Skip to content

Criticism, Conjecture and Nen Vows

Conjecture = Guesswork/Hypothesis/Reality Free
Criticism = Judgement/Tied To Reality

Let's imagine conjecture and criticism as being two sides of a hypothetical spectrum.

The closer one is to the criticism side, the more they are likely to act realistically, conservative, rigid.

The closer one is to the conjecture side, they are more likely to apply open-mindedness and imaginative creativity.

The very act of thinking is a form of conjecture. Every thought is an idea, a potential action presented by the mind as a path to pursue. Thoughts flood in from the "monkey mind", and the critical mind is forced to come up with justification as to why that thought is indeed the case -- or to reject it. ^945c1a, 202301082259

Conjecture can only happen in the mind of an individual.

Editing is a form of criticism. Editing can be described as alignment to shared reality, the aim of reducing the creative space of a thought -- to bring it in line with reality.

Editing can happen in the mind of an individual, but it is actually driven by society. 202301082233 Customs that feel natural to you feel foreign to another. Editing also happens against the laws of the universe: physics, biology, chemistry, etc. If something breaks the laws of the universe, it ceases to exist.

Criticism can happen within an individual, but criticism is the result of a composite network of rules and engagements from individual objects colliding & seeing each other as subjects.

Sparta or Athens?

HERMES: Not at all, Athenian. As I said, I honour you. Now, let us consider what would happen if, instead of legalizing thievery, their error had been to ban debate. And to ban philosophy and politics and elections and that whole constellation of activities, and to consider them shameful.
SOCRATES: I see. That would have the effect of banning persuasion. And hence it would block off that path to salvation that we have discussed. This is a rare and deadly sort of error: it prevents itself from being undone.
HERMES: Or at least it makes salvation immensely more difficult, yes. This is what Sparta looks like, to me. (Location 4077)

If a system banishes debate, the rigid and currently fallible ideas never get deposed. New ideas have no chance to flourish. To use conjecture is to imagine alternatives, to have fair and honest debate is to decide which conjecture is most likely to be a good explanation.

Strive to be Athenian, not Spartan. Societies and cultures that protect the individual right to make conjecture continue to grow. Cultures (and subcultures and families and groups of friends and classrooms and…) that stifle and smother new ideas get trapped in stasis, and when they are threatened by physical reality, break due to their rigidity.

Nen Contracts

Being a product of the mind, Nen responds to the goals, strengths, and desires of individual users. As a result, a student of Nen can increase the overall power of an individual skill by stating a self-imposed restriction that forces even more conditions on it.
For example, if one consciously decides something along the lines of "I will only use this skill on Thursdays" or "I will only use this skill against short people" and manages to abide by that rule, that particular skill will become stronger. These restrictions are called "limitations" (制(せい)約(やく), Seiyaku, or 制約(ルール), lit. "rule"), and the act of swearing to respect them "vows" (誓(せい)約(やく), Seiyaku) or "contracts".
The stricter the limitation, the stronger the user's resolve, and thus the more their ability is strengthened. Limitations seem to strengthen an ability to a greater degree than Conditions. However, limitations are also considered liabilities, since the power they grant is not consistent. (View Highlight)
Limitations that contain some sort of punishment (e.g., "I will die if I break this rule") will strengthen the ability even further (View Highlight)

In Hunter x Hunter, characters can make contracts against their Nen. They increase with power the stricter the criticism.

Because Nen is a product of the mind, Nen is a conjecture for the user. Combat against other Nen users is where people are forced to determine the usefulness of their ability choice (Gon's Jajanken is insanely simple for example, but that very simplicity gives it a broad use case in reality -- despite this Gon actually has one of the most rigid mindsets in the entire series 202301071340, 202301092316).

Societal Customs

The ideology, world outlook, and sense of right and wrong of the ability's creator plays a fundamental role in determining the exact circumstances and boundaries of a condition. The Manipulation ability, Order Stamp only works on puppets, which the ability's creator defined as "non-living objects with a discernible head"; vice versa, this means that if the puppet’s head is removed, it ceases to be counted as such and the ability terminates. Additionally, since the creator did not view human corpses as mere objects, despite them otherwise fitting the definition of a puppet. Chrollo, who stole the ability, had no such views and considered corpses perfectly acceptable as objects, however he was still unable to manipulate corpses with Order Stamp. Although the ability could still be used on artificial replicas of corpses. (View Highlight)

Even in the world of HxH, customs and world views shape criticism. Chrollo's perception of reality is fundamentally different than the original user of the Order Stamp. This changes the rules of how Order Stamp is used. Suddenly, the same conjecture in a different context has a completely different outcome.

The creator of a Nen ability can include conditions (条(じょう)件(けん), jōken) in it to increase its power or to make the ability feasible in the first place, whether because the user lacks the degree of skill otherwise required, or because the effects of the ability exceed what can be achieved with Nen without a trade-off. Conditions are based on the principle of equivalent exchange, but may occasionally be rendered redundant by high proficiency in Nen. The three categories at the bottom of the Nen chart—Conjuration, Specialization, and Manipulation—are the ones that appear to rely on conditions the most. It does not appear to be possible to violate the conditions of an ability. (View Highlight)

Strangely enough, the more imaginative Nen affinities (conjuration, manipulation, specialization) are farther from reality and require stricter conditions to be put in place. Compare this to enhancement or transmutation, where the goal is to modify an aspect of reality, instead of creating brand new concepts.