Optimal Taboo

The purpose of this writing is to present an optimized structure of communication based on recent computer science developments and some connections between various (and seemingly otherwise unrelated) subjects. The writing itself is part of its own implementation and experiment.


We start with the premise that a useful argument or proposal must be deemed so by society. That is to say the value of all things is ultimately determined by propriety. A useful idea then must be conveyed, understood, and accepted by society. A clear indication of such acceptance would be the amount of citations a paper receives, which could also be viewed as a clear indication of a paper’s usefulness. This writing seeks to describe the optimization of a game (Taboo, explained later) that can be used as a metaphor for the optimization of the implementation of valuable knowledge and ideas. The argument is considered valid if the writing is deemed useful by propriety and invalid of propriety deems it to be incoherent or irrelevant (although there is an implication of evolution of the concept which will become apparent later on as well).

The Nature of Propriety

It is quite appropriate for this paper to use standard accepted definitions of these words and phrases from around the internet:

Propriety noun, plural proprieties.
1. conformity to established standards of good or proper behavior or manners.
2. appropriateness to the purpose or circumstances; suitability.
3. rightness or justness.
4. the proprieties, the conventional standards of proper behavior; manners

Adam Smith left us a discourse on the nature and importance of propriety in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The useful application of his works is to suggest that value and morality can only be understood in relation to propriety. Since no person has the perspective of the entirety of all individuals, no matter how hard they try to project their own understanding, propriety, or the collective of mankind, will always have a superior vantage point.

In other words, in order for a proposal to be useful one must convince propriety to change or move to accept it. This involves reaching a certain tipping point of acceptance:

In sociology, a tipping point is a point in time when a group — or a large number of group members — rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice.

Malcolm Gladwell also gives us a useful definition for a Tipping Point from his books with the same title:

Gladwell defines a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”.[1]

Bitcoin’s community understands this as the 51% attack, which is the amount of the bitcoin network one would have to control in order to change the shared ledger (propriety), or double spend a transaction:

The Sybil attack in computer security is an attack wherein a reputation system is subverted by forging identities in peer-to-peer networks.

Interestingly “Sybil attack” was originally termed “pseudospoofing” but, for whatever reason, propriety did not accept the term:

The term “pseudospoofing” had previously been coined by L. Detweiler on the Cypherpunks mailing list and used in the literature on peer-to-peer systems for the same class of attacks prior to 2002, but this term did not gain as much influence as “Sybil attack”.[3]

Hitting a tipping point can be thought of as attaining the necessary requirements for moving from one Nash Equilibrium (eventually) to another (there is irony here that won’t be cited).

Propriety and The Ever Evolving Peer Review Process

The peer review process is an example of the usefulness of propriety.

Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers). It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards of quality, improve performance, and provide credibility.

Scholarly or academic peer review has different specific implementations and goals:

Scholarly peer review (also known as refereeing) is the process of subjecting an author’s scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts In the same field, before a paper describing this work is published in a journal or as a book.

Peer review itself has evolved, and at a time was criticized by Einstein for being an open enough process:

On another occasion, Einstein was severely critical of the external review process, saying that he had not authorized the editor in chief to show his manuscript “to specialists before it is printed”, and informing him that he would “publish the paper elsewhere”.[8]

Whether the process should be double or single blind is still left to will of propriety (citation needed!):

Anonymous peer review, also called blind review, is a system of prepublication peer review of scientific articles or papers for journals or academic conferences by reviewers who are known to the journal editor or conference organizer but whose names are not given to the article’s author. In some cases, the reviewers do not know the author’s identity, as any identifying information is stripped from the document before review. The system is intended to reduce or eliminate bias.[citation needed]

Anonymity in this regard may or may not be useful:

In “double-blind” review, which has been fashioned by sociology journals in the 1950s [31] and remains more common in the social sciences and humanities than in the natural sciences, the identity of the authors is concealed from the reviewers, and vice versa, lest the knowledge of authorship or concern about disapprobation from the author bias their review.[32]

The Importance and Difficulty of Core Beliefs

Each of us has core beliefs that are necessary for us to make decisions and compartmentalize our understanding of this world. Core beliefs are necessarily difficult to re-write because they are a survival mechanism (a relic of natural evolution) in regard to stability. That is to say, the stubbornness inherit in humanity was at one time a necessity. Re-writing a core belief for many is difficult (for some near impossible) and sometimes traumatic (often it takes life-changing events to re-write our core beliefs).

Core beliefs are comparable to bitcoin transactions written in the block-chain, a metaphor we didn’t previously have to understand how the core component of the brain’s “ledger” system works. To reverse a core beliefs requires a radical change across the whole “neural network”. Not an easy feat.


Modularity of design or explanation is helpful for a few reasons. In implementation of design this allows for the division of labor which is highly efficient and cost effective in many circumstances. Modularity also allows for humans to have a more complete understanding of a whole solution. Some complex solutions, presented in entirety, are too difficult to digest. One the other hand solutions presented in too many parts are also difficult to conceptualize together as a whole. Following the number of music notes, number of colors we describe in a rainbow etc. we might assume the optimal number of parts to be ~7. Although, it’s quite easy to simply point out ‘the optimal number should be chosen’.

Interchangeability is implied with modularity. Breaking up our solution or argument into parts allows one to swap out parts that don’t fit, don’t work, aren’t agreeable etc. It also allows others to swap in parts the render the entire solution different from the initial proposal. Modularity is very useful for this and for what will be described in the Optimizing Taboo section.

A Re-levant and Useful Game: Taboo

I was introduced to this writing (Taboo Your Words) by Vitalik Buterin who asked me to “Taboo” the word Keynesian. The idea is that I had been using a word in which we don’t have a shared meaning for. So by introducing a rule into the dialogue by which I was no longer allowed to use the word “Keynesian” we would (hopefully) able to reduce a spot in which dialogue was not coherent between us (Here instead of Keynesian I used Nash’s definition basically that:

…a “Keynesian” would favor the existence of a “manipulative” state establishment of central bank and treasury which would continuously seek to achieve “economics welfare” objectives with comparatively little regard for the long term reputation of the national currency.

Optimizing Taboo

We might immediately recognize something really useful here. Optimization in this sense can happen by Tabooing words, phrase, concepts, and arguments, in such a way that there remains a relevant shared meaning in regard to the argument or solution presented, HOWEVER also in such a way that all party’s core beliefs are NOT encroached on in any manner. Modularity and interchangeability obviously facilitate this process.

This might not always be possible, but we can say it is (more) optimal, or something that we might search for in dialogue or our proposals.


Dialogue between parties, proposal and arguments, and general protocols and communication can be optimized by “Optimizing Taboo” a form of modulating difficult topics, and interchanging their parts for both maximum agreeableness and intelligibility among participants. The key is to retain to the significant points while dancing around participants core beliefs without raising any counter-points to them (it is yet to be shown whether or not this is always possible). For this purpose, David Bohm’s paper On Dialogue gives us a perfect instruction manual for how this might be achieved in practice.

This paper not only allows us a greater level of communication but also translation. In regard to great and intelligent men like Jiddu Krishnamurti, we might be able to understand not only what he means by “What don’t you change?” but also the exact implementation of how and why he asks such a question in the way he does.

After all, life is what? One…global…unitary movement. So in the same way our consciousness is common to all mankind. Now if “I” radically change…surely it affects the rest of the consciousness of man. Now: Why don’t you change?
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