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Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread

34 Post author: Unnamed 27 May 2010 12:10AM

Update: Please post new comments in the latest HPMOR discussion thread, now in the discussion section, since this thread and its first few successors have grown unwieldy (direct links: two, three, four, five, six, seven).

As many of you already know, Eliezer Yudkowsky is writing a Harry Potter fanfic, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, starring a rationalist Harry Potter with ambitions to transform the world by bringing the rationalist/scientific method to magic.  But of course a more powerful Potter requires a more challenging wizarding world, and ... well, you can see for yourself how that plays out.

This thread is for discussion of anything related to the story, including insights, confusions, questions, speculation, jokes, discussion of rationality issues raised in the story, attempts at fanfic spinoffs, comments about related fanfictions, and meta-discussion about the fact that Eliezer Yudkowsky is writing Harry Potter fan-fiction (presumably as a means of raising the sanity waterline).

I'm making this a top-level post to create a centralized location for that discussion, since I'm guessing people have things to say (I know I do) and there isn't a great place to put them.  fanfiction.net has a different set of users (plus no threading or karma), the main discussion here has been in an old open thread which has petered out and is already near the unwieldy size that would call for a top-level post, and we've had discussions come up in a few other places.  So let's have that discussion here. 

Comments here will obviously be full of spoilers, and I don't think it makes sense to rot13 the whole thread, so consider this a spoiler warning:  this thread contains unrot13'd spoilers for Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality up to the current chapter and for the original Harry Potter series.  Please continue to use rot13 for spoilers to other works of fiction, or if you have insider knowledge of future chapters of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

A suggestion: mention at the top of your comment which chapter you're commenting on, or what chapter you're up to, so that people can understand the context of your comment even after more chapters have been posted.  This can also help people avoid reading spoilers for a new chapter before they realize that there is a new chapter.

Comments (866)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2010 02:31:28AM 19 points [-]

Slightly edited the original post to avoid giving away what my readers have finally convinced me is, in fact, an undesirable spoiler. I also hope you didn't mind my removing the mention of FAI, because I feel fairly strongly about not mixing that into the fic. "A fanatic is someone who can't change their mind and won't change the subject"; if we can't shut up about FAI while talking about Harry Potter, we may have a problem.

Comment author: TobyBartels 24 February 2015 10:39:16PM 5 points [-]

Well, you kept it out for a long time.

Comment author: Unnamed 27 May 2010 05:54:35AM 3 points [-]

That's fine. I'm actually not that into AI, so I wasn't thinking about that problem, but you're probably right. I also made a slight edit to your slight edit so that it still sounds like me.

Comment author: FAWS 07 June 2010 09:06:46PM 16 points [-]

The fic now has a hate blog dedicated to it.

Comment author: Kevin 08 June 2010 01:53:22AM 15 points [-]

Congrats Eliezer! Now you've really made it.

Comment author: Jack 08 June 2010 12:29:12AM *  6 points [-]

So maybe it's just me but my reaction to the fanfic was something like "Eliezer is writing rationalist Harry Potter fanfiction. That's pretty awesome. And educational!" I check it every so often to see if there is a new chapter and I've shared it with a couple people. That's pretty far from:

Basically, Mr. Yudkowsky's ubiquitous yes-men like to claim (quietly encouraged by the man himself) that this fic somehow transcends its medium to become some sort of higher work

It seemed like most people had similar reactions to mine, but maybe Less Wrongers have been making a bigger deal out of it elsewhere? We didn't even have this thread until a couple of chapters ago.


apparently Mr. Yudkowsy had a sizable online following prior to writing this tour de force, and I guess some of it must have overlapped with the Potter fandom, because this fic quickly skyrocketed in popularity and number of reviews

My sense was that we had almost nothing to do with the popularity. It didn't get linked to from LW until like chapter 12 or so, if I remember correctly. I know a couple people here made image macros but Eliezer's following isn't nearly large enough to generate this kind of popularity by itself, right?

As for the rest of it: it reads like my mother critiquing MTV, the author doesn't understand where the author is coming from or who he is writing for and as a result totally misses his target. For example, the fact that Harry has three last names clearly isn't Eliezer making sloppy feminist statement. If anything, he's laughing at himself and the subculture he's a part of. I laughed out loud when I read it because obviously rationalist-Harry would have a compounded name. It's exactly the right amount of PC-vanity for the family of an Oxford professor with a kid too smart for his own good.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 08 June 2010 12:34:11AM 4 points [-]

My sense was that we had almost nothing to do with the popularity. It didn't get linked to from LW until like chapter 12 or so, if I remember correctly. I know a couple people here made image macros but Eliezer's following isn't nearly large enough to generate this kind of popularity by itself, right?

I was referred to initially to it by two people who are not LW readers.

The individual writing the blog may be suffering from a bit belief overkill (one of my favorite cognitive biases. Someone should do a top-level post about it at some point. Many different cognitive biases can be thought of in a belief overkill framework).

Comment author: Jonii 08 June 2010 01:42:17AM 9 points [-]

The writing style seems to go for similar overkill as in XKCDSucks-blog, that is, every tiny detail is taken out of context and twisted until it is made look bad. Plain honest deconstruction and critique would be fun, as there are many things I think are quite awful with MoR, mostly I dislike the unnatural feeling every single human relationship has and how many speeches about science seem to be a bit unrelated and be there just for lecturing the reader without justification from story, and how Harry seems to be Mary Sue so very much it's actually annoying. MoRSucks however seems to go drowning real bad points into a sea of motivated cognition. It seems bad. Weird and untruthful, strawman-like, as far as I can tell, portrayal of MoR fans doesn't help.

Comment author: Democritus 16 June 2010 04:03:44PM 4 points [-]

That's a really good analysis of the problems with MORSucks. Unfortunately, people who only slightly dislike a work, or acknowledge that has some flaws but enjoy it anyway, seldom form blogs devoted to deconstructing it. In general, you have to choose between overwhelming praise and overwhelming hate.

Comment author: jimrandomh 27 May 2010 08:15:21PM *  13 points [-]

It seems like the spells in the HP universe are complicated and abstract enough that they must have been designed (programmed?) by wizards long ago, who added them to the laws of the universe and left them there.

Now, if I were designing a spell like the Killing Curse, I would include a little easter egg/safety mechanism: after a thousand castings, it backfires. Choose a number large enough that only a major dark wizard like Voldemort will encounter it, so it doesn't hit some minor villain and spoil the surprise. (Alternatively, rather than counting kills, count evilness, with killing a baby counting for more evilness points than an adult. That would explain why it backfired on Harry Potter, rather than some other victim.)

This is the most sensible explanation I can come up with. Or it could be that it backfired because the third through fifteenth places of the decimal expansion of the local humidity were a prime number, or something similarly arbitrary. But I would be disappointed if it was something like that. (I would also be disappointed if his parents came up with a spell that reflected it, because everyone seems convinced that no such spell is possible.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 28 May 2010 02:09:36AM 7 points [-]

It seems like the spells in the HP universe are complicated and abstract enough that they must have been designed (programmed?) by wizards long ago, who added them to the laws of the universe and left them there.

You'd think that, but in the series there are references to people inventing spells of their own. The series implies that the "science" behind spells does exist, but Rowling never explains any of it.

Comment author: Larks 28 May 2010 11:34:12AM 6 points [-]

'Inventing' might mean 'discovering'.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 May 2010 03:38:50AM 5 points [-]

Not to mention, the ancient wizards made the levitation spell be called "Wingardium Leviosa"?

Comment author: blogospheroid 28 May 2010 06:01:24PM 5 points [-]

I haven't thought about this idea completely, but a karma system can actually be maintained in a magical society. I mean actual karma, the way Hindus and Buddhists think about. What goes around, comes around. Violate it badly enough and the universe will make an exception just to get you out of the way. As another commentor put it, somebody would have tried to protect another while they were being avara-kedavra'ed, earlier than lily protecting Harry. But voldemort's karma credit really ran out. So, whoopsie, there goes the body. But of course, he had his horcruxes.

But if making people realize that we have to wake up in this hostile universe is one of the goals of this fic, the above wouldn't be true in HP&MOR.

Another speculation, maybe true prophecies only come when there are serious thresholds crossed.

Comment author: rastilin 20 April 2011 06:25:50AM 2 points [-]

Or maybe it just doesn't work on children? No one knows because no one's ever tried it.

If you could program a slaying weapon, what is the one group of people that no-one in their right mind could possibly ever want to kill? I'd say that group would be children too young to speak. Anyone going after them is certainly an absolute psycho.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 June 2010 01:40:41PM *  12 points [-]

I'm reading MOR with considerable interest and enjoyment-- and recommending it-- but.....

There's a big emotional difference between HP and MOR. In the original, Harry has no friends or allies at the Dursley's. In MOR, his family life isn't great and he doesn't seem to have any friends or anyone he's expecting to miss, but he isn't under constant attack.

Part of the emotional hook in HP is that Harry is almost immediately in a circle of friends and acquires a family in the Weasleys.

In MOR, his best emotional connection is to McGonagle, but it's complicated by his intellectual dominance. None of his close friends from HP are worth being close to (or did I miss someone?). His nearest approach to a friend his own age is Draco, and that's very much complicated by Draco having been raised to be a sociopath, and by Harry's need to manage Draco.

Part of the charm of HP was that Hermione's memory, intelligence, and conscientiousness are presented as more valuable than annoying, though the annoyance for the other characters is still there. This is a rationalist feature of HP which seems to be lost in MOR-- Hermione is interested in getting things right for the sake of status.

Her delight at being in a Romance completely eclipsing the question of whether she likes Harry is depressing, but within the human range, I think.

QuirrelMort setting up the Harry's structured humiliation no doubt has plot reasons, but I can also model it as organizational hysteresis-- after Harry made such a strong power grab in re Snape, it's plausible that great efforts will be made to remind him that he's just a student.

I have a notion that it wasn't just his mother's sacrifice that saved Harry, it was also something he did, and his reflexive rage and need to win is hooked to what he did to survive when he was a baby.

is the training that Draco is getting from Lucius based in anything from the novels? The Dracos never impressed me. They just seemed to be rich and mean, and the Pure Blood campaign is weirdly abstract and idealistic compared to their temperaments. (Is there a reverse halo effect where all bad qualities accrete something which is considered to be bad? The Dracos are bullies, so of course it's reasonable to turn them into Nazis.) To my mind Slughorn is part of the real range of Slytherin possibilities.

Comment author: NihilCredo 15 July 2010 12:55:43AM 4 points [-]

Her delight at being in a Romance completely eclipsing the question of whether she likes Harry is depressing, but within the human range, I think.

I think it's more a matter of approaching romance with the maturity and self-reflection abilities of an eleven-year-old.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 03 July 2013 02:51:44AM 6 points [-]

that's very much complicated by Draco having been raised to be a sociopath

I need to object pretty strongly to this particular phrase. Draco is not being raised to be a sociopath; he's being raised to be a high-status member of a hierarchical society. Draco and his father very much love each other, and are perfectly capable of making real emotional bonds with people that they have identified unequivocally as 'pack'. EY has actually done very well at showing Draco as what a perfectly normal child becomes in that environment.

This is an important distinction, because we need to remember that 'sociopathy' is a comparatively rare (and usually inborn) condition, while high-status machiavellian narcissism is a natural consequence of human evolutionary psychology.

Comment author: cousin_it 01 June 2010 09:41:19PM *  10 points [-]

I just finished reading the Russian novel "Lena Squatter and the Paragon of Vengeance" by SF author Leonid Kaganov. It's not exactly a Harry Potter fanfic, but it's very similar to MOR in that it tries to present an explicitly rationalist hero, and IMO Kaganov has handled the task better than Eliezer.

The protagonist is an unattractive and immoral woman whose only strength is extra rationality, which she applies to the sordid and corrupt world of Moscow corporate politics. Using the familiar LW intellectual ammunition - from Pascal's Wager to evolutionary psychology - she gets people fired for talking back to her, gives and takes bribes, blatantly manipulates men (driving one to attempted suicide), and then in the end when she's found the perfect boyfriend her plans neatly backfire, forcing her to kill him and then herself. Lena's exploits are shown with a lot of detail and believability, and overall the book has punched me harder than anything Eliezer wrote. Unfortunately it's unlikely that it will ever be translated into English.

Comment author: radical_negative_one 02 June 2010 01:03:47AM 4 points [-]

Given that one of the catchphrases around here is "rationalists should win", i'm curious why the main character of this story loses in the end. Why would her plans "neatly backfire" in the end, or is it enough for us to admire her rationality that she almost achieved her goals, despite her lack of obvious assets?

Comment author: cousin_it 02 June 2010 09:25:57AM *  5 points [-]

She makes a poorly considered wish to an unfriendly genie AI. As a result, she has to kill herself and her boyfriend to save the world. No kidding.

Comment author: blogospheroid 27 May 2010 09:06:21AM 9 points [-]

I really enjoyed the series and hope it continues. I have a few comments.

Eliezer had already stated that one intention of his was to make writing fun again, while writing his rationality book. Hence, I guess once that boost is achieved, this litlle jewel will probably lie around unattended for a while.

If the other, more important, purpose was to raise the sanity waterline, then regular updates might be expected as this would be a serious attempt at reaching people through other means.

Doing a quick drake equation analysis of this strategy

P(Positive outcome of singularity) = P(someone reading fanfiction) * P(ve reading harry potter fanfiction|person reads fanfiction) * P(ve liking it|all of above) * P(ve grokking the concepts behind it|all of the above) * P(increasing knowledge of rationality| all of the above)* P(ve becoming awesome|all of above) * P(ve remaining good|all of above) * P(person actually contributing in new ways to a positive singularity)

The first probabilities are high. Harry Potter is the best selling series. Also, it leaves many readers hungering for more. So, more than usual number of readers would seek to read fanfiction stories. So, we're good there.

Twilight has a lot of fanfiction. Googling it puts it slightly lower than harry potter. But the other factors following possibly dominate.

Harry Potter is a bildungsroman, a growing up tale. In HP&MOR, the rationality of Harry is at a high level, while his emotional maturity is, hopefully, slowly increased. On the other hand, Hermione and Drako will be having their rationality updated. Harry is also probably much easier for Eliezer to write compared to a twlight fic. Harry potter is a school story and it is easier to bring in lectures in that format.

I guess somebody could take on the twilight torch also. Once, that is done, <evil voice> The Bayesian conspiracy shall have total domination ! Boys and Girls ! </evil voice>

Among those who read the fiction, the probability of people liking it is quite high. I've recommended it to a couple of friends and they have liked it. But the inherent concept of teaching a lesson is quite visible.

Among those liking it, how many grok the concepts? That is the biggie and here again, the link to the sequences helps. I scanned the reviews and every 30 or so reviews, I read one that mentions the sequences. 3% is not a bad number to have here. I just hope it would be more.

After they grok the concepts and read the sequences, and later the rationality book that comes out, then ofcourse, they are in the real league an it is upto the lesswrong community to make sure they stay interested and contribute to better outcomes in the future.

One concern is strongly rational people going bad, which might be dealt with in the story itself. I hope that Draco is turned to the light and many people who began their rationality journey with this story, remember that when they become CEO, Prime Minister or King.

Comment author: Unnamed 27 May 2010 07:21:31PM 4 points [-]

I think any big contributions are likely to come from HPMoR readers who are attracted to LW, become a part of this community, and then go on to do good stuff. HPMoR is just the gateway drug.

Then there's the more diffuse sanity waterline effect of lots of HPMoR readers becoming somewhat more rational, and more receptive to big important ideas wherever they encounter them. Sci-fi has had that kind of effect on the development of a lot of people here, and this story can extend that kind of influence to a new audience via Harry Potter. Plus, in this case Eliezer got to fill the story with the ideas and themes that he considers most important.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 27 May 2010 02:26:44AM 9 points [-]

Several speculations/thoughts/questions:

First, did baby!Harry actually in fact survive the killing curse? ie, perhaps the curse successfully detached baby-Harry's-soul (presuming that something like "souls" exist in MoR... given the presence of Horcruxes, I'll tentatively assume yes), but the body was immediately made into a Horcrux... so Voldemort-soul-shard effectively inhabited that body. Essentially Rationalist!Harry is actually more like what Voldemort would have been like if raised in a loving and sci-fi and science loving family.

The Hat did say that if there was bits of the Dark Lord's mind there in addition to Harry, it would have noticed the extra "passenger"... But in this case there really is only one mind/soul/whatever. The catch is that mini-mort is all that's there.

This brings up the possibility of if this was an accident or deliberate. Perhaps Voldemort actually deliberately planned/faked his apparent "death"?

(Possible related, well, possibility: How do "we"/they actually know Voldemort even used the Killing Curse that night, as opposed to doing some other thing? ie, how is it known that he is the Boy Who Survived the Killing Curse in the first place?)

Further speculation: When Quirrellmort was lecturing in class about how he used to want to be a Dark Lord, but now finds that he really just wants to teach how to fight and such... perhaps that's a literal statement of fact? ie, does he even desire to "rise again as the Dark Lord Voldemort", or is this what he actually wants now?

Further further thoughts: Does Dumbledore know that Quirrell is really Voldemort under-the-hood? Not just knowing "there's something odd here", but actually really knowing that as fact?

Comment author: Unnamed 27 May 2010 07:30:40PM *  4 points [-]

perhaps the curse successfully detached baby-Harry's-soul [...], but the body was immediately made into a Horcrux... so Voldemort-soul-shard effectively inhabited that body. [...]

Further speculation: When Quirrellmort was lecturing in class about how he used to want to be a Dark Lord, but now finds that he really just wants to teach how to fight and such... perhaps that's a literal statement of fact?

This is awesome. Probably not where the story's actually headed, but it would create a cool Vader-Skywalker kind of relationship and explain what Voldemort is trying to accomplish with Harry. If he wants his Harry-shard to finish the job of becoming Dark Lord, then it makes sense to come to Hogwarts to be Harry's mentor (and to be disgusted by Harry's ambition to be a scientist).

Comment author: CronoDAS 02 June 2010 02:15:45AM 3 points [-]

In canon, before he became Lord Voldemort, Tom Riddle demanded that Dumbledore give him the Defense Against the Dark Arts position, and the "jinx" on the position came about when Dumbledore refused. So teaching at Hogwarts is, indeed, something Voldemort has always wanted to do.

Comment author: PeterS 27 May 2010 04:09:13AM *  4 points [-]

How do "we"/they actually know Voldemort even used the Killing Curse that night, as opposed to doing some other thing? ie, how is it known that he is the Boy Who Survived the Killing Curse in the first place?

That's a good point... though if I recall, he is just known as The-Boy-Who-Lived. In canon, it's not revealed until book 4 that he is the only one to have ever survived the killing curse, in particular, and it's Znq-Rlr Zbbql who says this (though, in truth, it was Onegl Pebhpu We.). Onegl Pebhpu is a highly loyal Death Eater who had been in contact with Lord Voldemort, so maybe the dark lord just told him? Though it's probably more likely that everyone just assumed Voldemort had used his favorite curse.

What bugs me is how they know that Harry is the first and only person to have ever survived that curse. I mean surely, sometime in the entire history of wizards and witches, somebody has sacrificed themself for a loved one who was then Abracadabra'd (i.e. did just what Lily did). /shrug

edit: Redacted a name.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 27 May 2010 03:21:23PM 3 points [-]

Oh yeah, forgot that it's not revealed until then. But given that he has the title of "The Boy Who Lived", that suggests that it's known or widely believed in the wizarding world. ie, It's not "They Boy Who Lived Through a Mild Flu", right?

Comment author: taw 27 May 2010 06:42:54PM 5 points [-]

Wizards are far less numerous than Muggles - in world like that it's easy to be the first at something.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 June 2010 09:14:16AM 8 points [-]

What happened to the Harry from Chapter 6?

"Um," Harry said, "can we go get the healer's kit now?"

McGonagall paused, and looked back at him steadily. "And if I say no, it's too expensive and you won't need it, what happens?"

Harry's face twisted in bitterness. "Exactly what you're thinking, Professor McGonagall. Exactly what you're thinking. I conclude you're another crazy adult I can't talk to, and I start planning how to get my hands on a healer's kit anyway."

A time turner is a superior to a healer's kit in very nearly every way and by a huge margin. Yet all Harry does when he loses free access to his time turner he sulks a little and that's all. He doesn't plan at all! I don't even recall one line of introspection on the subject! It takes very little ingenuity to to react:

"Harry, give me your time t..."

shit. shit. shit. Activate time turner. Escape. Then, he can spend five minutes and think up a dozen ways to retain time travel capability. Let me see...

  • Create a fake...
    • Lie to Hermione to get assistance?
    • Transfiguration not likely to work, given the teacher responsible.
  • assume that wizarding security is crap and guess (correctly) that he can probably steal one if needed...
  • actually leave Hogwarts because the time turner is more important and money can buy a better education anyway.
  • Ask Fred and George to discover a way for him to hide, to give him more time to plan.
  • Leave Hogwarts for a week.
    • Fill Gringots with silver.
    • Use money to buy a time turner on the black market
    • Also buy that hand-light that Malfoy bought.
    • And in general a stockpile of the most powerful and useful artifacts available.
    • And the best trunk that can be found anywhere or created for cash.
    • Return to Hogwarts if they will accept him after the week is up. (Or, for that matter, do it in the holidays. There isn't that much of a rush.)
    • If circumstances demand, buy an education from one (or all) of the other schools.
    • Hire all the best tutors available for all subjects and use them to supplement school education with or without the cooperation of any teacher at the school, further insulating him from the ability of the teachers to f@#% with him or take his stuff.

Really... the best Harry can come up with is to say "that's not fair"? WTF?

Comment author: Unnamed 30 June 2010 06:57:13PM 8 points [-]

First, Harry discovered a gag beverage that he thought could be a key to power, although he quickly realized the Comed-Tea wasn't as powerful as it seemed. A few days later he fell in love with a device that is sometimes given to students who want to take extra classes, although he has since discovered some limits to its powers. If he goes rogue over his Time-Turner's crippleware, then who knows how much other cool and useful magical stuff he will miss out on, and how much trouble he'll be in.

Plus, McGonagall had him cornered when she confronted him about returning the Time-Turner - whatever he tried to do, she'd see it. Also, McGonagall had earned some degree of trust & respect from Harry, she's correct about Harry repeatedly misusing the Time-Turner, and she'd already warned him that they'd take it away. So it's not unreasonable to go along with the punishment, and try to earn her trust back so that his Time-Turner can be restored later on.

Comment author: gwern 21 June 2010 05:22:37PM 8 points [-]

David Brin is apparently now a fan of MoR.

Comment author: ata 31 May 2010 09:50:29AM *  8 points [-]

Reply to this comment if you found LW through Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality!

A survey for anyone who cares to respond (edit: specifically for people who did find LW through HPMoR):

  1. Had you already registered an account before seeing this? (Edit: That is, had you already registered an account for a reason other than to reply to this comment?) If not, had you been planning or expecting to?
  2. Have you been reading through the sequences, or just generally looking around and lurking?
  3. What new rationality skills that you learned from HPMoR or LW have you found most useful? Most interesting? Most change-the-way-you-look-at-everything-ly?
  4. Have you referred anyone else to HPMoR? Have you referred anyone else to LW?
Comment author: Elizabeth 07 November 2010 05:21:44AM 7 points [-]
  1. Yes, I had registered an account, and had managed ten whole karma points as of this post, of which I am rather proud.
  2. I have been reading through the sequences.
  3. I've found a lot of the biases fascinating, particularly when it comes to testing a hypothesis, and I just finished a sequence on words and definitions, which I quite enjoyed.
  4. I've attempted to refer a couple people, but found that my brother had already found Less Wrong independently (and hadn't told me about it!).
Comment author: JoshuaZ 02 June 2010 01:27:05AM *  4 points [-]

I don't exactly fit your set since I had seen LW before, but there's some good reason that I should be included in your sample. Explanation follows: I had read most of the sequences before (and frankly didn't learn that much from them. A handful of cogsci and psych classes along with a fair bit of phil sci gives one a lot of the same material) and had previously read some of Eliezer's fiction. I hadn't really taken that detailed a look at LW as a whole, until HPMR. That was partially due to a conversation with a friend that went something like

Friend: So who is the author of this stuff? JZ: He's Eliezer Yudkowsky who is an all around very bright guy. He has some a bit off ideas about the Singularity. Friend: What evidence do you have of that he's bright and not just a good fiction writer? The one thing you've mentioned is something you disagree with. JZ: Um, let me get back to you.

Then when reading I felt a need to register an account to make a comment, and then it has been downhill from there (I just linked an LW post to a friend who said that she refused to read it because "I'm not sure I'm willing to let myself -oh god oh god- be sucked into Less Wrong. I have heard it wastes time like tvtropes on crack." I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing).

I've linked HPMR to a fair number of people, and it seems to be having some impact on some of them. Indeed, it seems that it is quite effective at getting through defense mechanisms that some people have against being more rational, because the arguments aren't being coached in an obvious way of trying to just present what is wrong with their thinking processes. I'm running into concerns about whether linking HPMR to people without telling them about that is ethical or not.

Comment author: MBlume 07 June 2010 06:27:59AM 7 points [-]

That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.

(On the other hand, Michael Vassar often claims that this quote is as disingenuous as a strong man saying "That which can be destroyed by lions should be.")

Comment author: Blueberry 07 June 2010 06:56:03AM 5 points [-]

(On the other hand, Michael Vassar often claims that this quote is as disingenuous as a strong man saying "That which can be destroyed by lions should be.")

I'm not sure I understand. Lions can destroy any human, no matter how strong, right? Is the implication that truth is a weapon? Or that the only people who support truth are the ones who think they're right? But people frequently think they're right when they're not.

Comment author: alethiophile 29 July 2010 08:54:07PM 3 points [-]

I knew of LW's existence before HPMoR, through the same source that referred me to HPMoR (ESR).

  1. I registered mostly to comment on this post.
  2. I've been reading the Sequences.
  3. More stuff about Bayes' Theorem (my extent of knowledge before I read the Intuitive Explanation was the idea that there will be many false positives on searching for rare events).
  4. No.
Comment author: fraa 04 July 2010 02:05:08PM *  3 points [-]
  1. Yes, I made an account shortly after I read HPatMoR.
  2. I've been taking peeks here and there. I mean I was aware of Less Wrong existing before. I've read stuff by Eliezer before, specifically the first contact story, and I found it fun if extremely formulaic and didactic. It was a pleasant surprise for me, that I could find something so stilted so fun.
  3. I haven't noticed anything I haven't heard of before.
  4. I've referred people to HPatMoR but not LW.
Comment author: TheOtherDave 12 November 2010 08:41:24PM 2 points [-]
  1. Yes. I went from LW to the OB archives, I created an account to comment on an old post there.

  2. I've been ignoring the Sequences as such, but have been working my way through the OB archives chronologically, which I gather covers the same material.

  3. Hard to answer that question. The cognitive bias stuff is fairly old hat. The timeless-physics stuff is new to me, but isn't really a skill. I'm currently working my way through the metaethics stuff, which I'm not finding particularly convincing but haven't finished thinking about.

  4. One friend, to both HPMoR and the OB archives. Not so much LW per se, which (sorry) seems to have a higher noise:signal ratio than the old stuff.

I've been paying a little bit of attention to recent posts, but not a lot; mostly I've been "time-travelling" through the archives.

I've been responding to posts here and there when I have something to say I don't see in the comments. I do this even though I don't expect anyone is reading old comments (though sometimes they get upvoted or responded to, so it's not a complete vacuum), mostly because I often don't really know what I think about something until I've tried to formulate a response to it.

Comment author: MadBoat 12 November 2010 07:41:29PM *  2 points [-]

1: No. Most of my time I was lurking. Lot of stuff on LW.

2: Following links, like I was on TVtropes

3: Nothing yet. Eliezer has a distinct way of expressing himself, which is why I enjoy HPMoR, but most of the ideas he is expressing I have heard before.

4: Yes to HPMoR, no to LW.

Comment author: Vive-ut-Vivas 27 May 2010 01:42:55AM 8 points [-]

The idea of promoting Less Wrong (and rationality in general) via Harry Potter fanfiction is so outside the box that I really shouldn't be surprised that it exists! What a great way to tap into a particular group of people that may not have necessarily found their way here otherwise. I wonder if we'll get any users to come out of the woodwork and say they've found LW through the fanfic?

I hope we see more projects like this (from anybody here) in the future!

Comment author: ArielS 28 May 2010 04:19:56PM 17 points [-]

wave Hello! Brand new, just discovered the site through the fanfic, and still in the looking-around stage... but yes, it does work.

It definitely helps that it is totally frelling awesome fanfic. Admittedly, I'm biased; I'm writing a Potter live-action role-playing game one of whose goals is to figure out how the heck that tacked-together universe could possibly make sense, and what would explain the observed evidence... ;)

Comment author: lmnop 25 July 2010 11:12:36PM 7 points [-]

I'm guessing that Blaise will shoot himself in the name of Sunshine, tying all the scores. That seems like the kind of thing Dumbledore would plot. It makes the most sense from Eliezer's point of view too, in terms of leading the story in a more interesting direction.

Comment author: JenniferRM 29 July 2010 06:53:10AM 5 points [-]

And I think that would make Blaise the quadruple agent, with Dumbledore as the fourth faction, and Quirrell aware of the entire thing, masterminding his own little stanford prison experiment in order to achieve whatever ends he's ultimately aiming for.

It was interesting to see how deeply Harry got into his "General Chaos" role in this light. (Also, I think Ch. 32 was the first time I've laughed out loud over the story in a while. It was getting pretty serious and this was way more fun. The "vader/emperor voices"... I was busting up! I think this kind of hilarity at the beginning is part of why the story took off the way it did.)

Plotwise, I've been wondering lately if Eliezer might be laying the groundwork for Voldemort to turn out to actually be the good guy and maybe Harry's true challenge as a protagonist will be to recognize that rationalist!Voldemort will actually turn out to be good for the world, and deserves to be supported. I could image the army lessons turning out to have a positive global outcome if they ended in the right way, which would add a bit of support to this theory.

Comment author: gwern 29 July 2010 07:10:36AM 4 points [-]

Plotwise, I've been wondering lately if Eliezer might be laying the groundwork for Voldemort to turn out to actually be the good guy and maybe Harry's true challenge as a protagonist will be to recognize that rationalist!Voldemort will actually turn out to be good for the world, and deserves to be supported.

This is how one of Eliezer's early stories turned out: "The Sword of Good".

(There are some traces of that story in MoR - Harry early on not engaging in moral relativism is similar to the hero's final understanding of the evil of the status quo of the fantasy world. But ultimately I think Quirrelmort will be evil. Voldemort killing the entire dojo and sparing only his friend is a mortal sin and Quirrel does not exhibit the kind of heroic remorse necessary to make up for mass & serial murder. Which reminds me, we don't know who Voldemort killed to get the Horcrux on Pioneer. A security guard, probably.)

Comment author: orthonormal 12 July 2010 12:28:32AM *  7 points [-]

Chapter 30-31: Was there a more sophisticated basic idea than appearing to be incompetent, then playing possum? I'd have expected one of the other two armies to expend a second (double tap) sleep spell on the downed, given that Neville came up with the same tactic later on.

Also, nice touch writing Neville as Bean without using a sledgehammer on the parallel.

ETA: It took me a bit to understand Draco's particular revelation: that Quirrell made sure to place all the other smartest students (and the other candidate generals mentioned in Ch. 29) on Sunshine.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 12 July 2010 01:20:27AM 8 points [-]

Well, Hermione wasn't just appearing to be incompetent in the sense of "too stupid to calculate the correct solution;" she was appearing to be irrational in the sense of "too self-righteous to want to calculate the correct solution."

Also, note that Hermione actually did stay true to her goals: her possum tactic allowed her to avoid "unfairly" choosing who to attack first. By waiting until most other players had been sleepified, she was able to attack only the strongest or luckiest survivors, rather than the soldiers controlled by someone that she personally disliked. She was able to both win the game and stay true to her values because she (somehow) was much better at working in groups than Draco or Harry. One wonders how a girl who had no social skills in Chapter 3 suddenly became so socially adept -- has she been reading books on how to get along with people?

Comment author: sketerpot 13 July 2010 07:26:19PM 5 points [-]

One wonders how a girl who had no social skills in Chapter 3 suddenly became so socially adept -- has she been reading books on how to get along with people?

It's more that both Harry and Draco were mentally handicapped here. Draco has the glamorous dream of being the dark overlord who controls everything from the top, his orders unquestioned and his name spoken in hushed tones. Harry has the habit of trying to think up an ingenious plan by himself, and it just didn't occur to him to get other people in his army to do strategy planning. Tactics, sure, but not strategy.

Hermione, in contrast, is perfectly used to learning from others, and doesn't have particularly grandiose ambitions. And maybe Quirrell casually hinted that some of the people in her army were good at planning things. It seems the sort of thing he'd do, to make his plan less brittle.

Comment author: gwern 12 July 2010 02:34:43AM 3 points [-]

Was there a more sophisticated basic idea than appearing to be incompetent, then playing possum?

As I argue in the reviews for chapter 31, Hermione herself was surely not playing possum, and likely neither were her 6 soldiers. That was not their idea. (Whether Nevile is smart enough to tell Harry, or whether one of the other armies will think of it in time for battle 2, is a question for the future.)

Comment author: Unnamed 12 July 2010 03:01:32AM *  7 points [-]

There were 24 people per army, and 11 of Sunshine came at Harry and 12 at Draco. And Harry & Draco had their realization of what happened when they remembered that Sunshine's soldiers went down immediately at the first shot. They were playing possum (all but Hermione, who didn't want to risk it).

The 6 soldiers left is after the battle of Sunshine's return, after they've already taken Potter hostage.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 July 2010 04:36:36PM 3 points [-]

I increased the number of soldiers Hermione had left to help make this clearer.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 27 May 2010 05:23:10PM 7 points [-]

Read up to Chapter 21, commenting on chapter 2. Prediction about the physics of HP:MR.

Harry is mistaken about McGonagall's transformation into a cat breaking conservation of energy; indeed, it seems to me that he is not really putting a lot of effort into finding an alternative explanation, but jumping straight to "Everything I thought I knew was wrong". (Perhaps Lord Kelvin's not the only one who gets a charge out of not knowing something; after all Harry has been wanting to do Something Big, and the more laws of physics are broken, the better!) A simple hypothesis which does not break conservation of energy: Rather than McGonagall's human body literally turning into a cat, it is replaced by a cat-body from elsewhere in the universe. McGonagall's human brain continues to operate in its usual fashion (while being physically elsewhere), and this is turned into cat-brain commands by an AI somewhere in the interface. No mass (hence no energy) appears or disappears, there's just an exchange of objects.

Comment author: cwillu 28 May 2010 09:02:16AM 5 points [-]

I think the "it's bigger on the inside" phenomenon is a better foundation to build such a spell on.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 28 May 2010 07:32:57PM 3 points [-]

Ah yes! You can store the whole human body in a cavity of the cat's body, and vice-versa; lightspeed is no issue - indeed you could run the whole thing at ordinary neural speed. This might even solve the problem of how to order a cat's body around; the Animagus in effect has a cat as an ordinary part of her body, and has learned to operate it the same way she learned to operate her human body.

One problem is the carrying-over of wounds from the animal to the human body, and vice-versa; this does not seem implied by the model, and requires additional explanation. Psycho-somatic damage? Since there a requirement for conscious control of which shape one is in, the opportunities for unconscious failure seem strong.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 27 May 2010 11:18:58PM 5 points [-]

In fact, come to think of it, wasn't there an experiment recently with remote-controlled rats, using plain Muggle science and electrodes in their brains? Extrapolate that forward fifty years and add those direct-to-brain conputer interfaces, and we could do something rather similar, given lots of training to get the feedback right. "When I think like this the rat goes that way..." An Animagus might learn this almost as a child learns to control its body.

Comment author: arundelo 09 July 2010 04:12:26AM 6 points [-]
Comment author: gwern 13 July 2010 06:07:04AM *  7 points [-]

By the way, everyone, an anon on Wikipedia is disputing mention of MoR in the Eliezer Yudkowsky article, so if you see any further reviews/discussions/mentions/links of MoR by prominent people* besides ESR & Brin, please be sure to mention them here (and maybe message me about it). You may not like Wikipedia, but people go to it for information - EY's article gets a solid 1000 hits per month.

* where I define prominent as 'has a Wikipedia article'

Comment author: PlatypusNinja 27 May 2010 01:44:46AM *  6 points [-]

I found this series much harder to enjoy than Eliezer's other works -- for example the Super Happy People story, the Brennan stories, or the Sword of Good story.

I think the issue was that Harry was constantly, perpetually, invariably reacting to everything with shock and outrage. It got... tiresome.

At first, before I knew who the author was, I put this down to simple bad writing. Comments in Chapter 6 suggest that maybe Harry has some severe psychological issues, and that he's deliberately being written as obnoxious and hyperactive in order to meet plot criteria later.

But it's still sort of annoying to read.

I did enjoy the exchange with Draco in Chapter 5, mind.

(I encountered the series several weeks ago, without an attribution for the author. I read through Chapter 6 and stopped. Now that I know it was by Eliezer, I may go back and read a few more chapters.)

Comment author: DanielVarga 30 May 2010 07:01:20AM *  13 points [-]

I think the issue was that Harry was constantly, perpetually, invariably reacting to everything with shock and outrage. It got... tiresome.

I suspect that a main inspiration for writing the story was Eliezer's constant shock and outrage over the fact that Rowling's characters show absolutely no interest in the inner workings of their weird Universe. I vividly remember how outrageous this was for me when I read the originals. Actually, I have only read the first two books, so when I read Eliezer's time-turner scene, I first believed that he invented the artifact and the situation as an over-the-top satire of this phenomenon. Giving young children time-machines so they could attend more classes, yeah right. When I figured out that the whole scene is almost literally copied from the original books, I screamed in shock and outrage just like rationalist Harry did.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 May 2010 07:26:53AM *  20 points [-]

Literally laughing out loud, here.

But just to be clear, this story represents my outrage at all scientifically uncurious characters everywhere, and even more than that, my unfilled need to read a story where for just once the alleged "genius" characters are actual geniuses.

I was not picking on J. K. Rowling in particular in any way.

It is a work of Harry Potter fanfiction for the following simple reason:

I knew I needed a rapid feedback loop to motivate my brain to write. That was why I was bogging down on the rationality book.

And to the best of my knowledge of the entire world of online fiction, if you were posting an incomplete story chapter-by-chapter, it would get the most reviews if...

...it were a work of Harry Potter fanfiction posted on fanfiction.net.


Comment author: DanielVarga 30 May 2010 08:58:08AM 19 points [-]

I think I know a place on the internet where you can post books on rationality chapter-by-chapter, and get much instant feedback.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 July 2010 04:58:29PM 12 points [-]

Actually, on reviewing this remark later, it's not quite true. My brain generated an idea set in the HPverse because I'd been reading a lot of HP fanfiction, and I accepted it and stopped the search because it was also optimal for getting reviews. However, I've since read analyses showing that Twilight stories are getting more new reviews on FF.net than Harry Potter, and I don't think I'd have been the smallest bit tempted if I'd known the fact in advance.

Comment author: Alicorn 12 July 2010 08:56:00PM *  12 points [-]

I think a version of Twilight with a rationalist Bella as the protagonist would be hilarious.

It'd also be very short, though.

Comment author: Blueberry 12 July 2010 08:59:32PM 11 points [-]

You should totally write one!

Comment author: Alicorn 12 July 2010 09:04:24PM 10 points [-]

I'm tempted! And come to think of it, I suppose it wouldn't have to be short; I could draw it out by leaning on the right bits of canon...

But I loaned out my copy of the first book ages ago and it's still gone, so I would need to pirate a copy as reference.

Comment author: Blueberry 12 July 2010 10:35:47PM 5 points [-]

And come to think of it, I suppose it wouldn't have to be short; I could draw it out by leaning on the right bits of canon...

Hopefully Bella can join up with a few other vampires and start taking over the world. It could be very long.

I would need to pirate a copy as reference.


Comment author: Alicorn 13 July 2010 02:12:22AM *  11 points [-]

All right, all right, I'll at least give this a try. In keeping with the books' title themes, what do folks think of "Luminosity" as a title? (With luminosity as a theme over HP:MOR's emphasis on science, because I don't have the background to competently pull off the science.)

Comment author: Alicorn 13 July 2010 07:55:03AM *  19 points [-]

I did it.

Also, I hate fanfiction.net's interface for publishing stories SO MUCH. I'm probably going to just put the rest of this on my own webspace. EDIT: I am still updating on ff.net to get readers from conventional Twilight fandom, but made the story its own website and have changed the link above.

Also-also, my only account on fanfiction.net is Alicorn24. I am not affiliated in any way with anyone else using the word "alicorn" in their username.

Also-also-also, I'm not quite as much of a review junkie as Eliezer is. However, I a) am unlikely to bother with the story if I'm the only one enjoying it, as I do have creative projects with audiences that could benefit from my attention, and b) plan to treat this as a somewhat experimental work. (For instance, the first chapter has no actual in-quotes dialogue, which I did because dialogue is my strongest suit as a writer and it was challenging to work without it.) Info on what works for readers and what doesn't would be good, as well as periodic reminders that someone's paying attention.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 27 May 2010 01:56:30AM *  9 points [-]

I think some of Harry's annoyingness is due to the fact that he's modeled after young Eliezer. He's a mix of wish-fulfillment for young Eliezer and an opportunity for older Eliezer to criticize his younger self. This is really apparent with the chapters involving the Sorting Hat.

Comment author: gwern 29 May 2010 06:48:49PM 4 points [-]

I think the issue was that Harry was constantly, perpetually, invariably reacting to everything with shock and outrage. It got... tiresome.

Culture shock can be tiresome for the people not suffering it. I've been reading blogs and forum postings by expats in South Korea lately, and that constant perpetual shock & outrage? Par for the course for some people.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 June 2010 01:52:59PM 14 points [-]

That was a hard swat at "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas".

As for why Harry has such an exaggerated sense of responsibility, it might be that growing up on science fiction thing. A lot of science fiction is set up so that the hero can have a huge effect in a satisfying way. Perhaps Harry should have balanced it with reading history. On the other hand, he's living in fiction, so maybe he's right for his situation.

Lois McMaster Bujold has described sf as fantasy of political agency [1], and I think she's on to something.

I assume that shutting down Azkaban has a political solution rather than a magical or violent solution. This will be interesting to watch.

Why would Snape ask Harry for his take on Snape's past? One of the underlying premises of the story is that the smarter characters (possibly with the exception of Hermione) always have a deeper plan. Did Snape actually expect to get good advice? To be told that all his choices were correct? To have a reason to be angry at Harry? None of these make huge amounts of sense (to me, at least-- I have trouble keeping track of all the scheming), even though the scene was very emotionally effective.

This is basically my review posted to fanfiction.net-- let me know if there's a problem with reposting such here.

[1] The link goes to quite an interesting speech

Comment author: cousin_it 28 June 2010 01:21:12PM *  7 points [-]

Lois McMaster Bujold has described sf as fantasy of political agency [1], and I think she's on to something.

Thanks for that link. To rephrase: unlike romance or detective stories, many SF/fantasy stories are carefully rigged to give the "underdog" protagonists huge power over the world. It's scary how much this pattern fits.

Comment author: RobinZ 28 June 2010 04:57:59AM 7 points [-]

Why would Snape ask Harry for his take on Snape's past?

I think he was testing the differences between Harry and his dad, and was surprised enough at the contrast to keep asking questions.

Comment author: thomblake 28 June 2010 07:03:25PM *  5 points [-]

This is basically my review posted to fanfiction.net-- let me know if there's a problem with reposting such here.

Quite the opposite. I was tempted to respond to the review but had been left without an appropriate forum.

I had to go back and figure out where you thought the Omelas reference was. Harry's observation just seemed obvious to me.

As for why Harry has such an exaggerated sense of responsibility

Personally, I don't even see anything to explain. Billions of people are suffering, and at least billions are going to die, and most people are observably doing nothing about it. Harry seems to have good reason to think he's the only one that can do anything, if only because he's the only one (or one of just a few) who noticed and/or cares.

Harry is right to take responsibility for the universe's troubles, as we all should.

I assume that shutting down Azkaban has a political solution rather than a magical or violent solution.

I think Harry was just using Azkaban as an example, and there will turn out to be more of a general solution to the world's problems unless Harry finds himself dealing directly with Azkaban.

Comment author: Blueberry 28 June 2010 07:43:08AM 4 points [-]

Why would Snape ask Harry for his take on Snape's past? One of the underlying premises of the story is that the smarter characters (possibly with the exception of Hermione) always have a deeper plan. Did Snape actually expect to get good advice? To be told that all his choices were correct? To have a reason to be angry at Harry?

I also wonder why Snape got offended. Harry's answers were extremely supportive of Snape's situation back then: which makes me think Snape wasn't really offended, just pretending to be. Maybe the whole point was just for Snape to tell Harry the unpleasant truth about his parents in an emotionally powerful way, as a way of getting back at Harry because of his parents.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 June 2010 07:48:43AM 9 points [-]

Snape still loves Lily and was upset about hearing her insulted, was my interpretation.

Comment author: wedrifid 30 June 2010 05:07:54PM 4 points [-]

What is most interesting to me is how Snape handles being offended. Snape has been portrayed in this FanFic as being extremely shrewd and self controlled. Harry even made observations along those lines himself, upgrading his respect for Snape considerably.

Snape (quite rightly) downgraded his trust in Harry's cunning. I wonder if Harry downgrades his respect similarly. If Severus had the cunning of even the 11 year old Malfoy he would not 'never talk to Harry again". Any benefit that he could hope to extract from Harry is still there and Severus is enough of a political agent to work past some offence when given a few months to cool down.

Comment author: Unnamed 27 May 2010 06:02:38AM *  14 points [-]

Here's my take on what actually happened in the dojo incident described in chp 19.

Voldemort went there in disguise to learn the valuable martial art. He reacted badly to losing so they put him through the ordeal he described. He went along with it because he wanted to learn the martial art. The ordeal did teach him valuable lessons about losing, and he vowed to learn to control his temper and master tactics of ingratiation and supplication to better manipulate others. But he felt angry and humiliated by it (as he expected Harry to be), and also vowed to return and fulfill his revenge fantasies. So after he mastered the martial art and left the dojo, he came back openly as the Dark Lord and killed them to live out his revenge fantasies and to prevent others from learning the skills (keep science secret). He spared one student who had befriended him (and who probably stood up for him during the ordeal, like Draco to Harry), and he had that student spread the version of the tale that he wanted told (to maximize fear while hiding some of his true powers, and to deflect attention away from the value of that martial art).

Comment author: cousin_it 27 May 2010 10:21:53AM *  7 points [-]

For me the most natural explanation of the dojo incident is that Quirrell/Voldemort pulled a Verbal Kint. The setup is just too similar to be accidental. If you haven't seen The Usual Suspects (you should), that means ur vzcebivfrq gur fgbel ba gur fcbg gb znxr rirelbar srne uvz naq gb uhzvyvngr Uneel. I'll be quite disappointed if Eliezer's eventual explanation isn't as good as this one.

Comment author: dclayh 27 May 2010 07:07:48PM 9 points [-]

That's certainly possible, but we know Q/V does have elite martial arts skills, which he had to have learned somewhere, and studying at the world's best dojo, followed by destroying it to make sure no one else ever got training as good, seems like an entirely plausible thing for a Dark Lord to do.

Comment author: Strange7 27 May 2010 07:56:46PM 7 points [-]

My understanding was that the story was true as stated: Voldemort showed up, destroyed the place, then calmed down and realized Quirrell now had the only remaining copy of the information he was looking for, so he set up some contingency to eventually put himself in Quirrell's body with the martial-arts skills intact.

Comment author: NihilCredo 15 July 2010 01:20:25AM *  3 points [-]

Is there any hint in MoR that Quirrel was already a total badass before Voldemort's body-snatching job, as this interpretation would require ("I was a prodigy of Battle Magic even then [at the times of the dojo]")?

Comment author: Strange7 25 July 2010 12:21:34AM 2 points [-]

I think 'last surviving student of the greatest martial-arts teacher' counts as a hint, yeah.

Why would Quirrel's battle-magic skill, or lack thereof, be relevant in Voldemort's choice of host? Magic is at least partly a function of the mind, and judging by the descriptions of zombie-like behavior when off-duty, the body-snatching didn't do Quirrel's mind any favors. Rather, the point would be to combine Voldemort's lifetime of rationality and Battle Magic practice with Quirrel's sixth-dan hand-to-hand combat skill, resulting in a single individual with two lifetimes' worth of powers, without the expense and possible side-effects traditionally associated with magical life extension.

Speaking of which, isn't there a prefabricated, ready-to-use Alchemist's Stone somewhere on campus?

Comment author: Alicorn 25 July 2010 12:31:23AM 4 points [-]

Alchemist's Stone

Philosopher's Stone, or in the American version, Sorcerer's Stone. Although it does belong to an alchemist.

Comment author: dclayh 27 May 2010 06:55:17AM *  4 points [-]

Agreed, except there's no particular reason for a Dark Lord to actually leave a survivor when he can just have his minions disseminate it. (Or do so himself as Quirrell; we have no knowledge of how long this story has been around.)

ETA: Actually I should say my first thought was that Voldemort destroyed the dojo not out of anger, but simply to make sure that no rival wizard ever got the awesome martial arts training that he did. This seems strongly implied when he says: "You are wondering where this marvelous dojo is, and whether you can study there. You cannot."

Comment author: KevinC 31 July 2010 03:05:18AM *  5 points [-]

Here's what I think will happen:

Zabini stuns himself in the name of Sunshine to create a tie. And here's why:

1) The rest of the school is very partisan about their favorite army, so it's not likely that many are betting on a tie. Zabini (through a proxy or otherwise) put all of his chips on "tie." So he will return to Hell a much richer Prince of Darkness.

1a) "Aftermath" scene: Hogsmeade. Zabini meets his broker. Hogwarts is basically a closed economy, and Zabini has now walked off with the lion's share of the student body's disposable income. He plunks his Bag of Holding on the table. "Take this and convert it to Muggle money. Then go buy unmarked silver bullion..."

2) The three Generals are tied for Quirrell points. Given what we've seen of him in this chapter, Zabini is probably in fourth place, and not too far behind. How many Quirrell points will he get for getting all three generals to play according to his plan? We see Harry and Hermione accepting, and per the Prisoner's Dilemma thing, Harry and Draco had to synchronize their moves ("cooperate") to have a chance against Hermione. This would mean that Draco is also more or less following Zabini's plan. Zabini was able to steer the battle to his personal chosen outcome, so he (as an individual) wins the battle. The betrayal rules+scoring are set up to favor individual objectives rather than army loyalty/collective goals/unity. Zabini has realized this, and acted accordingly.

3) After collecting Quirrell's wish from his come-from-behind victory (which provides a "practical" demonstration of the 2-4-6 Test, since no one, Generals included, expected Zabini to have his own victory conditions), Zabini goes to Dumbledore's office. "Well done, Blaise!" Dumbledore says. "I suppose you're here for your wish..." That is, Dumbledore has offered Zabini a wish if he could steer the battle to a tie, since that would stop a Hogwarts equivalent of a football (soccer) riot, which would be likely if one of the armies won.

4) At the Christmas feast, Dumbledore rises to announce that the three armies are being merged into a Hogwarts Army, and starting at the end of January, the HA will compete in three-way battles with Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. Per the experiment mentioned earlier with the "Eagles" and "Rattlers," the Hogwarts students are united against external foes. He and Quirrell allowed the Headmasters of the other schools to watch the battles using Quirrell screens, and their staffs liked the idea. The mock battles use more magical skills and incorporate more students than Quidditch, and are thus a better encouragement to learning. New rules could be applied to future battles. "You may use any magic item you can make (under teacher or senior-student supervision) in your battles, providing it's not dangerous." "You can use any Potion you can make," etc.

Comment author: EStokes 20 July 2010 12:51:32PM *  5 points [-]

Chapter one, when Petunia is talking about how she wanted Lily to use magic to make her prettier:

"And Lily would tell me no, and make up the most ridiculous excuses, like the world would end if she were nice to her sister, or a centaur told her not to - the most ridiculous things, and I hated her for it. And when I had just graduated, I was going out with this boy, Vernon Dursley, he was also fat and he was the only boy who would talk to me in college. And he said he wanted children, and that his first son would be named Dudley. And I thought to myself, what kind of parent names their child Dudley Dursley? It was like I saw my whole future life stretching out in front of me, and I couldn't stand it. And I wrote to my sister and told her that if she didn't help me I'd rather just -"

Just excuses? Or...? Dun dun dun...

Comment author: EStokes 20 July 2010 01:07:39PM *  3 points [-]

"McGonagall?" Harry said, once they were in the courtyard. He had meant to ask what was going on, but oddly found himself asking an entirely different question instead. "Who was the pale man? The man in the bar with the twitching eye?"

"Hm?" McGonagall said, sounding a bit surprised; perhaps she hadn't expected that question either. "That was Professor Quirrell. He'll be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts this year at Hogwarts."

"I had the strangest feeling that I knew him..." Harry rubbed his forehead. "And that I shouldn't ought to shake his hand." Like someone he'd known a long time ago, and then been separated from... an unhappy feeling, a sense of loss.

Maybe I was just really unobservant reading the first time around, but rereading is really fun.

Ch 29

"Did you know there's a fourth-year girl in Hufflepuff who's a Metamorphmagus?" said Hermione as they headed toward the Great Hall. "She makes her hair really red, like stopsign red not Weasley red, and when she spilled hot tea on herself she turned into a black-haired boy until she got it under control again."


Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 July 2010 12:02:30AM 5 points [-]

Chapter 28: I wonder what happens if Harry realizes he's living in fiction, and everything he's dealing with is made of concepts rather than atoms.

Which leads me to think about the people who say that if they found they were living in a simulation, they'd try to get out. Unless the simulation is very similar to the substrate, would it be possible to get out while remaining yourself in any sense?

Back to the story: This might be an argument for checklists: Harry and Hermione should review precautions before they try anything new, should they be doing it without adult supervision. It's possible that the adults should be doing it, too.

However, the story is a good reminder that it can be hard to remember the relevant thing, even if you're very smart.

I don't think Hermione is over-reacting-- remember that they're doing stuff which is not just more potentially dangerous than children that age are permitted to do in our culture, it's more dangerous than what most adults do.

Comment author: red75 04 July 2010 07:13:03AM *  5 points [-]

I wonder what happens if Harry realizes he's living in fiction, and everything he's dealing with is made of concepts rather than atoms.

It will be weak move on Eliezer's part. As it will effectively make him the god of Harry's universe, which mean that Harry's universe cannot exist without him, that it is not self-sufficient and self-contained.

Comment author: gwern 04 July 2010 01:01:37AM 4 points [-]

Which leads me to think about the people who say that if they found they were living in a simulation, they'd try to get out. Unless the simulation is very similar to the substrate, would it be possible to get out while remaining yourself in any sense?

Sure. Escape into another simulation.

More seriously, obviously it's not guaranteed that an organism in a simulation can just create a copy in the outside world. How would a Game of Life organism, made out of glider guns and flashers and whatnot, made an atom-based form of itself?

What it could do is create something isomorphic. Whether this is possible is pretty much the same question as whether humans can make uploads. (Which is the inverse, actually - going from 'reality' to 'simulation'.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 July 2010 02:50:35AM 4 points [-]

Alternatively, you keep living in your simulation, but you get enough of a handle on the substrate that you can make changes in your simulation, protect it, or duplicate it.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 July 2010 02:51:10AM 2 points [-]

More seriously, obviously it's not guaranteed that an organism in a simulation can just create a copy in the outside world. How would a Game of Life organism, made out of glider guns and flashers and whatnot, made an atom-based form of itself?

Absolutely. It'll just take a superintelligence and some nano-tech.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 July 2010 02:56:36AM 2 points [-]

Back to the story: This might be an argument for checklists: Harry and Hermione should review precautions before they try anything new, should they be doing it without adult supervision. It's possible that the adults should be doing it, too.

And this seems to be exactly what Dumbledore himself does. That is a lesson I hope we see Harry take on board for future experiments.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 July 2010 12:27:13PM 5 points [-]

Wow. I liked 28! Well, I liked all but 1 of the previous 27 too but this one was brilliant. Just the right balance of overconfident recklessness combined with not being a stubborn fool when realizing his mistake. By right balance I mean for realism given the character. Harry being such an emotionally unstable prick was a little irritating until he started showing clear signs of being aware of his emotional foibles and the rather important ability to take care of important relationships despite his weakness.

Comment author: Kevin 07 June 2010 06:09:56AM 5 points [-]

If you were Harry and were trying to get from "how the hell does magic work" to "omnipotent lord of the universe" what would you do?

Comment author: Alicorn 07 June 2010 06:17:38AM 11 points [-]

I think my first step would be to learn how people go about inventing spells.

Comment author: gwern 07 June 2010 09:20:11PM *  8 points [-]

I would take Rick Cook's approach - look for meta-spells and figure out how to combine them into something Turing-complete. From canon, we already know that spells can operate on spells ('priori incantatem' or something like that), and I'm almost sure that some spells do logical operations.

If that doesn't work out, start making the Philosopher's Stone. I will know that it's possible, and that's half the battle. Once I have the Stone, then the question of 'fastest method to omnipotence' loses its urgency.

(If this is simply not possible for a 1st Year, then I will set my sights lower on the felix/luck potion; Harry has enough money to finance all the ingredients he could possibly waste, and once you have a vat of luck potion, you can spend it on research in the library, random generation of possible recipes, or direct attempts at creating the Stone.)

Comment author: Yvain 07 June 2010 09:29:06PM 28 points [-]

Really, you should use it to try to discover a more powerful luck potion, then take the more powerful luck potion to try to discover a more powerful luck potion still, until eventually you get a hard-takeoff scenario where ever-more-powerful luck potions are falling from the sky into your hands by pure chance every second.

After the luck-ularity, Harry can just throw a random rock up in the air, and it will hit Lord Voldemort right between the eyes, killing him instantly at the same time the Pioneer probe crashes into an asteroid.

Comment author: gwern 07 June 2010 09:41:11PM *  7 points [-]

That's already taken care of; if it's luckier to discover a luckier luck potion than the Philosopher's Stone, then that's what I would discover. And of course, by induction, then subsequent consumption will result in even luckier potions (since luck presumably compounds so any subsequent improvements will still be luckier than a PS's discovery).

If there is no luckier potion or the Luckularity would hit a plateau, then I would be better off with the PS and hence the luck and preference would line up. So seeking the PS is the dominant strategy.

Comment author: novalis 12 June 2010 10:19:35PM *  5 points [-]

You are assuming that the luck from a luck potion tracks the drinker's extrapolated volition, rather than just the luck potion's inventor's idea of a Nice Thing to Happen.

After all, you would rather not win the Quiddich match, if doing so would lead to your defeated opponent dropping out of art school to go hang out in beer halls.

I guess MOR's Harry hasn't realized this yet, but readers of Less Wrong should.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 07 June 2010 11:08:27AM 6 points [-]

I would look into magic detection spells and see what I could find out about magic from them-- not just studying the spells themselves, but also see if there are subtle things about magic (does it come from somewhere, how fast does it happen) which offer clues about its nature.

Also, can magic be used to increase magic? Follow that with careful thought about the implications of a magical singularity.

Comment author: thomblake 03 June 2010 07:20:26PM *  5 points [-]

There's been some speculation on what a +4 spoon would do, so I figured I'd weigh in as an expert of sorts on D&D.

Really, it depends upon what it's being enchanted for. I think the default assumption is that it's enchanted as a melee weapon, and so functions as a diminutive one-handed weapon that does 1d2+4 damage - given the strength of such creatures, you're probably looking at 1d2 damage after the strength penalty, which is a modest improvement over the 1d2-4 (minimum 1) an unenchanted spoon would get you, for the reasonable price of 32,300 gold pieces.

For justification of this, that effectively makes it a diminutive club (d6 stepped down 3 times); it would be capable of being wielded as a light bludgeoning weapon by a tiny creature (something about cat-sized) at a -2 penalty, and not effectively usable as a weapon by anyone small (halfling-sized) or bigger.

An alternate explanation would make it a spoon which gives you a +4 bonus of some sort to a spoon-related skill, which would then be about 4000 gp (twice normal for not taking up an equipment slot).

Comment author: jimrandomh 03 June 2010 07:33:24PM 5 points [-]

There's been some speculation on what a +4 spoon would do

It gives a +4 bonus to the dexterity check to avoid dropping ice cream on your clothes, or others' clothes. However, due to a quantization issue in the laws of physics, exactly one-twentieth of all scoops still result in critical failures, and many of those failures lead to food fights, which is where the +4 to hit and damage comes in.

Comment author: MartinB 02 June 2010 08:19:03PM 5 points [-]

From reading it, I got a sense that Eliezer actually has something in mind on how magic works in the story. That would be mindblowing because it would have to be a consistent explanation how magic works, how magicians got to use it, why they loose power over time. And why no physicists stumbled over it by accident.

Is that a shared idea, or am I the only one?

Comment author: blogospheroid 27 May 2010 09:49:54AM 5 points [-]

Chapter 21

Draco's choice of subject. Expected, but unfortunate. It would be fun to know the physics of the magical universe. The biology is not completely exempt from the physics, of course. Also, there can be many fun incidents introduced when they are trying to sample people. Imagine trying to get a skin sample from albus dumbledore, the most powerful wizard around or trying to figure out why Aberforth wasn't that great.

The Dark Mark - They would have thought about it. My guess is the dark mark came around only after a certain power threshold was already crossed and the death eaters were able to ahem... signal freely.

Speculations on Santa Claus

Sirius - Most probable. Sounds like him, sounds like Pettigrew is dead from information in the train station chapter. Sirius is out of azkaban or is remote controlling someone (kreacher?) really well.

Nicholas Flamel - Well, his name is Nicholas :-) and he is knowledgeable enough to create a philosopher's stone and is brave enough to cross over to the threshold of death without worrying much. (In the HP universe, death is not final. It is kind of a change of state, like uploading. ) So, he could have been curious enough to examine the cloak, while having a reputation strong enough that james would give it to him. He also knows Dumbledore's weakness as a holy grail seeker, sorry, seeker of the deathly hallows.

Albus Dumbledore - Also very probable. And giving away partial information is also a good tactic to give the impression that it is someone else.

Lupin - For all the reasons similar to sirius, but not rich enough to give away money.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 July 2010 05:31:28PM 4 points [-]

Is there an annotated version of this anywhere? I know that the sequences cover most/all the stuff and am reading and have read a lot of the sequences but it seems like it might be fun to read this with descriptions of the maths/science/concepts alongside it as well as all the literary allusion noted.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 25 July 2010 02:23:29PM 4 points [-]

Hm, inconsistency: I just noticed that Quirrell says in chapter 16 that Quirrell points will determine generalship of armies. That seems to have been abandoned at some point?

Comment author: cousin_it 19 July 2010 09:36:47AM *  4 points [-]

Up to chapter 31 now. I don't understand how Eliezer is going to paint the central conflict. Granted, Quirrell is awesome and has had several successes already. But the main motivation of the Death Eaters is blood purism (as in canon), and Harry has already proved it to be false, and our Quirrell is rational enough to agree with the proof if he hears it. So to make the central conflict happen Eliezer has to invent something else, something secret, that makes Quirrell tick.

Comment author: Baughn 19 July 2010 05:36:51PM *  2 points [-]

I think he may have already done so, by way of Quirrelmort's reaction to Harry's statement that he wanted to use science.

Voldemort is scared of muggles. Quite reasonably so; despite Harry, there are enough of them that they'd very likely overtake the magic-users in a matter of decades on all useful fronts, and even now a conflict between muggles could squash the wizards like a bug.

Basically, I think he wants to

(a) Strengthen magical society to the point where they can stand up to the muggles. Harry might be helpful here, but there's a good chance their plans would conflict. Failing that..

(b) Get the hell off this rock.

Comment author: orthonormal 16 July 2010 10:59:43PM 4 points [-]

For "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality", I'd like to make predictions that can be eventually verified publicly in time, but won't tempt the author to change things to prevent it from coming true (as is the usual way of serial writers on the Internet). I'm therefore encrypting my prediction with the md5 hash function, so that afterwards it can be verified. (One difficulty is that I have the power to edit this comment; is there a way to make it obvious if I've done so, or store it in a less editable space?) Anyway, here goes:

July 16 (after Chapter 31): 28f9e3b2165344763c35514b473cb347

Comment author: Unnamed 16 July 2010 11:12:45PM 6 points [-]

orthonormal predicts:

July 16 (after Chapter 31): 28f9e3b2165344763c35514b473cb347

There, that's less editable for you.

Comment author: jimrandomh 16 July 2010 11:05:03PM *  4 points [-]

You can have a third party create a cryptographically signed timestamp for you. For example, secure-timestamp.org will do this. This can only be falsified by getting the timestamping server's private key or breaking its crypto algorithm. For things more important than Harry Potter predictions, you can have multiple third parties timestamp them for you, in which case falsification requires stealing all of their private keys.

Comment author: orthonormal 25 July 2010 05:23:48PM 3 points [-]

July 25 (after Chapter 32, prediction for Chapter 33):

SHA-1: f5721b3c6010973ee195dc160d0679477401a3df

Comment author: JoshuaZ 25 July 2010 05:27:14PM 5 points [-]

SHA-1: f5721b3c6010973ee195dc160d0679477401a3df

Copying here to verify lack of editing in future.

Comment author: Unknowns 20 July 2010 06:14:01PM 3 points [-]

If you edit the comment a little asterisk will appear by the time stamp. Just make sure you don't do that.

Comment author: ciphergoth 20 July 2010 06:39:01AM *  3 points [-]

MD5 is utterly utterly broken and recommended against for any purpose. Use SHA-1.

EDIT: I should mention that SHA-1 is also theoretically broken and may see a demonstrated break soon, but nothing like as problematic as MD5. Until SHA-3 is agreed, the SHA-2 functions are a good stopgap where you need better security.

Comment author: kpreid 20 July 2010 05:58:55AM 3 points [-]

Did you include your own name in the text? If not, someone else can present the same hash and there's no way to tell who came up with it.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 17 July 2010 12:06:05AM 3 points [-]

One difficulty is that I have the power to edit this comment; is there a way to make it obvious if I've done so

If you edit the comment, an asterisk will appear after the time. Compare jimrandomh's reply to the others.

Comment author: orthonormal 17 July 2010 12:46:05AM *  2 points [-]

Ah, clever.

EDIT: Let me see this for myself.

EDIT 2: Hey, it's not working yet!

EDIT 3: Duh, I had to reload the page.

Comment author: JGWeissman 16 July 2010 11:27:56PM 2 points [-]

Can you say anything (without giving away the prediction) about when you would know if it is correct or not?

Comment author: mattnewport 16 July 2010 11:08:10PM 2 points [-]

You could use Prediction Book.

Comment author: xhale 16 July 2010 07:12:31AM 4 points [-]

620 comments is very unwieldy, especially when threaded. A new post per chapter would be less likely to cause brains like mine (that is, unlike Eliezer and Harry's, who seem to have brains built like the TARDIS) to go into terminal explosive overload.

Comment author: Unnamed 16 June 2010 02:35:48AM *  4 points [-]

Chapters 25 & 26

Quirrell is cold. It looks like he gave Rita Skeeter a tip that something would be happening in Mary's Room so that she'd go there as a beetle and he could (literally) crush her. Is Harry going to start to figure him out (like he did with Draco after his reaction to that other newspaper headline)?

Also, does anyone know if Q/V's habit of whistling/humming a tune (appearing in both chp. 25 & 26) is based on something in canon? It sounds like a tell, when his plotting against Skeeter/Potter is going according to plan, but I'm wondering if there's anything more to it.

Comment author: knb 28 May 2010 03:16:43AM *  4 points [-]

It's really good. I'm on chapter 8, and so far it reads like a picaresque. I never thought anyone would turn Harry Potter into such a badass.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 27 May 2010 05:54:20PM *  4 points [-]

One more thought, this time money related stuff:

On the one hand, the magical and muggle economies are sufficiently separated that Gringots seems to not even notice the possibility of arbitrage...

But on the other hand, we're told that anyone who transfigures stuff to look like money, even muggle currency, is legally at war with the goblins. If the goblins are tracking muggle money enough to at least notice this sort of thing and care about it, that seems at odds with them being sufficiently ignorant of the muggle economy to not notice the arbitrage possibilities.

Comment author: Baughn 28 May 2010 12:33:13PM 7 points [-]

You shouldn't neglect the possibility that it's a law written because it seemed like a good idea, without any real way of enforcing it in general.

There are certainly plenty of those around.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 28 May 2010 03:21:45PM 3 points [-]

Professor McGonagall more or less explicitly said though that they have ways of finding out, that this matter isn't an abstract law but is very very enforced.

Comment author: Baughn 28 May 2010 04:44:01PM 6 points [-]

Yes, but wouldn't it be reasonable to think they only have ways of finding out when presented with the money in question?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 27 May 2010 05:59:20PM 6 points [-]

The goblins may only use that to check for Muggle currency that wizards try to turn in to the goblins. They may also have methods that just track objects transfigured to look like Muggle money. If goblins have similar cognitive flaws as humans, then they might be able to keep track of the economy for this one very specific purpose and not even realize that arbitrage was really a useful practice.

Comment author: CronoDAS 28 May 2010 02:04:47AM 5 points [-]

There might also be some laws restricting trade between the wizarding economy and the Muggle economy. In other words, if you take a bunch of Galleons and try to sell them to Muggles, you'll probably end up arrested or something. Part of the whole "Muggles can't be allowed to know about wizards, unless they're close relatives of wizards" thing.

Comment author: Cyan 28 May 2010 02:42:33AM 5 points [-]

You could avoid selling Galleons per se by melting them into bullion first. Maybe Galleons are unmeltable? Or the gold turns into leaves and gorse blossoms when handled extensively by Muggles? It seems like with magic at one's disposal one doesn't have to rely on mere law to prevent wizard/Muggle arbitrage.

Comment author: gwern 29 May 2010 07:03:58PM 5 points [-]

Maybe Galleons are unmeltable?

No, that wouldn't work. In MoR, the routineness of coining Sickles implies that it's routine to coin ordinary gold into Galleons; if the coinage were irreversible, then you would see Gresham's law start to operate.

Ordinary gold would be more valuable then an equivalent weight of Galleons because you could at any time turn the gold into Galleons but with ordinary gold you have all the other decorative and magical uses of gold available. As Galleons are created and not destroyed, ever more inflation of Galleons and deflation of gold would happen.

(Have you ever bought funny money, like the Mickey Mouse money at Disney World? The Galleons would be like the Mickey Mouse money, and gold like regular dollars. Except worse.)

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 27 May 2010 10:46:07AM 4 points [-]

It's too bad fanfiction.net doesn't provide a Google Reader friendly RSS feed for new story chapters. The author feed doesn't show up as updated when there are new chapters, and Google Reader's page scraping trick for generating a feed doesn't seem to be allowed on the domain.

Comment author: Unnamed 27 May 2010 03:43:34PM 5 points [-]

To get email notification, register at fanfiction.net with that email address. Then go to your account page, to the Alerts tab, to Story Alerts, and put in the story ID (5782108).

Comment author: thomblake 27 May 2010 02:36:10AM 4 points [-]

Speaking as someone who everyone rightfully believes about everything, MoR is awesome (at least up to chapter 21) and everyone should read it. It also might serve as the best introduction to the power of rationality, but we've yet to see that it really makes awesomeness happen in the real world, rather than just for those of us who are cheering on Harry's thoughts.

Comment author: topynate 27 June 2010 01:22:40AM 10 points [-]

I just read Chapter 27. My thoughts:

"Mr. Bester" - great reference.

Harry is firmly on the 'get absolute power' path. Probably he still thinks he's being cute or knowing when he talks about becoming God. His resolution not to become the next Dark Lord doesn't look too healthy now, though.

Harry seems incapable of seeing the flaws in a moral system he apparently acquired by reading science fiction and fantasy, barring almost being Sectumsemprad by a very angry wizard. Why does he think that having read books with monomyth plots is sufficient reason to try to act like the heroes of such books - what is he, eleven years old? At the same time, he understands and can nervelessly put to use Quirrell's very subtle lesson in levels of deception. Very odd, that.

Is one of the reasons Quirrell set up those Occlumency lessons that Harry would discover for himself "how reproducible human thoughts were when you reset people back to the same initial conditions and exposed them to the same stimuli" - and thereby come to treat humans as simple machines that one can use like puppets? As a strategy to bring someone over to the Dark Side, that's brilliant.

Then we get to Harry being placed in the same conditions as Lily Potter, and reacting differently - more humanely. Because he reads science fiction! That's outrageous. Surely this kind of narrative based morality, where you imagine what the good protagonist would do and then do that, is going to be a piece of cake for Quirrell to subvert.

Comment author: gwern 29 June 2010 09:50:50AM 5 points [-]

Is one of the reasons Quirrell set up those Occlumency lessons that Harry would discover for himself "how reproducible human thoughts were when you reset people back to the same initial conditions and exposed them to the same stimuli" - and thereby come to treat humans as simple machines that one can use like puppets? As a strategy to bring someone over to the Dark Side, that's brilliant.

Indeterminate at this point. (By which I mean, even if Eliezer didn't intend Quirrel to have those reasons, he could easily make Quirrel have had those reasons.)

The reasons given earlier are quite enough to justify the lessons: Quirrel doesn't want Harry to be easily scanned by either Snape or Dumbledore for obvious reasons, and once he threw his hat in the ring, a neutral third party was the only viable option - and such a neutral third party can only remain neutral by being Obliviated since anyone in the know about Voldemort is, eo ipso, a member of one faction or another.

Comment author: ata 29 May 2010 05:35:37AM *  9 points [-]

I think that, in the first few chapters, Harry did not give enough credence to the hypothesis that he was simply insane and hallucinating. I think, given the observations he had at the time (his mom claimed her sister was a witch; he got a letter implying the same; a woman levitated his dad and turned into a cat), he should have at least seriously considered it. Certainly those pieces of information are some evidence for magic, but considering what that hypothesis entails — existing scientific knowledge about physics (even at the level of abstraction that we experience directly) is so completely wrong that it's actually possible to make the universe understand human words or intentions, or there's this incredibly advanced technology that looks like it's violating the laws of physics, and it's existed for thousands of years and apparently everyone has forgotten how it works — I think an honest rationalist would have to look into the "I'm cuckoo" hypothesis.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 May 2010 06:20:12AM 16 points [-]

I'm not sure what one is supposed to do upon concluding that one is quite that cuckoo. Upon getting that far gone, what can you do? Can you even assume that your actions and words will leave your brain and impact reality in roughly the way you intend? If you are that crazy, and you try to walk across the room, will you get there? Are you in a room? Do you have legs? It might be that being as insane as all that is so game over that, whatever one's epistemic position is, one has to operate as though the observations were correct.

Comment author: Nisan 30 May 2010 06:02:22AM 9 points [-]

It would be a good idea to consider the hypothesis that one is crazy in a conventional way, such as schizophrenia. One can try to test that hypothesis. But the "anything goes"-crazy hypothesis isn't really useful.

Comment author: RobinZ 30 May 2010 02:51:29PM 5 points [-]

Oh, you're right - and what's more, it doesn't take much to make the "anything goes"-crazy hypothesis more ridiculous than magic. We know that human brains have limited processing power and storage capacity, so if you can produce sensations which the brain should be unable to fake, you can reduce the probability mass of the hypothesis significantly.

Comment author: DSimon 02 July 2010 03:33:43AM 3 points [-]

How can you use your brain to test if a sensation your brain is experiencing cannot be faked by your brain?

Comment author: RobinZ 02 July 2010 03:51:02AM 5 points [-]

How long would it take you to factor the number 495 967 020 337 by hand?

And how long would it take you to multiply two numbers, both less than 1 300 000, together?

Some operations are much easier to verify than to execute.

Comment author: DSimon 02 July 2010 04:42:43AM *  3 points [-]

I wrote out a long response involving an analogy to a CPU self-test program, but at the end I realised that I had arrived at the same conclusion you stated. :-) So I'm voting you up and wish to extend you an Internet high-five.

However, on this topic, it seems like there's no good approach for handling the scenario where your brain messes with your internal tests in such a way as to point them invariably at a false positive, i.e. anosognosia.

I agree that a good self-test of the sort you describe would reduce the probability for most kinds of anything-goes insanity, but what sort of test could be used to check against the not-insignificant subset of insanity that specifically acts against self-tests and forces them to return false positive at the highest level?

Comment author: RobinZ 02 July 2010 11:53:34AM 2 points [-]

It's always possible to produce insane minds that cannot fix themselves - the interesting question is how big a diff can be bridged at what price. And that's a bit more difficult to answer.

I wonder, however, whether a sufficiently educated anosognosiac could determine that the sources informing them of their paralysis were more reliable than their firsthand observations. It seems unlikely, of course.

Comment author: rastilin 20 April 2011 06:37:52AM 2 points [-]

The answer appears to be no. There were a few articles in Scientific American: Mind about it a while back. Experiments show that the flaw causing stuff like people denying they can't move their arms is part of their logic processing; they proved this by figuring out they could reset their thinking for a short time, at which point people were able to clearly state that they were paralyzed and they were surprised at their earlier thinking.

After a minute, the effect wore off and the patient returned to an earlier state. So the effect appears to short circuit the decision making process on a hardware level.

Comment author: ata 29 May 2010 07:18:36AM *  4 points [-]

True. Even if upon witnessing such absurdities he had immediately assumed he was seeing things and demanded to be checked into a mental hospital, he couldn't even be sure that there was really anyone around him to hear, or that he was really saying what he thought he was saying, etc.

But then, if he's that far removed from reality, whatever he's really doing must appear crazy enough to draw the attention of those around him. Maybe he's already in a mental institution... which he imagines to be a school of wizardry! From the inside, he already sort of feels (and acts) as though he's the only sane person in a madhouse... while in reality, he's just another patient.

Comment author: simplicio 30 May 2010 08:08:02PM 4 points [-]

I think David Hume said something more or less like this when discussing the likelihood of miracles; that if you witnessed a miracle, you ought to conclude you were insane.

I am not sure I buy into this. For one thing, I see a problem with falsifiability. If there is nothing that I could see to convince me that magic might work, I am not objecting to the reality of magic on rational grounds, but as a sort of knee-jerk. It's like the doubleplus loony creationist types who think the devil planted archaeopteryx.

There are reasons I think magic in the Harry Potter sense is not true, reasons that could be argued against (e.g., show me a plausible medium for magic to be carried in). I don't think it would be very rational to make it sort of... axiomatic that magic is false. That seems to in fact be the attitude Eliezer is criticizing in the character of Harry's father.

So yeah, some probability mass goes to the "hallucination/insane" hypothesis, but not very much. Most goes to the "I don't know what's going on here at all, but she did just apparently turn into a cat" hypothesis.

Comment author: ata 29 May 2010 05:58:42AM *  4 points [-]


  1. From the reader's perspective, it doesn't appear that that's what we are supposed to believe (though I'm still wondering...), so I'm tentatively guessing that the mechanism of magic is some kind of technology, and that the in-story universe has the same laws as this one. It does seem implausible that an ancient civilization could have invented technology advanced enough to be indistinguishable from this kind of magic, but that could be different in an alternate history, and it still seems less implausible than any set of physical laws that would actually make this kind of magic a normal, natural thing that a non-industrial civilization could invent/discover.

  2. We are supposed to be wondering why magic works at all, right? It doesn't seem like Eliezer to expect us to be satisfied with an Inherently Mysterious phenomenon at the center of the story, even if it's a story based on someone else's fictional world that already had that feature... but I don't know, maybe it's a demonstration that, no matter how ridiculous the rules are, rationality will still allow you to win.

    But I'm still hoping that magic will be explained at some point, and I'm still looking for clues about it.

Comment author: gwern 03 December 2012 11:46:43PM 3 points [-]

If he was having completely full-blown auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations (note that this is fairly unusual, for example schizophrenia apparently usually only manifests hallucinations in one modality), then what exactly could he do about it or even how would he test it?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 12 July 2010 02:31:27AM *  8 points [-]

The hate that the Dark Lord Potter forum has on MoR is getting more than a bit amusing.

Also, perhaps it's me, but I see the story as a thinly veiled commercial for the author's blog/institute, which breaks the "doing this for pleasure and not profit" fanfiction model (as well as being a subtext that breaks the fourth wall for several readers). The author is almost certainly deriving commercial benefit from J. K. Rowling's intellectual property and his exploitation of the popularity of her fandom by routing eyeballs to his site and building his own personal fame as a voice in the field of AI. I wouldn't be surprised if his story has bumped traffic to his blog/website by an order of magnitude or two. In many regards, this practice is worse than a Cassandra Clare or Jim Bernheimer pitching their original fiction novels on their fanfiction sites, since neither author makes a living off their writing.

This story isn't parody in the traditional sense, so it's possible that a court would consider it as not falling within this protected class of derivative works. Indeed, if the legal hammer were to fall on this story, it could have fallout: consider that a single CAD letter, if sufficiently broad in scope, to the owners of fanfiction.net could effectively shut down the fandom.

As Louie commented upon hearing this: "I just love the fountains of money that have been bursting through [SIAI]'s doors ever since the beginning of this fic". Not.

Comment author: orthonormal 01 August 2010 05:03:52PM *  3 points [-]

Chapter 33:

I'd come up, before, with the hypothesis that HPMoR Voldemort was actually Necessarily Evil after the fashion of Eliezer's proposed supervillain gambit, but I dismissed it by assuming that Voldemort had crossed the Moral Event Horizon already. This chapter, though, makes it very plausible again via an explicit motivation (and a Shout Out to Foundation, as well). On the other hand, Quirrell could just be playing one level above that explanation.

One thing, though: is it public knowledge that Lucius Malfoy had been a Death Eater? Because it seemed to be a very dangerous thing to say out loud (not that Quirrell need fear Lucius, but that it seems foolhardy to so easily signal that he need not fear him).

Comment author: wedrifid 03 July 2010 11:31:36AM *  3 points [-]

Harry's knuckles had gone white on his wand by the time he stopped trying to Transfigure the air in front of his wand into a paperclip. It wouldn't have been safe to Transfigure the paperclip into gas, of course, but Harry didn't see any reason why it would be unsafe the other way around. It just wasn't supposed to be possible. But why not? Air was as real a substance as anything else...

Well, maybe that limitation did make sense. Air was disorganized, all the molecules constantly changing their relation to each other. Maybe you couldn't impose a new form on substance unless the substance was staying still long enough for you to master it, even though the atoms in solids were also constantly vibrating all the time...

The more Harry failed, the colder he felt, the clearer everything seemed to become.

The cold feeling should have given him an idea! He has a spell for lowering temperature. Unless it is, for example, helium a gas with sufficiently low temperature tends to prefer to go by the name 'solid' (Depending on cooling speed probably isolating one specific component of air). That gives him a two step process for transfiguring gas into paperclips.

Mind you, Harry most likely doesn't have the magical ability right now to lower temperature that effectively. Perhaps that's where Hermione's idea to actually practice magic comes into play!

Instant godhood by inventing nano-tech? That doesn't seem to leave much scope for names for all the levels of power that are far ahead of mere non-replicating nano. Perhaps demi-god? Even that seems to be overstating things. It seems to be on a par with the potential of the most advanced magic applied intelligently but without Harry's munchkin mentality.

A thought regarding Alzheimer's cures: If you are playing around with creating an Alzheimer''s cure with transfiguration and find yourself thinking more clearly all of a sudden be very afraid. You have probably absorbed some of the transfigured substance. Most chemical cures for Alzheimer's will also improve abstract and creative thought in healthy humans.

Comment author: mag 23 June 2010 12:32:37AM 3 points [-]

I feel almost certain that Harry is living in a computer simulation. I know he ruled it out because he decided the existence of the Time Turner renders the universe non-computable, but how can he be sure that he's actually going backwards in time instead of the universe "simulating going back to the past and computing a different future?"

Comment author: Baughn 26 June 2010 09:02:33PM 5 points [-]

Time-travel doesn't make the universe uncomputable, is the thing.

Time-travel makes certain laws of physics uncomputable, but there are any number of equivalent, far more complex sets of laws that would look the same to humans but remain computable - Eliezer's mind is running one, for starters. When writing a simulation, you would use one of those.

Comment author: Leonhart 12 June 2010 06:44:32PM 3 points [-]

I don't suppose anyone has been archiving the author's notes? I missed those from Chapter 24.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 12 June 2010 07:15:24PM *  3 points [-]

You didn't miss much:

Chapter 24 notes:

To all of my friends saying that this fic is now Harry/Draco, shut up or I'll ship Draco with McGonagall. Thank you.

While we're on the subject, I don't have any of the notes before chapter 18, and am also missing chapter 19. If anyone has those, I'd like to complete my set.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 June 2010 10:40:33PM 3 points [-]

Chapter 23: I wonder when Harry will realize that the reason he's an idiot isn't that he doesn't have a perfect emergency kit (though that's important), it's that he doesn't have a gut level understanding that the wizarding world is very dangerous, especially the Malfoys.

Comment author: Alicorn 05 June 2010 06:30:29PM *  3 points [-]

How does all this exactingly correct pronunciation stuff interact with accents, speech impediments, having just been socked in the face, or otherwise having issues with getting exact sounds out?

For that matter, what do mute wizards and witches do? Do they just have to learn to cast everything nonverbally? Or can they cure muteness with magic such that it never comes up?

Comment author: alethiophile 29 July 2010 08:43:38PM 2 points [-]

There's mention in the fifth book of canon that Neville gets a fat lip and is unable to pronounce spells in battle (he ends up just stabbing someone with his wand).

Comment author: RobinZ 01 June 2010 06:47:14PM 3 points [-]

In Chapter 6, when Harry was buying the trunk: his whole speech about planning fallacies and collaborators ... wasn't really necessary, was it? Even had he not stolen his own money, I doubt that the proprietor would have refused a down payment accompanied by a request to hold the trunk overnight, pending the remainder of the sum to be payed in the morning.

That said: what if he had simply withdrawn the eleven Galleons and presented them as a fait accompli, without preface?

Comment author: LucasSloan 03 June 2010 12:49:24AM 7 points [-]

I don't believe the true reason for the speech was to get McGonagall to agree with his actions - It was to assert his dominance over her.

Comment author: Nisan 28 May 2010 08:11:19AM 3 points [-]

Eliezer previously considered the idea of a cabal of physicists keeping nuclear weapons a secret in this post. The idea turns up again in this chapter of Three Worlds Collide. Any thoughts? Would you feel safer if only super-rich physicists had access to nuclear weapons?

Comment author: Baughn 28 May 2010 12:30:24PM 3 points [-]

Not particularly. Apart from uncertainty of whether that would actually reduce threats in general, in the particular case of nuclear weapons it's relatively easy to argue that their existence has reduced suffering, overall.

Comment author: simplicio 01 June 2010 12:42:11PM 3 points [-]

...it's relatively easy to argue that their existence has reduced suffering, overall.

I'm not sure the temporary peace they bring is worth it considering how they up the ante. Sure, they probably prevented the Cold War getting hot. On the other hand, one nutcase or terrorist can erase all that utility pretty goddam fast. Hallelujah.

Comment author: mattnewport 27 May 2010 12:24:21AM 3 points [-]

Is someone who has never read any of the Harry Potter books and is not a fan of the movies likely to appreciate this work? I'm somewhat curious to read it but suspect I'd have trouble following the references.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2010 02:32:56AM 9 points [-]

I probably need to write up a "For those who have never seen the books" summary page of years 1-7, containing all the information that will be needed mixed with enough other information that it looks like a summary instead of "here is exactly and only what you will need to know".

Comment author: thomblake 27 May 2010 09:03:11PM *  4 points [-]

That sounds helpful, even to those who've read the books but many of them long ago. Just don't let it stop you from writing chapters.

ETA: Outsource?

Comment author: Vive-ut-Vivas 27 May 2010 01:50:13AM 5 points [-]

The original Harry Potter was really just a clever re-imagining of standard fantasy tropes, so as long as you've had some sort of passing familiarity with fantasy you'll have no trouble following along. There are all kinds of geeky references thrown in that you might even be better off than someone who has read the books but never passed a science course.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 27 May 2010 02:29:20AM 3 points [-]

You'll probably manage, but there's a lot of stuff that won't be as interesting/amusing/"ooooh hey there" if you don't know the original.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 27 May 2010 12:26:22AM 3 points [-]

Yes, you would have trouble although if you are passingly familiar with the first two movies that would be enough.

Note that Eliezer also includes references to a lot of other fictional work, although generally in passing. So if one hasn't read a lot of fantasy one might simply either not get the joke or not even noticing them.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 May 2010 02:33:48AM 3 points [-]

TV Tropes claims that I have "a few" Shout Outs. You'd think TV Tropes would do better than this.

Comment author: cousin_it 27 May 2010 12:45:40AM *  5 points [-]

I never read any of the original Harry Potter books but found the fanfic quite enjoyable overall. At least one big plot point utterly confused me until I looked up "Quirrell" and "horcrux". Also Eliezer chose to make Harry a badass a la Ender Wiggin, which I thought was in very poor taste, but I guess most people can just ignore this.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 27 May 2010 12:50:53AM 6 points [-]

Eliezer chose to make Harry a badass a la Ender Wiggin, which I thought was in very poor taste, but I guess most people can just ignore this

Don't worry, he's made up for it by making his villain much more badass than in the books.

Comment author: cousin_it 27 May 2010 12:57:48AM *  9 points [-]

I'm not complaining about story balance. I just don't enjoy this particular brand of wish fulfillment - fantasizing about a nerd that could stare down five big bullies and still stay a nerd.

Comment author: MC_Escherichia 27 May 2010 09:15:11PM *  12 points [-]

I wonder if Eliezer has or should read this review of Ender's Game (a book I never read myself, but the reviewer seems to provide a useful warning to authors).

Comment author: PlatypusNinja 27 May 2010 09:31:36PM 9 points [-]

Ouch! I -- I actually really enjoyed Ender's Game. But I have to admit there's a lot of truth in that review.

Now I feel vaguely guilty...

Comment author: CronoDAS 28 May 2010 01:52:29AM 6 points [-]

There's a pretty obvious defense; even if it is just pornography that appeals to a different emotion, it's still damn good pornography!

Comment author: Blueberry 28 May 2010 06:43:41AM 4 points [-]

I loved Ender's Game, and think that that review is far more "pornographic" than the book. I pretty much disagree with every sentence of the review. That reviewer took one theme of a complex story, a theme he apparently didn't like, and vulgarized it and ridiculed it to the point of absurdity.

Comment author: Kutta 27 May 2010 12:36:14PM 4 points [-]

But hey, it's not primarily nerd wish fulfillment, it's a rationalist's glowing aura of awesome. It's winning in general, not winning despite being a nerd.

Comment author: cousin_it 27 May 2010 01:41:04PM *  5 points [-]

Harry's aura of awesome is not only due to his being a rationalist. He also survived Voldemort's attack, has a prophecy about him, and possesses "the killing spirit" - neither of which were caused by his rationality. Why not make him exceptionally strong and irresistibly handsome as well? Or something.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 27 May 2010 03:14:57PM *  13 points [-]

In Magical Britain, the halo effect actually works.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 27 May 2010 05:37:21PM 24 points [-]

That sounds like it would work much better as a series of "In Magical Britain" jokes.

In Normal Britain, fundamental attribution is an error. In Magical Britain, all error can be attributed to someone's fundament!!

Comment author: thomblake 01 June 2010 02:30:29PM 4 points [-]

A lot of cognitive bias has tie-ins with "magical thinking". If you're living in a world where sympathetic magic works, why not the halo effect or gambler's fallacy?

Comment author: rwallace 28 May 2010 01:17:06AM 3 points [-]

I do enjoy this particular brand of wish fulfillment :-)

I suspect that's the primary determinant of whether you like this story or not: whether you identify with the protagonist, or find him annoying. I wonder if non-geeks are more likely to fall into the latter camp?

Me, I'm in the former camp. Write a story about a geek kicking enough ass with enough style, and you'll have me for a satisfied reader; and this one definitely qualifies.

Comment author: DanArmak 22 June 2010 02:45:09PM 3 points [-]

Wait, there's a villain? Where?

Comment author: gwern 29 May 2010 07:16:40PM 5 points [-]

I previously criticized Eliezer's 'Ultimate Mega Crossover' fic on basically the grounds that it makes him/SIAI look bad, and didn't help out the cause much.

Reading through MoR, I made a point of reading the reviews and seeing what non-LW people were saying. I'm pleased that aside from AngryParsley's site stats, many of the reviews expressed interest in LW writings and Eliezer's ideas, and very few any disgust or general opinions of low status. Good job, Eliezer!

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 June 2010 11:41:24AM 3 points [-]

Have you updated any of your underlying premises?

I suggest that for a lot of the people you want to attract at this stage, consuming a lot of sf is proof of normalcy. As for fanfic, I suspect that the type of fanfic matters a lot-- if it had been slash of comparable quality to the existing work, there would have been a substantial yuck factor to surmount as well as people who were enthusiastic.

I don't know what the result of HPMOR is going to be if SIAI ever wants to get bank loans-- there are a lot of steep weirdness hills to climb at that point.

Comment author: TotallyARealPerson 04 August 2010 10:26:05PM 2 points [-]

Chapter 34:

I totally think the "completely wrong ship" alluded to in the author's notes is Hermione/Griphook. It makes sense!

Comment author: frozenchicken 26 July 2010 09:19:47AM 2 points [-]

You know, as I was reading chapter 32, I started thinking about how the three generals had their various weaknesses. Draco is savvy but weak against complexity, Hermione is bright but not exactly street smart, and Harry is clearly brilliant yet arrogant. It was only after I'd read it all that I realised each had fallen prey to their own specific weakness. Hermione was surprised by the combined 'For Sunshine!' Gambit against her, Draco didn't realise he was with the wrong Patil, and Harry encouraged earlier betrayal amongst his crew in order to protect him in the final battle, only to be surprised at the end. I figure this was probably a deliberate bit of writing on Eliezer's account, in which case I just want to say-Good job!

Comment author: NihilCredo 01 September 2010 02:04:39PM *  2 points [-]

Draco -> Terran

Hermione -> Zerg

Harry -> Protoss


Comment author: gwern 01 September 2010 02:33:50PM 3 points [-]

Are you mad? You are assigning the happiness & sunshine army general to the Zerg, and the general of chaos to the Protoss?

I'm starting to think you aren't actually a Starcraft player.

Comment author: NihilCredo 01 September 2010 03:08:31PM 2 points [-]

I went by frozenchicken's words rather than by my (single-player and replay-watching only) knowledge of Starcraft. "Clearly brilliant yet arrogant" is a lock for Protoss, and "bright but not exactly street smart" cannot be Terran.

Now, chaotic fighting indeed doesn't fit with the Protoss at all. But Hermione's strategy is by far the one that most parallels a hive-mind, and for all we know the semi-sentient Zerg really are all happy-go-lucky on the inside.

Comment author: dclayh 25 July 2010 09:57:49PM *  2 points [-]

Ch. 32. I don't know what Eliezer will have Blaise do, but if I were in that position I'd flip a coin between Harry and Draco, get rewarded by the winner and counterfactually mug the loser. (Hoping, of course, that that Draco wins, since Harry is clearly more likely to pay off a counterfactual mugger.)

ETA: That is, of course, assuming that Blaise isn't working for Dumbledore (which his chapter-ending line would seem to point to).

Comment author: cousin_it 30 July 2010 03:17:07PM *  6 points [-]

Assume that Draco and Harry both value victory at $1000. Now if you demand $800 from the winner, the loser "would have" gained only $200 in the counterfactual case, so he will pay you $200 at most. So you could have just demanded $1000 minus epsilon from the winner. We could probably prove a theorem that says counterfactual mugging can't help you extract more of the surplus economic value that you create.

Comment author: Strange7 26 July 2010 12:57:33AM 3 points [-]

Judging by the Author's Notes, my guess is that the final result is a three-way tie caused by Blaise self-terminating in the name of Sunshine.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 25 July 2010 01:53:14PM *  2 points [-]

Regarding the author's notes for chapter 32: I assume the complexity class you're looking for at the end there would be something like PromiseNP? Also, the trick really is more general than that, seeing as you can actually use it to do anything in PSPACE.

Comment author: Baughn 04 July 2010 12:07:56AM *  2 points [-]

I should really have mentioned this back in the appropriate chapter, but..

Remember how Harry complains that adding (consistent) time-travel makes the universe uncomputable? Leaving aside how I'm not exactly convinced of that myself, I thought I should point out that such consistent time-travel has recently been experimentally demonstrated.

Have a look at http://arxiv4.library.cornell.edu/abs/1005.2219 . It was published way too late for Harry to read it, unfortunately. :P