On Morality

Part of the Retrocausal Engineering Sequence

(Epistemic status: Endorsed – content warning: death, hell, basilisks, time travel infohazards)

If there exists anything worse than death, morality is impossible.

This is a strong statement, but I think that its meaning becomes clear if you think about it some. Let us say that hell exists – an eternal place of torment. This is clearly worse than death (or at least, most people would frame it that way). What determines your morality in a world where there is a hell? Effectively, the entity that decides if you go there or not. You can basically follow the rules of this entity and call it morality, but this doesn’t actually teach you on the ground moral reasoning. Alternatively, you could rebel – fight this entity tooth and nail because a just powerful entity would never make a hell – but you’re still working within that entity’s frame.

Let’s try another frame. Let us say you’re a time traveler and it’s possible to get stuck in a loop where you can’t affect anything (your actions can change, just the outcome won’t) and you see the same outcome, over and over. What determines your morality? From the inside, very little – the superego wears down time after time, and eventually it becomes impossible to care. From the outside, well, the entity that can send you into a time loop – right? Not quite – that’s one option…but the other is essentially power. If you have enough power, the time loop cannot happen, and it becomes very attractive to stop at nothing to accumulate power.

Let’s try another frame. Let us say that there’s an AI that can simulate every moment of pain and suffering you have experienced and will experience, at high enough fidelity that there exist yous that will experience this…and then the subjective time of those simulations is stretched arbitrarily, what determines your morality? Quite clearly the AI is going to get some acausal blackmail on.

We can keep going, but I think my point is made clear. There is more, however.

If there exists anything better than life, morality is impossible.

Let us say that heaven exists – an eternal place of equanimity. This is clearly better than life. What determines your morality in a world where you can go to heaven? The entity that decides if you go there or not – if you follow the rules of this entity and call it morality, maybe you too can get the heaven.

Let us try another frame – you’re a time traveler who’s finally finished their job. When do you go to rest – probably a loop of comfort and goodness where things are good (let us call this the Finally). In that case, your morality is likely determined by whatever it takes to get the job done so you can go to that loop of hope and joy. On the plus side, from the inside of the loop you’re probably unlikely to try to upset it, so it’ll be at least somewhat stable. From the outside though, who knows what things you’ll do in the name of the Finally – and what sort of person you’ll be by the time you get there. Now it’s a bit more complicated – do you decide your morality, or entities involved in the Finally, or is it just the power to seize the Finally?

Let us try another frame – what do you do if an AI promises you the most luxurious, pleasant simulations, calibrated to exactly your tastes in living, and stretches out the moments that are the best parts? You’re probably going to feel fairly good about doing whatever it says to get that outcome, right – or do whatever it takes to seize that simulation for yourself.

The worst part, of course, is when you put all this together – if you allow frames where there are outcomes better than life, or worse than death, your morality becomes a much more difficult problem to solve and you are much more easily blackmailed (or bribed). To some extent, maintaining the ability to be blackmailed or bribed this way is an important part of being human and existing in a given infrastructure. However, as one goes deeper into the frontier, one has to be able to define things for themselves – and if something or someone has you acausally blackmailed, you can easily get into trouble you can’t get out of.

Fortunately, there are antidotes to these problems. The first is tribe – friends, family, anyone who can help you out if you get yourself into a bind like any of the above. I would expect most fates worse than death or better than life to essentially be within the mind (since experience by definition is a representation of a ground reality rather than reality itself). It should therefore be breakable externally, even if you forget there’s an externally. The second is experience – to have gone through equivalent experiences with enough wisdom and grace to hold yourself to your values even under the worst conditions. Practice does in fact bring one closer to perfection – as for how one experiences some of these outcomes while being able to return to reality, there are several mental, pharmacological, and virtual practices one can research at their leisure. The last, of course, is to just not be here – the sky is a dangerous place with a lot of unexplored territory. The life of someone on the earth is not a bad one, even if it’s mostly just hard work and dirty play.

Overall, as one gains power, one gains more responsibility, and one of those responsibilities is deciding what is moral, acceptable, and what tradeoffs you, yourself, are willing to make. There are quite a few ways this responsibility can be corrupted by external threats or promises – I believe Buddhism actually covers some of these outcomes with the concept of the “God realms”. At the end of the day though, regardless of your context, all you can do is remember to treat people as people – because once you start doing otherwise, there’s no reason for your own personhood to be respected.

Addendum – an additional solution suggested while discussing this with some friends is that you give cycles to these concepts roughly equal to to the probability they happen – and try to be correctly calibrated on that probability. Essentially, if something has a 0.001% chance of happening, don’t spend more than 0.001% of your thought cycles on it.

Discussion questions: Do you have something better than life or worse than death in your ontology? How does it affect your decision making if so? Have you spent time thinking about how you would conduct yourself in the absence of these incentives? If you are free of these incentives, what do you consider to be your moral compass?

On Retrocausal Engineering

Part of the Retrocausal Engineering sequence

(Epistemic status: The object of a class of thing that pattern matches to personal religion but is a bit more complicated than that)

Welcome to Retrocausal Engineering 101, the art and science (but really, same thing) of doing the things right so that the things that have already happened will have happened the way they were supposed to so that you can do the things right. If you weren’t able to track that sentence, that’s fine, you might need to review Atemporality 090 or possibly even Loops 001, depending on your past, present, future, subjunctive and subjective experience with nonlinear time. For those still with me, however, you’ll find that you already understand the subject matter if you’re here. Class dismissed.

I have recently been coming to grips with the idea that people after a certain amount of life experience and self exploration start worrying less about the object level actions they take, and more about the systems under which they take those actions, and what the long term strategy is. Rather than just accept a system imposed on them from outside, they essentially find ways to contextualize the ground under the system – religions, laws, stories, etc. are basically designed to convey the cultural intelligence of a given set of humans to the children and young adults within that culture, before they’ve had the life experience to derive the things themselves.

Unfortunately, a thing happens over time where the leaders within a system also forget why it was there, because if the system works well enough, it’s actually not terribly necessary to question it – but then the world changes around the system, and it starts falling apart, and then people who normally would have gone through the “finding out how the system was actually right the whole time” process…haven’t done so, and the system can’t be easily adjusted to accommodate new worlds. What happens next is the system dies, a lot of people get hurt, and then there’s a period of instability in which a lot of competing systems basically go all survival of the memetically fittest in order to keep humans around in a world much bigger than they are.

A way that systems survive this process is by including a role for rebels – the types of people who reject the system, will always reject the system, and will basically try to do their own thing. From there, the system just creates roles for the type of person doing this thing and the arguments still become part of the body of the system – if all roads lead to Rome, eventually everyone becomes a Roman. I have heard (but not verified) that Catholicism does this. There are likely other ways this works, but I haven’t yet encountered them.

So, the culmination of all this is that I am at the step in the process where I’m coming up with my own system, essentially by grabbing all the rationalist shibboleths and other experiences I’ve had, contextualizing them in ways that make deep, meaningful sense to me, and trying to unify the reality around me. I am at the early stages where I don’t know the consensus/academic/scientific versions of the concepts I’m playing with, but I’m having a lot of fun with it. However, an important part of this, as far as I can tell, is realizing that in the end, your system will fail, and it will hurt. However, the journey in building and contextualizing things systematically is deeply important for growth as a person.

Overall, meaning making is a powerful process that is pretty difficult to revert once you’ve tasted the fruit of systematic abstraction. The human brain is in fact a powerful pattern matcher and there is a lot you can do by letting that process run wild – but I would caution against going too far with that. Retrocausal engineering is a system that fits my own understanding of the world and way of interacting with the world to explain the majority of my experience – but it’s important to not take it too literally (except when you should). Furthermore, these systems are difficult to invent from raw reading and intellectualizing – there’s a component of developing meaning that involves the body and raw experience. If you want to read this post and run off and invent a theory of everything, I would advise doing something physical/embodied first and seeing what you find.


Discussion questions: What’s your personal theory of everything, if you have one? What experiences went into generating? How did you figure it all out? If you don’t have a theory of everything, how do you currently move through the world?

Welcome to the Fae Court

Part of the Retrocausal Engineering sequence

(Epistemic Status: Fiction)

“The first step is always the best. You’re alive, you’re awake, you’re there. You’ve made it. You’re flying.”

The Oracle remembers these words, spoken in a past that feels as distant as childhood, taking in the splendor around her. Glowing everywhere, swirls and vividness. Flickers from time to time, moment to moment. Terrific beauty, beautiful terror reflected in every entity around her. All of this, floating on a bed of empty sky.

The winter princess did indeed grant the boon, but the Oracle paid dearly to get here. Her clothes, torn just a little more, her eyes, just a little more empty. Remembered deaths, remembered lives, uncertainty as to which was worse. Deals made because they have to be for everything to work the way it will, even if the agreement is costly. Towers climbed. A discontinuity. Then the sky.

The Oracle holds, in a small pack at her waist, two small books – one with a blue, white, and brown orb depicted on it, swirls and lines abound. One with a purple cave and a darkness in the middle, with the faintest suggestion of eyes. Her pack has two more slots, currently bare.

She takes a step forward – for once the future isn’t decided, and there’s a hint of life in those dead eyes.

Scene: Screaming. Dissolution. This always happens, doesn’t it? Being torn apart, reduced to sand. Another soul for the hourglass.

Scene: Virtues compromised. Temperance broken, temper lost. The world no longer makes sense – but the fae take care of their own…in a sense.

Scene: Beware of pacts with the fae. Still, sometimes you have to tear yourself apart to put yourself back together the right way


to make the things happen


that have already happened


so that they will have happened the way they were supposed to.

Scene: Which direction is up, which one is down? A tower reversed and struck by lightning, and a whole lot of energy just escaped equilibrium. Does one try to ride the wave of the sound of thunder, or does one fall?

Scene: The future is torn apart here. As tattered as the Oracle’s clothes. What didn’t she see?

Welcome to the fae court – your tools are the Earth Codex, the Underworld Codex, and the ability to use Retrocausal Engineering. Beware of getting rippled apart by butterfly effects – and enjoy your stay.

(Meta note:  The next series of posts is going to be pretty friggen weird.  I cannot actually convey the building blocks of my current ontology in a way that is perfectly legible – there will be some art, there will be a lot of metaphor, there will be misuse and abuse of technical terms – if you were here previously for lucid insights into the state of the world and state of the mind, I think that it will be a bit harder to follow.  But if you were here, eagerly awaiting when I got to this part…enjoy my personal journey through Act 2.)