Guiding principles behind messages in traditional cellulose-based tracts are sometimes made more transparent -- and certainly more useful and lasting -- when incarnating them by way of abstract conceptual operations. Right?

A virtual piece of software

Simulating the mindset

The Forever New Testament 1.0 (= TFNT 1.0) is a piece of sophisticated simulation software, designed with professional applications in mind. It's definitely not a game, even if it may -- to some at least -- evoke a vague déjà vue of SimCity and Sims.

TFNT 1.0, as currently promoted, is an ethics simulator and a societal analyser, running on many different platforms. It simulates the effect of general ethical variables (e.g. varying degrees of empathy, readiness to act on humanitarian grounds, etc.) on human societies and individuals. The program comes with an extensive data bank (with demographical, geographical, biological, neural, sociological, etc. scientific data) and is able to carry out its simulations within the constraints of realistically estimated limiting factors concerning human biology, sociology, global resources, ecology, and the like.

The users enter numerical values (0-1000) for key ethical variables and the program computes the social consequences over time, concerning the society that exhibits this particular ethics profile. The software is fast. Long-term ethical effects on a society can be computed at the pace of 50 human generations per second. This is no minor feat, because the simulation also takes into consideration that societal ethical principles themselves will change over time, due to the very circumstance that we allocated certain initial values to the principles -- creating a complex feedback situation. Simulation speed can of course be altered and the moral development can be followed on a yearly or even daily basis.

Overshadows The Ten Commandments game

TFNT 1.0 is much more sophisticated than the old "Ten Commandments: The Game (TM)" (even its slick latest version, v. 2.007). Of course, any comparison with a mere game would be out of place, but the differences can make a convenient starting point when trying to explain The Forever New Testament, which is a refreshingly complex and uniquely useful tool.

In the Ten Commandments game one could only study the effects of following (or failing to follow) a set of rigid moral rules, concerning mundane matters like property ownership, sexual behaviour, life preservation, etc. Moral rules are inflexible and thus disappointingly crude. They work poorly as guidelines for adequate behaviour in the intricacies of the real world. Surely the Ten Commandments game can not be blamed for the inflexible rules it was forced to take for granted. Nevertheless, in the Ten Commandments game the rule-based rigidity turned out to be a technical virtue. It simplified the game's design, because the rules could be conveniently "hard-wired" into its modest AI engine. This led to a cost-effective product, which explains much of its worldwide success. If you didn't peer deep enough, then the game seemed even elaborate and often quite entertaining.

Applicable forever, from Cicero onwards

The Forever New Testament uses an entirely different approach, raising the orbit of ethical investigation to a new level of generality. It is not about specific rules at all, but about an "AI of ethical principles". From its analytical simulation a culture-specific network of pliable behavioural guidelines may of course still be derived, if and when such a need will appear. Pliable, because societal conditions can change sharply in a very short time. A set of hard-wired rules -- "morals" -- are only useful in highly static cultural environments.

Cicero's 'O tempora, o mores' and John Owen's 'Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis' are crisp expressions of this reality. So the "Forever New"-part in the product name is not an empty boast -- The Forever New Testament is indeed designed for the ages.

Modes: collective and individual

The program can be run in two different modes, Collective Mode (CM) or Individual Mode (IM). In CM the development of the entire society is closely followed -- demographics, welfare, crime rate, health, happiness, technology, etc.

Unfailingly virtuous behaviour could be suboptimal

While playing around with the TFNT controls I discovered something surprising: it is not always wise to set seemingly positive ethical variables (like empathy, mutual trust, etc.) to a maximum setting (1000). In every society there is a small minority of sociopaths (a fact that the TFNT data bank well knows and always takes into account), people who defy any societal principle.

So when I entered the number "1000" for these variables, all normal individuals became completely empathic and trusting. But this was quickly seen by the sociopaths, who took full advantage of the large majority of "trusting idiots". Crime rate soared. Worse, some of the ordinary citizens became so frustrated that they started behaving like the sociopaths, thus accelerating the crime problem. I later found that settings around 940-970 could lead to an acceptable and stable situation.

Feeling by wire

In IM (= Individual Mode) the program looks outwardly like an ordinary role-playing game. The user can interact with people in the simulated society, using a joystick-like device (called Emoto-Trode by the designers). Via coded infra- and ultrasound signals (which seem to resonate with the human nervous system) the user can perceive the emotions of individual citizens in the simulated world.

Understanding the Emoto-Trode's emotive signals requires a little time, but the learning curve is rather steep. The reward is that the user experiences the simulated society's emotional climate first hand, by sharing the feelings of the people who live in its midst. Analysing the effects of ethical variables becomes more than just a study of percentages and statistics: it turns into a personal emotional experience.

The Forever New Testament is open code freeware, but its downloading sites have yet to be made public.

An Everything Quest: the PC Bible contribution.