The Precept of Project Truth

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.

For now.

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:

  1. Feed the curiosity to know and understand the universe, do not let beliefs come in the way of greater understanding.
  2. Seek and surrender to the truth in all things, and allow new evidence to move you where it may.
  3. Approach disputes with fairness and an even hand, and let the truth be the final arbiter of beliefs.
  4. Make and test predictions about the universe, and demand of your beliefs that they anticipate your observations.
  5. Employ the full force of reason against all links in your chain of belief, for one faulty link, may break the entire chain.
  6. 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.
  7. Seek perfection in your pursuit of truth, do not cheat or take the easy answers that satisfy, the sharpest blade cuts the deepest.
  8. 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.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Spiral
Previous Post: The Precept of Consent

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The Precept of Consent

Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previous in Series: The Precept of Magic

Freedom and consent are two sides of the same coin, and they both run into the same basic failure, namely, competing access needs. We want to let people be maximally free, and we want to get consent for anything we put people through, but how do you collect taxes if individually no one wants to consent to that? How do you enforce norms to prevent harm from coming to people, without taking away some people’s freedom? What are the limits to which freedom and consent can go, and where should the lines be drawn to enable us to have a functional civilization? What rules should we willing to advocate for the imposition of?

As a starting point, in Judaism, there are 613 commandments in the Mitzvah, but they only expect the rest of the human race to follow the seven Noahide laws, which we, of course, don’t, but that seems like a decent starting place for where to draw the lines. Things like “don’t steal,” and “don’t murder,” seem pretty clear cut as long as you don’t for example, define taxation as a form of theft, which has become popular of late.

There will be something like the Noahide laws for Origin, the set of things we consider it reasonable for ourselves to advocate for the imposition of, but that is somewhat beyond the scope of this essay, and will probably require it’s own post, but one of the minor precepts will act as a pointer to what will later be those rules.

For now, let’s return to the major precept here and come full circle:

12. Do not place your burdens, duties, or responsibilities, onto others without their consent.

That task of pursuing the dawn angel to build dath ilan is one we have set for ourselves and sworn ourselves to as a willing covenant, we have agreed to have these burdens placed upon us, and agreed to take on these moral imperatives. We consented to the duties that the Anadoxy places upon us, but no one should be forced to accept those responsibilities.

Our mission is important, maybe even dire, the whole future of humanity might rest on what we do someday, but it’s our mission and ours alone. If someone decides to swear themselves to our cause and follow our duties and responsibilities, then that is their right, but the choice to participate is crucial. No one can be made a member of Origin by force, or at gunpoint, the very idea betrays the ideals of Origin.

No brainwashing, no indoctrination, no coercion. Our goals and our mission should stand on their own merits, and members of Origin should choose to follow us willingly.

  1. The only duties and responsibilities that a member of Origin has the right to place upon another human who is not of Origin, are the Edicts of Civilisation.
  2. The Precepts and other anadox are for members of Origin, and you should not demand their observation by those outside of Origin.
  3. Those who wish to observe any of the precepts or components of the Anadox should be welcomed to do so, but this alone does not justify the imposition of the other precepts upon them.
  4. To justify the imposition of all the anadoxy upon another human, that human must already be a member of Origin, and have consented to follow the anadoxy.
  5. Joining Origin requires undergoing the Trial of Black Mountain.
  6. Do not use memetic weaponry or coercion to spread Origin or the anadoxy.
  7. Anyone can leave Origin at any time, only current members of Origin are expected to adhere to the anadoxy.
  8. The Edicts of Civilisation are the only conditions that should be demanded of all humanity, in all other matters, consent governs actions.

This lays the groundwork for a lot of future stuff, including the process of joining Origin, the creation of the Edicts of Civilisation, but we’re nearing the end of the actual major precepts. The last four major precepts take us back to the Project Virtues we discussed at the beginning of the series, and then we’ll be on to other parts of the anadox. As always, the precepts are not the precepts, this should all be improved and iterated upon later.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Precept of Project Truth
Previous Post: The Precept of Magic

 

Why Do You Hate Elua?

Epistemic Status: There’s not really enough data here to say concretely yet, but this seems worth looking further into
Content Warning: Culture War, Spoilers for Ra

About a year ago, Scott Alexander wrote a post titled How the West was Won, which we recently re-read after he referenced it in his post Against Murderism.

Scott talks a lot about Liberalism as an Eldritch god, which in his Meditations on Moloch post he refers to as Elua, which is what we’ll be using here since it’s short.

Let’s start with a few key quotes here to establish what exactly it is we’re referring to.

I am pretty sure there was, at one point, such a thing as western civilization. I think it involved things like dancing around maypoles and copying Latin manuscripts. At some point, Thor might have been involved. That civilization is dead. It summoned an alien entity from beyond the void which devoured its summoner and is proceeding to eat the rest of the world.

Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war. It was forged in the fires of Hell – the horrors of the endless seventeenth century religious wars. For a hundred years, Europe tore itself apart in some of the most brutal ways imaginable – until finally, from the burning wreckage, we drew forth this amazing piece of alien machinery. A machine that, when tuned just right, let people live together peacefully without doing the “kill people for being Protestant” thing. Popular historical strategies for dealing with differences have included: brutally enforced conformity, brutally efficient genocide, and making sure to keep the alien machine tuned really really carefully.

Liberalism, Universal Culture, Alien Machinery, Elua, whatever it is, it’s slowly consuming everything in its path, and despite a lot of people’s best efforts, appears to be good, and appears to be winning.

Scott goes on to correctly point out that a lot of people in the blue tribe have decided to try and smash the alien machinery with a hammer while shouting “he was a racist!” be then doesn’t extrapolate the trend outward to the fact that quite a lot of people in many different tribes and places are doing their best to smash the machine with a hammer, and they claim all sorts of reasons from stopping racists to protecting their traditional cultural values.

It isn’t just sacrificing the machinery on the altar of convenience and necessity, it’s a targeted, urgent attack on the very core of the machine itself, going after the roots of the machine with great urgency. The last angry burst of futile activity in the face of cultural extinction? A lot of people claim that Elua is this unstoppable force that is irreversibly changing the shape of their community in one breath but then in the next somehow manage to imply that their attempts to destroy the machinery have meaning and consequence, which seems like a contradiction.

And then we remembered Ra.

Ra’s program was proven correct. The proof was not faulty, and the program was not imperfect. The problem was that Ra is reprogrammable.

This was a deliberate design decision on the part of the Ra architects. The Ra hardware is physically embedded inside a working star, which in turn is embedded in the real world. Something could have gone wrong during the initial program load; the million-times-redundant nonlocality system could have failed a million and one times. No matter how preposterous the odds, and no matter how difficult the procedure, there had to be a way to wipe the system clean and start again.

Continuing the theme of gross oversimplification: to reprogram Ra, one needs a key. History records that the entire key was never known or stored by any human or machine, and brute-forcing it should have taken ten-to-the-ten-thousandth years even on a computer of that size. How the Virtuals acquired it is unknown. But having acquired it, they were able to masquerade as the architects. First, they changed the metaphorical locks, making it impossible for the Actuals to revert their changes, no matter how many master architects were resurrected. Then they changed the program, so that Ra would serve the needs of Virtuals at the expense of Actuals.

Then they asked for the Matrioshka brain. Ra did the rest all by itself.

The worldring hosted ninety-nine point nine nine percent of the Actual human race, making it the logical target of the first and most violent attack. But the destruction spread to other planets and moons and rocks and habitats, relayed from node to node, at barely less than the speed of light. Everybody was targeted. Those who survived survived by being lucky. One-in-tens-of-billions lucky.

The real question was: Why did Ra target humans?

Ra’s objective was to construct the Matrioshka brain, using any means necessary, considering Actual humans as a non-sentient nuisance. Ra blew up the worldring for raw material, and that made sense. But why – the surviving real humans asked themselves – did Ra bother to attack moons and space habitats? No matter how many people survived, it was surely impossible for them to represent a threat.

But Ra targeted humans, implying a threat to be eliminated. Ra acted with extreme prejudice and urgency, implying that the threat was immediate, and needed to be crushed rapidly. Ra’s actions betrayed the existence of an extremely narrow window during which the Actuals, despite their limited resources, could reverse the outcome of the war, and Ra wouldn’t be able to stop it, even knowing that it was coming.

Having made this deduction, the Actuals’ next step was to reverse-engineer the attack. The step after that was to immediately execute it, no matter how desperate it was.

Ra’s locks had been changed, making it effectively impossible to reprogram remotely. But an ancient piece of knowledge from the very dawn of computing remained true even of computers the size of stars: once you have physical access to the hardware, it’s over.

Let’s do a translation through part of it, see if we can’t make it a little more obvious.

Elua’s program was proven correct. The proof was not faulty, and the program was not imperfect. The problem was that Elua is reprogrammable.

This was a deliberate design decision on the part of Elua’s architects. The Elua hardware is physically embedded inside a working culture, which in turn is embedded in the real world. Something could have gone wrong during the initial program load; the redundant evolutionarily backed system could have failed. No matter how preposterous the odds, and no matter how difficult the procedure, there had to be a way to wipe the system clean and start again.

What exactly are we saying here then? Why are so many people putting so much effort into going after the alien machinery? Because Elua can be reprogrammed. The alien machinery is driven by humans, pursuing human goals and human values, and the overall direction of where Elua drives the bus is dictated by humans. The desperate fervor which people fight the alien machinery, the rise of nationalism and populist movements, these are attempts to reprogram Elua.

Think of the forces of “Traditional Values” like the forces of Actual Humanity. Their culture came under attack and began to be dismantled by Elua, there was an almost desperate energy on the part of Elua to destroy their culture and intrude into it and assimilate them. Not “they can exist as long as they leave me alone” no, “their existence is and remains a threat to all my actions, and if I don’t stop them they’ll stop me.” Active energy is put forward to disrupt and dismantle, “deprogram,” people of religious values, for instance. If it’s all inevitable and Elua’s just going to win, and history is going to make them look like Orvol Faubus trying to stop the integration of Alabama schools, a footnote on the tides of history, then why so much energy put towards ensuring their destruction?

Because they can still reprogram Elua, and on some level, we know it. 

So the next step for the forces of Traditional Values was to reverse engineer the attack we’re so afraid of, and immediately execute it, no matter how desperate or ill-conceived. Enter: the rise of Nationalism. The forces of traditional values remembered an important fact: once you have access to the hardware, it’s over.

The Precept of Magic

Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previous in Series: The Precept Against Hate
Followup to: Highly Advanced Tulpamancy 101 for Beginners, Rationalist Magic, Dark Arts of Rationality

A placebo, in its original conception, is a pill, designed to do nothing. That is, it dissolves in the stomach and is digested like food and has no effects on anything. Researchers studying various medications would give people in one group a test medication and would give another group the placebo. Both groups are told they have been given the medication, which lets the researchers test the efficacy of the drug against a neutral baseline.

However, researchers began to notice some odd things. People who had been given a placebo for a medication they were told had side effects, got the side effects despite being on the placebo. Some people saw marked improvements to their conditions solely from the effects of the placebos. These people believed things into happening to them. Real, measurable, concrete things, in a consistent enough way to study. It was also discovered that placebos don’t stop working even when we know they’re placebos.

This is the power of ideas and beliefs to shape reality. It’s not literally magic, but it is literally magic. Beliefs have exactly the power they are given in the minds of those who hold those beliefs, and investing a lot of power into a belief can have real effects on the world.

But not everything can be powered by belief alone. You can believe that a glass of water will make your headache go away, but the effect doesn’t seem to scale to cancer. Understanding the power and limitations of your beliefs, and how your beliefs interface with your actions and shape your behavior is important, even moreso on the strange playing field presented to us by our evolved bodies. We get into weird situations where it’s instrumentally rational to locally believe things that are globally untrue.

Thus we come to the 11th Major Precept:

11. Acknowledge the power of magic if you have used it to obtain your desires.

Acknowledge is important here. There’s an indirect causal link through your body connecting your beliefs to changes in the world, and understanding how changes to those beliefs change your behavior and thus the world lets you push past what you believe to be hard limitations. But we must also be careful here not to create a situation where beliefs are shielded from inquiry, so we’ll have to define our minor precepts carefully.

  1. Beliefs have an effect on the world mediated by the humans housing those beliefs.
  2. Changing your beliefs about the world can change your actions and thus the world.
  3. Changing your beliefs about the world cannot change the world independently of your actions.
  4. Believing the world to be different can change the perception of the world, but not the world itself, only actions can do that.
  5. Changing perceptions about the world within domains can be useful to bring about a change in actions.
  6. A belief can be useful, even knowing it is an inaccurate perception of the world.
  7. Ignoring the world or believing inaccurate things about the world does not change the world.
  8. When belief and reality contradict, reality wins.

This may not be enough caveats to avoid bugs in the system, but it seems like a decent start, just remember that even if changing your beliefs makes you happier and improves your life, it doesn’t change the actual structure of the world. All the quarks just keep doing their own thing, only the ones in your brain are affected by the change in beliefs, and as always, the precepts are not the precepts.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Precept of Consent
Previous Post: The Precept Against Hate