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Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 3

5 Post author: Unnamed 30 August 2010 05:37AM

Update: This post has also been superseded - new comments belong in the latest thread.

The second thread has now also exceeded 500 comments, so after 42 chapters of MoR it's time for a new thread.

From the first thread

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 (560)

Comment author: JenniferRM 29 September 2010 07:43:51AM *  25 points [-]

Today I noticed that Harry is dealing with a lot of strikingly rational people compared to canon and it feels wrong. We can understand this because we know that Eliezer's subscribes to the first law of fan fiction ("You can't make Frodo a Jedi without giving Sauron the Death Star") but it seems that in this respect MoR is actually much less plausible than canon unless the "implicit demography" has been changed somehow. Its like the gold/silver exchange rate in canon... except this is brains.

Given a normally distributed trait (like intelligence?) the larger the population, the more spectacular you should expect the maximal outlier to be. And you shouldn't expect lots of similar outliers unless their production was non-linearly explained (like a bunch of students taught by a singularly great teacher or something). The smartest person in a village of 1000 is going to be (literally) "1 in a 1000" compared to the smartest person in China who is going to be (again literally) "1 in a billion". So those sorts of intuitions had me wondering about population sizes.

I googled it and came up with data and speculation. Roughly, it looks like Magical Britain (MB) has a population between 800 and 30,0000 with a median expectation somewhere around 5,000 depending on things like how many students are in Hogwarts (40/yr to 140/yr), whether Rowling's numerically implausible media pronouncements are to be taken seriously, whether everyone in MB really goes to Hogwarts, what the life expectancy is, and what the age pyramid is like due to murder and tribal warfare and magical diseases and so on.

Once I'm calibrated this way, and I look for size-equivalent institutions, the "Ministry of Magic" starts sounding to me like like the "Small Town Chamber of Commerce of Magic" and the "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry" should be expected to work much more like an ordinary high school (tropes link tongue in cheek).

This contextual re-calibration makes it even more obvious that Rowling was (forgivably) pretending that the people at the top of a very tiny wizarding world would have anything like the political sophistication and infrastructure of the muggle world in order to say something meaningful about the muggle world by analogy.

A ministry with many departments makes me think of large buildings with complex hierarchies like in London or Washington DC or Beijing. In canon, the ministry can be similar to a modern government and enable the author to comment on non-fictional governments and the sociopolitical critique of reality can work symbolically and who cares about the sociology in a story for ten year olds :-)

But if the authorial physics changes (as per MoR) and analytical thinking is asserted to have some kind of mechanical reality in which to gain traction, then the wizarding world makes me think of, perhaps, a medium to large college campus. It could probably be run with a single office where anyone can stand in line for 30 minutes to see one of about 5 to 50 admins to personally get their stuff straightened out directly or to make an appointment to talk to the president of the school if something really unusual comes up. Obviously it wouldn't be a fee-for-service arrangement the way a school is, but I wouldn't expect the admin:student ratio to need to be that far off of the bureaucrat:citizen ratio of Magical Britain.

Following the re-calibrating further... Hogsmeade might contain 10% to 50% of the wizarding population... Why doesn't Hogsmeade have one elected sheriff with a handful of deputies, with Diagon Alley similarly protected, and then just be done with it? And what are all these appointed "Aurors" running around for? Is Magical Britain some kind of "totalitarian police village" or something?

Rita Skeeter probably isn't (or in MoR, wasn't) truly similar to a professional journalist in a "large news organization" that was so big to create institutional anonymity and strategically deploy tabloid tactics and so on. People are generally more polite in small towns because reputation matters a lot more than in cities. The newspapers are more "yay for our pancake fundraiser and boo for littering" than malicious gossip rags. Its almost plausible (following the "small town" economic insight) that Rita may have been the only journalist in magical Britain (other than Luna's farther, if you count him).

And politics wouldn't need to work by mass-media-spread ideological PR in Magical Britain. You could just write 10 letters per day, five days a week, and wander around Hogsmeade or Diagon alley on the weekends, and after 25 weeks you'd probably have had direct personal contact with the bulk of the adult population who cared to involve themselves in group decision making. Simple, easy, done. We're talking about a civilization way smaller than Athens, and look how big an impact Socrates appears to have had by wandering around talking to people!

In this light, all the trappings of muggle government kinda start to look like a cargo cult. The politics around who runs Hogwarts starts to look kind of pitiful... like a sociopathically deranged PTA squabble. And what happens if Harry notices this stuff? And comments on it to Hermione and explore the implications? And then insert "some explanation" that shows why the ministry is actually necessary (rather than a cargo cult) and have "whatever the need is" become a vivid plot mechanism?

In Chapter 36 Harry compares the world of muggles to a third world country relative to the wizarding world. Magic appears to be so powerful that this is true in some sense... but its pretty weird if they appear to be the one's with cargo cult versions of our political institutions...

And in the meantime, it really seems to make "Voldemort's Deathstar" (that is, his general rational turbocharge and massive preparation for conquering several thousand people) look really silly to me, because it is such overkill. If Voldemort really wanted political power over Magical Britain, and was being simply rational about it, and MB is little more than a two or three small villages... then why not apply social psychology to winning the hearts and minds of a bunch of unsophisticated "magical rubes" in a local election and just be done with it?

Which gets me back around to Harry, boy genius, and all the people he's interacting with in tiny little Magical Britain who have also somehow gotten rationality super powers. Maybe someone needs to plot wizard IQs and notice the weird bi-modal distribution caused by all the people just a bit less smart than Harry so he has people with whom to interact and thereby create a compelling story?

Maybe I'm overconfident in my ability to connect numerical population models with lived socio-political realities, but I'm thinking this is probably just me being more confused by fiction than by reality.

Comment author: Pavitra 07 October 2010 07:36:24PM 4 points [-]

It's clear that magic must carry with it a fairly different psychology -- not just (nonlinear, bimodal) changes to the level of general intelligence, but differences of personality as well.

The question is, can we coherently analyze what the Wizarding psychology looks like?

Comment author: Larks 07 October 2010 06:52:21AM 4 points [-]

Maybe with magic giving each wizzard much more destructive power, a higher degree of regulation is required.

Or maybe it was just JK Rowling's Labour affiliations showing through.

Comment author: TobyBartels 30 September 2010 04:00:11AM *  6 points [-]

I'm drawing two conclusions from your analysis:

  • Wizards must inherently be much more intelligent than Muggles.
  • The Wizard government is insanely bureaucratic.

The first point is ignored in canon, but ought to be noticed by Harry in MoR. This makes it even more in need of explanation that Wizards never noticed the Enlightenment (or never had it themselves much earlier). The interesting possibility is that they did have it, and the Methods of Rationality have long been actively suppressed for some reason.

In contrast, the second point seems to be well recognised in canon. Besides all of the off-hand references to silly regulations (flying carpets, anybody?), the Ministry seems to account for around half of the adult employment, and well over half of the employment of intelligent people. All three of the main characters went to work for the Ministry in the epilogue, with Hermione having two Ministry careers in succession. Outside of Hogwarts (which is only somewhat independent of the government, like the BBC), the Ministry is the only source of high-class professional careers in Wizarding Britain. (I don't count Gringott's, because it is an international Goblin-run concern, although Bill Weasley worked there in canon. Now that I think of it, both Bill and Charlie Weasley left the country to find good careers, so maybe Britain suffers from this more than other countries do.)

Is Magical Britain some kind of "totalitarian police village" or something?

When Grindelwald was setting up his Muggle puppet states, he wasn't trying to be evil; he was just doing what comes naturally to a Wizard.

Comment author: LucasSloan 06 September 2010 08:38:12AM 23 points [-]


I just wanted to thank you for this quote

And someday when the descendants of humanity have spread from star to star, they won't tell the children about the history of Ancient Earth until they're old enough to bear it; and when they learn they'll weep to hear that such a thing as Death had ever once existed!

My grandfather just died and it captured a lot of the outrage and hope for the future I have.

Comment author: orthonormal 27 September 2010 02:11:45AM *  15 points [-]

From the most recent Author's Note:

I bet that if you were to reread MoR and copy everything that looks like a hint into a separate document, and then look through all of the hints at once, you would, like, notice some stuff. Just sayin'.

I reread a few chapters for fun, and then something hit me like a piledriver.

  • In this world, Sirius was (apparently) the evil one and Pettigrew (apparently) the good one.
  • There was still no body found for Pettigrew, and in this world he did not hide out as the Weasleys' rat.
  • Harry Potter's mysterious gift-giver used the Cloak of Invisibility verself until giving it, and then hinted ve would need to stay hidden afterwards. Ver first note claimed close friendship with James Potter in his Hogwarts days and afterwards (for indeed James gave the cloak to ver).
  • In Chapter 25, the Weasleys remark on a persistent error with the Map– i.e. somebody walking through Hogwarts who's not supposed to be alive...

Interesting, no?

Comment author: RomanDavis 05 October 2010 01:00:30PM *  3 points [-]

TVTropes is pretty sure Peter Pettigrew turned himself into Harry's father's rock, instead of a rat.

Peter means rock in Latin/ Greek.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 06 September 2010 05:25:36AM 12 points [-]

Chapter 45. I wept.

Comment author: orthonormal 19 September 2010 06:52:52PM *  11 points [-]

Remember the bit in Chapter 27 where Harry has the same conversation each time with his Obliviated instructor in Occlumency?

Harry was finding himself very disturbed by how reproducible human thoughts were when you reset people back to the same initial conditions and exposed them to the same stimuli. It was dispelling illusions that a good reductionist wasn't supposed to have in the first place.

Well, it turns out that this is actually the case:

My dad takes sleeping pills every night, and never remembers anything that happens after he takes them. He will never admit this, however. The last three times he has called me at night shortly after taking his pills and we've had the exact same conversation wherein he's asked me the exact same questions. Not "how have you been?" questions but "what is X" or "when does X happen?" type questions that, once answered, don't need to be re-asked.

I answer them the same, and they always lead into the exact same followup questions. It's like we're performing a play. Or, rather, I'm performing a play where I know all the lines and he's performing an improv routine where he doesn't know any.

It's kind of funny.

Also, the parent Reddit thread is simply excellent. Trust me, you should read it. (Thank Yvain for the link.)

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 06 September 2010 04:58:25PM *  11 points [-]

A thought re Chapter 43...

Hermione is (as established here) rather intelligent. Is she aware of the concept, in some form, of quantum immortality? Because I can't help but wonder if the particular fear she saw, what she experienced with the Dementor (not counting the "message"?) was basically a fear of QI. I mean, assuming via QI you don't incrementally lose your mind and effectively gradually decay, you'd expect to see everyone else die, with you yourself all alone at the end.

So, is quantum immortality effectively what Hermione saw/feared?

Also, re chapter 46.. Harry has nothing to say about involuntary memory charms? (Not to mention the notion that letting them know that dementors can be defeated, even without telling them how, might plant the seeds that would let them later on be ready to learn.)

Comment author: TobyBartels 07 September 2010 12:27:13AM 2 points [-]

Harry has nothing to say about involuntary memory charms?

Priorities, priorities …

Comment author: PhilGoetz 30 August 2010 07:28:43PM 11 points [-]

Does anyone else find the HP idea of sorting children into different houses at age 11 abusive and detrimental? The houses aren't arbitrary labels; they're supposed to define your character. No real person fits into any one of those houses. Sorting students restricts their growth and causes them to develop into a House stereotype. And it's the main cause of tension, hatred, and eventually war, in their world.

Comment author: pjeby 30 August 2010 07:35:49PM 19 points [-]

Does anyone else find the HP idea of sorting children into different houses at age 11 abusive and detrimental?

My first, knee-jerk reaction to your suggestion was, "yeah!" Then I thought about it for a second and realized just how nice it might've been at that age to be given:

  1. an identity to be proud of, based on something I was being acknowledged to be good at, and

  2. a peer group of (literally) like-minded individuals with whom to share a common goal (winning the cup), camaraderie, and mentorship.

(As an interesting counterpoint, I actually did participate briefly in a house system around the age of 12 or so, but the houses were assigned randomly, and IIRC the point system was purely athletic, so I didn't give a damn about it.)

Comment author: wedrifid 31 August 2010 08:27:56AM *  18 points [-]

Does anyone else find the HP idea of sorting children into different houses at age 11 abusive and detrimental?

Quite the reverse. The worst thing about our education systems is that they force a bunch of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws to put up with years upon years of abuse by Slytherins and Griffyndors in an environment that they have no opportunity to escape from. I would absolutely love, even now, to have a sorting hat that can essentially weed out @5@#%s pre-emptively.

It is cruel and abusive to force people in an environment where they can not choose the peers they are willing to have in their immediate proximity. At least a sorting hat would help minimise the damage. "Us" vs "Them" is far, far better than "cruelest most powerful political animal vs most socially vulnerable".

Comment author: KevinC 01 September 2010 07:13:29AM 11 points [-]

As explained in some of the other comments, there are some good points about it, but it's got some major flaws. One thing I really don't like is that the teachers are House-identified. They're players in the game, and it's OK for them to arbitrarily punish kids from other Houses and show favoritism to their own. That's like making coaches the referees. Hmmm, maybe that's why the House Cup ends up getting decided by something as random as "Who can catch the golden mosquito first?"

An idea I had: Sort kids into the House that's their greatest weakness/what they're least like/the element they need most to improve. So the Hat would be like, "Well, Draco Malfoy, hrmmmnnnn...better be: HUFFLEPUFF!" "Harry Potter...unfamiliar to the Wizarding World, as like to eat an Exploding Snap as play it properly. If I don't do something you might just cast some random curse labeled 'For an Enemy' on somebody without figuring out what it does first...better be: RAVENCLAW!" "Neville Longbottom...you could go faaaarrrrr, in Slytherin." "Not Slytherin! Anything but Slytherin!" "Ooooh, a wise guy, eh? GRIFFINDOR!"

In each House, kids are taught the virtues of that House, rather than put there because they've already got 'em. And also, everyone gets Sorted each year, so you're not pigeonholed once and for all as an 11 year-old (what, nobody who was a bully at 11 ever learns his/her lesson and becomes a better grownup?).

This system would help kids become more well-rounded. Just look how much MoR!Neville is benefiting from his "tuition" by Harry, who is the very model of a modern NiceGuy!Slytherin. Even in canon, Neville does seem to benefit in terms of developing courage and getting over his fears by being Sorted into Gryffindor when (in the canon Sorting process) he "should" have been a Hufflepuff. Plus, since everybody would probably be Sorted through more than one House during their school years, it wouldn't divide the whole freaking society into four sects. Also, it would change things up a bit so one House that got the good Seeker when s/he was 11 wouldn't always, always win the Cup.

Comment author: NihilCredo 01 September 2010 02:12:39PM *  5 points [-]

One thing I really don't like is that the teachers are House-identified. They're players in the game, and it's OK for them to arbitrarily punish kids from other Houses and show favoritism to their own. That's like making coaches the referees.

It's inevitable when you recruit all your teachers from the school alumni, which itself is more or less inevitable when you're the only school in the nation.

I suppose you could rule that upon taking the job each teacher gets assigned to a new House at random other than the one they were students in (note that this would be a purely informal role, except for the four Heads), but I doubt it would be very effective and not counterproductive.

Comment author: FAWS 01 September 2010 07:37:11AM 4 points [-]

That wouldn't work at all. Slytherin wouldn't be Slytherin without any Slytherin kids there. Maybe it could be made to work with a lot of additional adjustments, but the result probably wouldn't be much like the house system you describe.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 September 2010 02:37:13PM *  3 points [-]

That wouldn't work at all. Slytherin wouldn't be Slytherin without any Slytherin kids there. Maybe it could be made to work with a lot of additional adjustments, but the result probably wouldn't be much like the house system you describe.

You don't think you could take a bunch of young humans and mould them into selfish, Machiavellian, politically minded, corruptible schemers?

Of all the houses I suggest Slytherin is the most natural! Making Slytherins into Hufflepuffs, now that would be a challenge.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 30 August 2010 08:04:24PM 6 points [-]

It might be worth disentangling the effects of Sorting (possibly bad, should probably be moderated by mixed-House projects) and the effects of the House points system (entirely bad as far as I can tell).

Comment author: JoshuaZ 30 August 2010 08:37:20PM 8 points [-]

The house point system might not be completely bad. It might encourage competitively minded people to work more if they might be lazy otherwise. Empirically in the real world this sometimes works. For a few years (not sure if still active), Yale and Harvard students had competitions about which could reduce energy per a capita more. When I went to highschool there was a fundraiser for raising money for foodbanks and each class competed to see which could raise more. There was also a "neutral box" for people who wanted to give but didn't compete. By the end of the fundraiser the neutral box would generally have about an order of magnitude less money in it than the the grade box with the lowest amount.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 30 August 2010 07:33:41PM 5 points [-]

Well, specialisation has benefits, and since the sorting is done by magic most people should end up happy where they are put. It's not like they get different curricula or anything.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 30 August 2010 07:51:53PM 4 points [-]

How did you choose your prior for anything done by magic to be done correctly? :)

Ending up happy doesn't feel like a good goal. Maybe I'm being irrational. But it reminds me of the characters in Brave New World who said, "It's Good to be a Gamma!"

Comment author: LucasSloan 30 August 2010 10:58:59PM 4 points [-]

But it reminds me of the characters in Brave New World who said, "It's Good to be a Gamma!"

But it really is best (sub-Gamma) to be Gamma. The people in Brave New World really are happy and content.

Comment author: MartinB 30 August 2010 08:11:44PM 4 points [-]


I can imagine that sorting students into universities or groups on Meyer-Biggs indicators or learning types could lead to some good things.

Also it could be that the founders of Hogwarts wanted to make sure that their society is made up of 4 main character and culture lines, which all work well together in the end. When putting teams together for real world projects i enjoyed having all kinds of characters working on their respective area of interest.

Comment author: Unnamed 09 September 2010 07:56:23PM 9 points [-]

While investigating the theory that wizardry is becoming less powerful because of a decline in the alliterative naming of wizards, I discovered the identity of Harry's nemesis: Barberus Bragge.

Comment author: KevinC 06 September 2010 09:32:39AM 9 points [-]

Comments cover up to Chapter 46. UN-ROT13'd SPOILERS.

Love the new chapters! Harry's takedown of the Dementor was epic! Yes, I know, that term has been devalued by inflation quite a bit, but in this case its original value and meaning hold. A very nice and emotionally powerful summation of Singularitarian values in Harry's buildup. Also, I didn't stop and try to guess what Harry's Patronus would be, but "the rational animal" is the perfect choice!

One little quibble though. When Dumb-ledore and Harry were trying to guess why Quirrell might want to bring a Dementor to Hogwarts, Dumbles never bothers to mention, "Well, Quirrell did challenge me to a bet, that if any of the First Year students could produce a corporeal Patronus, that I'd let him teach the Killing Curse to anyone who was interested." Naaawwwww, there couldn't possibly be some ulterior motive to Quirrell's desire to teach Dark Magic to the kiddies, could there? Surely not!

And isn't this supposed to be an "Unforgivable" curse, as in, "life in Azkaban" or "the Dementor's Kiss" for using it? Given the existence of such a law in Wizarding society, it doesn't make sense to me for Dumbledore to allow Quirrell to teach young children something that, if used in a moment of immaturity, could completely ruin their entire lives. "The WIzengamot has decided that having a temper tantrum is not an excuse. Send for the Dementor!" Imagine a boy like Canon!Draco given the Killing Curse to use as a First Year.

On the other hand, there are other spells that could be equally lethal, like Diffendo (a cutting spell) or Fiendfyre, and those aren't "Unforgivable." I suppose the thing about Avada Kedavra is that there's no defense against it. So, while other spells might be like teaching a young kid to shoot, the Killing Curse is like giving them a rocket launcher. One that's always loaded, has unlimited ammunition, and is carried with them wherever they go. I.e., not the same thing as a young kid having a gun that they take out and use under parental supervision.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 September 2010 10:48:54AM *  6 points [-]

There is something all too appropriate about comparing AK to a gun.

On the other hand, there are other spells that could be equally lethal, like Diffendo (a cutting spell) or Fiendfyre, and those aren't "Unforgivable."

That 'unforgivable' label always seemed utterly arbitrary. Yes, torture, coercion and killing tend to be nasty things to do but there are far more ways to go about doing it than those three spells. Effective use of winguardium leviosa could kill dozens of people at once, for example. And combining healing magic with a sharp stick over a period of a month is probably worse than crucio for a couple of seconds. Then there's the old 'sleep/stab' combination that makes 'sleep' the most feared spell of all in certain magical worlds.

I suppose the thing about Avada Kedavra is that there's no defense against it.

That seems to be the big distinguishing feature. Teaching 12 year olds something that Dumbledore himself could not protect anyone against seems like it may have downsides.

I've always taken the position that stigmatising AK was arbitrary and pointless but I've never quite taken that position all the way to teaching junior grades how to use it. Surely it is something that should at least have the limitations that are in place for apparition? (Even if that just means removing the limits RE: apparition!)

Comment author: NihilCredo 06 September 2010 11:15:45AM *  7 points [-]

One justification I liked was that AK, being "fueled by hatred", can only be cast by those who are already beyond the Moral Horizon. So it's not the murder itself that's so terrible, it's that fulfilling the prerequisites for using AK means that you are a dangerous sociopath who cannot be safely let loose in the wizarding world.

Unfortunately this doesn't cover Crucio and Imperius, which IIRC are even used by some "good guys" in canon. But I'm sure you could come up with some other fan-wank to explain them.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 September 2010 11:47:32AM 7 points [-]

I like that justification too, in as much as it is the best of the possible 'fan-wank'. Even so I suspect that Lily could have pulled off an AK if she had more of a chance. She had huge reserves of magical talent and a hell of a lot of hatred. Yet she still wouldn't be a dangerous sociopath. In fact, the scariest thing about sociopaths is that they don't even need to have overwhelming hatred to do brutally nasty things. The fact that most people need to be overwhelmed by emotion before they violate mores is what distinguishes them from sociopaths.

Comment author: PeterS 06 September 2010 08:42:23PM *  3 points [-]

I drew the analogy that it's like the term "deadly weapon". Fists can be deadly, but they are not called deadly weapons. Hitting someone in the head with your fist is not guaranteed to kill them. Likewise you can drop a shipping container on someone -- and I'm sure this would earn you a life sentence -- but Winguardium Leviosa is not itself a deadly (Unforgivable) spell, as an arbitrary cast of the spell is not guaranteed to kill.

It's still a bit arbitrary. To my knowledge, using a love potion is not Unforgivable -- though it's clearly magical coercion and serves only such a purpose as that.

Comment author: lmnop 06 September 2010 05:48:39PM *  5 points [-]

I never really understood the claim that there's no defense against Avada Kedavra. Sure, there's no direct countercurse, but you can dodge it or levitate an object between yourself and the curse (Dumbledore levitated a statue in front of Harry to protect him from the curse in Book 5). Both of these responses can be trained to the point of instinct, and voila, you have a defense.

Wait, the fact that the second strategy works is inconsistent. If the Killing Curse can be blocked by inanimate objects, why is it that clothing doesn't block it?

Comment author: TobyBartels 07 September 2010 12:31:44AM 7 points [-]

I forget if this happens in the book, but in the movies the curse damages obects badly when it hits them. So clothing may just be too thin and weak to absorb it.

Comment author: Alicorn 06 September 2010 07:24:40PM 5 points [-]

If the Killing Curse can be blocked by inanimate objects, why is it that clothing doesn't block it?

Maybe it's like a liquid, and can get through cloth but not an entire sofa or wall.

Comment author: gjm 27 September 2010 07:51:59PM 8 points [-]

In ch47, Harry's list of conditions for his agreement with Draco is broken: he has forgotten an extremely obvious condition. Namely, that Dumbledore did it deliberately. This doesn't seem like a very likely oversight for MoR!Harry; I wonder whether it's deliberate on Eliezer's part.

Comment author: TobyBartels 28 September 2010 06:57:55PM *  17 points [-]

I wonder whether it's deliberate on Eliezer's part.

I now imagine that it is. Here is my scenario, with so much detail that its probability is extremely small, so that it cannot be a spoiler:

Dumbledore, being cleverer than in canon, discovered the existence of the diary Horcrux. After diligently searching for basilisk venom and researching any other safer means of destroying a Horcrux, he realised that he would have to use Fiendfyre. He broke into Malfoy Manor but found it more difficult than he expected and was badly weakened when he found the diary, so he was unable to overcome additional protective enchantments on the diary itself and remove it. Having good reason to believe that the manor was empty, however, he used Fiendfyre right there and then used his last strength to escape. As it turns out, Narcissa was home, and her valiant efforts saved the manor from destruction but cost her her own life.

Later, Dumbledore spoke to Lucius to apologise. While he did not dare to explain why he had started Fiendfyre in the Malfoys' home, he told Lucius that he never intended to kill anybody and only reluctantly cast the spell that would have destroyed the house. He also told Lucius that, while he could not give details, the act was only necessary because the Malfoys were still working for Voldemort, and he warned Lucius to rid himself of anything to do with Voldemort to avoid any future accidents.

When Harry discovers these facts, he will realise his omission and beg Draco to trigger the first condition. Drama ensues.

On second thought, the character of the Dumbledore above is more like in canon than in MoR. Under the circumstances, Dumbledore would probably start the Fiendfyre even if he knew that Narcissa might be killed. This is another missing exception: if the act that killed Narcissa, despite her having no dirty hands, saved more lives than it took. (Whether or not that applies in this case, it would certainly be Dumbledore's defence, and Harry might buy it, given enough evidence.)

Comment author: orthonormal 14 December 2010 10:05:09PM 6 points [-]

When Harry discovers these facts, he will realise his omission and beg Draco to trigger the first condition. Drama ensues.

It would be very interesting to watch Harry try and convince a very smart and angry Draco to let him out of his promise, in such a situation.

Comment author: TobyBartels 28 September 2010 08:21:25AM 3 points [-]

For Harry, is morality about intentions or consequences? Maybe he doesn't care whether Dumbledore did it deliberately; if anybody is so careless as to do such a thing accidentally, then they're an enemy.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2010 05:56:33AM *  5 points [-]

For Harry, is morality about intentions or consequences? Maybe he doesn't care whether Dumbledore did it deliberately; if anybody is so careless as to do such a thing accidentally, then they're an enemy.

It's hard to tell. Harry's morality seems to be somewhat ad-hoc in nature. For example, he declares that sometimes killing is necessary but torture can never be, which rules out being purely consequentialist but is hardly typical of deontological ethical frameworks either (but fairly normal for standard human thinking).

Even so it would surprise me if Harry didn't distinguish at least partially on intent. Completely not caring about intent, well, just "doesn't seem like his style". I observe, for example, that Harry judges Dumbledore for sharing gossip to Severus with the intent of setting Voldemort after Harry's family. When looking at raw causal interactions there are no doubt countless trivial actions that have the consequence of really bad things happening. Yet Harry singles Dumbledore's (alleged) conniving out purely based on the fact that he intended it to lead to particular a chain of events.

Comment author: NihilCredo 26 September 2010 10:40:23PM *  8 points [-]

Update Scanner reports: Chapter 1 has been edited so that Petunia recounts that she was ugly and Lily's potion improved her skin and curves, but no longer mentions having been fat nor losing weight thanks to the potion. As a secondary change, possibly unrelated, Prof. Verres is also more tender towards his wife, an improvement on his characterisation.

My working hypothesis is that Eliezer is going to set up some rules about what potions can do (possibly just Polyjuice and variants), which could not be reconciled with sudden weight loss.

Comment author: NihilCredo 01 October 2010 09:40:06AM *  2 points [-]

Another one now, chapter 3, when Harry sees Quirrell for the first time:

"I had the strangest feeling that I knew him..." Harry rubbed his forehead. "And that I shouldn't ought to shake his hand." Like meeting someone who had been a friend, once, before something went drastically wrong... that wasn't really it at all, but Harry couldn't find words.

Comment author: Larks 20 September 2010 06:22:49AM *  8 points [-]

I have the answer, people. Have no fear.

Quirrel isn't evil. Evil people like Voldermort only exist in stories. It's just that Eliezer built an FAI, and as a reward got a chance to pretend to be Raistlin.

Hermione is going to found SPEW, and then, to save the house-elves from having to work all the time, will create an Auto-Geomancic Incantation, or AGI, to do the housework. It will recursively self-enmagic and optimise for the first item on it's to-do list: get more paperclips.

The world will end, and the moral is that everything can be destroyed very quickly by things you weren't expecting, because you're not in a story.

I know this to be true for a fact, because Eliezer laughed when I suggested it.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 06 September 2010 07:24:57AM *  8 points [-]

These chapters (43-46) seem to have several pieces of evidence for the "Harrymort" theory. Quirrell's reaction suggests that he recognizes the particular ideas that Harry had, which in turn suggests they're where he hid his horcruxes. That those locations also seemed obvious to Harry could be simply because they are obvious, and Voldemort used them for that same reason, but it could also indicate Harry somehow "remembering" them. That Voldemort might not have actually attempted to kill Harry after having killed Lily also suggests something may have been up there, though Voldemort may have been simply lying. And we also now have a bit of evidence that Harry's "dark side" may actually be real.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2010 04:29:10PM *  8 points [-]

These chapters (43-46) seem to have several pieces of evidence for the "Harrymort" theory.

I just thought of another from an earlier chapter.


Equal, as in mathematical equality.

Also, from Ch. 45: "A strange word kept echoing in his mind." Probably 'horcrux'. [ETA: gjm's right. Missed that.]

Comment author: gjm 06 September 2010 09:09:48PM 7 points [-]

I thought the strange word was "riddle".

Harry glanced in the Dementor's direction. The word echoed in his mind again. All right, Harry thought to himself, if the Dementor is a riddle, what is the answer?

Comment author: ata 06 September 2010 09:52:30PM *  4 points [-]


I get it now. *foreheadsmack*

Comment author: Yvain 06 September 2010 05:19:48PM *  6 points [-]

I'm still trying to figure out what happened at Godric's Hollow.

Voldemort went in there with the intention to kill Harry (evidence: the prophecy, his seeming willingness to let Lily escape). Lily asked him to spare Harry's life in exchange for her own. It would seem that Voldemort accepted this offer in some way: he verbally agreed to the bargain, he killed Lily despite a previous intention to spare her, and Harry ended up surviving the encounter. But why would Voldemort do that when he could as easily have killed both, when he wanted Harry dead for prophecy-related reasons, and when he wanted Lily alive for Snape's sake?


  1. Voldy had always planned to save Harry's life for his own purposes - maybe he interpreted the prophecy as meaning this would be the boy into whom he could upload his personality. He only came to Godric's Hollow to cast the personality-transfer spell onto Harry and maybe get rid of the parents. He accepted Lily's offer because it amused him to have Lily sacrifice her life when he wasn't going to kill Harry anyway.

  2. Voldy came to kill Harry, and never gave up on that intention. He pretended to accept Lily's bargain because he was Evil, and pretending to accept bargains and then breaking them is what evil people do. However, there was some hidden magic that auto-cast the Unbreakable Vow spell without Voldemort knowing. Voldemort tried to kill Harry, which broke the vow he had made to Lily, insta-killing him. Harry was Horcruxed and Voldemort's soul survived in the Horcruxes in a way relatively similar to in canon.

Comment author: alethiophile 12 September 2010 12:28:02AM 2 points [-]

In canon, the explanation is that sacrificing your life in order to save someone else has actual magical force (the events of book 7, in which this effect works for Harry even though he did not actually die, imply that this effect is tied up with a person's intent to sacrifice their life, rather than their actual death). Thus, if a wizard knowingly and willingly sacrifices their life to save that of another, that other person gains a measure of magical defense, which was the reason that Voldemort's first attempt to kill Harry rebounded. I'm not sure how or whether this will be changed in MoR; if you use the intention interpretation, then it doesn't seem to horribly contradict any of the established contra-canon facts.

Comment author: sanyasi 06 September 2010 08:23:24AM *  6 points [-]

While I agree that this might be the case, there is a logical defense for the case where Harry is non-Voldemort. Consider, if you were Voldemort hiding horcruxes. Where would you put them?

Now if you are not very smart, you would probably put up some protections, and you will expect the hero to try to break them. If you were smarter, there would be some feints and double feints and deceptions involved in the process. But if you were very smart, you would go for the hardest locations, as Harry named. These might represent a kind of "fixed point" of hiding places: You know the hero will find out, but its not like you could do any better. The perfectly-logical-Quirrell knows that Harry will figure it out, but nonetheless, he has no better option! Any other choices would only make the quest easier, not harder.

Now since Harry is brilliant, he figures this out independently. Because with the above fixed-point theorem that these 5 locations are the hardest possible even assuming common knowledge of the theorem and the 5 locations among your foes, then every sufficiently smart thinker will come to the exact same conclusions independently, which in this case are Voldemort and Harry.

(Personally I disagree with the locations as Harry says them: There is one better: Randomize everything that Harry said. Of the 5 hardest options, make a probability distribution over them [weighted by difficulty: I would expect the space version to be weighted higher as it seems harder to find things in space than say the earth version of digging a hole a kilometer under the ground of which there are a much smaller number of hiding spots.] Then, randomize each version so that the launch trajectory (in the space case) or the burial site (in the earth case) is selected randomly. Finally, build a machine that will do the randomized selection and auto-launch independently, so that you yourself are unaware of the selected locations. Even obliviation seems weak: perhaps there are ways to be unobliviated ex-post.

This way, a machine chooses 7 modes (space/air/water) randomly for your 7 horcruxes. I imagine there would be 4 space horcruxes, 2 air horcruxes, 0.5 water horcruxes, etc. (depending on the probability distribution chosen) Ideally you would obliviate yourself ex-post so that you don't remember the probability distribution you chose. Then once the modes have been selected for each horcrux the machine spits out for each of the horcruxes a random trajectory/location and launches. Then you destroy the machine (and sufficient surroundings so that remaining bits of information cannot be used to reconstruct even partially the entropy bits surrounding the machine to regenerate the random numbers). Then you obliviate yourself of every thing.

Even then, this isn't foolproof, because a smart enough person looking to find out where your horcruxes are would arrive at the same conclusions and realize what you've done. But it is the strongest possible that could be done. (That is, if I haven't made a mistake: which I don't claim to have. I'm not Quirrelmort/Harry smart, I'm dumber. Presumably if they came up with the solution it would be without any holes I might have overlooked)

Randomization is the only hope here. Your solution needs to be sufficiently hard that you yourself cannot ex-post figure out where they are, so that the hero cannot either. The more random, the larger the search space for any future searcher, and no additional information can be obtained. Harry does grasp this by suggesting obliviating yourself after randomly selecting a trajectory for the space case, but I would make that more rigorous and have a very strong random number generator of which you were a not part of.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 September 2010 08:51:38AM 6 points [-]

If a horcrux of Type 1 is found, that greatly increases the chance another horcrux of Type 1 is findable. You actually do want to use as many different modes as possible, not randomize across modes, because the probabilities are not independent.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 September 2010 09:08:43AM 7 points [-]

Speaking of horcrux types, will you give us some hints as to just what effect such devices have in the MoR universe? ie. Backup copies, respawn points, part-of-your-intellectual-capacity, etc. Can a voyager horcrux allow you to recover from a 'death' back on earth despite being a gazilion miles away?

Comment author: orthonormal 06 September 2010 10:13:22PM 3 points [-]

I second this. We have to know the rules if it's going to be important later on (else it's an Ass Pull), and I rather suspect that it will be important in the finale.

Comment author: dclayh 06 September 2010 10:26:12PM 4 points [-]

I rather suspect that it will be important in the finale

Which raises the question: is Harry going to "win" (defeat QM/bring about the Magical Singularity/generally wrap up the plot) in one year, or seven, or some other number? And is Eliezer going to keep writing that far?

Comment author: FAWS 06 September 2010 10:38:02PM 2 points [-]

No way is it going to be one year, way too many plot threads. Take Bacon's diary, it's not going to become relevant until Harry has the chance to start to read it, which he currently thinks requires learning Latin first.

Comment author: orthonormal 06 September 2010 10:43:59PM *  6 points [-]

I don't see that as a Chekhov's Gun, just a sweet quest item. (Note that it hasn't been mentioned again.)

Chekhov's Gun for this story would be James Potter's rock.

Comment author: FAWS 06 September 2010 11:34:48PM 6 points [-]

It has been mentioned again in chapter 37. I'm pretty sure it will come up again, at least in passing, but probably more than just that.

Comment author: dclayh 06 September 2010 11:06:24PM 5 points [-]

just a sweet quest item

Yeah, having Bacon's Diary equipped gives Harry a totally sweet +1 to all his attacks. And it doesn't even use up a weapon slot!

Comment author: dclayh 06 September 2010 10:46:27PM *  3 points [-]

So, I don't so much mean one year vs. 7+ of in-universe time; I mean one JKR book-length vs. 7+ JKR book-lengths worth of writing. (I.e., is Eliezer shooting for 75kword, 1.1Mword, or something else.) Should have been more clear about that.

Comment author: FAWS 06 September 2010 11:39:01PM 3 points [-]

Eliezer is already way over 1 book length (265k words, more than even Order of the Phoenix), I don't see him finishing the story short of at least 600k words, probably considerably more.

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 09 September 2010 05:46:34AM *  3 points [-]

I feel like the story is more than halfway done already, although I'd be pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

Comment author: dclayh 06 September 2010 09:27:37PM *  4 points [-]

Even so, I would think that having all of them off planet Earth would be preferable to some on it and some off. Inside the Sun, inside some of the ice-moons of the gas giants, and on various random trajectories out of the solar system (not strapped to a probe whose telemetry we know very well, for goodness' sake) would seem to be optimal. Of course this all depends on Voldy's actual ability to put them there.

Then there's the whole issue of traps/alarms. Trapping is probably not worthwhile if you're hiding in highly-inaccessible places, since if your enemy can get there she's pretty powerful already, and the traps could easily draw attention. (On the other hand, if you have something as crazy as the Big Bowl o' Poison one, where the enemy somehow is forced to injure himself to get the horcrux, with absolutely no way around it, then it could be worthwhile.) (Silent) alarms, on the other hand, seem absolutely essential: you must know if one of your horcruces has been touched, let alone destroyed, so you can take appropriate steps.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 September 2010 08:49:48AM *  2 points [-]

Randomization is the only hope here. Your solution needs to be sufficiently hard that you yourself cannot ex-post figure out where they are, so that the hero cannot either.

I would normally suggest throwing the horcrux across a horizon (black hole or outside the future light cone). But in a world with time travel and apparition that doesn't seem quite so safe. I would weight the distribution more in the direction of space, leaving the 'air' ones out altogether.

If possible I would make the acceleration factor on the space bound item vary based on quantum effects at regular intervals, leaving it thoroughly distributed across an ever expanding part of the universe.

It matters somewhat just what the device being hidden is made of and whether it can, say, resist insane tidal forces, supernovae and the like. The flying item may need to be programmed to avoid such things or perhaps dive right in, depending on the specifics.

The other thing to consider is that obscurity isn't the only way to make something inaccessible. Even if the direction is guessable, spending sufficient effort in making the item accelerate into space could make it extremely hard to find. If you can charm the item to accelerate at 10g away from the earth forever and also manage to prevent anyone from chasing after it for 10 years then you have made your horcrux damn hard to catch.

Before I did any of these things, well, at least before I did it with the >=3rd horcruxes I would thoroughly research just how the horcruxes manage to make you unkillable. I would need to confirm that wherever I hid a horcrux enabled the horcrux to do its thing in a way that is useful. ie. I don't want to respawn inside black holes, outside the light cone of everything I hold dear or even inside any volcanoes.

Comment author: gwern 06 September 2010 01:46:31PM 2 points [-]

Even obliviation seems weak: perhaps there are ways to be unobliviated ex-post.

Canonically, IIRC, obliviation can be broken by sufficient torture.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 31 August 2010 06:35:56PM *  8 points [-]

I appreciate that Eliezer tries to explain the Death-Eater point of view - they're heroes in their own minds; and they're the only ones trying to solve a terrible problem that the "good guys" are ignoring. He also points out flaws in eg Dumbledore (though that may be dumbing down the character). Overall, his treatment of the conflict is more balanced and nuanced than Rowling's. More the kind of thing that I think I like (though I could be deceiving myself).

But if the book had been written that way, could it have been a bestseller? Is stupid moral oversimplification necessary in a mass-market bestseller? E.g., Tolkien, Narnia, Star Wars.

I'm trying to think of mass-appeal war stories with a balanced or ambiguous or at least non-stupid treatment of good/bad, but the ones I come up with are not exactly blockbusters: Gormenghast, Ender's Game, Grendel, The "Good War".

Some blockbuster movies qualify: Saving Private Ryan, High Noon, Blade Runner, Watchmen, The Searchers, Rashomon, Apocalypse Now, Unforgiven. Odd that movies, which are thought of by intellectuals as more lowbrow than books, may be more successful at communicating non-stupid ideas.

Comment author: Airedale 31 August 2010 07:46:47PM *  8 points [-]

Is stupid moral oversimplification necessary in a mass-market bestseller? E.g., Tolkien, Narnia, Star Wars.

Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked and other books, achieved considerable success turning the morally simplistic world of Oz into something more complex. The Broadway musical was also very popular as such things go. Not quite on the same level of success as your examples, but it shows there’s some market for it. (Maguire also wrote similar retellings of Snow White and Cinderella, which I think sold pretty well, although not as well as Wicked.)

Edited to add: Although if you're only asking about "war stories" strictly defined, it may not be a good example.

Comment author: sketerpot 31 August 2010 09:49:20PM *  8 points [-]

Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked and other books, achieved considerable success turning the morally simplistic world of Oz into something more complex.

If the Wizard of Oz had been written that way to start with, could it have achieved its popularity? The fact that so many people know about Oz definitely helps anybody who wants to sell a deconstruction of it.

Comment author: Airedale 31 August 2010 10:20:12PM 4 points [-]

Good point. Wicked also is an imperfect example because it was written for adults, unlike the examples in the grandparent.

I wonder if there's something different about the way (most) authors write books for children and (some) authors write books for adults - HP, Narnia, Star Wars, and Oz all had young audiences in mind. Most of the more morally complex movies mentioned in the grandparent were for adults. Do any of Stephen King's bestsellers have moral complexity?

I also wonder if those writing and creating works for children (if they do gravitate towards moral simplicity) have the correct understanding of what their audience wants? Of course, HP and Star Wars certainly broke out well beyond children, so maybe a lot of adults want moral simplicity too.

Comment author: dclayh 20 September 2010 04:32:45PM *  4 points [-]

Speaking of media for children, I once read that the MPAA will not certify a film as "G" if it contains if it contains morally ambiguous characters, regardless of the sex, violence, language or drugs. Unfortunately I cannot find an internet citation for this (beyond the talk of "mature themes").

Comment author: PhilGoetz 02 September 2010 10:14:59PM 4 points [-]

I read an essay by Stephen King where he claimed that his writing was basically socially conservative and morally simplistic - there's always evil in his worlds, but it's always an invader from the outside that must be repelled.

Comment author: pjeby 06 September 2010 07:49:02PM 2 points [-]

I read an essay by Stephen King where he claimed that his writing was basically socially conservative and morally simplistic - there's always evil in his worlds, but it's always an invader from the outside that must be repelled.

That seems like a major oversimplification. A whole bunch of exceptions spring immediately to mind, such as pretty much all the Bachman Books (where the villain is often society itself or the masses thereof), and short stories like Dolan's Cadillac (where it's not really clear who's the bigger villain). And what about Firestarter?

Even in books like The Stand or Needful Things, where the evil really is a non-human invader from the outside, it gets big chunks of its power from individuals' failings of character.

Comment author: TobyBartels 01 September 2010 01:51:43AM *  5 points [-]

But McGuire's works work because they are deconstructions; he is a fanfic writer, albeit working in the mainstream business model.

What the world needs are financially successful original stories, and indeed children's stories, with grey morality.

Comment author: WrongBot 01 September 2010 02:06:42AM 4 points [-]

Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, leans grey. The villain is unambiguously The Bad Guy, but the protagonist is decidedly unsaintly, as is his mentor.

So that's one.

Comment author: ewbrownv 02 September 2010 04:01:25PM 2 points [-]

I have to disagree. The ‘morally grey’ approach can be interesting if the author is writing a story of ideas – exploring unconventional morality, novel social forms, etc – but very few authors have the ability to do that. Usually they’re writing a simple plot-driven story of romance and tribal conflict, which requires obstacles (for the romance) and enemies (for the tribal conflict). In this type of story trying to introduce sympathy for the villains just ruins the reader’s enjoyment to no purpose.

Besides which, morally grey stories have been in fashion for the last twenty years, and anyone who considers themselves a serious author has already taken at least one shot at it. Most genres are inundated with the stuff, some to the point where it’s hard to find anything else. The last thing we need is even more of it.

Comment author: TobyBartels 02 September 2010 06:02:47PM 3 points [-]

The ‘morally grey’ approach can be interesting if the author is writing a story of ideas [...]. Usually they’re writing a simple plot-driven story [...]. In this type of story trying to introduce sympathy for the villains just ruins the reader’s enjoyment to no purpose.

This is probably just a matter of taste, but I get enough simplified morality from people who believe that it applies in real life; I don't want it any more in stories, even simple plot-driven ones.

[...] morally grey stories [...] Most genres are inundated with the stuff, some to the point where it’s hard to find anything else.

Not children's literature. The children of today are the closed-minded partisans of tomorrow.

Comment author: Airedale 02 September 2010 06:17:31PM 5 points [-]

How would people characterize A Wrinkle in Time? It’s been ages since I’ve read it, but it’s another indisputably (?) classic children’s book. IT and a lot of the good/evil shadow imagery seem somewhat morally simplistic in my memory, but I seem to recall other moral complexity, e.g., with the Mrs. Ws.

I’m also having trouble characterizing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in terms of moral complexity, but it also doesn't fit in with the other examples in that it lacks a high-stakes struggle. Alice in Wonderland is the other major children's classic fantasy I can think of, but I can't recall what, if any, type of morality it presented.

Comment author: TobyBartels 03 September 2010 01:16:18AM *  5 points [-]

A Wrinkle in Time?

Good question. As I recall, I found the first half much more interesting than the last half. In retrospect, I think that one reason was that the Ws required thought to understand but It did not. (But I don't recall thinking this at the time, so take that with a grain of salt.)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory […] Alice in Wonderland

The morality in these is farcical, so it's easier to be grey, or just meaningless. (In Tim Burton's recent adaptation of Alice, which has a coherent plot unlike the original, the morality was very black and white.)

Now I remember the famous debate in The Horn Book Magazine about the morality in Charlie. I found most of that debate pointless because Charlie's morality is farcical, so why would you expect it to make sense? (Well, the debate wasn't only about morality.)

And that reminds me of Ursula Le Guin (who took the anti-Charlie position in the first April 1973 Letter to the Editor at the above link); she wrote the children's fantasy trilogy Earthsea. This has a fairly grey morality, especially the middle book, which is told from the perspective of an antagonist (at first) of the trilogy's main protagonist. Years later, Le Guin wrote a sequel trilogy, which (while earning a mixed reaction from the fans) addressed some of the problems that she saw in the original trilogy; it was even greyer, but it was not marketed to children anymore. In any case, Earthsea is not a counterexample to ewbrownv's claims, because the story does explore ‘unconventional morality, novel social forms, etc’ (and does it well, IMO).

Ob MoR: Earthsea has an anti-lifeist moral, but because it is grey, it treats the lifeist position with some respect; the villains are more misguided than evil, and you can sympathise with them. Lifeists still won't be happy with it, especially in the sequels, where gur urebrf qrfgebl gur nsgreyvsr (although once you get to that point, this is pretty well justified). But at least the lifeist position is not dismissed out of hand.

Comment author: cetus 20 September 2010 10:53:09AM 2 points [-]

Are you asking for children's literature, or YA? There are quite a few YA, morally grey, literature available; not incredibly popular, but existing. I would argue that it's difficult to really develop grey morality in a 'child''s worldview, since what a child is is more difficult to define. That said, I would say The Demon's Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan, is quite morally in the grey area; the protagonists are really not very 'good', nor are they very 'evil' as in the case of an anti-hero.

...I believe that it would also be wise to introduce grey morality age-appropriately - because if someone is young enough, they might go off humanizing the villains, and humanizing a villain that would predate on someone that young would not be wise.

Comment author: TobyBartels 20 September 2010 10:01:00PM *  2 points [-]

Are you asking for children's literature, or YA?

The younger the better, I suppose. Although library and bookseller classifications have to draw the line somewhere, there's really a continuum of target audience ages. Anything that is widely read by children should count, regardless of how it's classified (although how it's classified may give a reasonable estimate of whether children read it, in the absence of real data).

Eliezer has referred to HP as ‘for children’ when explaining some of the changes that MoR (which is not for children) has to the background universe. But HP is often classified as YA. I would not want to be picky.

humanizing a villain that would predate on someone that young would not be wise.

That's an interesting argument. I definitely believe that children must learn that villains are humans too by the time they are old enough to commit acts of revenge that can cause significant harm. So certainly tweens (who will soon be old enough to join gangs, plan for future careers, etc) should read about humanized villains, while still reading about heroes who resist them. But very young children may need to classify people strictly into good and evil to successfully avoid harmful people. That's an uncomfortable idea to me, but I don't know enough about child psychology to rationally evaluate it.

Comment author: komponisto 31 August 2010 06:39:51PM 7 points [-]

Is stupid moral oversimplification necessary in a mass-market bestseller? E.g., Tolkien, Star Wars.

His Dark Materials is a possible counterexample.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 31 August 2010 07:22:56PM 5 points [-]

I haven't read past the first book; but in the first book, the bad guys are really obscenely bad. Calling God a bad guy doesn't make it morally ambiguous, if God is really bad in the story.

Comment author: komponisto 31 August 2010 07:29:23PM 5 points [-]

Well, there's a reason I named the trilogy rather than the first book.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 31 August 2010 08:03:34PM 4 points [-]

Perhaps I'll read the next book, then!

Comment author: dclayh 02 September 2010 06:38:51AM 4 points [-]

s stupid moral oversimplification necessary in a mass-market bestseller? E.g., Tolkien

I would say The Silmarillion is not very morally simplistic. Specifically I would call it Black and Gray morality [TVTropes], because I can't think of a single non-God major character who's totally good. (Maybe Luthien?)

Comment author: NihilCredo 01 September 2010 12:15:18AM *  4 points [-]

I'm trying to think of mass-appeal war stories with a balanced or ambiguous or at least non-stupid treatment of good/bad

The saga of A Song of Ice and Fire has sold around 7 million copies (Wikipedia) and it's extremely far away from Manichean morality. I would estimate that no more than five percent of the text involves truly heroic or truly depraved characters.

Sven Hassel's best-selling books can also be a good example. We must, however, distinguish between works that derive their nuanced morality from an attempt to be faithful to reality, and those that donate nuanced morality to a fictional setting.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 01 September 2010 12:24:24AM 5 points [-]

If we go back in time, we find emphasis on heroism more than good vs. evil. E.g., the Iliad.

Comment author: magfrump 06 September 2010 09:33:53AM 2 points [-]

In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the original bad guys become good guys, and there is an effort (well, a couple of lines in one episode) to understand the worse bad guys.

The bad bad guys are definitely bad, but really only a couple of characters (and their nameless goons) are like that. And there is at least some mention of "wouldn't it be great if we could get Germany running again? Whoops!" Rather than simply saying they're evil for evil's sake.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 31 August 2010 03:43:18PM *  8 points [-]

It struck me as odd that Harry was repulsed by the idea of the Sorting Hat losing consciousness, then regaining consciousness (or being "reborn" as a somewhat different entity) repeatedly. Seemed a lot like falling asleep and waking up.

I would have thought that the additional creation of more consciousness, which seemed to be enjoying itself or at least not suffering, would just be added utility to the universe. Then I remembered that Eliezer is an average utilitarian. Which raises the question: Would an average utilitarian average together utility per life, or utility per second?

It doesn't feel right to say, "We must deny these potential entities life, even though they would enjoy it and not be taking any resources away from any other entities - indeed, most likely increasing the utility of those other people they talked with - because they will harm our average utility score." It reminds me of a student who won't take any classes they can't get an A in.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 August 2010 04:43:21PM 4 points [-]

It struck me as odd that Harry was repulsed by the idea of the Sorting Hat losing consciousness, then regaining consciousness (or being "reborn" as a somewhat different entity) repeatedly. Seemed a lot like falling asleep and waking up.

"Odd" or "typical of the kind of superficial moral reasoning Harry usually employs but essentially completely arbitrary"?

Comment author: PhilGoetz 31 August 2010 06:29:02PM 2 points [-]

I wasn't modeling Harry, so just odd.

Comment author: taw 02 September 2010 02:38:36AM 7 points [-]

Here's my Slytherin theory.

Almost all Death-Eaters were Slytherin for the same reason why almost all Mussolini supporters were Italians. People from different houses just tend to stay together, especially when organizing a major conspiracy. If Dark Lord was a Hufflepuff, most Death Eaters would be Hufflepuffs. Dark Wizardry is no more inherent character of Slytherins than fascism is of Italians.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 September 2010 02:42:13AM 3 points [-]

Seriously? But, but... Hufflepuffs would suck at being Dark Lords. There are important traits that Slytherins have that Hufflepuffs just tend not to have.

Comment author: Alicorn 02 September 2010 02:45:48AM 10 points [-]

If one Hufflepuff happened to have them, imagine the loyal, hardworking, tight-knit followers, diligently working to acquire the traits deemed necessary...

Comment author: wedrifid 02 September 2010 02:49:30AM *  2 points [-]

Dark Marks would barely even be necessary! I wonder how difficult it would be to game or work around the house selection system somehow. Can the sorting hat see through mind control spells?

Comment author: Alicorn 02 September 2010 02:50:45AM 6 points [-]

All you have to do is think really hard that you can't stand any other house, will not find your fellows there, will not reach your full potential...

Comment author: wedrifid 02 September 2010 02:55:21AM 6 points [-]

Or, and this is where the real threat of Hufflepuffs comes in, you really just want to help help people but are rather confused about how to go about doing so. (Unless the confusion is on the part of those who are using the label 'Dark' and you really are helping them.) Altruists are scary. Hard to control.

Comment author: Alicorn 02 September 2010 02:57:16AM 11 points [-]

"For the greater good!"

Comment author: KevinC 06 September 2010 09:37:11AM 11 points [-]

I could imagine a Hufflepuff developing some spell to merge or link minds so the group can be even more cohesive and cooperative. A Hufflepuff Borganism could be pretty freakin' scary. "We are One. We are Together. We are Loyal. You should join Us. Yes, yes, you really, really should. What's that? Oh. You just don't know what's best for you. Let Us help you."

Comment author: taw 02 September 2010 03:59:11AM 4 points [-]

Anyone who tries to manipulate Sorting Hat at age of 11 would automatically and deservingly be sent straight into Slytherin.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 September 2010 04:11:51AM *  2 points [-]

Do you think it is possible for the Sorting Hat to see through powerful mind control spells? Modified memories, obliviation, imperius, etc.

Better yet, polyjuice. Send some other kid in that looks like you and is willing to go along with your plan out of loyalty.

Just brainstorming here. It's quite possible that the Hat would yell out "Well, this guy is going to Hufflepuff but wedrifid is going to Ravenclaw!"

Which reminds me, the hat works by piggybacking of the intelligence of the wearer. So I would pick the dumbest Hufflepuff friend that I could find!

Comment author: taw 02 September 2010 03:56:47AM 7 points [-]

Official house traits:

  • Hufflepuff - Loyalty, Dedication and Hard Work
  • Gryffindor - Bravery and Chivalry
  • Ravenclaw - Intelligence and Wit
  • Slytherin - Ambition, Cunning and Resourcefulness

It seems to me Hufflepuffs are most likely to turn Magical Britain into well-meant but ruthlessly-run authoritarian state, with disastrous consequences for all.

Slytherins would probably turn against each other before achieving anything if one of them wasn't so much more powerful than anyone else.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 September 2010 04:06:51AM 4 points [-]

Slytherins would probably turn against each other before achieving anything if one of them wasn't so much more powerful than anyone else.

Ambition, Cunning and Resourcefulness certainly don't rule out the possibility of solving cooperation problems. Even Draco with the lessons Harry has taught him would be sufficient for him to take over the world rather effectively if Harry was out of the way.

Comment author: taw 02 September 2010 04:37:18AM 6 points [-]

World used to be filled with revolutionary movements, and very few managed to grow past Dunbar's number or so before falling apart by everyone trying to out-politic everyone else.

Only very few that were extraordinarily loyal like Bolsheviks won. The primary difference between Bolsheviks and everyone else was their strong belief in strict loyalty to the party, whose decisions were to be absolutely binding upon all members.

Even after they started killing each other, very few defected the Party to join some other group.

Compare it with far more typical Slytherining in Kyrgystan where people keep joining, defecting, and plotting everyone against everyone else.

Comment author: TobyBartels 03 September 2010 01:54:53AM 3 points [-]

Most of the Trotskyist groups from the 1930s to the 1960s also adopted democratic centralism, but they infamously split all the time. Of course, Trotskyists are selected (amongst Leninists) as those willing to defect from the majority.

Comment author: TobyBartels 06 September 2010 09:13:00PM 19 points [-]

When I was a kid, adults would sometimes ask me what kind of animal I would be if I were an animal. I always told them that I would be a human. They never liked that answer.

Comment author: blogospheroid 31 August 2010 09:04:17AM 19 points [-]

I'm still waiting for the most obvious way to learn the epistemology of magic to be adopted by Harry. i.e. "Prof. Flitwick, How does one create new charms/spells?", but am having a lot of fun reading this fic, so no complaints, yet.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 August 2010 09:10:55AM 17 points [-]

You know, Harry not even considering asking a non-Quirrell teacher something wouldn't even seem out of character. :)

Comment author: NihilCredo 06 September 2010 11:51:01AM *  18 points [-]

Something about Harry's deductions in Ch.46 smells fishy to me. It could be that he didn't consider that two or more professors could have been present at the revealing of the prophecy. It could be that he automatically assumed the prophecy must have been freshly produced, rather than having been found in an old book as is usually proper. It could be that "It was Snape who told Voldemort about the prophecy (not knowing whom it spoke of)" does not in any way follow from "At some point, Snape begged Voldemort to spare Lily's life".

It could be a number of such things, but they could be explained away somehow: the real problem, I think, is that this looks like one of those magical trains of thought that bad crime fiction writers give their Holmes-ripoff protagonists, wherein the author starts from the solution and then, looking backwards, draws a path that enables the character to figure it out.

But it ends up looking fake, as it does now, because the character runs straight from the minimal facts he has to the hindsight-correct solution. This is not how an intelligent, realistic character thinks: before moving on to the next deduction, you try to take into consideration as many possibilities as you can, before you risk wasting your time or - gasp - take action using your very first idea as a logical premise.

And yet here, before the "Perhaps Dumbledore..." passage, Harry spends almost an entire page nose in the air, following his author-granted Magical Truth Compass. He doesn't even mention any alternatives, even though there are a boatload of those. Of course he knows Voldemort's and the Death Eaters' psychology well enough that he can confidently interpret his disinterest in Lily as a servant's prayer. What else could it possibly have been?

I don't think Harry's deduction chain needs to be scrapped, but I definitely think it needs more work, because in its current state it shattered my suspension of disbelief, hard. Make him consider and dismiss more options along the way, or make him express some thought along the lines of "It was a shaky conclusion, and he could have been mistaken or misinformed on any number of points... but if it was correct, the implications were dramatic, and if it wasn't, asking those questions would cause no harm, and might still provide important clues", or even better, both.

PS: The above applies even if the MoR-truth is actually different and Harry is therefore tragically mistaken. The narrative would be a lot more interesting, but the undeserved confidence of that train of thought would remain an artistic problem.

Comment author: dclayh 06 September 2010 09:11:06PM 4 points [-]

Fortunately Eliezer gave himself some phoenix-magic wiggle rooom:

The logic had presented itself with a strange diamondlike clarity. Harry couldn't have said if it had come to him during Fawkes's singing...

Comment author: DanArmak 06 September 2010 12:32:29PM 4 points [-]

PS: The above applies even if the MoR-truth is actually different from canon-truth and Harry is therefore tragically mistaken.

Did you mean to say, "if the MoR-truth is the same as the canon-truth"?

Because Harry is mistaken compared to canon truth. In canon, Snape eavesdropped on the original prophecy when it was spoken in front of Dumbledore.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 September 2010 12:19:15PM *  4 points [-]

A couple of days ago I was scouring the site to get recommendations on some good fiction to read. MoR and Luminosity just seem to whet the appetite! I came across a recommendation for Lawrence Watt-Evans. In the resulting discussion Caladonian comments on Sherlock Holmes:

What about Sherlock Holmes? Once you get past his obvious shortcomings, he's a pretty decent rationalist.

Not really. His 'logic' appears to be solid reasoning the same way a theatrical backdrop appears to be real scenery or a magician's slight of hand appears to be the performance of a mystical action: it has the semblance and nothing more.

Conan Doyle wrote in such a way as to convince people that Holmes was exercising reasoning powers, not to showcase examples of such reasoning. By the power of plot, Holmes was correct, but it doesn't follow that his stated reasoning was.

That did spring to mind when I was reading the passage you describe.

Comment author: Unnamed 25 September 2010 07:21:19PM *  6 points [-]

Chp 47 Author's Notes

Is the hint in chp 45 the Dementor saying to Quirrell "that it knew me, and that it would hunt me down someday, wherever I tried to hide"? I'd assumed that was related to Voldemort cheating death, but I haven't read all the books so I don't know if it's suggesting anything non-canon or just more evidence for Q=V.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 September 2010 10:08:17PM 5 points [-]

I thought that the strange word that echoed through Harry's mind could be somehow related to this completely mysterious fragment of text found at the beginning of chapter 1:

Beneath the moonlight glints a tiny fragment of silver, a fraction of a line...

(black robes, falling)

...blood spills out in liters, and someone screams a word.

Not that I think this would explain anything.

Comment author: Document 27 September 2010 09:58:39PM *  4 points [-]

Chapter 20:

Professor Quirrell raised his wand and said something that Harry's ears and mind couldn't grasp at all, words that bypassed awareness and vanished into oblivion.

Chapter 43:

Harry wouldn't let his mind see something false, and so he didn't see anything, like the part of his visual cortex getting that signal was just ceasing to exist. There was a blind spot under the cloak. Harry couldn't know what was under there.

There are blind spots in Harry's mind, and in 20 he doesn't even seem to notice it.

Comment author: gwern 27 September 2010 10:38:53PM 5 points [-]

Doesn't the Interdict of Merlin imply that either blind spots are easily magically manufactured or that everyone has them?

Comment author: Baughn 28 September 2010 09:32:04PM 3 points [-]

Add to that spells like the Fidelius, and.. yes. They're easily manufactured.

Comment author: gwern 28 September 2010 10:29:08PM 3 points [-]

Oh yes, and also all the places hidden from Muggles. Can't believe I forgot about those. The Interdict is specifically Eliezer's, though.

Comment author: Unnamed 25 September 2010 07:30:22PM 4 points [-]

Another notable thing from chp 45 was Fawkes's role in getting Harry to take another shot at the Dementor - perhaps a phoenix is something like an anti-Dementor (peace of mind, rebirth, etc.)?

Comment author: [deleted] 26 September 2010 11:10:07PM 3 points [-]

What was Professor McGonagall busy doing, maybe?

Comment author: mjr 27 September 2010 08:22:32PM 7 points [-]

I thought that was (probably) rather straightforward; providing extra guard for the Philosopher's Stone, the theft of which was (probably) what Dumbledore earlier suspected the Dementor plot to be a distraction from.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 September 2010 10:29:53AM 6 points [-]

And it was time and past time to ask Draco Malfoy what the other side of that war had to say about the character of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.

I love the recent (Humanism-era) take on Dumbledore. It's about time MoR stopped portraying him as a fool and showed his real scheming, ruthless side. Portraying Dumbledore as weak or foolish doesn't appeal. But seeing him as a scary, morally ambiguous, overwhelmingly powerful wizard who saved the world from Voldemort with gossip is a development I like. That's a guy who can really bite the bullet (in this case regarding his implications of prophecies) and then shut up and multiply.

Comment author: magfrump 07 September 2010 06:59:27PM 4 points [-]

saved the world from Voldemort with gossip

I'd never thought about it this way before but that makes it seem really awesome.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 25 September 2010 03:50:51PM 5 points [-]

If snakes are sentient, they can't work as Patronus 1.0.

Comment author: Baughn 25 September 2010 06:00:38PM 12 points [-]

If. I don't think they are; it would have been obvious to some scientist at one point or another, not to mention anyone who lives in close contact with them.

It seems more plausible to me that their apparent intelligence is another product of magic; that when you're talking to a snake, you're actually talking to a magic-induced AI of some kind that will, if you asked it to do something, control the snake afterwards to suit your purposes.

The laws of physics here are already AI-complete, so it doesn't seem like a large leap to me.

Comment author: Document 27 September 2010 10:02:26PM 8 points [-]

Possibly the important thing is whether Draco thinks of them as being sentient (sapient) as he's casting the charm.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 28 September 2010 05:43:53AM *  3 points [-]

Yes, I originally thought of it as the most plausible explanation. But then, Harry's remark must also make Draco's Patronus ineffective, just as explanation of Patronus 2.0 would, which very likely isn't the case.

Comment author: TobyBartels 28 September 2010 08:23:53AM 4 points [-]

It might yet make it ineffective, but only if Draco grasps the implications. Harry might begin the next chapter by deciding to shut up and not explain to Draco why it matters to him that snakes have a language. (It obviously doesn't matter to Draco, who I don't think has fully accepted that Muggles are sapient, despite their obvious language.)

Comment author: jimrandomh 25 September 2010 04:35:36PM 3 points [-]

...Unless there's something very weird about their psychology. Which, given that they're snakes, seems entirely plausible.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 25 September 2010 04:14:48PM 7 points [-]

Actually, I'm pretty sure snakes are sentient. They're not sapient, though, as far as we can tell.

(Yes, I'm aware that the error is in the original text.)

Comment author: gwern 25 September 2010 05:55:48PM 5 points [-]

I have seen so many people use them interchangeably, and I think I've even seen dictionaries disagree about which is which, that I've pretty much given up on the words 'sentient' and 'sapient'.

Comment author: TobyBartels 28 September 2010 08:32:07AM 5 points [-]

Even though people use the words inconsistently, those people who distinguish them at all do so consistently, and you can use cognates to remember which is which: ‘sense’ = ‘feel’, so ‘sentient’ = ‘feeling’; ‘Homo sapiens’ = ‘wise man’, so ‘sapient’ = ‘thinking’ (more literally ‘discerning’ in the Latin).

I usually take it for granted that snakes are sentient but not sapient, although I don't really know enough about snakes to be sure of either.

But there's another idea, neither of which these words quite captures, that seems to be what really matters to Harry: self-awareness (‘anything that lives and thinks and knows itself’). A snake may sense its prey, but does it sense itself? It may discern that its prey is food, but does it discern that its self is a self?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 25 September 2010 04:33:52PM *  12 points [-]

Please don't allow arguments about definitions be presented as arguments about substance, as objecting to something previously said. Distinguish them by making it clear that your observation is on a separate and unrelated topic of English language, and thus doesn't constitute an irrational argument.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 25 September 2010 04:49:43PM 4 points [-]

Sorry, I thought it would be obvious enough what I was objecting to.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 25 September 2010 05:04:09PM 5 points [-]

It is, I just think it's a healthy debiasing style to keep the intentions explicit.

Comment author: komponisto 25 September 2010 05:53:14PM 2 points [-]

Upvoted. This should be on the advice-to-new-users page, if it isn't already.

Comment author: orthonormal 25 September 2010 04:52:54PM 2 points [-]

Perhaps they're just not conscious of mortality?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 25 September 2010 05:06:38PM 3 points [-]

Wouldn't that be convenient? What's special about mortality making it a plausible gap in the mind?

Comment author: orthonormal 25 September 2010 05:54:27PM 11 points [-]

You know what? A WIZARD DID IT.

Comment author: TobyBartels 06 September 2010 09:37:16PM 5 points [-]

I think that Harry is too dismissive of ‘souls’. He didn't think that magic existed, but it did, and if the people who deal with magic also claim to deal with souls, then there might be something to that. The idea that every human has a soul that goes to an afterlife may be silly (and even Wizards don't act as if they really believe that), but when talking about ghosts, Horcruxes, or the Dementor's Kiss, there might be something real that Wizards mean by ‘soul’, and Harry should investigate that possibility.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 06 September 2010 04:44:41PM 12 points [-]

I'm curious, did others find Chapter 45 as deeply moving as I did? I'm was having trouble avoiding crying when Harry tells the Dementor why death shall lose.

Comment author: Death 07 September 2010 06:27:11PM 31 points [-]



Comment author: gwern 12 October 2010 06:19:51PM 3 points [-]

Your comments intrigue me; I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 September 2010 05:27:42PM *  9 points [-]

I'm curious, did others find Chapter 45 as deeply moving as I did?

It would seem so !.

I'm not sure if I'm alone but I've been moved previously by other writings by Eliezer and others and it's like I've, well, been moved. Death is taken for granted a known enemy to be killed on sight. Putting myself in Harry's shoes the reaction I experience is "Death. F@#$ that! \<implacable motivation\> Whooosh!"

The other difference I suspect I would have is that I wouldn't expect to have a human patronus. I would expect something like sentient (white) fire elemental or an elf (symbolic of an intelligent creature with humanlike values, not precisely human and the better for the difference). Perhaps I'm not a humanist so much as an intelligent-life-with-my-values-without-the-outright-obnoxious-parts-of-humanity-ist.

I'm was having trouble avoiding crying when Harry tells the Dementor why death shall lose.

That part I shied away from. It wasn't arational emotion; it was irrational. Being passionate about life with a proactive, vigourous intent to see it flourish doesn't mean you must mangle your beliefs such that you are overconfident. "Death shall lose" is a false claim when the correct belief is "there is a certain chance that death shall lose and it is all the greater for my efforts!" "Death shall lose" is just denial. I wouldn't be able to create a patronus powered by denial because I've trained myself to see denial as the brain's way to make pessimism palatable.

Comment author: ata 17 September 2010 10:30:43PM 4 points [-]

"Death shall lose" is a false claim when the correct belief is "there is a certain chance that death shall lose and it is all the greater for my efforts!"

For the most part I agree with Thom in reading that as a declaration of intention rather than a knowledge claim, but I'll also point out that to a person who is familiar with the trajectory of science and not familiar with existential risks (which Harry might not be), "Death shall [eventually] lose" isn't a terribly unjustified thing to believe.

Comment author: thomblake 17 September 2010 09:55:37PM *  7 points [-]

"Death shall lose" is just denial.

No, it's something to protect. There are certain ways one needs to communicate with a human, and this is an example of that. See The Affect Heuristic and Trying to Try.

Edit: changed "something to protect" into a link.

Comment author: TylerJay 17 September 2010 03:30:58PM *  2 points [-]

<quote>Perhaps I'm not a humanist so much as an intelligent-life-with-my-values-without-the-outright-obnoxious-parts-of-humanity-ist.</quote>

Edit: quote syntax anyone?

I feel like embracing humanity, but actively striving to overcome the "outright obnoxious" parts like biases IS humanism. At least, moreso than just adopting an "I love humanity unconditionally" attitude. I think harry's patronus, as eliezer's own would likely be, represents not just simple anthropocentrism, but the hope for a better future for humanity without losing those "my-values" that make us distinctively human.

Having a patronus that takes the shape of an intelligent life form with your values and no obnoxiousness is just representing abstractly that hope for the future of humanity.

I think the underlying values are one in the same. And the difference in shape does not correspond to a difference in concept.

Comment author: novalis 07 September 2010 10:04:49PM 3 points [-]

Not really -- I found it long-winded, even though (perhaps because) I already agree with the content.

Comment author: randallsquared 06 September 2010 04:52:23PM 3 points [-]

Yes, I did.

Further, the Humanism sub-arc contained some of the best chapters, overall. I hadn't yet become bored with the chapters about armies, but it seemed a noticeable dip in interestingness.

Comment author: ata 06 September 2010 05:19:36PM 2 points [-]

Yes. That part made me simultaneously tingly and teary.

Comment author: orangecat 07 September 2010 02:30:29AM 2 points [-]

I came here to post almost exactly that. Additionally, it inspired me to make another donation to the SENS Foundation.

Comment author: Halceon 30 August 2010 08:54:13PM 8 points [-]

Not directly related to MoR, but whatever. I recently joined a massive HP roleplay forum and what i noticed among the players was a huge deal of optimisation by proxy. Basically the general sentiment is that being sorted into one house means that you have no traits from the others. This makes some sense, because a wizard employer will probably look at the candidates' house affiliation first. I'll need to reread some of the books, to check if it's canon, but in the fans' minds at least, all of Magical Britain is aligning itself to an arbitrary division. It's a bit disturbing, really.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 01 September 2010 12:27:36AM 4 points [-]

I was in a White Wolf MUSH some while ago, and it was the same story. The stereotypes helped bad roleplayers be not awful, but hindered really good roleplay.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 September 2010 01:10:14PM 7 points [-]

The new chapter is spectacular fiction, but I'm not sure it's true that bigots are necessarily low-grade people, though it's possible that they are, on the average. Is there research available?

Henry Ford and Richard Wagner had notable accomplishments, and were also energetic anti-Semites.

Portraying bigotry as low-status is tactically useful, both in the story and in the real world, but has an interesting blow-back-- it means that pointing out someone else's bigotry becomes a threat to lower their status. (This didn't come up in the story because Draco hasn't been in those discussions.)

In the real world, people of all sorts of status levels are active bigots-- that's why prejudicial laws can be passed and enforced.

This doesn't deny the idea that bigoted groups will tend to drive away lively-minded and benevolent people, but there's a difference between a trend and an absolute.

Comment author: TobyBartels 30 September 2010 04:14:50AM 7 points [-]

I'm not sure it's true that bigots are necessarily low-grade people

I read the chapter much more narrowly as saying that racist people are low-status. Racism is now reviled in Britain (or at least the U.S., and I'll guess also Britain) to such a degree that anybody openly espousing racist views (at least based on skin colour rather than, say, immigration status) is automatically looked down upon. Other forms of bigotry don't usually have this effect, nor did racism until fairly recently.

However, we are looking more at racism in the 1940s (at least by the standards of the U.S.) than the 1990s. Judging from To Kill a Mockingbird (which is the only documentary evidence that I have onhand, sorry), extreme overt racism along the lines of using words like ‘Nigger’ (analogue of ‘Mudblood') was still looked down upon and associated (rightly or wrongly) with low class. But that's just because moderate and subtle racism was the norm. This is how it works in the Wizarding world too.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 September 2010 06:36:26AM 3 points [-]

"Dumbledore said he did it, he told Father it was a warning!

A warning about what? Sure, evil Dumbledore sounds cool... but what's Dumbledore getting out of this apart from an infuriated nemesis?

Comment author: NihilCredo 30 September 2010 04:19:28PM 3 points [-]

An infuriated nemesis who now knows that Dumbledore is not only able but willing to hurt their family members... such as, say, their young only son who might just be the first student in 50+ years to have a terrible accident in Hogwarts.

Though I remember from canon that Lucius wanted to send Draco to Durmstrang instead, so he wouldn't be under Dumbledore's authority, and it was just Narcissa who vetoed the idea.

Comment author: Pavitra 04 October 2010 05:37:08PM 3 points [-]

I was going to suggest that MoR!Lucius positioned Draco to be able to gain influence with the Boy-who-Lived, but then I remembered that he was willing to drop all his other plans against Draco getting hurt.

...unless that's just what he wants us to believe.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 October 2010 11:26:17PM 2 points [-]

Though I remember from canon that Lucius wanted to send Draco to Durmstrang instead, so he wouldn't be under Dumbledore's authority, and it was just Narcissa who vetoed the idea.

Well, there's a fact I did not know. Then again this Lucius is more competent anyway. Shrugs.

Comment author: NihilCredo 04 October 2010 11:41:33PM *  2 points [-]

Easily fixable the first time Durmstrang gets mentioned in MoR in the presence of a Malfoy.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 06 September 2010 01:40:37AM *  3 points [-]

Chapters 43-46 of MoR are up. Go read them!

The most recent author's notes will be added to the archive shortly. I'm also pondering adding the fanart, as well, but it occurs to me that I should probably get permission from the artists before doing so, and I don't like contacting people I don't know. Therefore, I'll leave it to you all: If anyone else would like to see the fanart archived with the authors' notes (perhaps in a different folder, perhaps in the same note as the relevant chapter's author's notes - suggestions welcome), get permission for that to be done and I'll go ahead and do it.

Comment author: TobyBartels 07 September 2010 01:32:04AM *  2 points [-]

The fan art isn't going away, so it's not vital if you don't archive it. If ff.net doesn't let Eliezer keep an archive of Author's Notes, maybe he should put them in the fan art folder? (I also am grateful that you are archiving the ANs.)

Comment author: b1shop 31 August 2010 04:28:19AM 3 points [-]

I have a question about TDT's application in 33 of HP:MoR.

I didn't say you should just automatically cooperate. Not on a true Prisoner's Dilemma like this one. What I said was that when you choose, you shouldn't think like you're choosing for just yourself, or like you're choosing for everyone. You should think like you're choosing for all the people who are similar enough to you that they'll probably do the same thing you do for the same reasons.

Should businessmen collude on one-shot pricing? The decision theory I learned in school says "Never!," but I can see Harry's beliefs going in either direction.

Links to a good summary of TDT are welcome.

Comment author: Perplexed 31 August 2010 06:00:31AM *  8 points [-]

good TDT summary

Well, not really good. Merely best.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 August 2010 04:40:00AM 4 points [-]

Links to a good summary of TDT are welcome.

*cough* They certainly would be!

Comment author: Perplexed 06 September 2010 07:02:09PM 4 points [-]

From Chapter 45.

"I don't really know how to say thank you graciously," Harry said quietly, "any more than I know how to apologize. All I can say that if you're wondering whether it was the right thing to do, it was."

The boy and the girl gazed into each other's eyes.

"Sorry," Harry said. "About what happens next. If there's anything I can do -"

"No," Hermione said back. "There isn't. It's all right, though." Then she turned from Harry and walked away, toward the path that led back to the gates of Hogwarts.

Three questions:

  • What happens next?

  • Why do Harry and Hermione know about it but I don't?

  • Does this narrative device remind anyone else of a certain "objectivist" author popular a few decades ago? Larger-than-life-protagonists who telegraphically communicate their shared knowlege of their own twisted psyches with cryptic stoicism.

Comment author: Unnamed 06 September 2010 07:16:06PM 8 points [-]

Aftermath, Daphne Greengrass in chp 46 starts to show what's next. The story of their kiss spreads unstoppably, Hermione's life as she knew it is over, her attempt to define her public identity separate from Harry has failed...

Comment author: JoshuaZ 06 September 2010 07:06:52PM 6 points [-]

Hmm? This seemed pretty obvious. It connects with what Hermione worried about her life being over. The point is that what happens next is that everyone knows she really likes HJPEV. Given the standard attitude of kids in that age range what happens next is likely going to be lots of silly mockery.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 October 2010 08:12:56AM *  2 points [-]


Just eat the students, said Hufflepuff. There's no doubt about whether they're sentient.

You know you want to, said Gryffindor. I bet the young ones are the tastiest.

I loved the whole introduction section. I was laughing out loud.

Harry isn't someone I would trust anywhere near absolute power - I'd probably form an alliance with Dumbledore and Voldemort just to crush him before he does something catastrophically naive like implement F(Magical)AI<CEV<Grass>> (or FAI<CEV<humanity>> for that matter). But damn the guy has a sense of humour. :)

Comment author: Baughn 07 October 2010 07:21:07AM 3 points [-]

If he's somewhat like Eliezer at an earlier age, he might think a sufficiently smart AI might autonomously figure out the "meaning of life".

I'd take CEV over that, though it'd make an interesting ending.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2010 07:37:49AM *  3 points [-]

I'd take CEV over that, though it'd make an interesting ending.

So would I. (And I note that CEV is fine, so long as it is the coherent extrapolated voilition of the right group. Preferably me but I'm willing to compromise. :P)

Comment author: b1shop 30 September 2010 05:03:41PM 2 points [-]

Father had told Draco that to fathom a strange plot, one technique was to look at what ended up happening, assume it was the intended result, and ask who benefited.

I take it the Malfoy house is just a stand-in for Hanson?

Comment author: TobyBartels 02 October 2010 03:04:32AM 8 points [-]

This particular advice is Older Than Feudalism. The Romans asked ‘Cui bono?’ (Wikipedia).

Comment author: gwern 30 September 2010 05:27:46PM 3 points [-]

I don't think it is. This is just good sense. If Malfoy House and Lucius in particular is meant to be Hanson or just Hansonian, they are a spectacular failure.

Comment author: b1shop 30 September 2010 06:20:36PM 4 points [-]

I'm not sure it's "just good sense."

For example, some people see the school system failing at all its stated goals and assume the school system is broken, and they can point to institutional reasons why it's terrible. Hanson assumes it is optimized to serve other, implicit goals. I'm not convinced either viewpoint is necessarily true.

Comment author: gwern 30 September 2010 11:36:22PM *  4 points [-]

I'm not saying that assuming efficiency and looking at actual accomplishment is a wrong paradigm, or that Hanson doesn't use this paradigm frequently. What I'm saying is that 'Hansonism' involves all sorts of skeptical/cynical/outside-view approaches, and Lucius and Draco, as presented, fail almost every metric - they are obviously biased, in self-serving ways, they make and track no predictions, they do privilege their ethical views ... etc. etc. etc. (A thorough read of OB will turn up dozens of techniques and views and criteria which the House of Malfoy miserably fails.)

If anything, the single most Hansonian character in MoR is Harry and Draco becomes Hansonian only insofar as he is becoming more like Harry.

Comment author: Leonhart 02 October 2010 03:23:58PM *  2 points [-]

Surely the most Hansonian character is the (as yet unknown) wizard who created house elves? Or possibly the elves themselves. If Dobby starts running a prediction market in the Hogwarts kitchens, I called it first :)

Comment author: gwern 02 October 2010 04:00:36PM 4 points [-]

That would be hilarious. House-elves could be very clever, but they are obsessed with particular topics. So EY could write them as excellent rationalists who are focused only on Hogwarts matters, and as excellent rationalists they would set up prediction markets about various predictions (students' grades, their cleanliness, relationships, popularity of reducing the salt in the mutton, etc.)

I'm afraid you don't get to call it because your comment might inspire EY to add them in the first place. :)

Comment author: Document 27 September 2010 10:38:50PM *  2 points [-]

MoR is now the ninth Google autocomplete result for "methods" (screenshot).

Comment author: [deleted] 12 September 2010 07:51:48PM 2 points [-]

I had no idea this would be so good; I'm shaken.

For those who are like me and like to imagine a soundtrack, the final chapters seem to go with this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9vv4cPh4BI The subject matter isn't far off either.

Comment author: Yvain 12 September 2010 03:15:14PM *  2 points [-]

I found something interesting today: Dawkins/Hermione

I will be very disappointed if Methods of Rationality doesn't include some kind of explanation for this.

Comment author: David_Allen 17 September 2010 08:58:24PM *  3 points [-]

There appears to be some photo-retouching involved to improve the match.

Comment author: NihilCredo 17 September 2010 08:31:53PM 3 points [-]

It's a well-known photoshop, FWIW.

Comment author: red75 07 September 2010 08:43:29PM 2 points [-]

Godric hadn't told anyone, nor had Rowena if she'd known; there might have been any number of wizards who'd figured it out and kept their mouths shut.

I'm still can't figure out what's dangerous about sharing that knowledge. My obviously unsatisfying guesses in no particular order:

*Making yet unreachable sour grapes of immortality more sweet.

*Harry's concern for self-awareness of patronus v2.0.

*Outlaws will be better protected from law enforcement.

*Increased chances of Azkaban break out.

*Disclosure of Harry's unique power.

*Extinction of dementors.

Comment author: gjm 07 September 2010 08:47:03PM 9 points [-]

Wizards formerly able to cast the Patronus charm, once they realise that Dementors are not about fear but (much more scarily to them) death, are no longer able to avoid thinking about it in the way necessary to make the Patronus charm (v1.0) work. As knowledge of the true nature of Dementors spreads, ability to make Patronuses lapses near-universally. A key tool for keeping Dementors under control is lost. Dementors become much harder to handle, everyone in Azkaban escapes, many wizards are killed (or worse) by Dementors, and the only way to stop it is to get Harry to destroy them all, which is a bit much to ask of a 13-year-old or whatever exactly he is.

Comment author: Alicorn 07 September 2010 08:50:17PM 2 points [-]

a 13-year-old or whatever exactly he is.

He's still eleven years old.

Comment author: PeterS 06 September 2010 09:56:43PM 2 points [-]

Anyone have any guesses as to what Quirrell's game is?

Quirrell is operating on a level that I surely don't understand. The only theory I can think of that's neither preposterous nor disappointing is that Quirrell is protecting Horcrux!Harry.

In light of the recent exchange where Quirrell asks Harry how he would hide something:

Tell me, Mr. Potter, if you wanted to lose something where no one would ever find it again, where would you put it?"

... "Well," said Harry, "besides trying to get it into the molten core of the planet, you could bury it in solid rock a kilometer underground in a randomly selected location - maybe teleport it in, if there's some way to do that blindly, or drill a hole and repair the hole afterward; the important thing would be not to leave any traces leading there, so it's just an anonymous cubic meter somewhere in the Earth's crust. You could drop it into the Mariana Trench, that's the deepest depth of ocean on the planet - or just pick some random other ocean trench, to make it less obvious. If you could make it bouyant and invisible, then you could throw it into the stratosphere. Or ideally you would launch it into space, with a cloak against detection, and a randomly fluctuating acceleration factor that would take it out of the Solar System. And afterward, of course, you'd Obliviate yourself, so even you didn't know exactly where it was."

The Defense Professor was laughing, and it sounded even odder than his smile.

... "All excellent suggestions," said Professor Quirrell. "But tell me, Mr. Potter, why those exact five?"

"Huh?" said Harry. "They just seemed like the obvious sorts of ideas."

"Oh?" said Professor Quirrell. "But there is an interesting pattern to them, you see. One might say it sounds like something of a riddle."

Assume that Quirrell was asking where he could hide a Horcrux. It's funny because all those options leave Horcrux!Harry dead. The riddle is thus:

  • Voldemort must hide his Horcruxes in a place where his mortal enemy, Harry Potter, will never be able to find them.
  • Harry Potter is one of Voldemort's Horcruxes.

Any takers?

Comment author: mkehrt 09 September 2010 12:15:20AM 8 points [-]

Or ideally you would launch it into space, with a cloak against detection, and a randomly fluctuating acceleration factor that would take it out of the Solar System.

Is this a MoR explanation for the Pioneer anomaly? Because that would be awesome.

Also, I assumed Voldemort was talking about the classical elements, too, and was amused that Harry, a scientist, had come up with those at random.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 09 September 2010 01:14:52AM 3 points [-]

Is this a MoR explanation for the Pioneer anomaly? Because that would be awesome.

I noticed that as well, but the Pioneer anomaly doesn't randomly fluctuate IINM, and he would have had to not only horcruxed both Pioneer plaques, but also screwed up his randomness so as to get approximately the same anomaly on both.

Comment author: TobyBartels 09 September 2010 04:47:44AM 2 points [-]

Unfortunately, he only did one plaque.

"I subscribe to a Muggle bulletin which keeps me informed of progress on space travel. I didn't hear about Pioneer 10 until they reported its launch. But when I discovered that Pioneer 11 would also be leaving the Solar System forever," Professor Quirrell said, his grin the widest that Harry had yet seen from him, "I snuck into NASA, I did, and I cast a lovely little spell on that lovely golden plaque which will make it last a lot longer than it otherwise would."

Comment author: katydee 09 September 2010 04:53:25AM 2 points [-]

Unless he lied.

Comment author: TobyBartels 09 September 2010 02:10:06PM 2 points [-]

Unless it's all part of his fiendish plot to trick Harry in precisely that way, there really isn't any point in telling that story with that untruth. But you are correct.

Comment author: orthonormal 06 September 2010 10:05:33PM 6 points [-]

Naw, the "interesting pattern" is the contrived "fire, earth, water, air, void" pattern to the suggestions. It seems rather out of character for that meme to slip into MoR Harry's subconscious, though.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 September 2010 01:59:10AM 4 points [-]

Naw, the "interesting pattern" is the contrived "fire, earth, water, air, void" pattern to the suggestions.

Really? Not "inaccessible places ordered by increasing distance from the centre of the earth".

Comment author: Nisan 08 September 2010 10:48:12AM 10 points [-]

These two patterns are the same. Recall that the world is composed of four elemental planes, and each element is attracted to its plane. This explains why rocks fall but air rises in water.

Classically, we would expect the plane of fire to lie above the atmosphere, because fire rises in air. But in this case, fire is the lowest plane.

Comment author: NihilCredo 09 September 2010 06:00:37AM *  8 points [-]

I now want to see someone write a high school physics' handbook in which every single fact that gets mentioned is correctly described, but everything is interpreted according to Aristotelian physics.

Comment author: PeterS 06 September 2010 10:10:15PM *  3 points [-]

True, I didn't look at it that way. It seems more likely that that's correct -- "Why those exact five?" -- but why would Quirrell find it so amusing?

edit: Maybe Voldemort has already hidden his Horcruxes in just those manners -- we already suspect that he launched one into space. In that case the riddle may be -- given that Harry and Voldemort think in precisely the same way, how can Voldemort think of a hiding place that Harry wouldn't think of himself?

edit2: It's out of character for them to come naturally to Harry, but not to Voldemort. Voldemort is into that kind of superstitious ambiance -- e.g. he wanted precisely 7 Horcruxes, because it's a lucky number. Harry is part Voldemort, so that's why they slipped into his subconscious.

*shrug* maybe I'm grasping at straws.

Comment author: whpearson 06 September 2010 10:07:33PM *  5 points [-]

Not been reading the series recently... but I noticed that these are classical elements

Roughly fire, earth, sea, air and void. Which fits the japanese element system.

Unsure of the meaning though.

Edit: I've recently learnt that Voldemort real name was Tom Riddle, did he like riddles in canon? It could just be Voldy checking to see how strong his horcrux's influence was on Harry?

Comment author: TobyBartels 07 September 2010 01:39:03AM 3 points [-]

Already the ancient Greeks extended their four elements with the fifth: quintessence, or æther, the substance of which the heavens are made. (So four elements in the world, a fifth in the heavens, and never shall they meet.) So I took Voldemort's riddle as referring to Greek rather than Japanese elementology.

I don't recall any Riddle riddles in canon. In Book 2, identifying Riddle as Voldemort is the riddle that the reader (or Harry, but he never did) must solve. Later on, Dumbledore considers the riddle of why Riddle became what he did.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 07 September 2010 01:56:04AM *  2 points [-]

Well, in book 2, it seems to be a point that the reader is supposed to solve a riddle based on his name. This is parodied in Barry Trotter where everything remotely connected to the villain is some anagram of the villain's name.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 06 September 2010 08:06:59PM 2 points [-]

Semi Spoiler for chapter 46 on humanism

If Draco already had an ability to cast a patronus, it may now be another thing harry has taken. This may make him feel obligated to tell the secret.

Comment author: dclayh 30 August 2010 06:28:45AM 2 points [-]

Ha, I was just waiting for a new chapter to go up to post one.

Comment author: wedrifid 30 August 2010 07:05:06AM *  3 points [-]

Drat! It looks like you missed out on a couple of hundred karma and the chance to have all new insights and comments appear in your inbox! ;)

Would you mind going and editing the previous post with a forward reference? Bidirectional linked lists are far easier to navigate.