Buster Benson

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Codex Vitae

Table of contents


  • If you’re Buster:
    1. As often as you can: re-read your Type 3 beliefs (opinions).
    2. At the beginning of every month, review the whole document, make any necessary edits, and write a new monthly report.
    3. Around your birthday every year, write a new yearly report.
  • If you’re a first time reader: read the Glossary for a general intro to my favorite ideas, starting with What is this?, then come back and read through the Beliefs that seem interesting to you.
  • Otherwise: check the Changelog for updates since you last visited.



Personal canon



Type 1: Metabeliefs

Beliefs about beliefs.

  • Making and maintaining this document is useful and fun.
  • It's purpose is to capture my beliefs about the universe.
  • This document is incomplete and out of date.
  • Some of these beliefs will be proven wrong.
  • I’m open to changing my mind at any time about any belief by evidence, persuasion, whimsy, or chance.
  • I believe beliefs are best categorized into four types: beliefs about beliefs (metabeliefs), beliefs about perceptions (how reality seems to be), beliefs about the meaning of reality (opinions about how myself and others should approach life), and beliefs about the future (predictions about how things will be in the future).

Type 2: Perceptions

How reality seems to be. 2A is about how my mind and senses seem to work, 2B is about my take on spirituality, and 2C is about how I think the external world is based on the information I have.

2A Perceptions: Senses

Personal mental and physical abilities, constraints, and biases.

  • Perception/sensation is the awareness of things changing. We can't perceive or sense things that aren't changing.
  • Free will is mostly an illusion, but a nice one to keep.
  • Pure altruism is an illusion.
  • We are all building an incomplete model of the universe in our heads and usually operate under the assumption that this model is the real universe (it’s just easier that way).
  • Our mental model of the universe evolved so we could better predict and act on long-term threats and opportunities.
  • The best way for our brains to model predictions is to create stories.
  • Consciousness is a stream of observer moments.
  • Each observer moment is a static model of the universe captured in freeze frame, with a frozen picture of the past, present, future, and every concept. It gets updated anew each moment, along with a fading memory of past moments.
  • Consciousness is the sensation of our mental model of the universe constantly changing itself to integrate new information.
  • Consciousness evolved to allow our mental model of the universe to examine, repair, and improve itself.
  • Playing lots of games (of any kind: video, board, card, other) will make us build more accurate models of the universe than people who don’t.
  • We can change our behavior and habits but it requires a ridiculous amount of energy.
  • Most of the time we don’t change ourselves, but are rather changed by other things. That doesn’t mean we can’t tell a story about how we changed ourselves, and believe it.
  • We create mental heuristics to reduce the amount of energy to retrieve, sort, and select from lists of likely possibilities.
  • The biproduct of mental heuristics is that we are biased at all times in proportion to the number of heuristics we use.
  • We tend to favor the beautiful, the reaffirming, and the expected.
  • We tend to attribute too much credit to success (and under-credit luck).

2B Perceptions: Supersenses

My take on the spiritual and supernatural.

  • We don't have a purpose given to us, but it's okay if we make one up.
  • My self-declared purpose is to enjoy quality time (with myself, with others, and with my interests) by discovering and removing obstacles that hinder quality time.
  • Frequently remembering we will die increases the quality of our life.
  • Life is already lost. The only honest way to approach it is from a perspective of gratitude.
  • Souls don't exist as separate from the physical body.
  • The gods of organized religion don't exist.
  • Intention can't create reality (it just primes our perception of it).
  • Astrology is (fun) entertainment, like the Myers Briggs test.
  • Magic and miracles don't exist outside the explanations of science.
  • There is no heaven or hell.
  • We have no cosmic significance.

2C Perceptions: Explanatory

Science, politics, and the universe.

  • We probably live in a simulation (see digital realism).
  • Other dimensions and universes exist.
  • Micro and macro evolution happens.
  • Something like the Big Bang happened, and will probably happen again.
  • Something existed before the Big Bang (outside of time and space as we know them).
  • Nothing in our universe can travel faster than light.
  • The human brain (in its current state of evolution) can't comprehend the universe.
  • Non-carbon-based life forms exist.
  • Aliens exist, but we will most likely discover their creations (ie. robots they made) before we discover them.
  • Aliens will probably discover our own robots before they discover us.
  • The vast majority of intelligent beings throughout the universe are probably more similar to robots and cyborgs than organically evolved life.
  • Perception of time can be sped up or slowed down, but not reversed (forwards time travel is possible, backwards is not).
  • Technology will eventually disrupt all other human-created institutions (politics, religion, identity, economics, energy).
  • As history progresses, power will tend to be more quickly redistributed when it gets too heavy at the top.
  • Privacy is just a side effect of people not being truly connected.
  • Being good/moral increasingly becomes our default state as we learn more about the world and are more connected with others.
  • Most questions have no answer (but asking them anyway is often entertaining).
  • Logic is a helpful tool, but has flaws and can't be relied on entirely.
  • Acupuncture works, somehow.
  • Vaccinations are good for babies and society.

Type 3: Opinions

Beliefs about how I interpret my perceptions and synthesize the meaning of reality. 3A is about what this means for my own approach to life, and 3B is about how I believe society should be structured.

3A: Opinions: Shoulds

How I believe I should approach life. These are all opt-in and apply only to myself.

  • I should regularly verify that I want to continue opting-in to everything in this document on the first of every month.
  • I should create a new monthly report on the first of every month.
  • I should create a new yearly report every year on my birthday.
  • I should strive to know what I really believe, and to make sure my beliefs work well together.
  • I should not dilly-dally.
  • I should be my word.
  • I should have good intentions.
  • I should admit to being the maker of my own meaning.
  • I should not feel sorry for myself and avoid competitive suffering.
  • I should have a vision that I'm striving for.
  • I should rally others with my vision.
  • I should be the change I want to see.
  • I should stake my reputation on my better self.
  • I should be comfortable with the consequences of being who I am.
  • I should make my own advice and take it.
  • I should manage my stress, health, and clarity by consistently eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
  • I should study my mistakes.
  • I should retry things I don’t like every once in a while.
  • I should go slow, work hard, and avoid shortcuts.
  • I should cultivate quality time with myself, with others, and with my interests.
  • I should face things that make me uncomfortable.
  • I should take responsibility for things I find important, even if I can’t fully control them.

3B: Opinions: Society

How I believe society should be structured.

  • Gay marriage should be legal everywhere (and now IS in the United States).
  • Abortion should be legal everywhere.
  • Assisted suicide should be legal everywhere.
  • Health care should be available and affordable to everyone who needs it.
  • The death penalty should be used in extreme and certain cases to protect the public.
  • Prisons should be about protecting the public, not about punishment.
  • Marijuana should be legal to grow, sell, buy, and carry.
  • Owning a gun should require certification from a firearms officer verifying that they've taken a safety course, are free of criminal record, and pass a psychological mental health check every few years.
  • It should be easier and more expedient to put neglectful and irresponsible public servants in prison than the average citizen, not slower and more difficult.
  • Guaranteed basic income should be a thing available to everyone.
  • Free college education should be available to everyone who wants it.
  • Hunting endangered animals in order to raise money to conserve them is okay if it can be proven to actually work.

Type 4: Predictions

How I think things will be in the future, based on the approximate year I think they’ll come true.

4: Predictions: By 2016

  • Wager with Rick Webb: by March 1st, descendants of Google Glass will be seen regularly in the wild (in the same way that Fitbits, NikeFuel bands, and retina MacBook Pros are in 2013). (I’m gonna lose this one, but hoping to go double or nothing for 2025. Rick?)

4. Predictions: By 2025

  • Global warming will severely impact the global economy in some way and threaten the livelihood of people in some parts of the world.
  • The technology to program DNA (via CRISPR) will allow us to easily and cheaply edit, remove, and add DNA in embryos. We will start with obvious applications (like preventing Alzheimers) but not stop there.
  • Self-driving vehicles will begin to replace truck drivers, impacting employment rates in the country.

4: Predictions: By 2030

  • We'll have a President that admits to being atheist or agnostic by 2025.
  • Most jobs lost between 2008-2012 aren't going to come back, new ones have to be created from scratch (or not)
  • Safe, genetically modified foods will become the norm.
  • Wager with Carinna: by 2028, the equivalent of a college education (both in breadth of knowledge and value to career) will be available to anyone with an internet connection.

4: Predictions: By 2050

  • Computers will be building better computers than humans.
  • Guaranteed basic income will be available in a majority of first world countries. Employment will be decoupled from having the means to live.
  • People, organizations, and governments will exchange almost all privacy of personal data for interpersonal connection and technology personalization by machine learning services. It will be the norm.
  • Solar will overcome gas and oil in usage.

4: Predictions: By 2100

  • There will be 10 billion people on the planet at once.
  • 80% of people will live in cities and new mega-cities.
  • Physical travel will be completely unnecessary due to virtual reality technology.
  • The number of living languages in the world will have dropped from about 7,000 in 2009 to under 100.
  • Coral reefs and the ocean ecosystems are going to break with unknown consequences.

4: Predictions: By 2200

  • Humans, computers, and Earth will evolve into at least one super organism or networked brain.


What is this?

This document was started in April of 2012 as a result of an experiment one Sunday. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, maintaining this document has become one of the most valuable things in my life. It’s a way for me to remember who I am, catch inconsistencies in how I respond to different events in the world, and to react to current events from a position of how I believe the world is, should be, and will become rather than feeling helpless.

Posts about this topic: My Sunday experiment: what do I believe?

Codex vitae

This is an idea coined by Robin Sloan in his book Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. The idea is to write a book, the Codex Vitae or Book of Life, that represents everything I have learned in my life. If I lost all of my memories somehow, this could be something that helped me remember who I am.

Posts about this topic: Codex Vitae.

Hume’s fork

The gist is that there are two kinds of knowledge: matters of fact, and relations of ideas. Matters of fact aren’t accessible to us—we can never know something for certain, only that it hasn't been proven wrong yet. We can only create a self-referencing network of ideas that are related to each other. What we think of as truth is merely the ability for a particular idea to fit into this network of ideas without causing irreconcilable contradictions.

See the entry on Wikipedia for a good intro to the idea.


Or, as Nassim Nicolas Taleb calls it: antifragility. I like the word optionality because it seems more neutral, almost boring even, and yet it is probably one of the most simple and powerful ideas that I’ve ever encountered.

One simple way to describe it is the degree to which your eggs are in different baskets. The more baskets, and the more eggs, and the more evenly distributed those eggs are in those baskets, the greater your chances that any single event won't wipe you out of eggs entirely, and the greater your chances that one of those eggs is going to be amazing. The beauty of optionality is that it has both protective and self-strengthening qualities. Sticking with the metaphor, say that I have 12 eggs in 1 basket. If something happens to that basket, all of my eggs are doomed (low optionality). On the other hand, say that I have 12 eggs in 6 baskets (2 in each). If something happens to one of the baskets, I still have 10 eggs (higher optionality). Now imagine that I have 12 eggs in 12 baskets, all of the eggs are different colors, and there are monsters that prefer certain colors of eggs for breakfast. As the monsters wake up every morning and have breakfast, the type of eggs that they like will become more rare. There will be more remaining eggs with colors that they don’t like. In a way, the remaining set of eggs has become stronger (less likely to be eaten) than the set was previously. This is how high optionality works. The final twist is that in order for this to really work, it has to have some level of randomness involved… because what if the monster also adapts over time and begins to prefer new colors of eggs? In order for the eggs to be safe from complete elimination, there should be enough variation in the colors that some eggs won’t get eaten, and those eggs will need to hatch and grow and the population of future eggs will represent eggs that are less appetizing to monster. Optionality is the key to natural selection and evolution. It’s also the key to idea generation, investment strategy, product management, and many other things.

In practice it seems counter-intuitive to build systems with high optionality. We tend to build systems that converge on a single design over time (see monocultures) because they are predictable and efficient in a given environment. But environments change, and without the ability to predict how those changes will happen ahead of time, optionality is required even in the safest of environments.

Posts about this topic: Live like a hydra.


This is my word for a particular idea I'm obsessed with. It goes something like this: the universe is this giant space/time environment (or simulation?) that we are all a part of. The soloverse is our mental model of that universe that our brain uses to think about the universe and everything in it. You can’t really think about the universe directly (it’s way too big), you can only think about your mental model of the universe as it exists in your soloverse. Lots of interesting (to me) side effects result from this distinction.

I first came across this idea in 2013 and found some interesting explorations of the idea referenced by the word umwelt, which is German for “environment” or “surroundings” and pronounced oom-velt. I just made up the term soloverse because it’s easier for me to think of it as a private, working model of the universe in our minds.

A few thoughts about soloverses:

  • The soloverse is our local cache of the universe. When we were babies, our caches weren't very full, and we were forced to take in the full firehose of the universe: unsorted, uncategorized, raw. It was overwhelming. Our brains are designed to start building this soloverse almost immediately in order to gain some foothold on the raw craziness of all the information coming in. The soloverse is built up from basic building blocks like light and dark, smells, sounds, and eventually patterns (mom, hungry, cold, soft), and then eventually concepts (blanket, food) and meanings (safe, scared, good, bad).
  • What we think of as the universe is actually our soloverse. From these basic building blocks we create beliefs (perceptions and opinions) and build simulations that allow us to predict future occurrences (if I hit someone, I will get in trouble). At some point we arrive at a concept of our own selves and other people.
  • The soloverse contains gods and archetypes and the self. Some of our most powerful beliefs and traditional characters (God, the hero, the devil, the wizard, the fairy godmother, even our concept of our self) all exist only in our soloverses. Unicorns, dragons, Santa, astrology, luck, fairness, truth, good and evil, beginning middle and end, physics, etc are also characters and ideas that exist within this structure. Natural, supernatural, and fictional characters and ideas exist primarily in our soloverse, and not so much in the universe directly. This quirk is actually really fascinating to explore and has many implications that I haven’t fully unraveled yet.
  • The soloverse is the most powerful tool we have. The model of the universe that we each have is highly personal, and idiosyncratic to the experiences we’ve had. There are also large portions of which there is probably lots of overlap with other peoples’ solo verses (common sense, myths, popular culture, things we learn in school, etc). An unhealthy soloverse will lead to poor/misinformed decision-making. An unhealthy soloverse could be responsible for cruelty, prejudice, hatred, wars, and all kinds of other unfortunate things. What could we do to help ourselves and each other have healthier soloverses? Could we address this issue directly and have an impact?
  • A comprehensively complete soloverse must also model every other soloverse that exists. In order to build a real “to scale” model of the universe it has to also include every other soloverse out there, including itself. We can’t escape our personal soloverse, but we can make it a more hospitable place to live in the meantime.

Posts about this topic: Universe ↔ Soloverse, Know thy umwelt


We experience life and the world through a series of lenses, and these lenses are colored by the ideas that have recently been activated in our brains. This idea has been popping up in my zeitgeist lately, and it seems like it's related to the soloverse, to anomalies, to beliefs, to behavior, to identity, even to quality time (the only way to really enjoy quality time is to be primed for it)... basically all of my favorite ideas. I'm creating this as a place-holder for now and will fill it in as the interest develops and I'm able to articulate it better.

Quality time

My own Codex Vitae's first chapter could possibly be about quality time and its role as the primary ends (and means) for a life well lived. There are 3 kinds of quality time that I want to seek out. The first is quality time with myself. Find my favorite ideas, core interests, and people that I can connect deeply with. The second is quality time with those favorite ideas and core interests, and the third is quality time with those people I can connect deeply with. They each feed into each other: I can't really connect deeply with others until I know myself sufficiently well; often times interests are strengthened by having people I can connect with and share with. It seems pretty ungameable to me. Seek quality time with myself, my interests, and others and I won't regret anything on my death bed.

Posts about this topic: The Death Bed Game, How I track my life, Live like a hydra.

Quantum realism

Quantum realism is a term I first learned from an article by Brian Whitworth, a senior lecturer in computing at Massey University. The idea is in opposition to "physical realism" (that belief that the physical world we see is real and exists by itself, alone). Quantum realism asserts that the physical world isn't real in itself, but merely the output (or shadow, or result, or projected image) of a quantum reality that is generating it. It's basically a virtual reality, or a simulation.

I'm still learning about this and definitely couldn't explain or defend it, but I'm fascinated by the idea and keep thinking about it. I need to read this a few more times.

Needs definition

  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (wikipedia)

Personal canon


Writing I've loved and come back to a bunch of times.


Each of these books has changed how I see the world.

My writing

Stuff that I've written that means something to me.


History of changes to this document · Monthly reports

Yearly reports

39: Make wiggle room (2015)

38: Cultivate quality time (2014)

37: More kiloslogs (2013)

36: Talk it out (2012)

35: Love the struggle (2011)

34: Cultivating the core (2010)

33: Frugal to the max (2009)

32: No problem (2008)

31: Double down (2007)

30: Higher highs and lower lows (2006)