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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discussion thread, part 18, chapter 87 - Less Wrong

4 Post author: Alsadius 22 December 2012 07:55AM

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Comment author: Alicorn 22 December 2012 05:19:27PM *  23 points [-]

An edited paste of a conversation I had with a friend

Alicorn: I'm increasingly disappointed with Hermione's character. Eliezer has never been great with female characters, and he's trying so hard with her, but he's made her so silly, so pathetically, appallingly silly. She's not stupid, she's not evil, but she's more a child than anyone else who gets character development and she is such a silly girl. I don't mean, like, she has a sense of humor, which is the other meaning of the word "silly". She is not Pinkie Pie, she's just a ninny.

Alphabeta: To be fair, all the other people her age with that much development are fucking crazy.

Alicorn: All the girls in their year are silly, though, I don't think this is just Hermione's personal character flaw that she has to have because she got developed a certain amount. It's more irritating in her, because we see more of her and it's contrasting against higher intelligence, but all the girls are silly.

Alphabeta: That sounds like something Eliezer needs to hear

Alicorn: yeah, I'm considering pasting this conversation in the LW discussion thread

Alphabeta: Also, in fairness, most of the boys are silly, and McGonagall is very good at not being silly. Okay, most of the NPC boys are silly.

Alicorn: McGonagall is not silly, it's true. McGonagall may be the best female character Eliezer has done. But I'd feel better about it if she'd been revised for hypercompetence while Moody was a minor side character serving as a cautionary tale about wasting time on low-probability risks, or something.

Alphabeta: Well, Director Bones is competent, even if she did drop the ball on Quirrelmort's identity pretty hard

Alicorn: Bones hasn't been invited to a place of significance in the protagonist's story. As far as Harry is concerned, she is set dressing. Moody just got promoted.

Alphabeta: Also, why is Harry using Snape as his example of guys he might end up attracted to instead of Quirrelmort?

Alicorn: Good question. I'll paste that too :P

Comment author: Alsadius 22 December 2012 06:40:25PM 25 points [-]

Honestly, Hermione seems the least unbelievable of the major child characters. Harry is just a freak of nature - I was a gigantic multi-sigma outlier nerd at that age, and I couldn't have held a candle to Harry. There is no way any 11 year old has read and understood the entire corpus of quantum mechanics, cognitive science, science fiction, and rationalism writings, no matter how much of a bibliophile they are. Draco is less unreasonable, but he still carries himself like someone much older than 11. Hermione, on the other hand, is basically just a smart girl with a good memory, who's struggling to keep up with a force of nature and fighting with the evil chancellor's kid.

Ultimately, 11-year-old girls are supposed to be silly sometimes. Hermione still manages to be more serious than most of the actual people that age I know. I think our expectations are just skewed by the university-aged kids in middle school.

Comment author: Alicorn 22 December 2012 06:56:29PM 8 points [-]

I agree with you. Hermione is a more believable child than the others. However, the way in which she achieves that is not because she is better written (she's not), but because she has different flaws, which Eliezer assigns to characters of her age and gender with overwhelming regularity, in a context of generally handling female characters clumsily.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 December 2012 11:38:03PM 4 points [-]

Harry isn't being a silly boy in Ch. 87?

Comment author: MixedNuts 22 December 2012 11:50:37PM 14 points [-]

Only if 27-year-old Luke was being a silly boy when he broke up with someone by 20-page essay with ev-psych primer. (BTW, did you intend the reference?) Stupid, but not childish.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 December 2012 12:24:31AM 19 points [-]

I said to Luke when I read that, "You know, Luke, it hasn't happened yet in the story, but I'd already planned out, before I read your post, that when I want to have Harry screw up a conversation with Hermione as badly as possible, I'm going to have him start talking about evolutionary psychology. You literally did that in the way I'd imagined as the worst way possible." (Though the actual chapter didn't come out quite that way when I wrote it - there isn't anything about evolutionary psychology until the very end.)

So I thought of this as a stereotypically male-stupid thing to do, and independently Luke, who happens to be male, went and did it. Can you name a woman who's done the same?

Comment author: tenshiko 23 December 2012 05:24:55AM *  11 points [-]

I didn't read Harry's statements as stereotypically male-child-stupid or even stereotypically male-stupid, but stereotypically hyperintellectualist-male-stupid - as in specifically similar to behavior like Luke's, not that of any non-Internet non-rationalist man I've actually met. A male child of ordinary intellectual background, no matter how stupid, could not have made the specific mistakes Harry made here, because he drew his deemed-inappropriate ideas from "enlightened" papers.

A good example of stereotypically male-child-stupid is Ron's lines you quote here (and many of Ron's actions in general). These are stupid comments Ron was able to make in spite of not having read any papers.

Hermione's reactions are stereotypically female-child-stupid. She reacted the way she did precisely because of not reading these particular enlightened papers. This is the exact opposite of Harry's stupidity! I think I understand why you wrote the scene with these results - Harry has read lots of rationalist papers you think more people should read, while Hermione in spite of her intelligence does not have the exact same background. However, because Hermione's actions fit with "stupid female child" - not alleviated by her intelligence - and Harry's with "stupid-though-very-intelligent male adult" (Harry's reading on these specific psychological ideas is very incongruent with that of even most well-educated 11-year-old boys), we get subtext like Alicorn points out about female infantilism and so on.

As for some anecdata, last month when I was explaining to a progressing-to-ex-boyfriend that he did not meet my paramour standards, he said I should consider lowering my standards, and I said he was proof that strategy could not possibly work for me.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 December 2012 05:44:56AM 7 points [-]

...do note that Hermione at one point reacts in a genre-savvy fashion by saying that it's fine for Harry to have a dark side.

Please keep in mind that a lot of this apparent problem is generated by the unalterable fact that Harry, who has Stuff Going On and has been through hell as the title character and has to grow fast enough to be competitive with people like Dumbledore and Professor Quirrell (all genders chosen by Rowling) happens to be male, whereas Hermione, who like many other characters is going to have difficulty competing with Harry at this point in the story, happens to be female. I mean, suppose Rowling had made her professionally paranoid Auror a woman. It's not unthinkable that someone might complain about how Harry, a male, managed to land a stun on Madam Moody. Symmetrically, if Draco had discovered Harry doing science with Hermione some chapters earlier, he wouldn't have had the same reaction but he would've had an equally difficult reaction for Harry to deal with, and yes I would've figured out some way to make the adultery joke there too.

The main lesson I'm learning is that there are potential Problems when you arrange the plot so that you have the main character interacting with two different tiers of powered characters (Harry-Draco-Hermione and Harry-Dumbledore-Quirrell) and you haven't arranged the plot to have the main character's companions go through everything the main character does... but that problem is far too late to correct now.

P.S: In retrospect there's exactly one important canon character in this story whose gender I could freely choose, and I did happen to make her female, but that's not going to be apparent until later.

Comment author: pedanterrific 23 December 2012 07:13:35AM 5 points [-]

Ooh, a guessing game. I'll go with... the Giant Squid.

Comment author: Alsadius 24 December 2012 06:09:20PM 3 points [-]

No, it's clearly Mrs. Barbara Dementor.

Comment author: daenerys 23 December 2012 11:16:20AM 2 points [-]

Fawkes

Comment author: MugaSofer 23 December 2012 01:58:43PM 6 points [-]

P.S: In retrospect there's exactly one important canon character in this story whose gender I could freely choose, and I did happen to make her female, but that's not going to be apparent until later.

Clearly, this line is the only important part of this comment. Let the games begin!

(Tonks would be the obvious guess, since there's long been speculation about gender-bending metamorphamagi. But she's presented as female in canon, and Eliezer would probably object to the notion that the mere ability to change body shape would count as changing sex.)

Comment author: NihilCredo 23 December 2012 08:53:16PM 3 points [-]

Hmm, he didn't say "she's not going to appear until later", he said "that's not going to be apparent until later". This suggests that the character has already appeared, doesn't it?

(I might have guessed that the androgynous Voldemort could have been a female character in this fic, but I believe Eliezer has already flat-out stated that he's sticking to Quirrell = Voldemort.)

Comment author: Eneasz 27 December 2012 10:59:30PM 2 points [-]

I'm going with Penelope Clearwater. The competent, sober, older-Ravenclaw-prefect role could have been just about anyone (thus fulfilling the "important character who's gender I could choose" requirement), but Penelope was chosen (thus the "make her female" requirement). She hasn't done anything outstanding yet, thus the "apparent until later".

I've had strong suspicions for a while that both Penelope and Goyle will have awesome roles to play in the future.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 December 2012 04:10:11PM 1 point [-]

Eliezer would probably object to the notion that the mere ability to change body shape would count as changing sex

I have no idea what Eliezer would think on the subject.

My feeling is that if a metamorphamagus is changing the body, then this means changing the hormones-- they're a member of the sex they appear to be in every way with the possible exception of childhood memories. (I don't remember at what age the ability to metamorphize kicks in.)

I could argue that that they're "really" a gender we don't have a word for.

Comment author: army1987 23 December 2012 10:27:09PM *  2 points [-]

I didn't read Harry's statements as stereotypically male-child-stupid or even stereotypically male-stupid, but stereotypically hyperintellectualist-male-stupid - as in specifically similar to behavior like Luke's, not that of any non-Internet non-rationalist man I've actually met.

If I had to imagine a male doing that with a straight face in Real Life, it would likely be a right-wing dick talking through his ass who likes evolutionary psychology because it supports his position rather than because he actually has a good understanding of it (Exhibit A). OTOH, I can imagine hyperintellectualist males doing that tongue-in-cheek, and occasionally the joke would fall flat unless his interlocutor was hyperintellectualist herself.

Comment author: army1987 23 December 2012 10:18:04PM 3 points [-]

Can you name a woman who's done the same?

Real or fictional? If the latter, Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory does similar stuff.

Comment author: Alicorn 23 December 2012 12:08:34AM 9 points [-]

Harry was fumbling. He was not silly. He expressed reasonable propositions in clumsy ways. Hermione was silly throughout.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 December 2012 01:56:12AM 8 points [-]

Maybe it matters that the girls in MOR are silly even when they aren't under pressure.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 December 2012 09:13:50PM 5 points [-]

Most students in HPMOR are silly when not under pressure (witch counterexample: Penelope Clearwater). They're also named after fan artists with upcoming cameos. Who tend to be female.

And yes, there's a Gossipy Hens trope in HPMOR, the converse of which is the horrible dating advice dispensed by males with their parody PUA community, both of whom are there because someone has to horribly misinterpret the situation, and which are gender-correlated because... well, because that part is realistic and there are things in HPMOR that happen because that's what the prior causal forces output, not necessarily because that's how I freely decided the outcome should be.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 December 2012 01:04:20AM 1 point [-]

This is making me realize that these discussions tend to not have a sense of scale. I'm not crazy about the undifferentiated gossiping mass (and it's reached the point where I'm not having as much fun with it-- it was funny the first time or three), but I don't think it's a huge flaw. It's entertaining to see the gossip get more rationalist, but not in a way that seems to help it be more accurate.

I hadn't noticed there was a parody PUA community, it just seemed as though there was occasional bits of PUA stuff showing up now and then. Definitely time to reread.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 December 2012 12:32:42AM 7 points [-]

By the standards of our community, yes, you're never supposed to flee in tears, and Harry has right-of-way to express any ideas he wants. Hermione has not been raised with this ideal, and Harry has not yet pressed it on her.

And canon!Hermione in her fifth-year, who delivered Umbridge unto the centaurs, wouldn't have fled in tears; and Harry could have told her about Draco much earlier, confident that 5th-year!Hermione could put on a mask around Draco and keep it up.

This is first-year!canon!Hermione:

Ron was in a very bad temper by the end of the class.

"It's no wonder no one can stand her," he said to Harry as they pushed their way into the crowded corridor. "She's a nightmare, honestly."

Someone knocked into Harry as they hurried past him. It was Hermione. Harry caught a glimpse of her face—and was startled to see that she was in tears.

"I think she heard you."

"So?" said Ron, but he looked a bit uncomfortable. "She must've noticed she's got no friends."

Hermione didn't turn up for the next class and wasn't seen all afternoon. On their way down to the Great Hall for the Hallowe'en feast, Harry and Ron overheard Parvati Patil telling her friend Lavender that Hermione was crying in the girls' toilets and wanted to be left alone. Ron looked still more awkward at this, but a moment later they had entered the Great Hall, where the Hallowe'en decorations put Hermione out of their minds.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 23 December 2012 05:46:42AM 6 points [-]

By the standards of our community, yes, you're never supposed to flee in tears, and Harry has right-of-way to express any ideas he wants.

In a public debate, yes, that is bad form.

But getting emotional, crying and running off does not necessarily merit penalty points in a human interaction, and certainly not for 12 year old girls who have recently been threatened with a lengthy term of prison/torture, and finds that her best friend and savior had a hidden and close relationship with someone who wanted to do horrible things to her. Violation of basic trust and in group solidarity.

Comment author: Alicorn 23 December 2012 12:39:32AM *  10 points [-]

Yes, and? The canon scene is Hermione "crying and wanting to be left alone". That is not particularly silly - it's emotional, but not even all that childish; depressed or particularly put-upon adults cry and want to be left alone. You, by contrast, have Hermione hysterically, italicizedly telling Harry that he cannot do science with two people at once, and doubling down on it even after she has a chance to realize that this is preposterous.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 December 2012 01:23:32AM 8 points [-]

Erm... a basic law of MoR is that people gain maturity/competence in proportion to how much hell they've been through. This creates a power balance problem where Harry, as main character, has been to Azkaban and Hermione hasn't, and fighting bullies isn't quite enough to make up for that. However, I would indeed maintain as a literary matter that this Hermione has been through more hell than the quoted canon!Hermione and is visibly more powerful and competent. Methods!Hermione doesn't flee in tears if Ron calls her a nightmare, though she would've at the start of the year. She probably wouldn't even notice.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 23 December 2012 02:29:19AM *  10 points [-]

Erm... a basic law of MoR is that people gain maturity/competence in proportion to how much hell they've been through.

For an otherwise rational fanfic this seems oddly like a rule out of Dungeons and Dragons.

Edit:Also, it seems like at this point Hermione has gone through some pretty awful stuff also so by this logic her competence level should have gone up a lot.

Comment author: Alsadius 23 December 2012 05:37:07AM 4 points [-]

"Whatever does not kill you makes you stronger" is D+D-esque now? Experience makes people better, as a rule, as long as you can avoid being broken by it.

Also, Hermione's competence level has gone up a lot. You don't think she's a lot stronger than she was at the beginning of the story?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 December 2012 02:55:55AM 1 point [-]

She didn't get a chance to fight during that - it doesn't work quite the same way.

Comment author: DanArmak 23 December 2012 05:28:59PM 4 points [-]

a basic law of MoR is that people gain maturity/competence in proportion to how much hell they've been through.

Inverse Utility Monster: deliberately goes through hell, returns superpowered.

Wise Villain: doesn't make heroes' lives difficult, keeps them underpowered.

Comment author: army1987 04 January 2013 04:30:16PM *  2 points [-]

Inverse Utility Monster: deliberately goes through hell, returns superpowered.

Vegeta from Dragon Ball once deliberately had himself beat to near-death for that very reason.

Comment author: dspeyer 03 January 2013 08:01:13PM 2 points [-]

Inverse Utility Monster: deliberately goes through hell, returns superpowered.

Specifically:

Sign up for the Auror preparation program in your sixth year. It's the next best thing. Oh, and if a famous Auror offers to oversee your summer internship, just ignore anyone who warns you that he's a terrible influence or that you're almost certainly going to die.

Comment author: Alicorn 23 December 2012 01:26:52AM 7 points [-]

You keep starting comments with "Erm..." and then talking past me; I'm really not sure what to make of it. You don't actually have to respond to criticism of your fic if you don't want to...

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 December 2012 02:56:58AM 8 points [-]

I usually don't respond, but I care unusually much about what the author of Luminosity thinks.

Comment author: Exetera 23 December 2012 02:12:33AM *  2 points [-]

So, by this law, Harry and the Weasley twins disturbing Neville outside the Hogwarts Express on the first day was the objectively right thing to do?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 December 2012 02:54:33AM 2 points [-]

If they'd known the true consequences with certainty in advance... sure.

Comment author: MugaSofer 23 December 2012 02:01:02PM *  0 points [-]

a basic law of MoR is that people gain maturity/competence in proportion to how much hell they've been through.

Why?

EDIT:

However, the actual literary logic is something more like, "Once you show Harry thinking his way out of Azkaban, it is no longer possible for him to lose an even battle to Draco - the reader won't believe it." I don't think the 'power up through trial' thing is actually unrealistic, I mean, if I come out of this planet alive I'm probably not going to be fazed by much after that. But it's the more fundamental literary reason why so many stories work that way. You will perceive that this also points in the direction of, "Being run over by a truck isn't the same as punching the truck to a standstill" in terms of whether you powered up after that.

Comment author: army1987 23 December 2012 03:17:20AM 0 points [-]

Yes, but I wasn't sure you did that on purpose.