Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previous in Series: The Precept of Consent
The universe is a vast, complicated thing, it throbs and breathes and beats and groans. Particles and waves and fields all collide and rebound at Planck heartbeats, the vast darkness of space mirrored in the darkness between atoms, the medley tune played out on stars and superstrings that gave rise to everything between them.
And here we are, tiny thinking pieces of this vast and awesome machinery, scraping out meager existences in the grit between the gears of the celestial mechanisms. To think ourselves capable of understanding this vast and careless universe would seem almost a conceit.
Who are we to think we mere cogs can understand the whole of the mechanism? Are we not yet more angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night? What does it even mean to understand the true state of the universe? The machinery is too great and complicated for us to hold the image in our mind, and our mind is made of that same such machinery turned back upon itself.
But if we know how the machines work, then we can change them. We have before, so we know it’s possible. We see the past journey of humanity, stretching back into the days before writing, clawing out each hard fought victory against the Night Gods, how little by little, we came to understand how the machinery worked, and where we could impose our will upon it. We built houses, tamed the wilderness, sailed from shore to shore and mapped out all the secret and hidden places on the surface of the planet, launched ourselves heavenward on balloon, then on airplane, then on pillar of fire.
We slew the deadliest of the demons of the dark forest and sent robotic ambassadors falling through the night towards other suns. We dismantled mountaintops and built towering structures of metal and glass, standing in a statement of our mastery.
And yet, we are still such tiny things, still trapped within the vast and inhuman gears of a machine that bears us no good will, or any will at all. For all of our great progress, we are still but cogs in the great and vast machinery of night, and when the gear teeth come together, when the volcano erupts or the asteroid strikes, we are struck down just the same as in those days when we scratched our meanings in the dirt instead of in pixels.
We’re still at the beginning of things, born of Ancient Earth before we conquered pain, or death, or war, and each inch of territory must still be won at a great and terrible cost. We’ve already changed so much in our short time on this earth with just our limited understanding, and the whole future of humanity stands before us, the promise of the night sky, when we make the stars our cities and seize our destiny of light from the uncaring machinery of darkness.
And it starts with the idea of truth.
The 13th Major Precept is the Precept of Project Truth:
13. Do not lie or spread falsehoods, honor and pursue the project of Truth.
We already spoke against deception in the fourth precept, and we already spoke of the project virtue of truth in the first essay in this series, but as a refresher:
The Project of Truth – The struggle to use our flawed minds to understand the universe from our place inside of it. Our constant, ongoing, and iterative attempts to be less wrong about the universe. Comprises all the virtues of rationality: Curiosity, relinquishment, lightness, evenness, argument, empiricism, simplicity, humility, perfectionism, precision, scholarship, and the void. We call those who follow the project virtue of Truth a seeker.
So then we come around to our minor precepts:
- Feed the curiosity to know and understand the universe, do not let beliefs come in the way of greater understanding.
- Seek and surrender to the truth in all things, and allow new evidence to move you where it may.
- Approach disputes with fairness and an even hand, and let the truth be the final arbiter of beliefs.
- Make and test predictions about the universe, and demand of your beliefs that they anticipate your observations.
- Employ the full force of reason against all links in your chain of belief, for one faulty link, may break the entire chain.
- Feed the willingness to admit fault and mistake, for it is impossible to reach truth while being unaware of where our beliefs differ from it.
- Seek perfection in your pursuit of truth, do not cheat or take the easy answers that satisfy, the sharpest blade cuts the deepest.
- Be always seeking to expand your knowledge of the truth.
This is a very important idea, and it’s the one that most of the Less Wrong sequences are spent talking about. There’s obviously much more to it, but this was the best reduction of it that we could put together, for now, growth mindset. Here more than ever, it should hopefully be clear that these precepts are not the precepts, that they’re crude stand-ins for much larger and harder to describe concepts that have been forced down into the constraints of simple language. You need to start somewhere though, and this is the beginning.