Risk Bushido

  title: Risk Bushido
  slug: riskbushido
  parent: 15362
  summary: Risk Bushido: a decision theory, as an honor code, even as a philosophy of life.
  keywords: worldbuilding, participatory
  image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4e/Chaos_Theory_%26_Double_Pendulum_-_4.jpg

Risk Bushido {style=“color: #fff; text-shadow: 2px 2px #000; padding-bottom: .4rem; font-weight: bold;” class=“leading-tight text-4xl”}

Risk Bushido: a decision theory, as an honor code, even as a philosophy of life. {style="color: #fff; width: 80%; padding-top: 1rem; border-top: 1px solid white; background-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.4); " class=“text-2xl mt-4 mx-auto leading-normal”}

Long before the pre-Sundering Industrial Revolution it was clear that their mathematics were bad at predicting financial decisions in uncertain situations. At first they tried to say that people consider expected change in wealth; then they said people consider changes in the usefulness of wealth; then they gave up altogether and stopped pretending that people make rational decisions. Fools. People gamble. We must simply learn to gamble smarter.
- Kintoki Sakata

Risk Bushido is a movement that has been described by its many fans in many different ways: as a decision theory, as an honor code, even as a philosophy of life. Originating in the thought of a hermit-like Librian investor by the name of Kintoki Sakata, Risk Bushido has gained widespread acceptance beyond Libria, picking up faithful adherents throughout Witness. Some argue it strays dangerously close to being a religion: it certainly has acquired a cult-like status in Libria after Ivan Tiburón of Libria spoke about it in an interview.

At its core, Risk Bushido presents three ideas, presented most clearly in Sakata’s text The Path of the Convoluted Agent, written largely in terms of a hypothetical, n-dimensional game called Convolution. It posits the presence of an ‘agent’ (a person) making ‘moves’ (decisions) that are prey to events (In risk bushido, an ‘event’ exists insofar as it exists to the mind and the wallet of the agent). A move without uncertainty involved is a payment. Having done so, it describes:

1. Ergodocity and the Kelly Criterion

Codes 1-17, The Agony of Not Knowing What Meal to Order, deals with the fact that observed behaviour deviates starkly from model predictions, and concerns itself with debunking established and informal mental models of assessing risk. One of its key tenets is that while a group of agents, as a whole, experience favourable outcomes for similar moves, an individual agent generally does not: the outsized wins of a few agents distort the perception of success on aggregate.

Agents are therefore advised to use The Rule of Saint Kelly:



f is the percentage of the value current assets to be risked (expressed as a fraction)
a is the loss to risked assets in case of a losing move
b is the outcome in case of a successful move
p is the probability of making a successful move
q is the probability of making a losing move (1-p)

This chapter was supposedly written by Sakata while meditating on the difficulties of anticipating what food his three-member family would like to order each night and thereby computing a reliable predictive model of their expenditure.

2. Taleb distributions and Knightian uncertainty

Codes 18-36, named Going to the Bathroom at Midnight and Stepping on the Child’s Toy in the Dark, deals primarily with the difficulty of assessing the size of a loss and the probability of making a losing move. It uses the example of ‘seemingly safe moves’ that bring reliable expectations of modest wins, but secretly expose the agent to extreme loss events that, while having a low probability of occurring, will deal catastrophic damage to the agent making the moves.

They are broken down, in Risk Bushido terminology into natural events and artificial events; natural are events that are beyond the agent’s control to create; artificial are events created by moves of the agent.

Natural events include:

  1. Known adverse events that may occur, but are invisible when looking at averages, and therefore forgotten
  2. Unknown adverse events which cannot be observed until they happen. Past events do not predict future shocks.

Artificial events include:

  1. Events created by chaining together different types of moves where the risks can interact with each other, and forgetting that risks have a knock-on effect on other moves.
  2. Events created by other agents (either allies or opponents) reacting to the agent’s decision.

This chapter is reportedly named after Sakata stepped on his son’s toy on the way to the bathroom in the dark and fell down a flight of stairs, fracturing both an arm and an ankle. While lying there, dazed and in pain, he formulated this classification of events before crawling to the telephone to quietly call an ambulance.

3. Chaos and general semantics

Codes 37-50, titled My Wife Has Left Me and Taken the Child, Sakata meditates on how seemingly predictable, deterministic systems, past a sufficiently level of complexity, exhibit unpredictability even when no random elements are introduced. He applies this understanding to his marriage (which fell apart in the process of writing this book), to the traffic outside his window, to stocks, and to the careers of series of music bands that he selected and studied for ten years for just this purpose.

We form maps in our mind of the world we see: but a map is not the territory, merely an approximation: and an approximate map of the present does not approximately determine events in the future.

Codes 51-65, titled The Handbook for Avoiding Heartbreak, lays out what Sakata, drawing from his observations in previous codes, perceives as the duties of an agent who understands Risk Bushido. These ‘rules’ start from five key roots and branch outwards into a total of twenty-five sub-rules. Many of these rules have been criticized as being koan-like and cryptic; for human-readability, the aethnographer M. Wallace’s summary of the roots follows:

  1. On some days ask your spouse why they are still with you; on some days be content to wonder. Certainty is an illusion, a narrative fallacy caused by improper understanding of statistical tools and rational-agent theories used to extract convenient causalities from noise. Sakata advises the adherent to embrace the uncertainly in life and build a tolerance for not known; and to always mistrust a convenient explanation when it comes to explaining the realm of human action.

  2. Be as a spider in its web; let not a singular strand define your moves. To wit, the world is not ergodic; never take risks that could wipe you out, don’t maximize expected utility or payoff; build redundancy; avoid specialization even within a given vertical, and always have adjacent moves available to you: because even if you have no enemies, and a full grip on known adverse events, there is still chaos and still unknown adverse events to contend with. Adherents of Risk Bushido have since advocated for the barbell strategy: making moves with short-term and long-term payoffs, but none focused on the intermediate.

  3. Be a river to your allies; be lightning to your enemies. Be predictable to those you wish to work with, and unpredictable to your opponents. Sakata codes trust as a function of predictability, which in turn is the expectation that an agent repeatedly will make the same moves given the same gameboard and n-dimensional state of play. He advocates, thus, intentionally making decisions that engender trust in friends and distrust in enemies. He notes that adherents of Risk Bushido should be made allies, for they will always remain predictable as long as you do not make enemies out of them.

  4. Ask for a free lunch from the place you order from, but do not expect one. In this Sakata apparently takes inspiration from the Assembly (or from the idiosyncracies of wherever he got his late-night pizza). He points out Convoluted Agents (and even some types of non-convoluted agents) will naturally collaborate, if no adverse moves are detected; the key, of course, is keeping expectations low, because not everyone is an agent. Indeed, he builds a case for humans naturally tending towards collaboration by dint of being a social creature.

  5. Examine the heart, not the mind. Question assumptions important to the the decision of making a move. What’s coded and quantified is rarely the most important factor when compared to the psychological impact of poorly understood assumptions on agents.
    To offset this, Sakata advocates intentionally ‘spending’ a pre-determined number of moves on helping boost allies’ outcomes and cooperating for better results. He also advices a pre-determined amount of moves spent as patience in the face of an ally agent unexpectedly dealing events that cause losses: after a certain limit, the math involves systematically reducing moves made to co-operate with said ally agent by using the Wisdom of Sage Kelly, until the contribution is zero and the ally can be classified as an opponent. Sakata applies this to his wife’s decision to leave him, and describes himself (in her eyes) as an ally-turning-opponent.

Some proponents of Risk Bushido claim the existence of a Path of the Convoluted Agent with no less than one hundred and twenty five rules, although this seems to be apocryphal.

Risk Bushido has since been accepted far and wide outside Libria, especially (and surprisingly) in both the Assembly and Hygge. The Assembly aethnographer Anagram Dias has made a moral argument for it, positing that it results in ‘a more humane human, grounded in rationality, able to endure the world without breaking or resorting to false causalities’.

Meanwhile, Hygge-Bushido (an offshoot) has adapted Risk Bushido to the nuanced political maneuvering that makes the life of much of its bureaucratic class. Whether Hygge-Bushido has, in turn, been adopted by the Covenant is unknown, but the analysis of transcriptions has revealed key phrases from both the Hygge-Bushido Manual and The Path of the Convoluted Agent among key figures in the political hierarchy there.


Much of this system draws from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto, particularly concepts of Black Swans, Extremistan, and antifragility, and on the arguments presented by Ole Peters in his Nature paper “The ergodicity problem in economics.” The Kelly criterion, which shows up in questions around ergodocity economics, is well-known to gamblers. Taleb distributions and Knightian economics go hand-in-hand. The story of deterministic chaos which Sakata favors here is perhaps best described in Chaos at Fifty by Adilson Motter and David Campbell.

Sakata Kintoki (坂田 金時): an obscure, virtually unknown mathematician until he came to Libria and pulled off a feat often compared to what Michiavelli did with the Prince. Various allusions have been made to his name being a pseudonym taken from a pre-Sundering manga called Gintama (see Baragaki, Kintama and Silver Soul arcs). Extreme caution is advised in digging up his backstory.

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@alberto, what do you think of this stab at Risk Bushido?

It’s… intimidating, so developed that I don’t dare to touch it.

I was thinking along the lines of some quasi-moral principles, like:

  • Certainty is an illusion. Embrace uncertainty. Beware pareidolia. (Build a tolerance for not knowing. Mistrust nice stories)
  • Live to fight another day. (the world is not ergodic, never take risks that could wipe you out, don’t maximize expected utility or payoff)
  • Scan for a free lunch, but do not assume everything is a free lunch (taking on board the contendibility argument by Yudkowsky).
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Updated to five rules. ‘Live to fight another day’ fit easily into the spiderweb koan.

I think… I think I’m in love… Risk Bushido is the World-Builder’s answer to Bokononism, by way of The Art of War, as re-imagined by Hiro Protagonist. Alberto: it is not intimidating – it merely requires that you meditate motionlessly under a convenient bodhi tree for between 49 weeks and 1000 years… unless you achieve it in an instant.

There are Monks, Supporters, and Uncommitted Risk Bushido practitioners. Those who join a monastery and survive all 35 Steps of the classic practice are entitled to take the title Monk, and travel the Distrikts freely as Consultants to the highest bidders. Abbot of the Libra monastery is the Power who advises those who win the ever-changing game of power – the unannointed leader of Risk Bushido. Kintoki Sakata remains the first theor of RB, but true to his Knowledge, has built no institution, is part of no group. The Uncommitted are hated, feared and derided in equal measure – objects of scorn and attempts at assassination everywhere they go – as their knowledge is unmeasured, untested, unknown, and their loyalty is to no one.