening up the "Ethereal Cafe," a Discord for Philosophical Foxes. It seeks to be the most thoughtful crypto Discord on the internet in tenor and vibe. We've invested in fantastic, active moderators through HomeRoom. They're focused on keeping participants as safe as possible and reducing unwanted noise. We're starting with only a few channels and seeing what resonates. Rather than a torrent of memes, we have a space dedicated to sharing our favorite philosophical quotes and concepts. Scroll a little further down, and you'll find an audio room with lo-fi music perfect for focused work. While there may be spikes in activity, we are focused on creating a laid-back atmosphere that's more relaxing than rabid.
NFT holders get access to a private channel to discuss the future of Foxes and access special perks. Hopefully, as the project establishes itself, much of its development and direction will come from this group.
Joseph Campbell said, "If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all." The Bayeux Tapestry is a big story. Not only in its literal breadth but in the scope of what it encompasses. Tragedy and victory dance and trade places. Loss insinuates celebration – life is everywhere, death is everywhere. That we care about it nearly 1,000 years later, that we feel sympathy for the figure of a howling dog or find humor in a soldier's grimace as he braces against a battle horn is testament to the power of characters, the power of stories.
Philosophical Foxes offers the chance to paint with a new palette, to embroider a different kind of chronicle. Let us tell a big story.