Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality review by su3su2u1

These are archived from the now defunct su3su3u1 tumblr.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality full review

I opened up a bottle of delicious older-than-me scotch when Terry Pratchett died, and I’ve been enjoying it for much of this afternoon, so this will probably be a mess and cleaned up later.

Out of 5 stars, I’d give HPMOR a 1.5. Now, to the review (this is almost certainly going to be long)

The good

HPMOR contains some legitimately clever reworkings of the canon books to fit with Yudkowsky’s modified world:

A few examples- In HPMOR, the “interdict of Merlin” prevents wizards from writing down powerful spells, so Slytherin put the Basilisk in the chamber of secrets to pass on his magical lore. The prophecy “the dark lord will mark him as his own” was met when Voldemort gave Hariezer the same grade he himself had received.

Yudkowsky is also well read, and the story is peppered with reference to legitimately interesting science. If you google and research every reference, you’ll learn a lot. The problem is that most of the in-story references are incorrect, so if you don’t google around you are likely to pick up dozens of incorrect ideas.

The writing style during action scenes is pretty good. It keeps the pace moving and brisk and can be genuinely fun to read.

The bad

Stilted, repetitive writing

A lot of this story involves conversations that read like ham-fisted attempts at manipulation, filled with overly stilted language. Phrases like “Noble and Most Ancient House,” “General of Sunshine,” “ General of Chaos,”etc are peppered in over and over again. It’s just turgid. It smooths out when events are happening, but things are rarely happening.

Bad ideas

HPMOR is full of ideas I find incredibly suspect- the only character trait worth anything in the story (both implicitly and explicitly) is intelligence, and the primary use of intelligence within the story is manipulation. This leads to cloying levels of a sort of nerd elitism. Ron and Hagrid are basically dismissed out of hand in this story (Ron explicitly as being useless, Hagrid implicitly so) because they aren’t intelligent enough, and Hariezer explicitly draws implicit NPC vs real-people distinctions.

The world itself is constructed to back up these assertions- nothing in the wizarding world makes much sense, and characters often behave in silly ways (”like NPCs”) to be a foil for Hariezer.

The most ridiculous example of this is that the wizarding world justice is based on two cornerstones- poltiicans decide guilt or innocence for all wizard crimes, and the system of blood debts. All of the former death eaters who were pardoned (for claiming to be imperius cursed) apparently owe a blood debt to Hariezer, and so as far as wizarding justice is concerned he is above the law. He uses this to his advantage at a trial for Hermione.

Bad pedagogy

Hariezer routinely flubs the scientific concepts the reader is supposed to be learning. Almost all of the explicit in story science references are incorrect, as well as being overly-jargon filled.

Some of this might be on purpose- Hariezer is supposed to be only 11. However, this is terrible pedagogy. The reader’s guide to rationality is completely unreliable. Even weirder, the main antagonist, Voldemort, is also used as author mouthpiece several times. So the pedagogy is wrong at worst, and completely unreliable at best.

And implicitly, the method Hariezer relies on for the majority of his problem solving is Aristotelian science. He looks at things, thinks real hard, and knows the answer. This is horrifyingly bad implicit pedagogy.

Bad plotting

Over the course of the story, Hariezer moves from pro-active to no-active. At the start of the story he has a legitimate positive agenda- he wants to use science to uncover the secrets of magic. As the story develops, however, he completely loses sight of that goal, and he instead becomes just a passenger in the plot- he competes in Quirrell’s games and goes through school like any other student. When Voldemort starts including Hariezer in his plot, Hariezer floats along in a completely reactive way,etc.

Not until Hermione dies, near the end of the story, does Hariezer pick up a positive goal again (ending death) and he does absolutely nothing to achieve it. He floats along reacting to everything, and Voldemort defeats death and revives Hermione with no real input from Hariezer at all.

For a character who is supposed to be full of agency, he spends very little time exercising it in a proactive way.

Nothing has consequences (boring!)

And this brings me to another problem with the plotting- nothing in this story has any consequences. Nothing that goes wrong has any lasting implications for the story at all, which makes all the evens on hand ultimately boring. Several examples- early in the story Hariezer uses his time turner to solve even the simplest problems. Snape is asking you questions about potions you don’t know? Time travel. Bullies are stealing a meaningless trinket? Time travel,etc. As a result of these rule violations, his time turner is locked down by Professor Mcgonagall. Despite this Hariezer continues to use his time turner to solve all of his problems- the plot introduces another student willing to send a time turner message for a small amount of money via. “slytherin mail” it’s even totally anonymous.

Another egregious example of this is Quirrell’s battle game- the prize for the battle game is handed out by Quirrell in chapter 35 or so, and there are several more battle games after the prize! The reader knows that it doesn’t at all matter who wins these games- the prize is already awarded! What’s the point? The reader knows the prize has been given out, why are they invested in the proceedings at all?

When Hariezer becomes indebted to Luscious Malfoy, it never constrains him in any way. He becomes in debt, Dumbledore tells him it’s bad, he does literally nothing to deal with the problem. Two weeks later, Hermione dies and the debt gets cancelled.

When Hermione DIES Hariezer does nothing, and a few weeks later Voldemort brings her back. Nothing that happens ever matters.

The closest thing to long term repercussions is Hariezer helping Bellatrix Black escape- but we literally never see Bellatrix after that.

Hariezer never acts positively to fix his problems, he just bounces along whining about how humans need to defeat death until his problems get solved for him.

Mystery, dramatic irony and genre savvy

If you’ve read the canon books, you know at all times what is happening in the story. Voldemort has possessed Quirrell, Hariezer is a horcrux, Quirrell wants the philsopher’s stone, etc. There are bits and pieces that are modified, but the shape of the story is exactly canon. So all the mystery is just dramatic irony.

This is fine, as far as it goes, but there is a huge amount of tension because Hariezer is written as “genre savvy” and occasionally says things like “the hero of story such-and-such would do this” or “I understand mysterious prophecies from books.” The story is poking at cliches that the story wholeheartedly embraces. Supposedly Hariezer has read enough books just like this that dramatic irony liked this shouldn’t happen, as the story points out many times,- he should be just as informed as the reader. AND YET…

The author is practically screaming “wouldn’t it be lazy that Harry’s darkside is because he is a horcrux?” And yet, Harry’s darkside is because he is a horcrux.

Even worse, the narration of the book takes lots of swipes at the canon plots while “borrowing” the plot of the books.

Huge tension between the themes/lessons and the setting

The major themes of this book are in major conflict with the setting throughout the story.

One major theme is the need for secretive science to hide dangerous secrets- it’s echoed in the way Hariezer builds his “bayesian conspiracy,” reinforced by Hariezer and Quirrell’s attitudes toward nuclear weapons (and their explicit idea that people smart enough to build atomic weapons wouldn’t use them), and it’s reinforced at the end of the novel when Hariezer’s desire to dissolve some of the secrecy around magic is thwarted by a vow he took to not-end-the-world.

Unfortunately, that same secrecy is portrayed as having stagnated the progress of the wizarding world, and preventing magic from spreading. That same secrecy might well be why the wizarding world hasn’t already ended death and made thousands of philosopher’s stones.

Another major theme is fighting death/no-afterlife. But this is a fantasy story with magic. There are ghosts, a gate to the afterlife, a stone to talk to your dead loved ones,etc. The story tries to lamp shade it a bit, but that fundamental tension doesn’t go away. Some readers even assumed that Hariezer was simply wrong about an afterlife in the story- because they felt the tension and used my point above (unreliable pedagogy) to put the blame on Hariezer. In the story, the character who actually ended death WAS ALSO THE ANTAGONIST. Hariezer’s attempts are portrayed AS SO DANGEROUS THEY COULD END THE WORLD.

And finally- the major theme of this story is the supremacy of Bayesian reasoning. Unfortunately, as nostalgebraist pointed out explicitly, a world with magic is a world where your non-magic based Bayesian prior is worthless. Reasoning time and time again from that prior leads to snap conclusions unlikely to be right- and yet in the story this works time and time again. Once again, the world is fighting the theme of the story in obvious ways.

Let’s talk about Hermoine

The most explicitly feminist arc in this story is the arc where Hermione starts SPHEW, a group dedicated to making more wizarding heroines. The group starts out successful, gets in over their head, and Hariezer has to be called in to save the day (with the help of Quirrell).

At the end of the arc, Hariezer and Dumbledore have a long conversation about whether or not they should have let Hermione and friends play their little bully fighting game- which feels a bit like retroactively removing the characters agency. Sure, the women got to play at their fantasy, but only at the whim of the real heroes.

By the end of the story, Hermione is an indestructible part-unicorn/part-troll immortal. And what is she going to do with this power? Become Hariezer’s lab assistant, more or less. Be sent on quests by him. It just feels like Hermione isn’t really allowed to grow into her own agency in a meaningful way.

This isn’t to say that it’s intentional (pretty much the only character with real, proactive agency in this story is Quirrell) - but it does feel like women get the short end of the stick here.

Sanderson’s law of magic

So I’ve never read Sanderson, but someone point me to his first law of magic

Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic. The idea here is that if your magic is laid out with clear rules, the author should feel free to solve problems with it- if your magic is mysterious and vague like Gandolf you shouldn’t solve all the conflict with magic, but if you lay out careful rules you can have the characters magic up the occasional solution. I’m not sure I buy into the rule fully, but it does make a good point- if the reader doesn’t understand your magic the solution might feel like it comes out of nowhere.

Yudkowsky never clearly lays out most of the rules of magic, and yet still solves all his problems via magic (and magic mixed with science). We don’t know how brooms work, but apparently if you strap one to a rocket you can actually steer the rocket, you won’t fall off the thing, and you can go way faster than other broomsticks.

This became especially problematic when he posted his final exam- lots of solutions were floated around each of which relied on some previously ill-defined aspect of the magic. Yudkowsky’s own solution relied on previously ill-defined transfiguration.

And when he isn’t solving problems like that, he is relying on the time turner over and over again. Swatting flies with flame throwers over and over again.

Coupled with the world being written as “insane” and it just feels like it’s lazy conflict resolution.

Conclusion

A largely forgettable, overly long nerd power fantasy, with a bit of science (most of it wrong) and a lot of bad ideas. 1.5 stars.

Individual chapter reviews below.

HPMOR 1

While at lunch, I dug into the first chapter of HPMOR. A few notes:

This isn’t nearly as bad as I remember, the writing isn’t amazing but its serviceable.. Either some editing has taken place in the last few years, or I’m less discerning than I once was.

There is this strange bit, where Harry tries to diffuse an argument his parents are having with:

“”Mum,” Harry said. “If you want to win this argument with Dad, look in chapter two of the first book of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. There’s a quote there about how philosophers say a great deal about what science absolutely requires, and it is all wrong, because the only rule in science is that the final arbiter is observation - that you just have to look at the world and report what you see. ”

This seems especially out of place, because no one is arguing about what science is.

Otherwise, this is basically an ok little chapter. Harry and Father are skeptical magic could exist, so send a reply letter to Hogwarts asking for a professor to come and show them some magics.

HPMOR 2: in which I remember why I hated this

This chapter had me rolling my eyes so hard that I now I have quite the headache. In this chapter, Professor McGonagall shows up and does some magic, first levitating Harry’s father, and then turning into a cat. Upon seeing the first, Harry drops some Bayes, saying how anticlimatic it was ‘to update on an event of infinitesimal probability,’ upon seeing the second, Hariezer Yudotter greets us with this jargon dump:

“You turned into a cat! A SMALL cat! You violated Conservation of Energy! That’s not just an arbitrary rule, it’s implied by the form of the quantum Hamiltonian! Rejecting it destroys unitarity and then you get FTL signalling!”

First, this is obviously atrocious writing. Most readers will get nothing out of this horrific sentence. He even abbreviated faster-than-light as FTL, to keep the density of understandable words to a minimum.

Second, this is horrible physics for the following reasons:

I used to teach undergraduates, and I would often have some enterprising college freshman (who coincidentally was not doing well in basic mechanics) approach me to talk about why string theory was wrong. It always felt like talking to a physics madlibs book. This chapter let me relive those awkward moments.

Sorry to belabor this point so much, but I think it sums up an issue that crops up from time to time in Yudkowsky’s writing, when dabbling in a subject he doesn’t have much grounding in, he ends up giving actual subject matter experts a headache.

Summary of the chapter- McGonagall visits and does some magic, Harry is convinced magic is real, and they are off to go shop for Harry’s books.

Never Read Comments

I read the comments on an HPMOR chapter, which I recommend strongly against. I wish I could talk to several of the commentators, and gently talk them out of a poor financial decision.

Poor, misguided random internet person- your donation to MIRI/LessWrong will not help save the world. Even if you grant all their (rather silly) assumptions MIRI is a horribly unproductive research institute- in more than a decade, it has published fewer peer reviewed papers than the average physics graduate student does while in grad school. The majority of money you donate to MIRI will go into the generation of blog posts and fan fiction. If you are fine with that, then go ahead and spend your money, but don’t buy into the idea that this money will save the world.

HPMOR 3: uneventful, inoffensive

This chapter is worse than the previous chapters. As Hariezer (I realize this portmanteau isn’t nearly as clever as I seem to think it is, but I will continue to use it) enters diagon alley, he remarks

It was like walking through the magical items section of an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rulebook (he didn’t play the game, but he did enjoy reading the rulebooks).

For reasons not entirely clear to me, the line filled me with rage.

As they walk McGonagall tells Hariezer about Voldemort, noting that other countries failed to come to Britain’s aid. This prompts Hariezer to immediately misuse the idea of the Bystander Effect (an exercise left to the reader- do social psychological phenomena that apply to individuals also apply to collective entities, like countries? Are the social-psychological phenomena around failure to act in people likely to also explain failure to act as organizations?)

Thats basically it for this chapter. Uneventful chapter- slightly misused scientific stuff, a short walk through diagon alley, standard Voldemort stuff. The chapter ends with some very heavy handed foreshadowing:

(And somewhere in the back of his mind was a small, small note of confusion, a sense of something wrong about that story; and it should have been a part of Harry’s art to notice that tiny note, but he was distracted. For it is a sad rule that whenever you are most in need of your art as a rationalist, that is when you are most likely to forget it.)

If Harry had only attended more CFAR workshops…

HPMOR 4: in which, for the first time, I wanted the author to take things further

So first, I actually like this chapter more than the previous few, because I think its beginning to try to deliver on what I want in the story. And now, my bitching will commence:

A recurring theme of the LessWrong sequences that I find somewhat frustrating is that (apart from the Bayesian Rationalist) the world is insane. This same theme pops up in this MOR chapter, where the world is created insane by Yudkowsky, so that Hariezer can tell you why.

Upon noticing the wizarding world uses coins of silver and gold, Hariezer asks about exchange rates, and asks the bank goblin how much it would cost to get a big chunk of silver turned into coins, the goblin says he’ll check with his superiors, Hariezer asks him to estimate, and the estimate is that the fee is about 5% of the silver.

This prompts Hariezer to realize that he could do the following:

  1. Take gold coins and buy silver with them in the muggle world
  2. bring the silver to Gringots and have it turned into coins
  3. convert the silver coins to gold coins, ending up with more gold than you started with, start the loop over until the muggle prices make it not profitable

(of course, the in-story explanation is overly-jargon filled as usual)

This is somewhat interesting, and its the first look at what I want in a story like this- the little details of the wizarding world that would never be covered in a children’s story. Stross wrote a whole book exploring money/economics in a far future society (Neptune’s Brood, its only ok), there is a lot of fertile ground for Yudkowsky here.

In a world where wizards can magic wood into gold, how do you keep counterfeiting at bay? Maybe the coins are made of special gold only goblins know how to find (maybe the goblin hordes hoard (wordplay!) this special gold like De beers hoards diamonds).

Maybe the goblins carefully magic money into and out of existence in order to maintain a currency peg. Maybe its the perfect inflation- instead of relying on banks to disperse the coins every and now and then the coins in people’s pockets just multiply at random.

Instead, we get a silly, insane system (don’t blame Rowling either- Yudkowsky is more than willing to go off book, AND the details of this simply aren’t discussed, for good reason, in the genre Rowling wrote the books in), and rationalist Hariezer gets an easy ‘win’. Its not a BAD section, but it feels lazy.

And a brief note on the writing style- its still oddly stilted, and I wonder how good it would be at explaining ideas to someone unfamiliar. For instance, Hariezer gets lost in thought McGonagall says something, Hariezer replies:

“”Hm?” Harry said, his mind elsewhere. “Hold on, I’m doing a Fermi calculation.” “A what? ” said Professor McGonagall, sounding somewhat alarmed. “It’s a mathematical thing. Named after Enrico Fermi. A way of getting rough numbers quickly in your head…”“

Maybe it would feel less awkward for Hariezer to say “Hold on, I’m trying to estimate how much gold is in the vault.” And then instead of saying “its a math thing,” we could follow Hariezer’s thoughts as he carefully constructs his estimate (as it is, the estimate is crammed into a hard-to-read paragraph).

Its a nitpick, sure, but the story thus far is loaded with such nits.

Chapter summary- Harry goes to gringots, takes out money.

HPMOR 5: in which the author assures us repeatedly this chapter is funny

This chapter is, again, mostly inoffensive, although there is a weird tonal shift. The bulk of this chapter is played broadly for laughs. There is actually a decent description of the fundamental attribution error, although its introduced with this twerpy bit of dialogue

Harry looked up at the witch-lady’s strict expression beneath her pointed hat, and sighed. “I suppose there’s no chance that if I said fundamental attribution error you’d have any idea what that meant.”

This sort of thing seems like awkward pedagogy. If the reader doesn’t know it, Hariezer is now exasperated with the reader as well as with whoever Yudkowsky is currently using as a foil.

Now, the bulk of this chapter involves Hariezer being left alone to buy robes, where he meets and talks to Draco Malfoy. Hariezer, annoyed at having people say to him “OMG, YOU ARE HARRY POTTER!” upon meeting and learning Malfoy’s name, exclaims “OMG, YOU ARE DRACO MALFOY!”. Malfoy accepts this as a perfectly normal reaction to his imagined fame, and a mildly amusing conversation occurs. Its a fairly clever idea.

Unfortunately, its marred by the literary equivalent of a sitcom laugh track. Worried that the reader isn’t sure if they should be laughing, Yudkowsky interjects phrases like these throughout:

Draco’s attendant emitted a sound like she was strangling but kept on with her work One of the assistants, the one who’d seemed to recognise Harry, made a muffled choking sound. One of Malkin’s assistants had to turn away and face the wall. Madam Malkin looked back silently for four seconds, and then cracked up. She fell against the wall, wheezing out laughter, and that set off both of her assistants, one of whom fell to her hands and knees on the floor, giggling hysterically.

The reader is constantly told that the workers in the shop find it so funny they can barely contain their laughter. It feels like the author constantly yelling GET IT YOU GUYS? THIS IS FUNNY!

As far as the writing goes, the tonal shift to broad comedy feels a bit strange and happens with minimal warning (there is a brief conversation earlier in the chapter thats also played for a laugh), and everything is as stilted as its always been. For example, when McGonagall walks into the robe shop in time to hear Malfoy utter some absurdities, Harry tells her

“He was in a situational context where those actions made internal sense -”

Luckily, Hariezer gets cut off before he starts explaining what a joke is.

Chapter summary- Hariezer buys robes, talks to Malfoy.

HPMOR 6: Yud lets it all hang out

The introduction suggested that the story really gets moving after chapter 5. If this is an example of what “really moving” looks like, I fear I’ll soon stop reading. Apart from my rant about chapter 2, things had been largely light, and inoffensive up until this chapter. Here, I found myself largely recoiling. We shift from the broad comedy of the last chapter to a chapter filled with weirdly dark little rants.

As should be obvious by now, I find the line between Eliezer and Harry to be pretty blurry (hence my annoying use of Hariezer). In this chapter, that line disappears completely as we get passages like this

Harry had always been frightened of ending up as one of those child prodigies that never amounted to anything and spent the rest of their lives boasting about how far ahead they’d been at age ten. But then most adult geniuses never amounted to anything either. There were probably a thousand people as intelligent as Einstein for every actual Einstein in history. Because those other geniuses hadn’t gotten their hands on the one thing you absolutely needed to achieve greatness. They’d never found an important problem.

There are dozens of such passages that could be ripped directly from some of Hariezer’s friendly AI writing and pasted right into MOR. Its a bit disconcerting, in part because its forcing me to face just how much of Eliezer’s other writing of wasted time with.

The chapter begins strongly enough, Hariezer starts doing some experiments with his magic pouch. If he asks for 115 gold coins, it comes, but not if he asks for 90+25 gold coins. He tries using other words for gold in other languages, etc. Unfortunately, it leads him to say this:

“I just falsified every single hypothesis I had! How can it know that ‘bag of 115 Galleons’ is okay but not ‘bag of 90 plus 25 Galleons’? It can count but it can’t add? It can understand nouns, but not some noun phrases that mean the same thing?…The rules seem sorta consistent but they don’t mean anything! I’m not even going to ask how a pouch ends up with voice recognition and natural language understanding when the best Artificial Intelligence programmers can’t get the fastest supercomputers to do it after thirty-five years of hard work,”

So here is the thing- it would be very easy to write a parser that behaves exactly like what Hariezer describes with his bag. You would just have a look-up table with lots of single words for gold in various languages. Nothing fancy at all. Its behaving oddly ENTIRELY BECAUSE ITS NOT DOING NATURAL LANGUAGE. I hope we revisit the pouch in a later chapter to sort this out. I reiterate, its stuff like this that (to me at least) were the whole premise of this story- flesh out the rules of this wacky universe.

Immediately after this, the story takes a truly bizarre turn. Hariezer spots a magic first aid kit, and wants to buy it. In order to be a foil for super-rationalist Harry, McGonagall then immediately becomes immensely stupid, and tries to dissuade him from purchasing it. Note, she doesn’t persuade him by saying “Oh, there are magical first aid kits all over the school,” or “there are wizards watching over the boy who lived who can heal you with spells if something happens” or anything sensible like that, she just starts saying he’d never need it.

This leads Harry to a long description of the planning fallacy, and he says to counter it he always tries to assume the worst possible outcomes. (Note to Harry and the reader: the planning fallacy is a specific thing that occurs when people or organizations plan to accomplish a task. What Harry is trying to overcome is more correctly optimism bias.).

This leads McGonagall to start lightly suggesting (apropos of nothing) that maybe Harry is an abused child. Hariezer responds with this tale:

“There’d been some muggings in our neighborhood, and my mother asked me to return a pan she’d borrowed to a neighbor two streets away, and I said I didn’t want to because I might get mugged, and she said, ‘Harry, don’t say things like that!’ Like thinking about it would make it happen, so if I didn’t talk about it, I would be safe. I tried to explain why I wasn’t reassured, and she made me carry over the pan anyway. I was too young to know how statistically unlikely it was for a mugger to target me, but I was old enough to know that not-thinking about something doesn’t stop it from happening, so I was really scared.” … I know it doesn’t sound like much,” Harry defended. “But it was just one of those critical life moments, you see? … That’s when I realised that everyone who was supposed to protect me was actually crazy, and that they wouldn’t listen to me no matter how much I begged them So we are back to the world is insane, as filtered through this odd little story.

Then McGonagall asks if Harry wants to buy an owl, and Harry says no he’d be too worried he’d forget to feed it or something. Which prompts McGonagall AGAIN to suggest Harry had been abused, which leads Harry into an odd rant about how false accusations of child abuse ruin families (which is true, but seriously, is this the genre for this rant? What the fuck is happening with this chapter?) This ends up with McGonagall implying Harry must have been abused because he is so weird, and maybe some cast a spell to wipe his memory of it (the spell comes up after Harry suggests repressed memories are BS pseudoscience, which again, is true, BUT WHY IS THIS HAPPENING IN THIS STORY?)

Harry uses his ‘rationalist art’ (literally “Harry’s rationalist skills begin to boot up again”) to suggest an alternative explanation

“I’m too smart, Professor. I’ve got nothing to say to normal children. Adults don’t respect me enough to really talk to me. And frankly, even if they did, they wouldn’t sound as smart as Richard Feynman, so I might as well read something Richard Feynman wrote instead. I’m isolated, Professor McGonagall. I’ve been isolated my whole life. Maybe that has some of the same effects as being locked in a cellar. And I’m too intelligent to look up to my parents the way that children are designed to do. My parents love me, but they don’t feel obliged to respond to reason, and sometimes I feel like they’re the children - children who won’t listen and have absolute authority over my whole existence. I try not to be too bitter about it, but I also try to be honest with myself, so, yes, I’m bitter.

After that weird back and forth the chapter moves on, Harry goes and buys a wand, and then from conversation begins to suspect that the Voldemort might still be alive. When McGonagall doesn’t want to tell him more, “a terrible dark clarity descended over his mind, mapping out possible tactics and assessing their consequences with iron realism.”

This leads Hariezer to blackmail McGonagall- he won’t tell people Voldemort is still alive if she tells him about the prophecy. Its another weird bit in a chapter absolutely brimming with weird bits.

Finally they go to buy a trunk, but they are low on gold (note to the reader: here would have been an excellent example of the planning fallacy). But luckily Hariezer had taken extra from the vault. Rather than simply saying “oh, I brought some extra”, he says

So - suppose I had a way to get more Galleons from my vaultwithout us going back to Gringotts, but it involved me violating the role of an obedient child. Would I be able to trust you with that, even though you’d have to step outside your own role as Professor McGonagall to take advantage of it?

So he logic-chops her into submission, or whatever, and they buy the trunk.

This chapter for me was incredibly uncomfortable. McGonagall behaves very strangely so she can act as a foil for all of Hariezer’s rants, and when the line between Hariezer and Eliezer fell away completely, it felt a bit oddly personal.

Oh, right, there was also a conversation about the rule against underage magic

“Ah,” Harry said. “That sounds like a very sensible rule. I’m glad to see the wizarding world takes that sort of thing seriously.”

I can’t help but draw parallels to the precautions Yud wants with AI.

Summary: Harry finished buying school supplies(I hope).

HPMOR 7: Uncomfortable elitism, and rape threats

A brief warning: Like always I’m typing this thing on my phone, so strange spell-check driven typos almost certainly abound. However, I’m also pretty deep in my cups (one of the great privileges of leaving academia is that I can afford to drink Lagavulin more than half my age like its water. The downside is no longer get to teach and so must pour my wisdom out in the form of a critique of a terrible fan fiction, that all of one person is probably reading)

This chapter took the weird tonal shift from the last chapter and just ran with it.

We are finally heading toward Hogwarts,so the chapter opens with the classic platform 9 34 bit from the book. And then it takes an uncomfortable elitist tone: Harry asks Ron Weasley to call him “Mr. Spoo” so that he can remain incognito, and Ron, a bit confused says “Sure Harry.” That one slip up allows Hariezer to immediately peg Ron as an idiot. In the short conversation that follows he mentally thinks of Ron as stupid several times and then he tries to explain to Ron why Quidditch is a stupid game.

It is my understanding from a (rather loose reading of the) books, that like cricket, quidditch games last weeks, EVEN MONTHS. In a game lasting literally weeks, one team could conceivably be up by 15 goals. In one of the books, I believe an important match went against the team that caught the snitch in one of the books. This is not to entirely defend quidditch, but it doesn’t HAVE to be an easy target. I think part of the ridicule that quidditch gets is that non-British/non-Indian audiences are perhaps not capable of appreciating that there are sports (cricket) that are played out over weeks that are very high scoring.

Either way, the WAY that Hariezer attacks quidditch is at expense of Ron, and it feels like a nerd sneering at a jock for liking sports. But thats just the lead up to the cloying nerd-elitism. Draco comes over, Hariezer is quick to rekindle that budding friendship, and we get the following conversation about Ron:

If you didn’t like him,” Draco said curiously, “why didn’t you just walk away?” “Um… his mother helped me figure out how to get to this platform from the King’s Cross Station, so it was kind of hard to tell him to get lost. And it’s not that I hate this Ron guy,” Harry said, “I just, just…” Harry searched for words. “Don’t see any reason for him to exist?” offered Draco. “Pretty much.

Just cloying, uncomfortable levels of nerd-elitism.

Now that Hariezer and Draco are paired back up, they can have lot of uncomfortable conversations. First, Draco shares something only slightly personal, which leads to this

“Why are you telling me that? It seems sort of… private…” Draco gave Harry a serious look. “One of my tutors once said that people form close friendships by knowing private things about each other, and the reason most people don’t make close friends is because they’re too embarrassed to share anything really important about themselves.” Draco turned his palms out invitingly. “Your turn?”

Hariezer consider this a masterful use of the social psychology idea of reciprocity (which just says if you do something for someone, they’re likely to do it for you). Anyway, this exchange is just a lead up to this, which feels like shock value for no reason:

“Hey, Draco, you know what I bet is even better for becoming friends than exchanging secrets? Committing murder.” “I have a tutor who says that,” Draco allowed. He reached inside his robes and scratched himself with an easy, natural motion. “Who’ve you got in mind?” Harry slammed The Quibbler down hard on the picnic table. “The guy who came up with this headline.” Draco groaned. “Not a guy. A girl. A ten-year-old girl, can you believe it? She went nuts after her mother died and her father, who owns this newspaper, is convinced that she’s a seer, so when he doesn’t know he asks Luna Lovegood and believes anything she says.” … Draco snarled. “She has some sort of perverse obsession about the Malfoys, too, and her father is politically opposed to us so he prints every word. As soon as I’m old enough I’m going to rape her.”

So, Hariezer is joking about the murder (its made clear later), but WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING? These escalating friendship-tests feel contrived, reciprocity is effective when you don’t make demands immediately, which is why when you get a free sample at the grocery store the person at the counter doesn’t say “did you like that? Buy this juice or we won’t be friends anymore.” This whole conversation feels ham fisted, Hariezer is consistently telling us about all the manipulative tricks they are both using. Its less a conversation and more people who just sat through a shitty marketing seminar trying to try out what they learned. WITH RAPE.

After that, Draco has a whole spiel about how the legal system of the wizard world is in the pocket of the wealthy, like the Malfoys, which prompts Hariezer to tell us that only countries descended from the enlightenment have law-and-order (and I take it from comments that originally there was some racism somewhere in here that has since been edited out). Note: the wizarding world HAS LITERAL MAGIC TRUTH POTIONS, but we are to believe our enlightenment legal system works better? This seems like an odd, unnecessary narrative choice.

Next, Hariezer tries to recruit Draco to the side of science with this:

Science doesn’t work by waving wands and chanting spells, it works by knowing how the universe works on such a deep level that you know exactly what to do in order to make the universe do what you want. If magic is like casting Imperio on someone to make them do what you want, then science is like knowing them so well that you can convince them it was their own idea all along. It’s a lot more difficult than waving a wand, but it works when wands fail, just like if the Imperiusfailed you could still try persuading a person.

I’m not sure why you’d use persuasion/marketing as a shiny metaphor for science, other than its the theme of this chapter. ”If you know science you can manipulate people as if you were literally in control of them” seems like a broad, and mostly untrue claim. AND IT FOLLOWS IMMEDIATELY AFTER HARRY EXPLAINED THE MOON LANDING TO DRACO. Science can take you to the fucking moon, maybe thats enough.

This chapter also introduces comed-tea, a somewhat clever pun drink. If you open a can, at some point you’ll do a spit-take before finishing it. I’m not sure the point of this new magical introduction, hopefully Hariezer gets around to exploring it (seriously, hopefully Hariezer begins to explore ANYTHING to do with the rules of magic. I’m 7 full chapters in and this fanfic has paid lip service to science without using it to explore magic at all).

Chapter summary: Hariezer makes it to platform 9 34, ditches Ron as somehow sub-human. Has a conversation with Draco that is mostly framed as conversation-as-explicit manipulation between Hariezer and Draco, and its very ham-fisted, but luckily Hariezer assures us its actual masterful manipulation, saying things like this, repeatedly:

And Harry couldn’t help but notice how clumsy, awkward, graceless his attempt at resisting manipulation / saving face / showing off had appeared compared to Draco.

Homework for the interested reader: next time you are meeting someone new, share something embarrassingly personal and then ask them immediately to reciprocate, explicitly saying ‘it’ll make us good friends.’ See how that works out for you.

WHAT DO PEOPLE SEE IN THIS? It wouldn’t be so bad, but we are clearly supposed to identify with Hariezer, who looks at Draco as someone he clearly wants on his side, and who instantly dismisses someone (with no “Bayesian updates” whatsoever as basically less than human). I’m honestly surprised that anyone read past this chapter. But I’m willing to trudge on, for posterity. Two more glasses of scotch, and then I start chapter 8. I’m likely to need alcohol to soldier on from here on out.

Side note: I’ve consciously not mentioned all the “take over the world” Hariezer references, but there are probably 3 or 4 per chapter. They seem at first like bad jokes, but they keep getting revisited so much that I think Hariezer’s explicit goal is perhaps not curiosity driven (figure out the rules of magic), but instead power driven (find out the rules of magic in order to take over the world). He assures Draco he really is Ravenclaw, but if he were written with consistency maybe he wouldn’t need to be? Hariezer doesn’t ask questions (like I would imagine a Ravenclaw would), he gives answers. Thus far, he has consistently decided the wizarding world has nothing to teach him. Arithmancy books he finds only go up to trigonometry, etc. He certainly has shown only limited curiosity this far. Its unclear to me why a curiosity driven, scientist character would feel a strong desire to impress, manipulate Draco Malfoy, as written here. This is looking less like a love-song to science, and more a love-song to some weird variant of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

A few Observations Regarding Hariezer Yudotter

After drunkenly reading chapters 8,9 and 10 last night (I’ll get to the posts soon, hopefully), I was flipping channels and somehow settled on an episode of that old TV show with Steve Urkel (bear with me, this will get relevant in a second).

In the episode, the cool kid Eddie gets hustled at billiards, and Urkel comes in and saves the day because his knowledge of trigonometry and geometry makes him a master at the table.

I think perhaps this is a common dream of the science fetishist- if only I knew ALL OF THE SCIENCE I would be unstoppable at everything. Hariezer Yudotter is a sort of wish fulfillment character of that dream. Hariezer isn’t motivated by curiosity at all really, he wants to grow his super-powers by learning more science. Its why we can go 10 fucking chapters without Yudotter really exploring much in the way of the science of magic (so far I count one lazy paragraph exploring what his pouch can do, in 10 chapters). Its why he constantly describes his project as “taking over the world.” And its frustrating, because this obviously isn’t a flaw to be overcome its part of Yudotter’s “awesomeness.”

I have a phd in a science, and it has granted me these real world super-powers:

  1. I fix my own plumbing, do my own home repairs,etc.
  2. I made a robot of legos and a raspberry pi that plays connect 4 incredibly well (my robot sidekick, I guess)
  3. Via techniques I learned in the sorts of books that in fictional world Hariezer uses to be a master manipulator, I can optimize ads on webpages such that up to 3% of people will click on them (that is, seriously, the power of influence in reality. Not Hannibal Lector but instead advertisers trying to squeeze an extra tenth of a percent on conversions), for which companies sometime pay me
  4. If you give me a lot of data, I can make a computer find patterns in it, for which companies sometimes pay me.

Thats basically it. Back when I worked in science, I spent nearly a decade of my life calculating various background processes related to finding a Higgs boson, and I helped design some software theorists now use to calculate new processes quickly. These are the sorts of projects scientists work on, and most days its hard work and total drudgery, and there is no obvious ‘instrumental utility’- BUT I REALLY WANTED TO KNOW IF THERE WAS A HIGGS FIELD.

And thats why I think the Yudotter character doesn’t feel like a scientist- he wants to be stronger, more powerful, take over the world, but he doesn’t seem to care what the answers are. Its all well and good to be driven, but most importantly, you have to be curious.

HPMOR 8: Back to the inoffensive chapters of yesteryear

And a dramatic tonal shift and we are back to a largely inoffensive chapter.

There is another lesson in this chapter, this time the lesson is confirmation bias (though Yudkowsky/Hariezer refer to it as ‘positive bias’), but once again, the pedagogical choices are strange. As Hariezer winds into his lesson to Hermione, she thinks the following:

She was starting to resent the boy’s oh-so-superior tone…but that was secondary to finding out what she’d done wrong.

So Yudkowsky knows his Hariezer has a condescending tone, but he runs with it. So as a reader, if I already know the material I get to be on the side of truth, and righteousness and I can condescend to the simps with Hariezer, OR, I don’t know the material, and then Hermione is my stand in, and I have to swallow being condescended to in order to learn.

Generally, its not a good idea when you want to teach someone something to immediately put them on the defensive- I’ve never stood in front of a class, or tutored someone by saying

“The sad thing is you probably did everything the book told you to do… unless you read the very, very best sort of books, they won’t quite teach you how to do science properly…

And Yudkowsky knows enough that his tone is off-putting to point to it. So I wonder- is this story ACTUALLY teaching people things? Or is it just a way for people who already know some of the material to feel superior to Hariezer’s many foils? Do people go and read the sequences so that they can move from Hariezer-foil, to Hariezer’s point of view? (these are not rhetorical questions, if anyone has ideas on this).

As for the rest of the chapter- its good to see Hermione merits as human, unlike Ron. There is a strange bit in the chapter where Neville asks a Gryffindor prefect to find his frog, and the prefect says no (why? what narrative purpose does this serve?).

Chapter summary: Hariezer meets Neville and Hermione on the train to Hogwarts. Still no actual exploration of magic rules. None of the fun candy of the original story.

HPMOR 9 and 10

EDIT: I made a drunken mistake in this one, see this response. I do think my original point still goes through because the hat responds to the attempted blackmail with:

I know you won’t follow through on a threat to expose my nature, condemning this event to eternal repetition. It goes against the moral part of you too strongly, whatever the short-term needs of the part of you that wants to win the argument.

So the hat doesn’t say “I don’t care about this,” the hat says “you won’t do it.” My point is, however, substantially weakened.

END EDIT

Alright, the lagavulin is flowing, and I’m once more equipped to pontificate.

These chapters are really one chapter split in two. I’m going to use them to argue against Yudkowsky’s friendly AI concept a bit. There is this idea, called ‘orthgonality’ that says that an AIs goals can be completely independent of its intelligence. So you can say ‘increase happiness’ and this uber-optimizer can tile the entire universe with tiny molecular happy faces, because its brilliant at optimizing but incapable of evaluating its goals. Just setting the stage for the next chapter.

In this chapter, Harry gets sorted. When the sorting hat hits his head, Harry wonders if its self-aware, which because of some not-really-explained magical hat property, instantly makes the hat self-aware. The hat finds being self aware uncomfortable, and Hariezer worries that he’ll destroy an intelligent being when the hat is removed. The hat assures us that the hat cares only for sorting children. As Hariezer notes

It [the hat] was still imbued with only its own strange goals…

Even still, Hariezer manages to blackmail the hat- he threatens to tell all the other kids to wonder if the hat is self-aware. The hat concedes to the demand.

So how does becoming self-aware over and over effect the hat’s goals of sorting people? It doesn’t. The blackmail should fail. Yudkowsky imagines that the minute it became self-aware, the hat couldn’t help but pick up some new goals. Even Yudkowsky imagines that becoming self-aware will have some effects on your goals.

This chapter also has some more weirdly personal seeming moments when the line between Yudkowsky’s other writing and HPMOR breaks down completely.

Summary: Harry gets sorted into ravenclaw.

I am immensely frustrated that I’m 10 chapters into this thing, and we still don’t have any experiments regarding the rules of magic.

HPMOR 11

Chapter 11 is “omake.” This is a personal pet-peeve of mine, because I’m a crotchety old man at heart. The anime culture takes Japanese words, for which we have perfectly good english words, and snags them (kawaii/kawaisa is a big one). Omake is another one. I have nothing against Japanese (I’ve been known to speak it), just don’t like unnecessary loaner words in general. I know this is my failing, BUT I WANT SO BAD TO HOLD IT AGAINST THIS FANFIC.

Either way, I’m skipping the extra content, because I can only take so much.

HPMOR 12

Nothing much in this chapter. Dumbledore gives his post-dinner speech.

Harry cracks open a can of comed-tea and does the requisite spit-take when Dumbledore starts his dinner speech with random nonsense. He considers casting a spell to make his sense of humor very specific, and then he can use comed-tea to take over the world.

Chapter summary: dinner is served and eaten

HPMOR 13: Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure

There is a scene in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, toward the end, where they realize their time machine gives them super-human powers. They need to escape a jail, so they agree to get the keys later and travel back in time and hide them, and suddenly there the keys are. After yelling to remember a trash can, they have a trash can to incapacitate a guard with,etc. They can do anything they want.

Anyway, this chapter is that idea, but much longer. The exception is that we don’t know there has been a time machine (actually, I don’t KNOW for sure thats what it is, but the Bill and Ted fan in me says thats what happened this chapter, I won’t find out until next chapter. If I were a Bayesian rationalist, I would say that the odds ratio is pi*10^^^^3 in my favor. ).

Hariezer wakes up and finds a note saying he is part of a game. Everywhere he looks, as if by magic he finds more notes, deducting various game “points,” and some portraits have messages for him. The notes lead him to a pack of bullies beating up some hufflepuffs, and pies myseriously appears for Hariezer to attack with. The final note tells him to go to Mcgonagall’s office, and the chapter ends.

I assume next chapter, Hariezer will recieve his time machine and future Hariezer will use it to set up the “game” as a prank on past Hariezer. Its a clever enough chapter.

This chapter was actually decent, but what the world really needs is Harry Potter/Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure cross over fiction.

HPMOR 14: Lets talk about computability

This chapter has created something in my brain like Mr Burn’s Three Stooges Syndrome. So many things I want to talk about, I don’t know where to start!

First, I was slightly wrong about last chapter. It wasn’t a time machine Hariezer used to accomplish the prank in the last chapter, it was a time machine AND an invisibility cloak. BIll and Ted did not lead me astray.

On to the chapter- Hariezer gets a time machine (Hariezer lives 26 hour days, so he needs he is given a time turner to correct his sleep schedule) this prompts this:

Say, Professor McGonagall, did you know that time-reversed ordinary matter looks just like antimatter? Why yes it does! Did you know that one kilogram of antimatter encountering one kilogram of matter will annihilate in an explosion equivalent to 43 million tons of TNT? Do you realise that I myself weigh 41 kilograms and that the resulting blast would leave A GIANT SMOKING CRATER WHERE THERE USED TO BE SCOTLAND?

Credit where credit is due- this is correct physics. In fact, its completely possible (though a bit old-fashioned and unwieldy), to treat quantum field theory such that all anti-matter is simply normal matter moving backward in time. Here is an example, look at this diagram:

If we imagine time moving from the bottom of the diagram toward the top, we see two electrons traveling forward in time, and exchanging a photon and changing directions.

But now imagine time moves left to right in the diagram instead- what we see is one electron and one positron coming together and destroying each other, and then a new pair forming from the photon. BUT, we COULD say that what we are seeing is really an electron moving forward in time, and an electron moving backward in time. The point where they “disappear” is really the point where the forward moving electron changed directions and started moving backward in time.

This is probably very confusing, if anyone wants a longer post about this, I could probably try for it sober. I need to belabor this though- the takeaway point I need you to know- the best theory we have of physics so far can be interpreted as having particles that change direction in time, AND HARIEZER KNOWS THIS AND CORRECTLY NOTES IT.

Why is this important? Because a paragraph later he says this:

You know right up until this moment I had this awful suppressed thought somewhere in the back of my mind that the only remaining answer was that my whole universe was a computer simulation like in the book Simulacron 3 but now even that is ruled out because this little toy ISN’T TURING COMPUTABLE! A Turing machine could simulate going back into a defined moment of the past and computing a different future from there, an oracle machine could rely on the halting behavior of lower-order machines, but what you’re saying is that reality somehow self-consistently computes in one sweep using information that hasn’t… happened… yet..

This is COMPLETE NONSENSE (this is also terrible pedagogy again, either you know what Turing computable means are you drown in jargon). For this discussion, Turing computable means ‘capable of being calculated using a computer’ The best theory of physics we have (a theory Hariezer already knows about) allows the sort of thing that Hariezer is complaining about. Both quantum mechanics and quantum field theory are Turing computable. Thats not to say Hariezer’s time machine won’t require you to change physics a bit- you definitely will have to, but its almost certainly computable.

Now computable does not mean QUICKLY computable (or even feasibly computable). The new universe might not be computable in polynomial time (quantum field theory may not be, at least one problem with in it, the fermion sign problem, is not).

I don’t think the time machine makes P = NP either. Having a time machine will allow you to speed up computations (you could wait until a computation was done, and then send the answer back in time). However, Hariezer’s time machine is limited, it can only be used to move back 6 hours total, and can only be used 3 time in a day, so I don’t think it could generally solve an NP-complete problem in polynomial time (after your 6 hour head start is up, things proceed at the original scaling). If you don’t know anything about computational complexity, I guess if I get enough asks I can explain it in another, non-potter post.

But my point here is- the author here is supposedly an AI theorist. How is he flubbing computability stuff? This should be bread and butter stuff.

I have so much more to say about this chapter. Another post will happen soon.

Edit: I was’t getting the P = NP thing, but I get the argument now (thanks Nostalgebraist), the idea is that you say “I’m going to compute some NP problem and come back with the solution” and then ZIP, out pops another you from the time machine, and hands you a slip of paper with the answer on it. Now you have 6 hours to verify the calculation, and then zip back to give it your former self.

But any problem in NP is checkable in P, so for any problem small enough to be checkable in 6 hours (which is a lot of problems, including much of NP), is now computable in no time at all. Its not a general P = NP, but its much wider in applicability than I was imagining.

HPMOR 14 continued: Comed Tea, Newcomb’s problem, science

One of the odd obsession’s of LessWrong is an old decision theory problem called Newcomb’s Paradox. It goes like this- a super intelligence that consistently predicts correctly challenges you to a game. There are two boxes, A and B. And you are allowed to take one or both boxes.

Inside box A is $10, and inside box B the super intelligence has already put $10,000 IF AND ONLY IF it predicted you will only take box B. What box should you take?

The reason this is a paradox is that one group of people (call them causal people) might decide that because the super intelligence ALREADY made its call, you might as well take both boxes. You can’t alter the past prediction.

Other people (call these LessWrongians) might say, ‘well, the super intelligence is always right, so clearly if I take box B I’ll get more money’. This camp includes LessWrongians. Yudkowsky himself had tried to formalize a decision theory that picks box B, that involved allowing causes to propagate backward in time.

A third group of people (call them ‘su3su2u1 ists’) might say “this problem is ill-posed. The idea of the super-intelligence might well be incoherent, depending on your model of how decisions are made,” Here is why- imagine human decisions can be quite noisy. For instance, what if I flip an unbiased coin to decide which box to take. Now the super-intelligence can only have had a 5050 chance to successfully predict which box I’d take, which contradicts the premise.

There is another simple way to show the problem is probably ill-posed. Imagine another we take another super-intelligence of the same caliber as the first (call the first 1 and the second 2). 1 offers the same game to 2, and now 2 takes both boxes if it predicts that 1 put the money in box B. It takes only box B if 1 did not put the money in box B. Obviously, either intelligence 1 is wrong, or intelligence 2 is wrong, which contradicts the premise, so the idea must be inconsistent (note, you can turn any person into super-intelligence number 2 by making the boxes transparent).

Anyway, Yudkowsky has a pet decisions theory he has tried to formalize that allows causes to propagate backward in time. He likes this approach because you can get the LessWrongian answer to Newcomb every time. The problem is, his formalism has all sorts of problems with inconsistency because of the issues I raised about the inconsistency of a perfect predictor.

Why do I bring this up? Because Hariezer decides in this chapter that comed-tea MUST work by causing you to drink it right before something spit-take worthy happens. The tea predicts the humor, and then magics you into drinking it. Of course, he does no experiments to test this hypothesis at all (ironic that just a few chapters ago he lecture Hermione about only doing 1 experiment to test her idea).

So unsurprisingly perhaps, the single most used magic item in the story thus far is a manifestation of Yudkowsky’s favorite decision theory problem.

And my final note from this chapter- Hariezer drops this on us, regarding the brain’s ability to understand time travel:

Now, for the first time, he was up against the prospect of a mystery that was threatening to be permanent…. it was entirely possible that his human mind never could understand, because his brain was made of old-fashioned linear-time neurons, and this had turned out to be an impoverished subset of reality.

This seems to misunderstand the nature of mathematics and its relation to science. I can’t visualize a 4 dimensional curved space,certainly not the way I visualize 2 and 3d objects. But that doesn’t stop me from describing it and working with it as a mathematical object.

Time is ALREADY very strange and impossible to visualize. But mathematics allows us to go beyond what our brain can visualize to create notations and languages that let us deal with anything we can formalize and that has consistent rules. Its amazingly powerful.

I never thought I’d see Hariezer Yudotter, who just a few chapters back was claiming science could let us perfectly manipulate and control people (better than an imperio curse, or whatever the spell that lets you control people) argue that science/mathematics couldn’t deal with linear time.

I hope that this is a moment where in later chapters we see growth from Yudotter, and he revisits this last assumption. And I hope he does some experiments to test his comed-tea hypothesis. Right now it seems like experiments are things Hariezer asks people around him to do (so they can see things his way), but for him pure logic is good enough.

Chapter summary: I drink three glasses of scotch. Hariezer gets a time machine.

HPMOR 15: In which, once again, I want more science

I had a long post but the internet ate it earlier this week, so this is try 2. I apologize in advance, this blog post is mostly me speculating about some magi-science.

This chapter begins the long awaited lessons in magic. The topic of today’s lesson consists primarily of one thing, don’t transfigure common objects into food or drink.

Mr. Potter, suppose a student Transfigured a block of wood into a cup of water, and you drank it. What do you imagine might happen to you when the Transfiguration wore off?” There was a pause. “Excuse me, I should not have asked that of you, Mr. Potter, I forgot that you are blessed with an unusually pessimistic imagination -“ “I’m fine,” Harry said, swallowing hard. “So the first answer is that I don’t know,” the Professor nodded approvingly, “but I imagine there might be… wood in my stomach, and in my bloodstream, and if any of that water had gotten absorbed into my body’s tissues - would it be wood pulp or solid wood or…” Harry’s grasp of magic failed him. He couldn’t understand how wood mapped into water in the first place, so he couldn’t understand what would happen after the water molecules were scrambled by ordinary thermal motions and the magic wore off and the mapping reversed.

We get a similar warning regarding transfiguring things into any gasses or liquids:

You will absolutely never under any circumstances Transfigure anything into a liquid or a gas. No water, no air. Nothing like water, nothing like air. Even if it is not meant to drink. Liquid evaporates, little bits and pieces of it get into the air.

Unfortunately, once again, I want the author to take it farther. Explore some actual science! What WOULD happen if that wood-water turned back into wood in your system?

So lets take a long walk off a short speculative pier together, and try to guess what might happen. First, we’ll assume magic absorbs any major energy differences and smooths over any issues at the time of transition. Otherwise when you magic in a few wood large wood molecules in place of much smaller water molecules, there will suddenly be lots of energy from the molecules repelling each other (this is called a steric mismatch) which will likely cause all sorts of problems (like a person exploding).

To even begin to answer, we have to pick a rule for the transition. Lets assume each water molecule turns into one “wood molecule” (wood is ill-defined on a molecular scale, its made up lots of shit. However, that shit is mostly long hydrocarbon chains called polysaccharides.)

So you’d drink the water, which gets absorbed pretty quickly by your body (any thats lingering in your gut unabsorbed will just turn into more fiber in your diet). After awhile, it would spread through your body, be taken up by your cells, and then these very diffuse water molecules would turn into polysaccharides. Luckily for you, your body probably knows how to deal with this, polysaccharides are hanging out all over your cells anway. Maybe somewhat surprisingly, you’d probably be fine. I think for lots of organic material, swapping out one organic molecule with another is likely to not harm you much. Of course, if the thing you swap in is poison, thats another story.

Now, I’ve cheated somewhat- I could pick another rule where you’d definitely die. Imagine swapping in a whole splinter of wood for each water molecule. You’d be shredded. The details of magic matter here, so maybe a future chapter will give us the info needed to revisit this.

What if instead of wood, we started with something inorganic like gold? If the water molecules turn into elemental gold (and you don’t explode from steric mismatches mentioned above), you’d be fine as long as the gold didn’t ionize. Elemental gold is remarkably stable, and it takes quite a bit of gold to get any heavy metal poisoning from it.

On the other hand, if it ionizes you’ll probably die. Gold salts (which split into ionic gold + other stuff in your system) have a semi-lethal doses (the dose that kills half of the people who take it) of just a few mg per kg, so a 70 kg person couldn’t survive more than 5g or so of the salt, which is even less ionic gold. So in this case, as soon as the spell wore off you’d start to be poisoned. After a few hours, you’d probably start showing signs of liver failure (jaundice, etc).

Water chemistry/physics is hard, so I have no idea if the gold atoms will actually ionize. Larger gold crystals definitely would not, and they are investigating using gold nanoparticles for medicine, which are also mostly non-toxic. However, individual atoms might still ionize.

What if we don’t drink the water? What if we just get near a liquid evaporating? Nothing much at all, as it turns out. Evaporation is a slow process, as is diffusion.

Diffusion constants are usually a few centimeters^2 per second, and diffusion is a slow process that moves forward with the square root of time (to move twice as far it takes 4 times as much time).

So even if the transformation into water lasts a full hour, a single water molecule that evaporates from the glass will travel less than 100 centimeters! So unless you are standing with your face very close to the glass, you are unlikely to encounter even a single evaporated molecule. Even with your face right near the glass, that one molecule will mostly likely just be breathed in and breathed right back out. You have a lot of anatomic dead-space in your lungs in which no exchange takes place, and the active area is optimized for picking up oxygen.

So how about transfiguring things to a gas? What happens there? Once again, this will depend on how we choose the rules of magic. When you make the gas, does it come in at room temperature and pressure? If so, this sets the density. Then you can either bring in an equal volume of gas to the original object with very few molecules, or you bring in an equal number of molecules, with a very large density.

At an equal number of molecules, you’ll get hundreds of liters of diffuse gas. Your lungs are only hold about 5 liters, so you are going to get a much smaller dose then you’d get from the water (a few percent at best), where all the molecules get taken up by your body. Also, your lungs won’t absorb most of the gas, much will get blown back out, further lowering the dose.

If its equal volume to the original object, then there will be very few gas molecules over a small area, and the diffusion argument applies- unless you get very near where you created the gas you aren’t likely at all to breathe any in.

Thus concludes a bit of speculative magi-science guess work. Sorry if I bored you.

Anyway- this chapter, I admit, intrigued me enough to spend some time thinking about what WOULD happen if something un-transfigured inside you. Not a bad chapter, really, but it again feels a tad lazy. We get some hazy worries about liquids evaporating (SCIENCE!) but no order-of-magnitude estimate about whether or not it matters (does not, unless maybe you boiled the liquid you made). There are lots of scientific ideas the author could play with, but they just get set aside.

As for the rest of the chapter, Hariezer gets shown up by Hermione, who is out-performing him and has already read her school books. A competition for grades is launched.

HPMOR 16: Shades of Ender’s game

I apologize for the longish break from HPMOR, sometimes my real job calls.

This chapter mostly comprises Hariezer’s first defense against the dark arts class. We meet the ultra-competent Quirrel (although I suppose like in the original its really the ultra-competent Voldemort) for the first time.

The lessons open with a bit of surprising anti-academic sentiment- Quirrel gives a long speech about how you needn’t learn to defend yourself against anything specific in the wizarding world because you could either magically run away or just use the instant killing spell, so the entire “Ministry-mandated” course with its “useless” textbooks is unnecessary. Of course, this comes from the mouth of the ostensible bad guy, so its unclear how much we are supposed to be creeped out by this sentiment (though Hariezer applauds).

After this, we get to the lesson. After teaching a light attack spell, Quirrel asks Hermoine (who mastered it fastest) to attack another student. She refuses, so Quirrel moves on to Malfoy who is quick to acquiesce by shooting Hermoine.

Then Quirrel puts Hariezer on the spot and things get sort of strange. When asked for unusual combat uses of everyday items, Hariezer comes up with a laundry list of outlandish ways to kill people, which leads Quirrel to observe that for Hariezer Yudotter nothing is defensive- he settles only for the destruction of his enemy. This feels very Ender’s game (Hariezer WINS, and that makes him dangerous), and sort of a silly moment.

Chapter summary: weirdly anti-academic defense against the dark arts lesson. We once more get magic, but no rules of magic.

HPMOR 17: Introducing Dumbledore, and some retreads on old ideas

This chapter opens with a little experiment with Hariezer trying to use the time turner to verify an NP-complete problem, as we discussed in a previous chapter section. Since its old ground, we won’t retread it.

From here, we move on to the first broomstick lesson, which proceeds much like the book, only with shades of elitism. Hariezer drops this nugget on us:

There couldn’t possibly be anything he could master on the first try which would baffle Hermione, and if there was and it turned out to be broomstick riding instead of anything intellectual, Harry would just die.

Which feels a bit like the complete dismissal of Ron earlier. So the anti-jock Hariezer, who wouldn’t be caught dead being good at broomsticking doesn’t get involved in racing around to try to get Neville’s remember all, instead the entire class ends up in a stand off, wands drawn. So Hariezer challenges the Slytherin who has it to a strange duel. Using his time turner in proper Bill and Ted fashion, he hides a decoy remember all and wins. Its all old stuff at this point, I’m starting to worry there is nothing new under the sun- more time turner, more Hariezer winning (in case we don’t get it, there is a conversation with McGonagall where Hariezer once more realizes he doesn’t even consider NOT winning).

AND THEN we meet Dumbledore, who is written as a lazy man’s version of insane. He’ll say something insightful, drop a Lord of the Ring’s quote and then immediately do something batshit. One moment he is trying to explain that Harry can trust him, the next he is setting a chicken on fire (yes this happens). In one baffling moment, he presents Hariezer with a big rock, and this exchange happens:

So… why do I have to carry this rock exactly?” “I can’t think of a reason, actually,” said Dumbledore. “…you can’t.” Dumbledore nodded. “But just because I can’t think of a reason doesn’t mean there is no reason.” “Okay,” said Harry, “I’m not even sure if I should be saying this, but that is simply not the correct way to deal with our admitted ignorance of how the universe works.”

Now, if someone gave you a large heavy rock and said “keep this on you, just in case” how would you begin to tell them they’re wrong? Here is Hariezer’s approach:

How can I put this formally… um… suppose you had a million boxes, and only one of the boxes contained a diamond. And you had a box full of diamond-detectors, and each diamond-detector always went off in the presence of a diamond, and went off half the time on boxes that didn’t have a diamond. If you ran twenty detectors over all the boxes, you’d have, on average, one false candidate and one true candidate left. And then it would just take one or two more detectors before you were left with the one true candidate. The point being that when there are lots of possible answers, most of the evidence you need goes into just locating the true hypothesis out of millions of possibilities - bringing it to your attention in the first place. The amount of evidence you need to judge between two or three plausible candidates is much smaller by comparison. So if you just jump ahead without evidence and promote one particular possibility to the focus of your attention, you’re skipping over most of the work.

Thank God Hariezer was able to use his advanced reasoning skills to make an analogy with diamonds in boxes to explain WHY THE IDEA THAT CARRYING A ROCK AROUND FOR NO REASON IS STUPID. This was the chapter’s rationality idea- seriously, its like Yudkowsky didn’t even try on this one.

Chapter summary: Hariezer sneers at broomstick riding, some (now standard) time turner hijinks, Hariezer meets a more insane than wise Dumbledore

HPMOR 18: What?

I wanted to discuss the weird anti-university/school-system under currents of the last few chapters, but I started into chapter 18 and it broke my brain.

This chapter is absolutely ludicrous. We meet Snape for the first time, and he behaves as you’d expect from the source material. He makes a sarcastic remark and asks Hariezer a bunch of questions Hariezer does not know the answer to.

This leads to Hariezer flipping out:

The class was utterly frozen. “Detention for one month, Potter,” Severus said, smiling even more broadly. “I decline to recognize your authority as a teacher and I will not serve any detention you give.” People stopped breathing. Severus’s smile vanished. “Then you will be -” his voice stopped short. “Expelled, were you about to say?” Harry, on the other hand, was now smiling thinly. “But then you seemed to doubt your ability to carry out the threat, or fear the consequences if you did. I, on the other hand, neither doubt nor fear the prospect of finding a school with less abusive professors. Or perhaps I should hire private tutors, as is my accustomed practice, and be taught at my full learning speed. I have enough money in my vault. Something about bounties on a Dark Lord I defeated. But there are teachers at Hogwarts who I rather like, so I think it will be easier if I find some way to get rid of you instead.”

Think about this- THE ONLY THINGS SNAPE HAS DONE are make a snide comment and ask Hariezer a series of questions he doesn’t know the answer to.

The situation continues to escalate, until Hariezer locks himself in a closet and uses his invisibility cloak and time turner to escape the classroom.

This leads to a meeting with the headmaster where Hariezer THREATENS TO START A NEWSPAPER CAMPAIGN AGAINST SNAPE (find a newspaper interested in the ‘some students think professor too hard on them, for instance he asked Hariezer Yudotter 3 hard questions in a row’ story)

AND EVERYONE TAKES THIS THREAT SERIOUSLY, AS IF IT COULD DO REAL HARM. HARIEZER REPEATEDLY SAYS HE IS PROTECTING STUDENTS FROM ABUSE. THEY TAKE THIS THREAT SERIOUSLY ENOUGH THAT HARIEZER NEGOTIATES A TRUCE WITH SNAPE AND DUMBLEDORE. Snape agrees to be less demanding of discipline, Hariezer agrees to apologize.

Nowhere in this chapter does Hariezer consider that he deprived other students of the damn potions lesson. In his ruminations about why Snape keeps his job, he never considers that maybe Snape knows a lot about potions/is actually a good potions teacher.

This whole chapter is basically a stupid power struggle that requires literally everyone in the chapter to behave in outrageously silly ways. Hariezer throws a temper tantrum befitting a 2 year old, and everyone else gives him his way.

On the plus side, Mcgonagall locks down Hariezer’s time turner, so hopefully that device will stop making an appearance for awhile, its been the “clever” solution to every problem for several chapters now.

One more chapter this bad and I might have to abort the project.

HPMOR 19: I CAN’T EVEN… WHAT?…

I… this… what…

So there is a lot I COULD say here, about inconsistent characterization, ridiculously contrived events,etc. But fuck it- here is the key event of this chapter: Quirrel, it turns out, is quite the martial artist (because of course he is, who gives a fuck about genre consistency or unnecessary details, PILE IN MORE “AWESOME”). The lesson he claims to have learned from martial arts (at a mysterious dojo, because of course) that Hariezer needs to learn (as evidenced by his encounter with Snape) is how to lose.

How does Quirrel teach Hariezer “how to lose”? He calls Hariezer to the front, insists Hariezer not defend himself, and then has a bunch of slytherins beat the shit out of him.

Thats right- a character who one fucking chapter ago couldn’t handle being asked three hard questions in a row (ITS ABUSE, I’ll CALL THE PAPERS) submits to being literally beaten by a gang at a teacher’s suggestion.

An 11 year old kid, at a teachers suggestion, submits to getting beaten by a bunch of 16 year olds. All of this is portrayed in a positive light.

Ideas around chapter 19

In light of the recent anon, I’m going to attempt to give the people (person?) what they want. Also, I went from not caring if people were reading this, to being a tiny bit anxious I’ll lose the audience I unexpectedly picked up. SELLING OUT.

If we ignore the literal child abuse of the chapter, the core of the idea is still somewhat malignant. Its true throughout that Hariezer DOES have a problem with “knowing how to lose,” but the way you learn to lose is by losing, not by being ordered to take a beating.

Quirrell could have challenged Hariezer to a game of chess, he could have asked questions Hariezer didn’t know the answer to (as Snape did, which prompted the insane chapter 18), etc. But the problem is the author is so invested in Hariezer being the embodiment of awesome that even when he needs to lose for story purposes, to learn a lesson, Yudkowsky doesn’t want to let Hariezer actually lose at something. Instead he gets ordered to lose, and he isn’t ordered to lose at something in his wheel house, but in the “jock-stuff” repeatedly sneered at in the story (physical confrontation)

HPMOR 20: why is this chapter called Bayes Theorem?

A return to what passes for “normal.” No child beating in this chapter, just a long, boring conversation.

This chapter opens with Hariezer ruminating about how much taking that beating sure has changes his life. He knows how to lose now, he isn’t going to become dark lord now! Quirrell quickly takes him down a peg:

“Mr. Potter,” he said solemnly, with only a slight grin, “a word of advice. There is such a thing as a performance which is too perfect. Real people who have just been beaten and humiliated for fifteen minutes do not stand up and graciously forgive their enemies. It is the sort of thing you do when you’re trying to convince everyone you’re not Dark, not -“

Hariezer protests, and we get

There is nothing you can do to convince me because I would know that was exactly what you were trying to do. And if we are to be even more precise, then while I suppose it is barely possible that perfectly good people exist even though I have never met one, it is nonetheless improbable that someone would be beaten for fifteen minutes and then stand up and feel a great surge of kindly forgiveness for his attackers. On the other hand it is less improbable that a young child would imagine this as the role to play in order to convince his teacher and classmates that he is not the next Dark Lord. The import of an act lies not in what that act resembles on the surface, Mr. Potter, but in the states of mind which make that act more or less probable

How does Hariezer take this? Does he point out “if no evidence can sway your priors, your priors are too strong?” or some other bit of logic-chop Bayes-judo? Nope, he drops some nonsensical jargon:

Harry blinked. He’d just had the dichotomy between the representativeness heuristic and the Bayesian definition of evidence explained to him by a wizard.

Where is Quirrell using bayesian evidence? He isn’t, he is neglecting all evidence because all evidence fits his hypothesis. Where does the representativeness heuristic come into play? It doesn’t.

The representative heuristic is making estimates based on how typical of a class something is. i.e. show someone a picture of a stereotypical ‘nerd’ and say “is this person more likely an english or a physics grad student?” The representative heuristic says “you should answer physics.” Its a good rule-of-thumb that psychologists think is probably hardwired into us. It also leads to some well-known fallacies I won’t get into here.

Quirrell is of course doing none of that- Quirrell has a hypothesis that fits anything Hariezer could do, so no amount of evidence will dissuade him.

After this, Quirrell and Hariezer have a long talk about science (because of course Quirrell too has a fascination with space travel). This leads to some real Less Wrong stuff.

Quirrell tells us that of course muggle scientists are dangerous because

There are gates you do not open, there are seals you do not breach! The fools who can’t resist meddling are killed by the lesser perils early on, and the survivors all know that there are secrets you do not share with anyone who lacks the intelligence and the discipline to discover them for themselves!

And of course, Hariezer agrees

This was a rather different way of looking at things than Harry had grown up with. It had never occurred to him that nuclear physicists should have formed a conspiracy of silence to keep the secret of nuclear weapons from anyone not smart enough to be a nuclear physicist

Which is a sort of weirdly elitist position- after all lots of nuclear physicists are plenty dangerous. Its not intelligence that makes you less likely to drop a bomb. But this fits the general Yudkowsky/AI fear- an open research community is less important than hiding dangerous secrets. This isn’t necessarily the wrong position, but its a challenging one that merits actual discussion.

Anyone who has done research can tell you how important the open flow of ideas is for progress. I’m of the opinion that the increasing privatization of science is actually slowing us down in a lot of ways by building silos around information. How much do we retard progress in order to keep dangerous ideas out of people’s hands? Who gets to decide what is dangerous? Who decides who gets let into “the conspiracy?” Intelligence alone is no guarantee someone won’t drop a bomb, despite how obvious it seems to Quirrell and Yudotter.

After this digression about nuclear weapons, we learn from Quirrell that he snuck into NASA and enchanted the Pioneer gold plaque that will “make it last a lot longer than it otherwise would.” Its unclear to me what that wear and tear Quirrell is protecting the plaque from. Hariezer suggest that Quirrell might have snuck a magic portrait or a ghost into the plaque, because nothing makes more sense then dooming an (at least semi) sentient being to a near eternity of solitary confinement.

Anyway, partway through this chapter, Dumbledore bursts in angry that Quirrell had Hariezer beaten. Hariezer defends him, etc. The resolution is that its agreed Hariezer will start learning to protect himself from mind readers.

Chapter summary- long, mostly boring conversation, peppered with some existential risk/we need to escape the planet rhetoric. Its also called Bayes theorem despite that theorem making no appearance whatsoever.

And a note on the really weird pedagogy- we now have Quirrell who in the books is possessed by Voldemort acting as a mouthpiece for the author. This seems like a bad choice, because at some point I assume we’ll there will be a reveal, and it will turn out the reader should have trusted Quirrell.

HPMOR 21: secretive science

So this chapter begins quite strangely- Hermione is worried that she is “bad” because she is enjoying being smarter than Hariezer. She then decides that she isn’t “bad”, its a budding romance. Thats the logic she uses. But because she won the book-reading contest against Hariezer (he doesn’t flip out, it must be because he learned “how to lose”), she gets to go on a date with him. The date is skipped over.

Next we find Hariezer meeting Malfoy in a dark basement, discussing how they will go about doing science. Malfoy is written as uncharacteristically stupid, in order to be a foil once more for Hariezer, peppering the conversation with such gems as:

Then I’ll figure out how to make the experimental test say the right answer!

“You can always make the answer come out your way,” said Draco. That had been practically the first thing his tutors had taught him. “It’s just a matter of finding the right arguments.”

We get a lot of platitudes from Hariezer about how science humbles you before nature. But then we get the same ideas Quirrell suggested previously, because “science is dangerous”, they are going to run their research program as a conspiracy.

“As you say, we will establish our own Science, a magical Science, and that Science will have smarter traditions from the very start.” The voice grew hard. “The knowledge I share with you will be taught alongside the disciplines of accepting truth, the level of this knowledge will be keyed to your progress in those disciplines, and you will share that knowledge with no one else who has not learned those disciplines. Do you accept this?”

And the name of this secretive scienspiracy?

And standing amid the dusty desks in an unused classroom in the dungeons of Hogwarts, the green-lit silhouette of Harry Potter spread his arms dramatically and said, “This day shall mark the dawn of… the Bayesian Conspiracy.”

Of course. I mentioned in the previous chapter, anyone who has done science knows that its a collaborative process that requires an open exchange of ideas.

And see what I mean about the melding of ideas between Quirrell and Hariezer? Its weird to use them both as author mouthpieces. The Bayesian Conspiracy is obviously an idea Yudkowsky is fond of, and here Hariezer gets the idea largely from Quirrell just one chapter back.

HPMOR 22: science!

This chapter opens strongly enough. Hariezer decides that the entire wizarding world has probably been wrong about magic, and don’t know the first thing about it.

Hermione disagrees, and while she doesn’t outright say “maybe you should read a magical theory book about how spells are created” (such a thing must exist), she is at least somewhat down that path.

To test his ideas, Hariezer creates a single-blind test- he gets spells from a book, changes the words or the wrist motion or what not and gets Hermione to cast them. Surprisingly, Hariezer is proven wrong by this little test. For once, the world isn’t written as insane as a foil for our intrepid hero.

It seemed the universe actually did want you to say ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ and it wanted you to say it in a certain exact way and it didn’t care what you thought the pronunciation should be any more than it cared how you felt about gravity.

There are a few anti-academic snipes, because it wouldn’t be HPMOR without a little snide swipe at academia:

But if my books were worth a carp they would have given me the following important piece of advice…Don’t worry about designing an elaborate course of experiments that would make a grant proposal look impressive to a funding agency.

Weird little potshots about academia (comments like “so many bad teachers, its like 8% as bad as Oxford,” “Harry was doing better in classes now, at least the classes he considered interesting”) have been peppered throughout the chapters since Hariezer arrived at Hogwarts. Oh academia, always trying to make you learn things that might be useful, even if they are a trifle boring. So full of bad teachers, etc. Just constant little comments attacking school and academia.

Anyway, this chapter would be one of the strongest chapters, except there is a second half. In the second half, Hariezer partners with Draco to get to the bottom of wizarding blood purity.

Harry Potter had asked how Draco would go about disproving the blood purist hypothesis that wizards couldn’t do the neat stuff now that they’d done eight centuries ago because they had interbred with Muggleborns and Squibs.

Here is the thing about science, step 0 needs to be make sure you’re trying to explain a real phenomena. Hariezer knows this, he tells the story of N-rays earlier in the chapter, but completely fails to understand the point.

Hariezer and Draco have decided, based on one anecdote (the founders of Hogwarts were the best wizards ever, supposedly) that wizards are weaker today than in the past. The first thing they should do is find out if wizards are actually getting weaker. After all, the two most dangerous dark wizards ever were both recent, Grindelwald and Voldemort. Dumbledore is no slouch. Even four students were able to make the marauders map just one generation before Harry. (Incidentally, this is exactly where neoreactionaries often go wrong- they assume things are getting worse without actually checking, and then create elaborate explanations for non-existent facts).

Anyway, for the purposes of the story, I’m sure it’ll turn out that wizards are getting weaker, because Yudkoswky wrote it. But this would have been a great chance to teach an actually useful lesson, and it would make the N-ray story told earlier a useful example, and not a random factoid.

Anyway, to explain the effect they come up with a few obvious hypotheses:

  1. Magic itself is fading.
  2. Wizards are interbreeding with Muggles and Squibs.
  3. Knowledge to cast powerful spells is being lost.
  4. Wizards are eating the wrong foods as children, or something else besides blood is making them grow up weaker.
  5. Muggle technology is interfering with magic. (Since 800 years ago?)
  6. Stronger wizards are having fewer children. (Draco = only child? Check if 3 powerful wizards, Quirrell / Dumbledore / Dark Lord, had any children.)

They miss some other obvious ones (there is a finite amount of magic power, so increasing populations = more wizards = less power per wizard, for instance. Try to come up with your own, its easy and fun).

They come up with some ways to collect some evidence- find out what the first year curriculum was throughout Hogwarts history, and do some wizard genealogy by talking to portraits.

Still, finally some science, even if half of it was infuriating.

HPMOR 23: wizarding genetics made (way too) simple

Alright, I need to preface this: I have the average particle physicists knowledge of biology (a few college courses, long ago mostly forgotten). That said, the lagavulin is flowing, so I’m going to pontificate as if I’m obviously right, so please reblog me with corrections if I am wrong.

In this chapter, Hariezer and Draco are going to explore what I think of as the blood hypothesis- that wizardry is carried in the blood, and that intermarriage with non-magical types is diluting wizardry.

Hariezer gives Draco a brief, serviceable enough description of DNA (more like pebbles than water), He lays out two models- there are lots of wizarding genes, and the more wizard genes you have, the more powerful the wizard you are. In this case, Hariezer reasons, as powerful wizards marry less powerful wizards, or non-magical types, the frequency of the magical variant of wizard genes in the general population becomes diluted. In this model, two squibs might rarely manage to have a wizard child, but they are likely to be weaker than wizard-born wizards. Call this model 1.

The other model Hariezer lays out is that magic lies on a single recessive gene. He reasons squibs have one dominant, non-magical version, and one recessive magical version of the gene. So of kids born to squibs, 14 will be wizards. In this version, you either have magic or you don’t, so if wizards married the non-magical, wizards themselves could become more rare, but the power of wizards won’t be diluted. Call this model 2.

The proper test between model 1 and 2, suggests Hariezer, is to look at the children born to two squibs. If about one fourth of them are wizards, its evidence of model 2, otherwise, evidence of model 1.

There is a huge problem with this. Do you see it? Here is a hint, What other predictions does model 2 make? While you are thinking about it, read on.

Before I answer the question, I want to point out that Hariezer ignores tons of other plausible models. Here is one I just made up. Imagine, for instance, a single gene that switches magic on and off, and a whole series of other genes that make you a better wizard. Maybe some double-jointed-wrist gene allows you to move your wand in unusually deft ways. Maybe some mouth-shape gene allows you to pronounce magical sounds no one else can. In this case, magical talent can be watered down as in model 1, and wizard inheritance could still look like Mendel would suggest, as in model 2.

Alright, below I’m going to answer my query above. Soon there will be no time to figure it for yourself.

Squibs are, by definition, the non-wizard children of wizard parents. Hariezer’s model 2 predicts that squibs cannot exist. It is already empirically disproven.

Hariezer, of course, does not notice this massive problem with his favored model, and Draco’s collected genealogy suggests about 6 out of 28 squib born children were wizards, so he declares model 2 wins the test.

Draco flips out, because now that he “knows” that magic isn’t being watered down by breeding he can’t join the death eaters and his whole life is ruined,etc. Hariezer is happy that Draco has “awakened as a scientist.” (I hadn’t complained about the stilted language in awhile, just reminding you that its still there), but Draco lashes out and casts a torture spell and locks Hariezer in the dungeon. After some failed escape attempts, he once against resorts to the time turner, because even now that its locked down, its the solution to every problem.

One other thing of note- to investigate the hypothesis that really strong spells can’t be cast anymore, Hariezer tries to look up a strong spell and runs into “the interdict of Merlin” that strong spells can’t be written down, only passed from wizard to wizard.

Its looking marginally possible that it will turn out that this natural secrecy is exactly whats killing off powerful magic- its not open so ideas aren’t flourishing or being passed on. Hariezer will notice that and realize his “Bayesian Conspiracy” won’t be as effective as an open science culture, and I’ll have to take back all of my criticisms around secretive science (it will be a lesson Hariezer learns, and not an idea Hariezer endorses). It seems more likely given the author’s existential risk concerns, however, that this interdict of Merlin will be endorsed.

Some more notes regarding HPMOR

There is a line in the movie Clueless (if you aren’t familiar, Clueless was an older generation’s Mean Girls) where a woman is described as a “Monet”- in that like the painting, it looks good from afar but up close is a mess.

So I’m now nearly 25 chapters into this thing, and I’m starting to think that HPMOR is this sort of a monet- if you let yourself get carried along, it seems ok-enough. It references a lot of things that a niche group of people,myself included, like (physics! computational complexity! genetics! psychology!). But as you stare at it more, you start noticing that it doesn’t actually hang together, its a complete mess.

The hard science references are subtly wrong, and often aren’t actually explained in-story (just a jargon dump to say ‘look, here is a thing you like’).

The social science stuff fairs a bit better (its less wrong ::rimshot::), but even when its explanation is correct, its power is wildly exaggerated- conversations between Quirrell/Malfoy/Potter seem to follow scripts of the form

“Here is an awesome manipulation I’m using against you”

“My, that is an effective manipulation. You are a dangerous man”

“I know, but I also know that you are only flattering me as an attempt to manipulate me.” p “My, what an effective use of Bayesian evidence that is!”

Other characters get even worse treatment, either behaving nonsensically to prove how good Harry is at manipulation (as in the chapter where Harry tells off Snape and then tries to blackmail the school because Snape asked him questions he didn’t know), OR acting nonsensically so Harry can explain why its nonsensical (“Carry this rock around for no reason.” “Thats actually the fallacy of privileging the hypothesis.”) The social science/manipulation/marketing psychology stuff is just a flavoring for conversations.

No important event in the story has hinged on any of this rationality- instead basically every conflict thus far is resolved via the time turner.

And if you strip all this out, all the wrongish science-jargon and the conversations that serve no purpose but to prove Malfoy/Quirrell/Harry are “awesome” by having them repeatedly think/tell each other how awesome they are, the story has no real structure. Its just a series of poorly paced (if you strip out the “awesome” conversations, then there are many chapters where nothing happens), disconnected events. There is no there there.

HPMOR 24: evopsych Rorschach test

Evolutionary psychology is a field that famously has a pretty poor bullshit filter. Satoshi Kanazawa once published a series of articles that beautiful people will have more female children (because beauty is more important for girls) and engineers/mathematicians will have more male children (because only men need the logic-brains). The only thing his papers proved was that he is bad at statistics (in fact, Kanazawa made an entire career out of being bad at statistics, such is the state of evo-psych).

One of the core criticisms is that for any fact observed in the world, you can tell several different evolutionary stories, and there is no real way to tell which, if any is actually true. Because of this, when someone gives you an evopsych explanation for something, its often telling you more about what they believe then it is about science or the world (there are exceptions, but they are rare).

So this chapter is a long, pretty much useless conversation between Draco and Hariezer about how they are manipulating each other and Dumbledore or whatever, but smack in the middle we get this rumination:

In the beginning, before people had quite understood how evolution worked, they’d gone around thinking crazy ideas like human intelligence evolved so that we could invent better tools.

The reason why this was crazy was that only one person in the tribe had to invent a tool, and then everyone else would use it…the person who invented something didn’t have much of a fitness advantage, didn’t have all that many more children than everyone else. [SU comment- could the inventor of an invention perhaps get to occupy a position of power within a tribe? Could that lead to them having more wealth and children?]

It was a natural guess… A natural guess, but wrong.

Before people had quite understood how evolution worked, they’d gone around thinking crazy ideas like the climate changed, and tribes had to migrate, and people had to become smarter in order to solve all the novel problems.

But human beings had four times the brain size of a chimpanzee. 20% of a human’s metabolic energy went into feeding the brain. Humans were ridiculously smarter than any other species. That sort of thing didn’t happen because the environment stepped up the difficulty of its problems a little…. [SU challenge to the reader- save this climate change evolutionary argument with an ad-hoc justification]

Ending up with that gigantic outsized brain must have taken some sort of runawayevolutionary process…And today’s scientists had a pretty good guess at what that runaway evolutionary process had been….

[It was] Millions of years of hominids trying to outwit each other - an evolutionary arms race without limit - [that] had led to… increased mental capacity.

What does his preferred explanation for the origin of intelligence (people evolved to outwit each other) say about the author?

HPMOR 24/25/26: mangled narratives

This chapter is going to be entirely about the way the story is being told in this section of chapters. There is a big meatball of a terrible idea, but I’m getting sick of that low hanging fruit, so I’ll only mention it briefly in passing.

I’m a sucker for stories about con artists. In these stories, there is a tradition of breaking with the typical chronological order of story telling- instead they show the end result of the grand plan first, followed by all the planning that went into it (or some variant of that). In that way, the audience gets to experience the climax first from the perspective of the mark, and then from the perspective of the clever grifters. Yudkowsky himself successfully employs this pattern in the first chapter with the time turner.

In this chapter, however, this pattern is badly mangled. The chapter is setting up an elaborate prank on Rita Skeeter (Draco warned Hariezer that Rita was asking questions during one of many long conversations), but jumbling the narrative accomplishes literally nothing.

Here are the events, in the order laid out in the narrative

  1. Hariezer tells Draco he didn’t tell on him about the torture, and borrows some money from him

  2. (this is the terrible idea meatball) Using literally the exact same logic that Intelligent Design proponents use (and doing exactly 0 experiments), Hariezer decides while thinking over breakfast:

Some intelligent engineer, then, had created the Source of Magic, and told it to pay attention to a particular DNA marker.

The obvious next thought was that this had something to do with “Atlantis”.

  1. Hariezer meets with Dumbledore, and refuses to tell on Draco, says getting tortured is all part of his manipulation game.

  2. Fred and George Weasley meet with a mysterious man named Flume and tells him the-boy-who-lived needs the mysterious man’s help. There is a Rtia Skeeter story mentioned that says Quirrell is secretly a death eater and is training Hariezer to be the next dark lord, a story Flume says was planted by the elder Malfoy.

  3. Quirrell tells Rita Skeeter he has no dark mark, Rita ignores him.

  4. Hariezer hires Fred and George (presumably with Malfoy’s money) to perpetuate a prank on Rita Skeeter- to convince her of something totally false.

  5. Hariezer has lunch with Quirrell, reads a newspaper story with the headline

HARRY POTTER SECRETLY BETROTHED TO GINEVRA WEASLEY

This is the story the Weasley’s planted apparently (the prank), and apparently there was a lot of supporting evidence or something, because Quirrell is incredulous it could be done. And then Quirrell after speculating that Rita Skeeter could be capable of turning to a small animal, crushes a beetle.

So whats the problem with this narrative order? First, there is absoltuely no payoff to jumbling the chronology. The prank is left until the end, and its exactly what we expected- a false story was planted in the newspaper. It doesn’t even seem like that big a deal- just a standard gossip column story (of course, Harry and Quirrell react like its a huge, impossible-to-have-done prank, to be sure the reader knows its hard.)

Second, most of the scenes are redundant, they contain no new information whatsoever and they are therefore boring- the event covered in 3 (talking with Dumbledore) is covered in full in 1 (telling Malfoy he didn’t tell on him to Dumbledore). The events of 6 (Hariezer hiring the Weasley’s to prank for him) are completely covered in 4 (when the Weasley’s hire Flume, they tell him its for Hariezer). This chapter is twice as long as it should be, for no reason.

Third, the actual prank is never shown from either the marks or the grifter’s perspective. It happens entirely off-stage so to speak. We don’t see Rita Skeeter encountering all this amazing evidence about Hariezer’s betrothal and writing up her career making article. We don’t see Fred and George’s elaborate plan (although if I were a wizard and wanted to plant a false newspaper story, I’d just plant a false memory in a reporter).

What would have been more interesting, the actual con happening off-stage, or the long conversations about nothing that happen in these chapters? These chapters are just an utter failure. The narrative decisions are nonsensical, and everything continues to be tell, tell, tell, never show.

Also of note- Quirrell gives Hariezer Roger Bacon’s diary of magic, because of course thats a thing that exists.

HPMOR 27: answers from a psychologist

In order to answer last night’s science question, I spent today slaving on the streets, polling professionals for answers (i.e. I sent one email to an old college roommate who did a doctorate in experimental brain stuff). This will basically be a guest post.

Here is the response:

The first thing you need to know, this is called “the simulation theory of empathy.” Now that you have a magic google phrase, you can look up everything you’d want, or read on my (not so) young padawan.

You are correct that no one knows how empathy works, its too damn complicated, but what we can look at is motor control, and in motor control the smoking gun for simulation is mirror neurons. Rizzolatti and collaborators discovered the certain neurons in macaque monkey’s inferior frontal gyrus that related to the motor-vocabulary activate not only when they do a gesture, but also when they see someone else doing that same gesture. So maybe, says Rizzolatti, the same neurons responsible for action are also responsible for understanding action (action-understanding). This is not the only explanation, it could be a simple priming effect. This would be big support for simulation explanations of understanding others. Unfortunately, its not the only explanation for action-understanding. There are other areas of the macaque brain (in particular the superior temporal sulcus) that aren’t involved in action, but do appear to have some role in action[understanding.

It is not an understatement to say that this discoveryy of mirror neurons caused the entire field to lose their collective shit. For some reason, motor explanations for brain phenomena are incredibly appealing to large portions of the field, and always have been. James Woods (the old dead behaviorist, not the awesome actor) had a theory that thought itself was related to the motor-neurons that control speech. Its just something that the entire field is primed to lose their shit over. Some philosophers of the mind made all sorts of sweeping pronouncements (“mirror-neurons are responsible for the great leap forward in human evolution”, pretty sure thats a direct quote)

The problem is that the gold standard for monkey tests is to see what a lesion in that portion of the brain does. Near as anyone can tell, lesions in F5 (portion of the inferior frontal gyrus where the mirror neurons on) does not impair action-understanding.

The next, bigger problem for theories of human behavior is that there is no solid evidence of mirror neurons in humans. A bunch of fmri studies showed a bit of activity in one region, and then meta-studies suggested not that region, maybe some other region, etc. fmri studies are tricky Google dead salmon fmri.

But even if mirror neurons are involved in humans, there is really strong evidence they can’t be involved in action-understanding. The mirror proponents suggest speech is a strong trigger for suggested mirror neurons. For instance, in the speech system, we’ve known since Paul Broca (really old French guy) that lesions can destroy your ability to speak without understanding your ability to understand speech. This is a huge problem for models that link action-understanding to action, killing those neurons should destroy both.

Also,suggested human mirror neurons do not fire in regards to pantomime actions. Also in autism spectrum disorders, action-understanding is often impaired with no impairment to action.

So in summary, the simulation theory of empathy got a big resurgence after mirror neurons, but there is decently strong empirical evidence against a mirror-only theory of action-understanding in humans. That doesn’t mean mirror neurons have no role to play (though if they aren’t found in humans, it does mean they have no role to play), it just means that the brain is complicated. I think the statement you quoted to me would have been something you could read from a philosopher of mind in the late 80s or early 90s, but not something anyone involved in experiments would say. By the mid 2000s, a lot of that enthusiasm had pittered a bit. Then I left the field.

So on this particular bit of science, it looks like Yudkowsky isn’t wrong he is just presenting conjecture and hypothesis as settled science. Still I learned something here, I’d never encountered this idea before. I’ll have an actual post about chapter 27 tomorrow.

HPMOR 27: mostly retreads

This is another chapter where most of the action is stuff that has happened before, we are getting more and more retreads.

The new bit is that Hariezer is learning to defend himself from mental attacks. The goal, apparently, is to perfectly simulate someone other than yourself, in that way the mind reader learns the wrong things. This leads in to the full-throated endorsement of the simulation theory of empathy that was discussed by a professional in my earlier post. Credit where credit is due- this was an idea I’d never encountered before, and I do think HPMOR is good for some of that- if you don’t trust the presentation and google ideas as they come up, you could learn quite a bit.

We also find out Snape is a perfect mind-reader. This is an odd choice- in the original books Snape’s ability to block mind-reading was something of a metaphor for his character- you can’t know if you can trust him because he is so hard to read, his inscrutableness even fooled the greatest dark wizard ever, etc. It was, fundamentally, hid cryptic dodginess that helped the cause, but it also fermented the distrust that some of the characters in the story felt toward him.

Now for the retreads-

More pointless bitching about quidditch. Nothing was said here that wasn’t said in the earlier bitching about quidditch.

Snape enlists Hareizer’s help to fight anti-slytherin bullies (for no real reason, near as I can tell), the bullies are fought once more with con-artist style cleverness (much like in the earlier chapter with the time turner and invisitbility cloak. In this chapter, its just with an invisibility cloak).

Snape rewards Hariezer’s rescue with a conversation about Hariezer’s parents, during which Hariezer decides his mother was shallow, which upsets Snape. Its an odd moment, but the odd moments in HPMOR dialogue have piled up so high its almost not worth mentioning.

And the chapter culminates when the bullied slytherin tells Hariezer about Azkaban, pleading with Hariezer to save his parents. Of course, Hariezer can’t (something tells me he will in the near future), and we get this:

“Yeah,” said the Boy-Who-Lived, “that pretty much nails it. Every time someone cries out in prayer and I can’t answer, I feel guilty about not being God.”

The solution, obviously, was to hurry up and become God.

So another retread- Hariezer is once more making clear his motives aren’t curiosity, they are power. This was true after chapter 10, its still true now.

This is the only real action for several chapters now, unfortunately all the action feels like its already happened before in other chapters.

HPMOR 28: hacking science/map-territory

Finally we get back to some attempts to do magi-science, but its again deeply frustrating. Its more transfiguration- the only magic we have thus far explored, and it leads to a discussion of map vs. territory distinctions that is horribly mangled.

At the opening of hte chapter, instead of using science to explore magic, the new approach is to treat magic as a way to hack science itself. To that end, Hariezer tries (and fails) to transfigure something into “cure for Alzheimer’s,” and then tries (successfully) to transfigure a rope of carbon nanotubes. I guess the thought here is he can then give these things to scientists to study? Its unclear, really.

Frustrated with how useless this seems, Hermione make this odd complaint:

“Anyway,” Hermione said. Her voice shook. “I don’t want to keep doing this. I don’t believe children can do things that grownups can’t, that’s only in stories.”

Poor Hermione- thats the feeblest of objections, especially in a story where every character acts like they are in their late teens or twenties. Its almost as if the author was looking for some knee jerk complaint you could throw out that everyone would write-off as silly on its face.

So Hariezer decides he needs to do something adults can’t to appease Hermione. To do this, he decides to attack the constraints he knows about magic, starting with the idea that you can only transfigure a whole object, and not part of an object (a constraint I think was introduced just for this chapter?).

So Hariezer reasons: things are made out of atoms. There isn’t REALLY a whole object there,so why can’t I do part of an object? This prompted me to wonder- if you do transform part of an object, what happens at the interface? Does this whole-object constraint have something to do with the interface? I mentioned in the chapter 15 section that magicking in a lot large gold molecule into water could cause steric mismatches (just volume constraints really) with huge energy differences, hence explosions. What happens at the micro level when you take some uniform crystalline solid and try to patch on some organic material like rubber at some boundary? If you deform the (now rubbery) material, what happens when it changes back and the crystal spacing is now messed up? Could you partially transform something if you carefully worked out the interface?

It will not surprise someone who has read this far that none of these questions are asked or answered.

Instead, Hariezer thinks really hard about how atoms are real, in the process we get ruminations on the map and the territory:

But that was all in the map, the true territory wasn’t like that, reality itself had only a single level of organization, the quarks, it was a unified low-level process obeying mathematically simple rules.

This seems innocuous enough, but a fundamental mistake is being made here. For better or for worse, physics is limited in what it can tell you about the territory, it can just provide you with more accurate maps. Often it provides you with multiple, equivalent maps for the same situation with no way to choose between them.

For instance, quarks (and gluons) have this weird property- they are well defined excitations at very high energies, but not at all well-defined at low energies, where bound states become fundamental excitations. There is no such thing as a free-quark at low energy. For some problems, the quark map is useful, for many, many more problems the meson/hadron (proton,neutron,kaon,etc) map is much more useful. The same theory at a different energy scale provides a radically different map (renormalization is a bitch, and a weak coupling becomes strong).

Continuing in this vein, he keeps being unable to transform only part of an object, so he keeps trying different maps, and making the same map/territory confusion culminating in:

If he wanted power, he had to abandon his humanity, and force his thoughts to conform to the true math of quantum mechanics.

There were no particles, there were just clouds of amplitude in a multiparticle configuration space and what his brain fondly imagined to be an eraser was nothing except a gigantic factor in a wavefunction that happened to factorize,

(Side note: for Hariezer its all about power, not about curiosity, as I’ve said dozens of time now. Also, I know as much physics as anyone, and I don’t think I’ve abandoned my humanity.)

This is another example of the same problem I’m getting at above. There is no “true math of quantum mechanics.” In non-relativistic, textbook quantum mechanics, I can formulate one version of quantum mechanics on 3 space dimension 1 time dimension, and calculate things via path integrals. I can also build a large configuration space (Hilbert space) with 3 space dimensions, and 3 momentum dimensions per particle, (and one overall time dimension) and calculate things via operators on that space. These are different mathematical formulations, over different spaces, that are completely equivalent. Neither map is more appropriate than the other. Hariezer arbitrarily thinks of configuration space as the RIGHT one.

This isn’t unique to quantum mechanics, most theories have several radically different formulations. Good old newtonian mechanics has a formulation on the exact same configuration space Hariezer is thinking of.

The big point here is that the same theory has different mathematical formulations. We don’t know which is “the territory” we just have a bunch of different, but equivalent maps. Each map has its own strong suits, and its not clear that any one of them is the best way to think about all problems. Is quantum mechancis 3+1 dimensions (3 space, 1 time) or is it 6N+1 (3 space and 3 momentum + 1 time dimension)? Its both and neither (more appropriately, its just not a question that physics can answer for us).

What Hariezer is doing here isn’t separating the map and the territory, its reifying one particular map (configuration space)!

(Less important: I also find it amusing, in a physics elitist sort of way (sorry for the condescension) that Yudkowsky picks non-relativistic quantum mechanics as the final, ultimate reality. Instead of describing or even mentioning quantum field theory, which is the most low-level theory we (we being science) know of, Yudkowsky picks non-relativistic quantum mechanics, the most low-level theory HE knows.)

Anyway, despite obviously reifying a map, in-story it must be the “right” map, because suddenly he manages to transform part of an object, although he tells Hermione

Quantum mechanics wasn’t enough,” Harry said. “I had to go all the way down to timeless physics before it took.

So this is more bad pedagogy: timeless physics isn’t even a map, its the idea of a map. No one has made a decent formulation of quantum mechanics without a specified time direction (technical aside: its very hard to impose unitarity sensibly if you are trying to make time emerge from your theory, instead of being inbuilt). Its pretty far away from mainstream theory attempts, but here its presented as the ultimate idea in physics. It seems very odd to just toss in a somewhat obscure ideas as the pinnacle of physics.

Anyway, Hariezer shows Dumbledore and McGonagall his new found ability to transfigure part of an object, chapter ends.

HPMOR 29: not much here

Someone called Yudkowsky out on the questionable decision to include his pet theories as established science, so chapter 29 opens with this (why didn’t he stick this disclaimer on the chapters where the mistakes were made?):

Science disclaimers: Luosha points out that the theory of empathy in Ch. 27 (you use your own brain to simulate others) isn’t quite a known scientific fact. The evidence so far points in that direction, but we haven’t analyzed the brain circuitry and proven it. Similarly, timeless formulations of quantum mechanics (alluded to in Ch. 28) are so elegant that I’d be shocked to find the final theory had time in it, but they’re not established yet either.

He is still wrong about timeless formulations of quantum though, they aren’t more elegant, they don’t exist.

The rest of this chapter seems like its just introductory for something coming later- Hariezer, Draco and Hermione are all named as heads of Quirrell’s armies and are all trying to manipulate each other. Some complaints from Hermione that broomstick riding is jock-like and stupid, old hat by now.

There, is however, one exceptionally strange bit- apparently in this version of the world, the core plot of Prisoner of Azkaban (Scabbers the rat was really Peter Petigrew) was just a delusion that a schizophrenic Weasley brother had. Just a stupid swipe at the original book for no real reason.

HPMOR 30-31: credit where credit is due

So credit where credit is due – these two chapters are pretty decent. We finally get some action in a chapter, there is only one bit of wrongish science, and the overall moral of the episode is a good one.

In these chapters, three teams, “armies” lead by Draco, Hariezer and Hermione, compete in a mock-battle, Quirrell’s version of a team sport. The action is more less competently written (despite things like having Neville yell “special attack”), and its more-or-less fun and quick to read. It feels a bit like a lighter-hearted version of the beginning competitions of Ender’s game (which no doubt inspired these chapters.

The overall “point” of the chapters is even pretty valuable- Hermione, who is written off as an idiot by both Draco and Hariezer splits her army and has half attack Draco and half attack Hariezer. She is seemingly wiped out almost instantly. Draco and Hariezer then fight each other nearly to death, and out pops Hermione’s army- turns out they only faked defeat. Hermione wins, and we learn that unlike Draco and Hariezer, Hermione delegated and collaborated with the rest of her team to develop strategies to win the fight. There is a (very unexpected given the tone of everything thus far) lesson about teamwork and collaboration here.

That said – I still have nits to pick. Hariezer’s army is organized in quite possibly the dumbest possible way:

Harry had divided the army into 6 squads of 4 soldiers each, each squad commanded by a Squad Suggester. All troops were under strict orders to disobey any orders they were given if it seemed like a good idea at the time, including that one… unless Harry or the Squad Suggester prefixed the order with “Merlin says”, in which case you were supposed to actually obey.

This might seem like a good idea, but anyone who has played team sports can testify- there is a reason that you work out plays in advance, and generally have delineated roles. I assume the military has a chain of command for similar reasons, though I have never been a solider. I was hoping to see this idea for a creatively-disorganized army bite Hariezer, but it does not. There seems to be no confusion at all over orders, etc. Basically, none of what you’d expect would happen from telling an army “do what you want, disobey all orders” happens.

And it wouldn’t be HPMOR without potentially bad social science, here is today’s reference:

There was a legendary episode in social psychology called the Robbers Cave experiment. It had been set up in the bewildered aftermath of World War II, with the intent of investigating the causes and remedies of conflicts between groups. The scientists had set up a summer camp for 22 boys from 22 different schools, selecting them to all be from stable middle-class families. The first phase of the experiment had been intended to investigate what it took to start a conflict between groups. The 22 boys had been divided into two groups of 11 -

The hostility had started from the moment the two groups had become aware of each others’ existences in the state park, insults being hurled on the first meeting. They’d named themselves the Eagles and the Rattlers (they hadn’t needed names for themselves when they thought they were the only ones in the park) and had proceeded to develop contrasting group stereotypes, the Rattlers thinking of themselves as rough-and-tough and swearing heavily, the Eagles correspondingly deciding to think of themselves as upright-and-proper.

The other part of the experiment had been testing how to resolve group conflicts. Bringing the boys together to watch fireworks hadn’t worked at all. They’d just shouted at each other and stayed apart. What had worked was warning them that there might be vandals in the park, and the two groups needing to work together to solve a failure of the park’s water system. A common task, a common enemy.

Now, I readily admit to not having read the original Robber’s Cave book, but I do have two textbooks that reference it, and Yudkowsky gets the overall shape of the study right, but fails to mention some important details. (If my books are wrong, and Yudkowsky is right, which seems highly unlikely given his track record please let me know)

Both descriptions I have suggest the experiment had 3 stages, not two. The first stage was to build up the in-groups, then the second stage was to introduce them to each other and build conflict, and then the third stage was to try and resolve the conflict. In particular, this aside from Yudkowsky originally struck me as surprising insightful:

They’d named themselves the Eagles and the Rattlers (they hadn’t needed names for themselves when they thought they were the only ones in the park)

Unfortunately, its simply not true- during phase 1 the researchers asked the groups to come up with names for themselves, and let the social norms for the groups develop on their own. The “in-group” behavior developed before they met their rival groups.

While tensions existed from first meeting, real conflicts didn’t develop until the two groups competed in teams for valuable prizes.

This stuff matters- Yudkowsky paints a picture of humans diving so easily into tribes that simply setting two groups of boys loose in the same park will cause trouble. In reality, taking two groups of boys, encouraging them to develop group habits, group names, group customs, and then setting the groups to directly competing for scarce prizes (while researchers encourage the growth of conflicts) will cause conflicts. This isn’t just a subtlety.

HPMOR 32: interlude

Chapter 32 is just a brief interlude, nothing here really, just felt the need to put this in for completeness.

HPMOR 33: it worked so well the first time, might as well try it again

This chapter has left me incredibly frustrated. After a decent chapter, we get a terrible retread of the same thing. For me, this chapter failed so hard that I’m actually feeling sort of dejected, it undid any good will the previous battle chapter had built up.

This section of chapters is basically a retread of the dueling armies just a brief section back. Unfortunately, this second battle section flubs completely a lot of the things that worked pretty well in the first battle section. There is a lot to talk about here that I think failed, so this might be long.

There is an obvious huge pacing problem here. The first battle game happens just a brief interlude before the second battle game. Instead of spreading this game out over the course of the Hogwarts school year (or at least putting a few of the other classroom episodes in between) these just get slammed together. First battle, one interlude, last battle. That means that a lot of the evolution of the game over time, how people are reacting to it, etc. is left as a tell rather than a show. A lot of this chapter is spent dealing with big changes to Hogwarts that have been developing as student’s get super-involved in this battle game, but we never see any of that.

Imagine if Ender’s game (a book fresh on my mind because of the incredibly specific references in this chapter) were structured so that you get the first battle game, and then a flash-forward to his final battle against the aliens, with Ender explaining all the strategy he learned over the rest of that year. This chapter is about as effective as that last Ender’s game battle would be.

The chapter opens with Dumbledore and McGonagall worried about the school-

Students were wearing armbands with insignia of fire or smile or upraised hand, and hexing each other in the corridors.

Loyalty to armies over house or school is tearing the school apart!

But then we turn to the army generals- apparently the new rules of the game allowed soldiers in armies to turn traitor, and its caused the whole game to spiral out of control- Draco complains:

You can’t possibly do any real plots with all this stuff going on. Last battle, one of my soldiers faked his own suicide.

Hermione agrees, everyone is losing control of their armies because of all the traitors.

“But.. wait…” I can hear you asking, “how can that make sense? Loyalty to the armies is so absolute people are hexing each other in the corridors? But at the same time, almost all the students in the armies are turning traitor and plotting against their generals? Both of those can’t be true?” I agree, you smart reader you, both of these things don’t work together. NOT ONLY IS YUDKOWSKY TELLING INSTEAD OF SHOWING, WE ARE BEING TOLD CONTRADICTORY THINGS. Yudkowsky wanted to be able to follow through on the Robber’s Cave idea he developed earlier, but he also needed all these traitors for his plot, so he tried to run in both directions at once.

Thats not the only problem with this chapter (it wouldn’t be HPMOR without misapplied science/math concepts)- it turns out Hermione is winning, so the only way for Draco and Hariezer to try to catch up is to temporarily team up, which leads to a long explanation where Hariezer explains the prisoner’s dilemma and Yudkowsky’s pet decision theory.

Here is the big problem- In the classic prisoner’s dilemma:

If my partner cooperates, I can either:

-cooperate, in which case I spend a short time in jail, and my partner spends a short time in jail

-defect, in which case I spend no time in jail, and my partner serves a long time in jail

If my partner defects, I can either:

-cooperate, in which case I spend a long time in jail, and my partner goes free

-defect, in which case I spend a long time in jail, as does my partner.

The key insight of the prisoner’s dilemma is that no matter what my partner does, defecting improves my situation. This leads to a dominant strategy where everyone defects, even though the both-defect is worse than the both-cooperate.

In the situation between Draco and Hariezer:

If Draco cooperates, Hariezer can either:

-cooperate in which case both Hariezer and Draco both have a shot at getting first or second

-defect, in which case Hariezer is guaranteed second, Draco guaranteed 3rd place

If Draco defects, Hariezer can either

-cooperate, in which case Hariezer is guaranteed 3rd, and Draco gets 2nd.

-defect, in which case Hariezer and Draco are fighting it out for 2nd and third.

Can you see the difference here? If Draco is expected to cooperate, Hariezer has no incentive to defect- both cooperate is STRICTLY BETTER than the situation where Hariezer defects against Draco. This is not at all a prisoner’s dilemma, its just cooperating against a bigger threat. All the pontificating about decision theories that Hariezer does is just wasted breath, because no one is in a prisoner’s dilemma.

After the pointless digression about the non-prisoner’s dilemma (seriously, this is getting absurd, and frustrating- I’m hard pressed to find a single science reference in this whole thing that’s unambiguously applied correctly.).

After these preliminaries, the battle begins. Unlike the light hearted, winking reference to Ender’s game of the previous chapter, Yudkowsky feels the need to make it totally explicit- they fight in the lake, so that Hariezer can use exactly the stuff he learned from Ender’s game to give him an edge. It turns the light homage of the last battle into just the setup for the beat-you-over-the-head reference this time. There is a benefit to subtlety, and assuming your reader isn’t an idiot.

Anyway, during the battle, everyone betrays everyone and the overall competition ends in a tie.

HPMOR 34-35: aftermath of the war game

These chapters contain a lot of speechifying, but in this case it actually fits, as a resolution to the battle game. Its expected and isn’t overly long.

The language, as throughout, is still horribly stilted, but I think I’m getting used to it (when Hariezer referred to Hermione as “General of Sunshine” I almost went right past it without a mental complaint). Basically, I’m likely to stop complaining about the stilted language but its still there, its always there.

Angry at the ridiculousness of the traitors, Hemione and Draco insist that if Hariezer uses traitors in his army that they will team up and destroy him. He insists he will keep using them.

Next, Quirrell gives a long speech about how much chaos the traitors were able to create, and makes an analogy to the death eaters. He insists that the only way to guard against such is essentially fascism.

Hariezer than speaks up, and says that you can do just as much damage in the hunt for traitors as traitors can do themselves, and stands up for a more open society. The themes of these speeches can be found in probably hundreds of books, but they work well enough here.

Every army leader gets a wish, Draco and Hermione decide to wish for their houses to win the house cup. In an attempt to demonstrate his argument for truth, justice and the American way, Hariezer wishes for quidditch to no longer contain the snitch. I guess nothing will rally students around an open society like one person fucking with the sport they love.

We also find out that Dumbledore helped the tie happen by aiding in the plotting(the plot was “too complicated” for any student, according to Quirrell, so it must have been Dumbledore- apparently, ‘betray everyone to keep the score close’ is a genius master plan), but we are also introduced to a mysterious cloaked stranger who was also involved but wiped all memory of his passing.

These are ok chapters, as HPMOR chapters go.

Hariezer’s Arrogance

In response to some things that kai-skai has said, I started thinking about how should we view Hariezer’s arrogance. Should we view it as a character flaw? Something Hariezer will grow and overcome? I don’t think its being presented that way.

My problem with the arrogance are several:

-the author intends for Hariezer to be a teacher. He is supposed to be the master rationalist that the reader (and other characters) learn from. His arrogance makes that off-putting. If you aren’t familiar at all with the topics Hariezer happens to be discussing, you are being condescended to along with the characters in the story (although if you know the material you get to condescend to the simpletons along with Hariezer). Its just a bad pedagogical choice. You don’t teach people by putting them on the defensive.

-The arrogance is not presented by the author as a character flaw. In the story, its not a flaw to overcome, its part of what makes him “awesome.” His arrogance has not harmed him, he hasn’t felt the need to revisit it. When he thinks he knows better than everyone else, the story invariably proves him right. He hasn’t grown or been presented with a reason to grow. I would bet a great deal of money that Hariezer ends HPMOR exactly the same arrogant twerp he starts as.

-This last one is a bit of a personal reaction. Hariezer gets a lot of science wrong (I think all of it is wrong, actually, up to where I am now), and is incredibly arrogant while doing so. I’ve taught a number of classes at the college level, and I’ve had a lot of confidently, arrogantly wrong students. Hariezer’s attitude and lack of knowledge repeatedly remind me of the worst students I ever had- smart kids too arrogant to learn (and these were physics classes, where wrong or right is totally objective).

HPMOR 3637: Christmas break/not much happens

Like all the Harry Potter books, Yudkowsky includes a Christmas break. I note that a Christmas break would make a lot of sense toward the middle of the book, not less than <13 of the way through. Like the original books, this is just a light bit of relaxation

Not a lot happens over break. Hariezer is a twerp who think his parents don’t respect him enough, they go to Hermione’s house for Christmas, Hariezer yells at Hermione’s parents for not respecting her intelligence enough, the parents say Hermione and Hariezer are like an old married couple (it would have been nice to see the little bonding moments in the earlier chapters). Quirrell visits Hariezer on Christmas Eve.

HPMOR 38: a cryptic conversation, not much here

This whole chapter is just a conversation between Malfoy and Hariezer. It fits squarely into the “one party doesn’t really know what the conversation is about” mold, with Hariezer being the ignorant party. Malfoy is convinced Hariezer is working with someone other than Quirrell or Dumbledore.

HPMOR 39: your transhumanism is showing

This was a rough chapter, in which primarily Hariezer and Dumbledore have an argument about death. Hariezer takes up the transhumanist position. If you aren’t familiar with the transhumanist position on death, its basically that death is bad (duh!) and that the world is full of deathists who have convinced themselves that death is good. This usually leads into the idea that some technology will save us from death (nanotech, SENS,etc), and even if they don’t we can all just freeze our corpses to be reanimated when that whole death thing gets solved. I find this position somewhat childish, as I’ll try and get to.

So, as a word of advice to future transhumanist authors who want to write literary screeds arguing against the evil deathists, FANTASY LITERATURE IS A UNIQUELY BAD CHOICE FOR ARGUING YOUR POINT. To be fair, Yudkowsky noticed this, and lampshaded it, when Hariezer says there is no afterlife, Dumbledore argues back with:

“How can you not believe it? ” said the Headmaster, looking completely flabbergasted. “Harry, you’re a wizard! You’ve seen ghosts! ” …And if not ghosts, then what of the Veil? What of the Resurrection Stone?”

i.e. how can you not believe in an afterlife with there is a literal gateway to the fucking afterlife sitting in the ministry of magic basement. Hariezer attempts to argue his way out of this, we get this story for instance:

You know, when I got here, when I got off the train from King’s Cross…I wasn’t expecting ghosts. So when I saw them, Headmaster, I did something really dumb. I jumped to conclusions. I, I thought there wasan afterlife… I thought I could meet my parents who died for me, and tell them that I’d heard about their sacrifice and that I’d begun to call them my mother and father -

“And then… asked Hermione and she said that they were just afterimages… And I should have known! I should have known without even having to ask! I shouldn’t have believed it even for all of thirty seconds!… And that was when I knew that my parents were really dead and gone forever and ever, that there wasn’t anything left of them, that I’d never get a chance to meet them and, and, and the other children thought I was crying because I was scared of ghosts

So, first point- this could have been a pretty powerful moment if Yudkowsky had actually structured the story to relate this WHEN HARIEZER FIRST MET A GHOST. Instead, the first we hear of it is this speech. Again, tell, tell, tell, never show

Second point- what exactly does Hariezer assume is being “afterimaged?” Clearly some sort of personality, something not physical is surviving in the wizarding world after death. If fighting death is this important to Hariezer, why hasn’t he even attempted to study ghosts yet? (full disclosure, I am an atheist personally. However, if I lived in a world WITH ACTUAL MAGIC, LITERAL GHOSTS, a stone that resurrects the dead, and a FUCKING GATEWAY TO THE AFTERLIFE I might revisit that position).

Here is Hariezer’s response to the gateway to the afterlife:

That doesn’t even sound like an interesting fraud,” Harry said, his voice calmer now that there was nothing there to make him hope, or make him angry for having hopes dashed. “Someone built a stone archway, made a little black rippling surface between it that Vanished anything it touched, and enchanted it to whisper to people and hypnotize them.”

Do you see how incurious Hariezer is? If someone told me there was a LITERAL GATEWAY TO THE AFTERLIFE I’d want to see it. I’d want to test it, see it. Can we try to record and amplify the whispers? Are things being said?

Why do they think its a gateway to the afterlife? Who built it? Minimally, this could have lead to a chapter where Hariezer debunks wizarding spiritualists like a wizard-world Houdini. (Houdini spent a great deal of his time exposing mediums and psychics who ‘contacted the dead’ as frauds.) I’m pretty sure I would have even enjoyed a chapter like that.

In the context of the wizarding world, there is all sorts of non-trivial evidence for an afterlife that simply doesn’t exist in the real world. Its just a bad choice to present these ideas in the context of this story.

Anyway, ignoring what a bad choice it is to argue against an afterlife in the context of fantasy fiction, lets move on:

Dumbledore presents some dumb arguments so that Hariezer can seem wise. Hariezer tells us death is the most frightening thing imaginable, its not good,etc. Basically, death is scary, no one should have to die. If we had all the time imaginable we would actually use it. Pretty standard stuff, Dumbledore drops the ball presenting any real arguments.

So I’ll take up Dumbledore’s side of the argument. I have some bad news for Hariezer’s philosophy. You are going to die. I’m going to die. Everyone is going to die. It sucks, and its unfortunate, sure, but there is no way around it. Its not a choice! We aren’t CHOOSING death. Even if medicine can replace your body (which doesn’t seem likely in my lifetime), the sun will explode some day. Even if we get away from the solar system, eventually we’ll run out of free energy in the universe.

But you do have one choice regarding death- you can accept that you’ll die someday, or you can convince yourself there is some way out. Convince yourself that if you say the right prayers, or in the Less Wrong case, work on the right decision theory to power an AI you’ll get to live forever. Convince yourself that if you give a life insurance policy to the amateur biologists that run croynics organizations you’ll be reanimated.

The problem with the second choice is that there is an opportunity cost- time spent praying or working on silly decision theories is time that you aren’t doing things that might matter to other humans. We accept death to be more productive in life. Stories about accepting death aren’t saying death is good they are saying death is inevitable.

Edit: I take back a bit about cognitive dissonance that was here.

HPMOR 40: short follow up to 39

Instead of Dumbledore’s views, in this chapter we get Quirrell’s view of death. He agrees with Hariezer, unsurprisingly.

HPMOR 41: another round of Quirrell’s battle game

It seems odd that AFTER the culminating scene, the award being handed out, and the big fascist vs. freedom speechifying that we have yet another round of Quirrell’s battle game.

Draco and Hermione are now working together against Hariezer. Through a series of circumstances, Draco has to drop Hermione off a roof to win.

Edit: I also point out that we don’t actually get details of the battle in this time, it opens with

Only a single soldier now stood between them and Harry, a Slytherin boy named Samuel Clamons, whose hand was clenched white around his wand, held upward to sustain his Prismatic Wall.

We then get a narrator summary of the battle that had lead up that moment. Again, tell, tell, tell never show.

HPMOR 42: is there a point to this?

Basically an extraneous chapter, but one strange detail at the end.

So in this chapter, Hariezer is worried that its his fault that in the battle last chapter. Hermione got dropped off a roof. Hermione agrees to forgive him as long as he lets Draco drop him off the same roof.

He takes a potion to help him fall slowly and is dropped, but so many young girls try to summon him to their arms (yes, this IS what happens) that he ends up falling, luckily Remus Lupin is there to catch him.

Afterwards, Remus and Hariezer talk. Hariezer learns that his father was something of a bully. And, for some reason, that Peter Petigrew and Sirius Black were lovers. Does anyone know what the point of making Petigrew and Black lovers would be?

Conversations

My girlfriend: “What have you been working on over there?”

Me: “Uhhhh… so…. there is this horrible Harry Potter fan fiction… you know, when people on the internet write more stories about Harry Potter? Yea, that. Anyway, this one is pretty terrible so I thought I’d read it and complain about it on the internet…. So I’m listening to me say this out loud and it sounds ridiculous, but.. well, it IS ridiculous… but…”

HPMOR 43-46: Subtle Metaphors

These chapters actually moved pretty decently. When Yudkowsky isn’t writing dialogue, his prose style can actually be pretty workman-like. Nothing that would get you to stop and marvel at the word play, but it keeps the pace brisk and moving.

Now, in JK Rowling’s original books, it always seemed to me that the dementors were a (not-so-subtle) nod to depression. They leave people wallowing in their worst memories, low energy, unable to remember the happy thoughts,etc.

In HPMOR, however, Hariezer (after initially failing to summon a patronus) decides that the dementors really represent death. You see in HPMOR, instead of relieving their saddest, most depressing memories the characters just see a bunch of rotting corpses when the dementors get near.

This does, of course, introduce new questions? What does it mean that the dementors guard Azkaban? Why don’t the prisoner’s instantly die? Why doesn’t a dementor attack just flat-out kill you?

Anyway, apparently the way to kill death is to just imagine that someday humans will defeat death, in appropriately Carl Sagan-esque language:

The Earth, blazing blue and white with reflected sunlight as it hung in space, amid the black void and the brilliant points of light. It belonged there, within that image, because it was what gave everything else its meaning. The Earth was what made the stars significant, made them more than uncontrolled fusion reactions, because it was Earth that would someday colonize the galaxy, and fulfill the promise of the night sky.

Would they still be plagued by Dementors, the children’s children’s children, the distant descendants of humankind as they strode from star to star? No. Of course not. The Dementors were only little nuisances, paling into nothingness in the light of that promise; not unkillable, not invincible, not even close.

Once you know this, your patronus becomes a human, and kills the dementor. Get it THE PATRONUS IS HUMANS (represented in this case by a human) and THE DEMENTOR IS DEATH. Humans defeat death. Very subtle.

Another large block of chapters with no science.

HPMOR 47: Racism is Bad

Nothing really objectionable here, just more conversations and plotting.

Hariezer spends much of this chapter explaining to Draco that racism is bad, and that a lot of pure bloods probably hate mudbloods because it gives them a chance to feel superior. Hariezer suggests these racist ideas are poisoning slytherin.

We also find out that Draco and his father seem to believe that Dumbledore burned Draco’s mother alive. This is clearly a departure from the original books. Hariezer agrees to take as an enemy whoever killed Draco’s mother. Feels like it’ll end up being more plots-within-plots stuff.

Another chapter with no science explored. We do find out Hariezer speaks snake language.

HPMOR 48: Utilitarianism

This chapter is actually solid as far as these things go. After learning he can talk to snakes Hariezer begins to wonder if all animals are sentient, after all snakes can talk. This has obvious implications for meat eating.

From there, he begins to wonder if plants might be sentient, in which case he wouldn’t be able to eat anything at all. This leads him to the library for research.

He also introduces scope insensitivity and utilitarianism, even though it isn’t really required at all to explain his point to Hermione. Hermione asks why he is freaking out, and instead of answering “I don’t want to eat anything that thinks and talks,” he says stuff like

“Look, it’s a question of multiplication, okay? There’s a lot of plants in the world, if they’renot sentient then they’re not important, but if plants are people then they’ve got more moral weight than all the human beings in the world put together. Now, of course your brain doesn’t realize that on an intuitive level, but that’s because the brain can’t multiply. Like if you ask three separate groups of Canadian households how much they’ll pay to save two thousand, twenty thousand, or two hundred thousand birds from dying in oil ponds, the three groups will respectively state that they’re willing to pay seventy-eight, eighty-eight, and eighty dollars. No difference, in other words. It’s called scope insensitivity.

Is that really the best way to describe his thinking? Why say something with 10 words while several hundred will do. What does scope insensitivity have to do with the idea “I don’t want to eat things that talk and think?”

Everything below here is unrelated to HPMOR and has more to do with scope insensitivity as a concept:

Now, because I have taught undergraduates intro physics, I do wonder (and have in the past)- is Kahneman’s scope insensitivity related to the general innumeracy of most people? i.e. how many people who hear that question just mentally replace literally any number with “a big number”?

The first time I taught undergraduates I was surprised to learn that most of the students had no ability to judge if their answers seemed plausible. I began adding a question “does this answer seem order of magnitude correct?” I’d also take off more points for answers that were the wrong order of magnitude, unless the student put a note saying something like “I know this is way too big, but I can’t find my mistake.”

You could ask a question about a guy throwing a football, and answers would range from 1 meter/second all the way to 5000 meters/second. You could ask a question about how far someone can hit a baseball and answers would similarly range from a few meters to a few kilometers. No one would notice when answers were wildly wrong. Lest someone think this is a units problem (Americans aren’t used to metric units), even if I forced them to convert to miles per hour, miles, or feet students couldn’t figure out if the numbers were the right order of magnitude.

So I began to give a few short talks on what I thought as basic numeracy. Create mental yardsticks (the distance from your apartment to campus might be around a few miles, the distance between this shitty college town and the nearest actual city might be around a few hundred miles,etc). When you encounter unfamiliar problems, try to relate it back to familiar ones. Scale the parameters in equations so you have dimensionless quantities * yardsticks you understand. And after being explicitly taught most of the students got better at understanding the size of numbers.

Since I began working in the business world I’ve noticed that most people never develop that skill. Stick a number in a sentence and people just mentally run right over it, you might as well have inserted some klingon phrases. Some of the better actuaries do have some nice numerical intuition, but a surprising number don’t. They can calculate, but they don’t understand what the calculations are really telling them, like Searle’s chinese room but with numbers.

In Kahneman’s scope neglect questions, there are big problems with innumeracy- if you ask people how much they’d spend on X where X is any charity that seems importantish, you are likely to get an answer of around $100. In some sense, it is scope neglect, in another sense you just max out people’s generosity/spending cash really quickly.

If your rephrase it to “how much should the government spend” you hit general innumeracy problems, and you also hit general innumeracy problems when you specify large, specific numbers of birds.

I suspect Kahneman would have gotten different results had he asked his questions varying questions as: “what percentage of the federal government’s wildlife budget should be spent preventing disease for birds in your city?” vs. “what percentage of the federal government’s wildlife budget should be spent preventing disease for birds in your state?” vs. “what percentage of the federal government’s wildlife budget should be spent preventing disease for birds in the whole country?” (I actually ran this experiment on a convenience sample of students in a 300 level physics class several years ago and got 5%,8% and 10% respectively, but the differences weren’t significant, though the trend was suggestive.)

I suspect the problem isn’t that “brains can’t multiply” so much as “most people are never taught how to think about numbers.”

If anyone knows of further literature on this, feel free to pass it my way.

HPMOR 49: not much here

I thought I posted something about this last weekend, I think tumblr are it. So this will be particularly light. Hariezer notices that Quirrell knows too much (phrased as “his priors are too good”) but hasn’t yet put it together that Quirrell.

There is also (credit where credit is due) a clever working in of the second book into Yudkowsky’s world. The “interdict of Merlin” Yudkowsky invented prevents wizards from writing spells down, so Slytherin’s basilisk was placed in Hogwarts to pass spells on to “the heir of Slytherin.” Voldemort learned those secets and then killed the basilisk, so Hariezer has no shortcut to powerful spells.

HPMOR 50: In Need of an Editor

So this is basically a complete rehash again- it fits into the “Hariezer uses the time turner and the invisibility cloak to solve bullying” mold we’ve already seen a few times. The time turner + invisibility cloak is the solution to all problems, and when Yudkowsky needs a conflict, he throws in bullying. I think we’ve seen this exact conflict with this exact solution at least three other times.

In this chapter, its Hermione being bullied, he protects her by creating an alibi with his timer turner, dressing in an invisibility cloak, and whispering some wisdom in the bullies ear. Because most bullies just need the wisdom of an eleven year old whispered into their ear.

HPMOR 51-63: Economy of Language

So this block of chapters is roughly the length of the Maltese Falcon or the first Harry Potter book, probably 23 the length of the Hobbit. This one relatively straight-forward episode of this story is the length of The Maltese Falcon. Basically, the ratio of things-happening/words-written is terrible.

This chapter amounts to a prison break- Quirrell tells Hariezer that Bellatrix Black was innocent, so they are going to break her out. Its a weird section, given how Black escaped in the original novels (i.e. the dementors sided with the dark lord, so all he had to do was go to the dementors say “you are on my side, please let out bellatrix black, and everyone else while you are at it.”)

The plan is to have Hariezer use his patronus while Quirrell travels in snake form in his pouch. They’ll replace Bellatrix with a corpse, so everyone will just think she is dead. It becomes incredibly clear upon meeting Bellatrix that she wasn’t “innocent” at all, though she might be not guilt in the by-reason-of-insanity sense.

This doesn’t phase Hariezer, they just keep moving forward with the plan, which goes awry pretty quickly when an auror stumbles on them. Quirrell ties to kill the auror. Hariezer tries to block the killing spell and ends up knocking out Quirrell and turning his patronus off, and the plan goes to hell.

To escape, Hariezer first scares the dementors off by threatening to blast them with his uber-patronus (even death is apparently scared of death in this story). Then Quirrell wakes up, and with Quirrell’s help he transfigures a hole in the wall, and transfigures a rocket which he straps to his broomstick, and out they fly. The rocket goes so fast the aurors can’t keep up.

Its a decent bit of action in a story desperately needing a bit of action, but its marred by excessive verbosity. We have huge expanses of Hariezer talking with Quirrell, Hariezer talking to himself, Hariezer thinking about dementors, etc. Instead of a tense, taught 50 pages we get a turgid 300.

After they get to safety, Quirrell and Hariezer discuss the horror that is Azkaban. Quirrell tells Hariezer that only a democracy could produce such a torturous prison. A dark lord like Voldemort would have no use for it once got bored:

You know, Mr. Potter, if He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had come to rule over magical Britain, and built such a place as Azkaban, he would have built it because he enjoyed seeing his enemies suffer. And if instead he began to find their suffering distasteful, why, he would order Azkaban torn down the next day.

Hariezer doesn’t take up the pro-democracy side, and only time will tell if he goes full-on reactionary like Quirrell by the end of our story. By the end, Hariezer is ruminating on the Milgram experiment, although I don’t think its really applicable to the horror of Azkaban (its not like the dementors are “just following orders”- they live to kill).

Hariezer then uses his time turner to go back to right before the prison breakout, the perfect alibi to the perfect crime.

Dumbledore and Mcgonagall suspect Hariezer played a part in the escape, because of the use of the rocket. They ask Hariezer to use his time turner to send a message back in time (which he wouldn’t be able to do it if he had already used his turner to hide his crime).

Hariezer solves this through the time-turner-ex-machina of Quirrell knowing someone else with a time turner, because when Yudkowsky can’t solve a problem with a time turner, he solves it with two time turners.

HPMOR 6465: respite

Chapter 64 is again “omake” so I didn’t read it.

Chapter 65 appears to be a pit-stop before another long block of chapters. Hariezer is chaffing that he has been confined to Hogwarts in order to protect him from the dark lord, so he and Quirrell are thinking of hiring a play-actor to pretend to be Voldemort, so that Quirrell can vanquish him.

These were a brief respite between the huge 12- chapter block I just got through and another giant 12 chapter block. Its looking like the science ideas are slowing down in these long chapter blocks, as the focus shifts to action. youzicha has suggested a lot of the rest will be Hariezer cleverly “hacking” his way out of situations, like the rocket in the previous 12 chapter block. The sweet spot for me has been discussing the science presented in these chapters, so between the expected lack of science and the increasing length of chapter blocks, expect slower updates.

HPMOR 66-77: absolutely, appallingly awful

There is a general problem with fanfiction (although usually not in serial fiction where things tend to stay a bit more focused for whatever reason), where the side/B-plots are written entirely in one pass instead of intertwined along side the main plot. Instead of being a pleasant diversion, the side-plot piles up in one big chunk. This is one such side-plot.

Also worth noting these chapters combine basically everything I dislike about HPMOR into one book-length bundle of horror. It was honest-to-god work to continue to power through this section. So this will be just a sketch of this awful block of chapters.

We opened with another superfluous round of the army game, in which nothing notable really happens other than some character named Daphne challenges Neville to “a most ancient duel” WHICH IS APPARENTLY A BATTLE WITH LIGHTSABERS. My eyes rolled so hard I almost had a migraine, and this was the first chapter of the block.

After the battle, Hermoine becomes concerned that women are underrepresented among heros of the wizarding world, and starts a “Society for the Promotion of Heroic Equality for Witches” or SPHEW. They star with a protest in front of Dumbledore’s office and then decide to heroine it up and put an end to bullying. You see, in the HPMOR world, bullying isn’t a question of social dynamics, or ostracizing kids. Bullying is coordinated ambushes of kids in hallways by groups of older kids, and an opportunity for “leveling-up.” The way to fight bullies in this strange world is to engage in pitched wizard-battles in the hallways (having fought an actual bully in reality as a middle schooler I can tell you that at least for me “fight back” doesn’t really solve the problem in any way). In this world, the victims of the bullying are barely mentioned and don’t have names.

And of course, the authority figures like McGonagall don’t even really show up during all of this. Students are constantly attacking each other in the hallways and no one is doing anything about it. Because the way to make your characters seem “rational” is to make sure the entire world is insane.

Things quickly escalate until 44 bullies get together to ambush the eight girls in SPHEW. A back of the envelope calculation suggests Hogwarts has maybe 300 students. So we are to expect slightly more than 10% of the population of students are the sort of “get together and plot an ambush” bullies that maybe you find in 90s highschool TV shows. Luckily, Hariezer had asked Quirrell to protect the girls, so disguised Quirrell takes down the 44 bullies.

We get a “lesson” (lesson in this context means ‘series of insanely terrible ideas’) on “heroic responsibility” in the form of Hariezer lecturing to Harmoine .

The boy didn’t blink. “You could call it heroic responsibility, maybe,” Harry Potter said. “Not like the usual sort. It means that whatever happens, no matter what, it’s always your fault… Following the school rules isn’t an excuse, someone else being in charge isn’t an excuse, even trying your best isn’t an excuse. There just aren’t any excuses, you’ve got toget the job done no matter what.”… Being a heroine means your job isn’t finished until you’ve done whatever it takes to protect the other girls, permanently.”

You know a good way to solve bullying? Expel the bullies. You know who has the power to do that? McGonagall and Dumbledore. A school is a system and has procedures in place to deal with problems. The proper response is almost always “tell an authroity figure you trust.” Being “rational” is knowing when to trust the system to do its job.

In this case, Yudkowsky hasn’t even pulled his usual trick of writing the system as failing- no one even attempts to tell an authority figure about the bullying and no authority figure engages with it, besides Quirrell who engages by disguising himself and attacking students, and Snape who secretly (unknown even to SPHEW) directs SPHEW to where the bullies will be. The system of school discipline stops existing for this entire series of chapters.

We get a final denouement between Hariezer and Dumbledore where the bullying situation is discussed by referencce to Ghandi’s passive resistance in India, WW2 and Churchill, and the larger wizarding war that feel largely overwrought because it was bullying. Big speeches about how Hermoine has been put in danger, etc ring empty because it was bullying. Yes, being bullied is traumatic (sometimes life-long traumatic), but its not WORLD WAR traumatic.

I also can’t help but note the irony that the block’s action largely started on Hermoine’s attempt to “self-actualize” by behaving more heroically, and ends with Dumbledore and Hariezer discussing whether it was the doing the right thing to let Hermoine play her silly little game.

Terrible things in HPMOR

Munchkinism

I’ve been meaning make a post like this for several weeks, since yxoque reminded me of the idea of the munchkin. jadagul mentioned me in a post today that reminded me I had never made it. Anyway:

I grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons, which was always an extremely fun way to waste a middle school afternoon. The beauty of Dungeons and Dragons is that it provides structure for a group of kids to sit around and tell a shared story as a group. The rules of the game are flexible, and one of the players acts as a living rule-interpreter to guide the action and keep the story flowing.

Somehow, every Dungeons and Dragons community I’ve ever been part of (middle school, highschool and college) had the same word for a particularly common failure mode of the game, and that word was munchkin, or munchkining (does anyone know if there was a gaming magazine that used this phrase?). The failure is simple - people get wrapped up in the letter of the rules, instead of the spirit, and start building the most powerful character possible instead of a character that makes sense as a role. Instead of story flow, the game gets bogged down in dice rolls and checks so that the munchkins can demonstrate how powerful they are. Particularly egregious munchkins have been known to cheat on their character creation rolls to boost all their abilities. With one particular group in highschool, I witnessed one particularly hot-headed munchkin yell at everyone else playing the game when the dungeon master (the human rule interpreter) slightly modified a rule and ended up weakening the muchkin’s character.

The frustrating thing about HPMOR is that Hariezer is designed, as yxoque pointed out, to be a munchkin- using science to exploit the rules of the magical world (which could be an interesting question), but because Yudkowsky is writing the rules of magic as he goes, Hariezer is essentially cheating at a game he is making up on the fly.

All of the cleverness isn’t really cleverness- its easy to find loopholes in the rules you yourself create as you go especially if you created them to have giant loopholes.

In Azkaban, Hariezer uses science to escape by transfiguring himself a rocket. This only makes sense because for some unknown reason magic brooms aren’t as fast as rockets.

In one of his army games, Hariezer uses gloves with gecko setae to climb down a wall, because for some reason broomsticks aren’t allowed. For some reason, there is no ‘grip a wall’ spell.

Yudkowsky isn’t bound by the handful of constraints in Rowling’s world (where Dementors represent depression, not death), hell he doesn’t even stick to his own constraints. In Hariezer’s escape from Azkaban he violates literally the only constraint he had laid down (don’t transfigure objects into something you plan to burn).

Every other problem in the story is solved by using the time turner as a deus ex machina. Even when plot constraints mean Hariezer’s time turner can’t be used, Yudkowsky just introduces another time turner rather than come up with a novel and clever solution for his characters.

Hariezer’s plans in HPMOR work only because the other characters become temporarily dumb to accommodate his “rationality” and because the magic is written around the idea of him succeeding.

“Genre savvy”

So a lot of people have asked me to take a look at the Yudkowsky writing guide, and I will eventually (first I have to finish HPMOR ,which is taking forever because I’m incredibly bored with it, but I HAVE MADE A COMMITMENT- hopefully more HPMOR live blogging after Thanksgiving).

But I did hit something that also applies to HPMOR, and a lot of other stories. Yudkowsky advocated that characters “have read the books you’ve read” so they can solve those problems. One of my anonymous asked used the phrase “genre savvy” for this- and google lead me to TV tropes page. The problem with this idea is that as soon as you insert a genre savvy character, your themes shift, much like having a character break the fourth wall. Suddenly your story is about stories. Your story is now a commentary on the genre/genre conventions.

Now, there are places where this can work fairly well- those Scream movies, for instance, were supposed to (at least in part) ABOUT horror movies as much as they WERE horror movies. Similarly, every fan-fiction is (on some level) a commentary on the original works, so “genre savvy” fan fiction self-inserts aren’t nearly as bad an idea as they could be.

HOWEVER (and this is really important)- MOST STORIES SHOULD NOT BE ABOUT STORIES IN THE ABSTRACT/GENRE/GENRE CONVENTIONS, and this means it is a terrible idea having characters that constantly approach things on a meta level “this is like in this fiction book I read” . If you don’t have anything interesting to say about the actual genre conventions, then adding a genre savvy character is almost certainly going to do you more harm then good. If you are bored with a genre convention, you’ll almost certainly get more leverage out of subverting it (if you lead both the character AND the reader to expect a zig, and instead they get a zag it can liven things up a bit) then by sticking in a genre-savvy character.

Sticking in a genre-savvy character just says “look at this silly convention!” and then when that convention is used anyway, it just feels like the writer being a lazy hipster. Sure your reader might get a brief burst of smugness “he/she’s right, all those genre books ARE stupid! Look how smart I am!” but you aren’t really moving your story forward. You are critiquing lazy conventions while also trying to use them.

If you don’t like the conventions of a genre, don’t write in that genre, or subvert them to make things more interesting. Or simply refuse to use those conventions all together, go your own way.

HPMOR 78: action without consequences

A change of tactics- this is chapter is part of another block of chapters, but I’m having trouble getting through it, so I’m going to write in installments chapter by chapter, instead of a dump on a 12 chapter block again.

This chapter is another installment of Quirrell’s battle game. This time, the parents are in the stands, which becomes important when Hermione out-magics Draco.

Afterwards, Draco is upset because his father saw him getting out magiced by a mud blood. This causes Draco, in an effort to save face or get revenge or something, to send a note to lure Hermione to meet him alone. Then, cut to the next morning- Hermione is arrested for the attempted murder of Draco. So thats it for the chapter summary.

But I want to use this chapter to touch on something that has bothered me about this story- most of the action is totally without stakes or consequences for the characters. As readers we don’t care what happens. In the case for the Quirrell battle game, the prize for victory was already handed out at the Christmas break, none of the characters have anything on the line, and the story doesn’t really act like winning or losing has real consequences for anyone involved. A lot is happening, but its ultimately boring.

The same thing happened in the anti-bullying chapters. Most of the characters being victimized lack names or personalities. Hermione and team aren’t defending characters we care about and like, they are fighting the abstract concept of bullying (and the same is largely true of Hariezer’s forays into fighting bullies.)

Part of this is because of the obvious homage to Ender’s game, without understanding Ender’s game was doing something very different- the whole point of Ender’s Game is that the series of games absolutely do feel low stakes. Even when Ender kills another kid, its largely shrugged off as Ender continuing to win (which is the first sign something a bit deeper is happening). It supposed to feel game-y so the reader rides along with Ender and doesn’t viscerally notice the genocide happening. The contrast between the real world stakes and the games being played is the point of the story. Where Ender’s game failed for me is after the battles- we don’t feel Ender’s horror at learning what happened. Sure Ender becomes speaker for the dead, but the book doesn’t make us feel Ender’s horror the same way we ride along with the game stuff. I think this is why so many people I know largely missed the point of the book and walked away with “War games are awesome!” (SCROLL DOWN FOR Fight Club FOOTNOTE THAT WAS MAKING THIS PARAGRAPH TOO LONG) But I digress- if your theme isn’t something to do with the the connection between war and games and the way people perceive violence vs games, etc, turning down the emotional stakes and the consequences for the characters make your story feel like reading a video game play-by-play, which is horribly boring.

If you cut out all the Quirell game chapters after chapter 35, no one would notice- there is nothing at stake.

ALSO- this chapter has an example of what I’ll call “DM munchkining” i.e. its easy to Munchkin when you write the rules. Hariezer is looking for powerful magic to aid him in battle, and starts reading up on potion making. He needs a way to make potions in the woods without magical ingredients, so he deduces by reading books that you don’t really need a magical ingredient, you get out from a potion ingredient what went in to making it. So Hariezer makes a potion with acorns that gets back all the light that went in to creating the acorn via photosynthesis. My point here is that this rule was created in this chapter entirely to be exploited by Hariezer in this battle. In a previous battle chapter, Hariezer exploits the fact that metal armor can block spells, a rule created specifically for that chapter to be exploited. Its not munchkining, its calvinball.

FOOTNOTE: This same problem happens with Fight Club. The tone of the movie builds up Tyler Durden as this awesome dude and the tone doesn’t shift when Ed Norton’s narrator character starts to realize how fucked everything is. So you end up with this movie thats suppose to be satirical but no one notices. They rebel against a society they find dehumanizing, BY CREATING A SOCIETY WHERE THEY LITERALLY HAVE NO NAMES, but the tone is strong enough that people are like “GO PROJECT MAYHEM! WE SHOULD START A FIGHT CLUB!”

HPMOR 79

This chapter continues on from 78. Hermione has been arrested for murder, but Hariezer now realizes in a sudden insight that she has given a false memory.

Hariezer also realizes this is how the Weasley twins planted Rita Skeeter’s false news story- they simply memory charmed Rita. Of course, this opens up more questions then it solves- if false memory charming can be done with such precision, wouldn’t there be a rash of manipulations of this type? Its such an obvious manipulation technique that chapters 24-26 with the Fred and George “caper” was written in a weirdly non-linear style to try to make it seem more mysterious.

Anyway, Hariezer tells the adults who start investigating who might have memory charmed Hermione (you’d think wizard police would do some sort of investigation but its HPMOR, so the world needs to be maximally silly as a foil to Hariezer).

And then he has a discussion with the other kids who are bad mouthing Hermione:

Professor Quirrell isn’t here to explain to me how stupid people are, but I bet this time I can get it on my own. People do something dumb and get caught and are given Veritaserum. Not romantic master criminals, because they wouldn’t get caught, they would have learned Occlumency. Sad, pathetic, incompetent criminals get caught, and confess under Veritaserum, and they’re desperate to stay out of Azkaban so they say they were False-Memory-Charmed. Right? So your brain, by sheer Pavlovian association, links the idea of False Memory Charms to pathetic criminals with unbelievable excuses. You don’t have to consider the specific details, your brain just pattern-matches the hypothesis into a bucket of things you don’t believe, and you’re done. Just like my father thought that magical hypotheses could never be believed, because he’d heard so many stupid people talking about magic. Believing a hypothesis that involves False Memory Charms is low-status.

This sort of thing bothers the hell out me. Not only is cloying elitism creeping in, but in HPMOR as in the real world, arguments regarding “status” are just thinly disguised ad-hominems. True or not true, they aren’t really attacking an argument, just the people making them.

After all, if we fall back on the “Bayesian conspiracy” confessing to a crime/having a memory of a crime is equal evidence for having done the crime and having been false memory charmed, so all the action here is in the prior. CLAIMING a false memory charm is evidence of nothing at all.

So, if the base rate of false memory charms is so low that its laughable and “low status,” then the students are correctly using Bayesian reasoning.

Although Hariezer may point out that they aren’t taking into account evidence about what sort of person Hermione is, but if the base rates of false memory charms are really so low that is unlikely to matter much- after all Hariezer doesn’t have any specific positive evidence she was false memory charmed, and she has been behaving strangely toward Draco for awhile (which Hariezer suggests is a symptom of the way the perpetrator went about the false memory charm, but could just as easily be evidence she did it- the action is still in the prior).

Similarly, his father didn’t believe in magic because it SHOULDN’T have been believed- until the story begins he has supposedly lived his whole life in our world- where magic is quite obviously not a real thing, regardless of “status. “

OF COURSE- if the world were written as a non-silly place, the base rate for false memory charms would be through the roof and everyone would say “yea, she was probably false memory charmed! Who just blurts out a confession?” and the wizard cops would just do their job.

Remember when

Way back in chapter 20 something, Quirrell gave Hariezer Roger Bacon’s magic diary, and it was going to jump start his investigation of the rules of magic? And then it was literally never mentioned again? The aptly named Checkov’s Roger Bacon’s Magi-science Diary probably applies here.

HPMOR 80

Apparently in the wizarding world, the way a trial is conducted involves a bunch of politicians voting if someone is guilty or innocent, so in this chapter the elder Malfoy uses his influence to convict Hermione. Not much to this chapter really.

BUT in some asides, we do get some flirting with neoreaction:

At that podium stands an old man, with care-lined face and a silver beard that stretches down below his waist; this is Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore… Karen Dutton bequeathed the Line to Albus Dumbledore… each wizard passing it to their chosen successor, back and back in unbroken chain to the day Merlin laid down his life. That (if you were wondering) is how the country of magical Britain managed to elect Cornelius Fudge for its Minister, and yet end up with Albus Dumbledore for its Chief Warlock. Not by law (for written law can be rewritten) but by most ancient tradition, the Wizengamot does not choose who shall preside over its follies. Since the day of Merlin’s sacrifice, the most important duty of any Chief Warlock has been to exercise the highest caution in their choice of people who are both good and able to discern good successors.

And we get the PC/NPC distinction used by Hariezer to separate himself from the sheeple:

The wealthy elites of magical Britain have collective force, but not individual agency; their goals are too alien and trivial for them to have personal roles in the tale. As of now, this present time, the boy neither likes nor dislikes the plum-colored robes, because his brain does not assign them enough agenthood to be the subjects of moral judgment. He is a PC, and they are wallpaper.

Hermione is convicted and Hariezer is sad he couldn’t figure out something to do about it (he did try to threaten the elder Malfoy to no avail).

HPMOR 81

Our last chapter ended with Hermione in peril- she was found guilty of the attempted murder of Draco! How will Hariezer get around this one?

Luckily the way the wizard world justice system works is fucking insane- being found guilty puts Hermione in the Malfoy’s “blood debt.” So Hariezer tells Malfoy:

By the debt owed from House Malfoy to House Potter!…I’m surprised you’ve forgotten…surely it was a cruel and painful period of your life, laboring under the Imperius curse of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, until you were freed of it by the efforts of House Potter. By my mother, Lily Potter, who died for it, and by my father, James Potter, who died for it, and by me, of course.

So Hariezer wants the blood debt transferred to him so he can decide Hermione’s fate (what a convenient and ridiculous way to handle a system of law and order).

But blood debts don’t transfer in this stupid world, instead you also have to pay money. So Malfoy demands something like twice the money in Hariezer’s vault. Hariezer waffles a bit, but decides to pay. Because the demand is such a large sum, this will involve going into debt to the Malfoys.

And then things get really stupid- Dumbledore says, as guardian of Hariezer’s vault he won’t let the transaction happen.

I’m - sorry, Harry - but this choice is not yours - for I am still the guardian of your vault.”

“What? ” said Harry, too shocked to compose his reply.

“I cannot let you go into debt to Lucius Malfoy, Harry! I cannot! You do not know - you do not realize -”

So… here is a question- if Hariezer is going to go into a lot of debt to pay Malfoy how does blocking him access to his money help avoid the debt? Wouldn’t Hariezer just take out a bigger loan from Malfoy?

Anyway, despite super rationality, Hariezer doesn’t think through how stupid Dumbledore’s threat is. Hariezer instead threatens to destroy Azkaban if Dumbledore won’t let him pay Malfoy, so Dumbledore relents.

Malfoy tries to weasel out of this nebulous blood debt arrangement because the rules of wizard justice change on the fly, but Hermione swears allegiance to House Potter and that prevents Malfoy’s weasel attempt.

I acknowledge the debt, but the law does not strictly oblige me to accept it in cancellation,” said Lord Malfoy with a grim smile. “The girl is no part of House Potter; the debt I owe House Potter is no debt to her…

And Hermione, without waiting for any further instructions, said, the words spilling out of her in a rush, “I swear service to the House of Potter, to obey its Master or Mistress, and stand at their right hand, and fight at their command, and follow where they go, until the day I die.”

The implications here are obvious- if you saved all of magical britain from a dark lord, and literally everyone owes you a “blood debt” you are totally above the law. Hariezer should just steal the money he owes Malfoy from some other magical families.

HPMOR 82

So the trial is wrapped up, but to finish off the section we get a long discussion between Dumbledore and Hariezer.

First, credit where credit is due there is an atypical subversion here- now its Dumbledore attempting to give a rationality lesson to Hariezer, and Hariezer agrees that he is right. Its an attempt to mix up the formula a bit, and I appreciate it even if the rest of this chapter is profoundly stupid.

So what is the rationality lesson here?

“Yes,” Harry said, “I flinched away from the pain of losing all the money in my vault. But Idid it! That’s what counts! And you -” The indignation that had faltered out of Harry’s voice returned. “You actually put a price on Hermione Granger’s life, and you put it below a hundred thousand Galleons!”

“Oh?” the old wizard said softly. “And what price do you put on her life, then? A million Galleons?”

“Are you familiar with the economic concept of ‘replacement value’?” The words were spilling from Harry’s lips almost faster than he could consider them. “Hermione’s replacement value is infinite! There’s nowhere I can go to buy another one!”

Now you’re just talking mathematical nonsense, said Slytherin. Ravenclaw, back me up here?

“Is Minerva’s life also of infinite worth?” the old wizard said harshly. “Would you sacrifice Minerva to save Hermione?”

“Yes and yes,” Harry snapped. “That’s part of Professor McGonagall’s job and she knows it.”

“Then Minerva’s value is not infinite,” said the old wizard, “for all that she is loved. There can only be one king upon a chessboard, Harry Potter, only one piece that you will sacrifice any other piece to save. And Hermione Granger is not that piece. Make no mistake, Harry Potter, this day you may well have lost your war.”

Basically, the lesson is this- you have to be willing to put a value on human life, even if it seems profane. Its actually a good lesson and very important to learn. If everyone was more familiar with this, the semi frequent GOVERNMENT HEALTHCARE IS DEATH PANELS panic would never happen. Although I’d add a caveat- anyone who has worked in healthcare does this so often that we start to make a mistake the other way (forgetting that underneath the numbers are actual people).

Anyway, to justify the rationality lesson further we get a reference to some of Tetlock’s work (note: I’m unfamiliar with the work cited here, so I’m taking Yudkowsky at his word- if you’ve read the rest of my hpmor stuff, you know this is dangerous).

You’d already read about Philip Tetlock’s experiments on people asked to trade off a sacred value against a secular one, like a hospital administrator who has to choose between spending a million dollars on a liver to save a five-year-old, and spending the million dollars to buy other hospital equipment or pay physician salaries. And the subjects in the experiment became indignant and wanted to punish the hospital administrator for even thinking about the choice. Do you remember reading about that, Harry Potter? Do you remember thinking how very stupid that was, since if hospital equipment and doctor salaries didn’t also save lives, there would be no point in having hospitals or doctors? Should the hospital administrator have paid a billion pounds for that liver, even if it meant the hospital going bankrupt the next day?

To bring it home, we find out that Voldemort captured Dumbledore’s brother and demanded ransom, and Mad Eye counseled thusly

“You ransom Aberforth, you lose the war,” the man said sharply. “That simple. One hundred thousand Galleons is nearly all we’ve got in the war-chest, and if you use it like this, it won’t be refilled. What’ll you do, try to convince the Potters to empty their vault like the Longbottoms already did? Voldie’s just going to kidnap someone else and make another demand. Alice, Minerva, anyone you care about, they’ll all be targets if you pay off the Death Eaters. That’s not the lesson you should be trying to teach them.”

So instead of ransoming Aberforth he burned Lucious Malfoy’s wife alive (or at least convinced the death eaters that he did). That way they would think twice about targeting him.

I think the rationality lesson is fine and dandy, just one problem- this situation is not at all like the hospital administrator in the example given. The problem here is that the idea of putting a price on a human life is only a useful concept in day-to-day reality where money has some real meaning. In an actual war, even one against a sort of weird guerrilla army of dark wizards money only becomes useful if you can exchange it for more resources, and in the wizard war resources means wizards.

Ask yourself this- would a death eater target someone close to Dumbledore even if there was no possibility of ransom? OF COURSE THEY WOULD- the whole point is defeating Dumbledore, the person standing against them. Voldemort wouldn’t ask for ransom, because its a stupid thing to do- he would kill Aberforth and send pieces of him to Dumbledore by owl. This idea that ransoming makes targets of all of Dumbledore’s allies is just idiotic- they are already targets.

Next, ask yourself this- does Voldemort have any use for money? Money is an abstract, useful because we can exchange for useful things. But its pretty apparent that Voldemort doesn’t really need money- he has no problem killing, taking and stealing. The parts of magical Britain that are willing to stand up to him won’t sell his death eaters goods at any price, and the rest are so scared they’ll give him anything for free.

Meanwhile, Dumbledore is leading a dedicated resistance- basically a volunteer army. He doesn’t need to buy people’s time, they are giving it freely! Mad Eye himself notes that he could ask the Longbottoms or the Potters to empty their vaults and they would. What the resistance needs isn’t money, its people willing to fight. So in the context of this sort of war, and able fighting man like Aberforth is worth basically infinite money- money is common and useless and people willing to stand up to Voldemort are in extremely tight supply.

It would have made a lot more sense to have Voldemort ask for prisoner exchange or something like that. Aberforth in exchange for Bellatrix Black. Then both sides would be trading value for value. But then the Tetlock reference wouldn’t be nearly as on-the-nose.

At least this chapter makes clear the reason for the profoundly stupid wizard justice system and the utterly absurd blood-debt-punishment system. The whole idea was to arrange things so Hariezer could be asked to pay a ransom to Luscious Malfoy, so the reader can learn about Tetlock’s research/putting a price on lives,etc.

At least I only have like 20 chapters of this thing left.

Name of the Wind bitching

Whelp, Kvothe’s “awesomeness” has totally overwhelmed the narrative. Kvothe now has several “awesome” skills- he plays music so well that he was spontaneously given 7 talons (which is 7 times the standard Rothfuss unit for “a lot of money”). He plays music for money in a low-end tavern.

He is a journeyman artificer, which means he can make magic lamps and what not and sell them for cash. He is brilliant enough that he could easily tutor students. He has two very wealthy friends who he could borrow from.

AND YET he is constantly low on cash. To make this seem plausible, the book is weighed down by super long exposition in which Kvothe explains to the reader why all these obvious ways to make money aren’t working for him. When Kvothe isn’t explaining it to the reader directly, we cut to the framing story where Kvothe is explaining it to his two listeners. The book is chock-full of these paragraphs that are like “I know this is really stupid but here is why it actually makes sense.” Removing all this justification/exposition would probably cut the length of the book by at least 14.

I could look past all of this if we were meeting other interesting characters at wizard school, but that isn’t happening. Kvothe has two good friends among the students, Wil and Sim. I’ve read countless paragraphs of banter between them and Kvothe, but I don’t know what they study, or really anything about them other than one has an accent.

Another character Auri, a homeless girl who is that fantasy version of “mentally ill” that just makes people extra quirky, became friends with Kvothe off screen. Literally, we find out she exists after she has already listened to Kvothe playing music for days. She shows up for a scene then vanishes again for awhile.

And we get a love interest who mostly just banters wittily with Kvothe and then vanishes. After pages of witty banter, Kvothe will then remind the reader he is shy around women (despite, you know, having just wittily bantered for pages, because that’s how characterization works in this novel).

HPMOR bitching

Much like my previous name of the wind complaints, HPMOR is heavy with exposition- and for a similar reason. Hariezer is too “awesome” which leads to heavy-handed exposition (if for slightly different reasons than name of the wind).

The standard rule of show,don’t tell implies that the best way to teach your audience something in a narrative is to have your characters learn from experience. Your characters need to make a mistake, or have something backfire. That way they can come out the other side stronger, having learned something. If you don’t trust your audience to have gotten the lesson, you can cap it off with some exposition outlining exactly what you want to learn, but the core of the lesson should be taught by the characters experience.

But Yudkowsky inserted a Hariezer fully-equipped with the “methods of rationality.” So we get lots of episodes that set-up a conflict, and then Hariezer has a huge dump of exposition that explains why its not really a problem because rationality-judo, and the tension drains away. It would be far better to have Hariezer learn over time, so the audience can learn along with him.

So Hariezer isn’t going to grow, he is just going to exposition dump most of his problems away. We can at least watch him explore the world, right? After all, Yudkowsky has put a “real scientist” into Hogwarts so we can finally see what material you actually learn at wizard school! All that academic stuff missing from the original novels! NOPE- we haven’t had a single class in the last 60 chapters. Hariezer isn’t even learning magic in a systematic way.

I really, really don’t see what people see in this. The handful of chapters I found amusing feel like an eternity ago, it ran off the rails dozens of chapters ago! People sell the story as “using the scientific method in JK Rowling’s universe” but a more accurate description would be “it starts as using the scientific method in JK rowling’s universe, but stops doing that around chapter 25 or so. Then mostly its just about a war game, with some political maneuvering.”

HPMOR 83-84

These are just rehashes of things we’ve already been presented with (so many words, so little content). The other students still think Hermione did it (although this is written in an akward tell rather than show style- Hariezer tells Hermione what is going on, rather than Hermione or the reader experiencing it). We get gems of cloying elitism like this:

Hermione, you’ve told me a lot of times that I look down too much on other people. But if I expected too much of them - if I expected people to get things right - I really would hate them, then. Idealism aside, Hogwarts students don’t actually know enough cognitive science to take responsibility for how their own minds work. It’s not their fault they’re crazy.

There is one bit of new info- as part of this investigation of the attempted murder of Draco, I guess Quirrell was investigated, and the aurors seem to think he is some missing wizard lord or something. This is totally superfluous, I assume we all know Quirrell is Voldemort. I’m hoping this doesn’t turn into a plot line.

And finally, Quirrell tries to convince Hermione to leave and go to a wizard school where people don’t think she tried to kill someone. This is fine, but in part of it, Quirrell gives us this gem on being a hero:

Long ago, long before your time or Harry Potter’s, there was a man who was hailed as a savior. The destined scion, such a one as anyone would recognize from tales, wielding justice and vengeance like twin wands against his dreadful nemesis…

“In all honesty…I still don’t understand it. They should have known that their lives depended on that man’s success. And yet it was as if they tried to do everything they could to make his life unpleasant. To throw every possible obstacle into his way. I was not naive, Miss Granger, I did not expect the power-holders to align themselves with me so quickly - not without something in it for themselves. But their power, too, was threatened; and so I was shocked how they seemed content to step back, and leave to that man all burdens of responsibility. They sneered at his performance, remarking among themselves how they would do better in his place, though they did not condescend to step forward.”

So… the people seem mostly to rally around Dumbledore. He has a position of power and influence because of his dark-wizard vanquishing deeds. There aren’t a lot of indications people are actively attempting to make Dumbledore’s life unpleasant, he has the position he wants, turned down the position of minister of magic,etc. People are mostly in awe of Dumbledore.

But there is some other hero, we are supposed to believe, who society mocked? I can’t help but draw parallels to Friendly AI research here…

HPMOR 85

A return to my blogging obsession of old (which has been a slog for at least 20 chapters now, but if there is one thing that is true of all phds- we finish what we fucking start, even if it’s an awful idea).

This chapter is actually not so bad, mostly Hariezer just reflecting on the difficulty of weighing his friends lives against “the cause” as Dumbledore suggested he failed to do with Hermione in her trial a few chapters ago.

There are some good bits. For instance, this interesting bit about bow and arrow’s in Australia:

A year ago, Dad had gone to the Australian National University in Canberra for a conference where he’d been an invited speaker, and he’d taken Mum and Harry along. And they’d all visited the National Museum of Australia, because, it had turned out, there was basically nothing else to do in Canberra. The glass display cases had shown rock-throwers crafted by the Australian aborigines - like giant wooden shoehorns, they’d looked, but smoothed and carved and ornamented with painstaking care. In the 40,000 years since anatomically modern humans had migrated to Australia from Asia, nobody had invented the bow-and-arrow. It really made you appreciate how non-obvious was the idea of Progress.

I always thought the fact that Australians (and lot of small islanders) lost the bow and arrow (which is interesting! They had it and then they forgot about it!) was an interesting observation about the power of sharing ideas and the importance of large groups for creativity. Small, isolated populations seem to lose the ability to innovate. Granted, almost all of my knowledge about this comes from one anthropology course I only half remember.

And of course there are always some sections that filled me with rage-

Even though Muggle physics explicitly permitted possibilities like molecular nanotechnology or the Penrose process for extracting energy from black holes, most people filed that away in the same section of their brain that stored fairy tales and history books, well away from their personal realities:

Molecular nanotechnology is just the words that sci-fi authors (and Eric Drexler) use for magic. And the nearest black hole is probably something like 2000 light years away. The reason people treat this stuff as far from their personal reality is exactly the same reason Yudkowsky treats it as far from his personal reality- IT IS. Black holes are neat, and GR is a ton of fun, but we aren’t going to be engineering with black holes in my lifetime.

No surprise, then, that the wizarding world lived in a conceptual universe bounded - not by fundamental laws of magic that nobody even knew - but just by the surface rules of known Charms and enchantments…Even if Harry’s first guess had been mistaken, one way or another it was still inconceivable that the fundamental laws of the universe contained a special case for human lips shaping the phrase ‘Wingardium Leviosa’. …What were theultimate possibilities of invention, if the underlying laws of the universe permitted an eleven-year-old with a stick to violate almost every constraint in the Muggle version of physics? You know what would be awesome? IF YOU GOT AROUND TO DOING SOME EXPERIMENTS AND EXPLORING THIS IDEA. The absolute essence of science is NOT asking these questions, it’s deciding to try to find out the fucking answers! You can’t be content to just wonder about things, you have to put the work in! Hariezer’s wonderment never gets past the stoned-college-kid wondering aloud and into ACTUAL exploration, and its getting really frustrating. YOU PROMISED ME YOU WERE GOING TO USE THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD TO LEARN THE SECRETS OF MAGIC. WAY BACK IN THE EARLY CHAPTERS.

Anyway, towards the end of the ruminations, Fawkes visits Hariezer and basically offers to take him to Azkaban to try to take out the evil place. Hariezer (probably wisely) decides not to go. And the chapter ends.

HPMOR 86

I just realized I have like 145 followers (HOLY SHIT!) and they probably came for the HPMOR thing. So I better keep the updates rolling!

Anyway, this chapter is basically Hariezer and friends (Dumbledore, Snape, Mcgonagall, Mad-eye Moody) all trying to guess who might have been responsible for trying to frame Hermione. No real conclusions are drawn, not much to see her.

A few notable things here- magic apparently works by the letter of the law, rather than the spirit:

You say someone with the Dark Mark can’t reveal its secrets to anyone who doesn’t already know them. So to find out how the Dark Mark operates, write down every way you can imagine the Dark Mark might work, then watch Professor Snape try to tell each of those things to a confederate - maybe one who doesn’t know what the experiment is about - I’ll explain binary search later so that you can play Twenty Questions to narrow things down - and whatever he can’t say out loud is true. His silence would be something that behaves differently in the presence of true statements about the Mark, versus false statements, you see.

Luckily, Voldemort thought of the test, thus freeing Snape to tell how the mark actually works:

The Dark Lord was no fool, despite Potter’s delusions. The moment such a test is suspected, the Mark ceases to bind our tongues. Yet I could not hint at the possibility, but only wait for another to deduce it.

Why not just make sure the death eaters don’t actually know the secrets of the mark? Seems like memory spells are everywhere already, and it would be way easier than this silly logic puzzle.

Finding out the secrets of the dark mark prompts Hariezer to try a Bayesian estimate of whether Voldemort is actually dangerous. I repeat that for emphasis:

Harry Potter, first year of Hogwarts who has only really succeeded at 1 thing in his learn-the-science-of-magic plan (partial transfiguration), and who knows he is not the most dangerous wizard at Hogwarts (Quirrel, Dumbledore), wonders whether Voldemort could possibly be a threat.

Here are some of the things he considers:

Harry had been to a convocation of the Wizengamot. He’d seen the laughable ‘security precautions’, if you could call them that, guarding the deepest levels of the Ministry of Magic. They didn’t even have the Thief’s Downfall which goblins used to wash away Polyjuice and Imperius Curses on people entering Gringotts … [if it] took you more than ten years to fail to overthrow the government of magical Britain, it meant you were stupid. But might they have some other precautions? Maybe they use some sort of secret precautions Harry himself doesn’t yet know about yet? Or might the wizards of the Wizengamot be pretty powerful in their own right?

There were hypotheses where the Dark Lord was smart and the Order of the Phoenixdidn’t just instantly die, but those hypotheses were more complicated and ought to get complexity penalties. After the complexity penalties of the further excuses were factored in, there would be a large likelihood ratio from the hypotheses ‘The Dark Lord is smart’ versus ‘The Dark Lord was stupid’ to the observation, ‘The Dark Lord did not instantly win the war’. That was probably worth a 10:1 likelihood ratio in favor of the Dark Lord being stupid… but maybe not 100:1. You couldn’t actually say that ‘The Dark Lord instantly wins’ had a probability of more than 99 percent, assuming the Dark Lord started out smart; the sum over all possible excuses would be more than .01.

Dude, do you even Bayesian? Probability the dark mark still works if Voldemort is dead. ~0 (everyone who knows magic thinks that the mark still existing is proof he is still out there). Given that Voldemort is alive, probability he successfully complete some sort of immortality ritual ~1. Probability someone who completed an immortality ritual knows more magic than (and therefore is a threat to) Hariezer Yudotter ~1.

So given that the dark mark is still around, Voldie is crazy dangerous, regardless of priors or base rates.

It’s helpful to look at where the information is, instead of trying to estimate the probability Voldemort could have instantly killed some of the most powerful wizards on the fucking planet.

Anyway….

OH, another thing that happens- Hariezer challenges Mad-eye to a little mini duel. Guess how he solves the problem of winning against Mad-eye? Any ideas? What could he use? I’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with time turner. This story really should be called Harry Potter And The Method of Time Turners. Seriously- time turners solve basically all the problems in this book. Anyway, he goes to Flitwick, learns a bending spell, and then time turners back into the room to pop Moody.

It’s not actually a bad scene, there is a bit of action and it moves pretty quickly. The problem is that the time turner solution is so damn boring at this point.

Also, we find out in this chapter that everyone believes Quirrell is really somebody named David Monroe whose family was killed by Voldemort and who was a leader during the war against Voldemort.

So we have some potential possibilities-

  1. Voldemort was impersonating/half-invented the personality of David Monroe in order to play both sides during the war. After all, all of Monroe’s family was killed but him. Maybe all of Monroe’s family was killed, including him, and Voldemort started impersonating the dead guy. This could be a neat dynamic I guess. Could “Voldemort” have been a Watchmen style plan to unite magical Britain against a common threat that went awry for Monroe/Riddle? Quirrell really did get body snatched in this scenario. We could imagine an ending here where Monroe/Riddle are training Potter to be the leader of magical Britain that Monroe/Riddle wanted to be.

  2. Monroe was a real dude, Voldemort body-snatched him, and now you’ve got Monroe brain fighting Voldemort brain inside. For some reason, they are impersonating Quirrell?

If its not the first scenario, I’m going to be sort of annoyed, because scenario 2 doesn’t provide us with much reason for the weird Monroe bit- you could just give Quirrell all of Monroe’s backstory.

Anyway, 86 chapters to go, I think this damn thing is going to clock in around 120 when all is said and done. ::sigh:: Time for a scotch.

HPMOR 87: skinner box your friends

Hariezer is worried Hermione will be uncomfortable around him after the trial. So what is his solution?

“I was going to give you more space,” said Harry Potter, “only I was reading up on Critch’s theories about hedonics and how to train your inner pigeon and how small immediate positive and negative feedbacks secretly control most of what we actually do, and it occurred to me that you might be avoiding me because seeing me made you think of things that felt like negative associations, and I really didn’t want to let that run any longer without doing something about it, so I got ahold of a bag of chocolates from the Weasley twins and I’m just going to give you one every time you see me as a positive reinforcement if that’s all right with you -”

Now, this idea of positive/negative reinforcement is an old one, and goes back to probably the psychologists associated with behaviorism (BF Skinner, Pavlov, etc).

The weird thing is, there is no “Critch” I can find associated with the behaviorists, or really any of the stuff attributed above. I also emailed my psych friend, who also has never heard of it (but “it’s not really my field at all”). I’m thinking there is like a 90% chance that Yudkowsky just invented a scientist here? Why not just say BF Skinner, or Pavlov here? WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

Anyway, Hermione and Hariezer are brainstorming ways to make money when they get into an argument because Hariezer has been sciencing with Draco:

“You were doing SCIENCE with him? ” “Well -” “You were doing SCIENCE with him? You were supposed to be doing science with ME! ” Hermione, I get it. You wanted to figure out how magic works you’ve got some curiosity about the world. And now you think Hariezer kept his program going, but cut you out of the big discoveries, will leave you off the publications. But I’ve got news for you, girl, he hasn’t been doing science WITH ANYONE for like 60 chapters now. HE JUST FORGOT ABOUT IT.

Anyway, this argument blows up, and Hariezer explains puberty:

But even with all that weird magical stuff letting me be more adult than I should be, I haven’t gone through puberty yet and there’s no hormones in my bloodstream and my brain is physically incapable of falling in love with anyone. So I’m not in love with you! I couldn’t possibly be in love with you!

And then drops some evopsych

and besides I’ve been reading about evolutionary psychology, and, well, there are all these suggestions that one man and one woman living together happily ever afterward may be more the exception rather than the rule, and in hunter-gatherer tribes it was more often just staying together for two or three years to raise a child during its most vulnerable stages - and, I mean, considering how many people end up horribly unhappy in traditional marriages, it seems like it might be the sort of thing that needs some clever reworking - especially if we actually do solve immortality To the story’s credit, this works about as well as you’d expect and Hermione storms off.

I think the evopsych dropping could have been sort of funny if it were played more for laughs (Hariezer’s inept way of calming Hermione down), but here it just seems like a way to shoehorn this bit of evopsych into the story.

The final scene in the chapter is played for laughs, with another student coming over after seeing Hermione storm off and saying “Witches! go figure, huh?”

HPMOR 88: in which I complain about a lack of time turners

The problem with solving every problem in your story with time turners is that it becomes incredibly conspicuous when you don’t solve a problem with time turners.

In this chapter, the bit of canon from book 1 with the troll in the dungeon is introduced- someone comes running into the dining hall yelling troll. Luckily, Quirrell has the students well prepared:

Without any hesitation, the Defense Professor swung smoothly on the Gryffindor table and clapped his hands with a sound like a floor cracking through. “Michelle Morgan of House Gryffindor, second in command of Pinnini’s Army,” the Defense Professor said calmly into the resulting quiet. “Please advise your Head of House.” Michelle Morgan climbed up onto her bench and spoke, the tiny witch sounding far more confident than Minerva remembered her being at the start of the year. “Students walking through the hallways would be spread out and impossible to defend. All students are to remain in the Great Hall and form a cluster in the center… not surrounded by tables, a troll would jump right over tables… with the perimeter defended by seventh-year students. From the armies only, no matter how good they are at duelling, so they don’t get in each other’s lines of fire.”

So everyone will be safe from troll, but WAIT- Hariezer realizes Hermione is missing. What does he do? Does he commit himself to time turning himself a message telling him where Hermione is (to be fair, the time is noon, and the earliest he can reach with a time turner is 3pm. However he knows of another student who uses a time turner and is willing to send messages with it, from the post Azkaban escape. He also knows other powerful wizards use time turners, so he could ask one of them to pass the message,etc).

I suspect we are approaching an important plot moment that time turnering would somehow break. Maybe we finally get a Quirrell reveal? Anywho, it’s jarring to not see Hariezer go immediately for the time turner. Instead he tries to enlist the aid of other students (and not ask if anyone has a time turner).

Anyway, Hariezer decides they need to go look for her as fast as possible- but then

The witch he’d named turned from where she’d been staring steadily out at the perimeter, her expression aghast for the one second before her face closed up. “The Deputy Headmistress ordered us all to stay here, Mr. Potter.” It took an effort for Harry to unclench his teeth. “Professor Quirrell didn’t say that and neither did you. Professor McGonagall isn’t a tactician, she didn’t think to check if we had missing students and she thought it was a good idea to start marching students through the hallways. But Professor McGonagall understands after her mistakes are pointed out to her, you saw how she listened to you and Professor Quirrell, and I’m certain that she wouldn’t want us to just ignore the fact that Hermione Granger is out there, alone -“

So Hariezer flags this as

Harry’s brain flagged this as I’m talking to NPCs again and he spun on his heel and dashed back for the broomstick.

Yes, Hariezer, in this world you are talking to NPCs- characters Yudkowsky wrote in, entirely to be stupid so that you can appear brilliant.

Anyway, he rushes off the Weasley twins to go find Hermione, and just as he finds her the chapter ends. I look forward to tuning in next time for the thrilling conclusion.

HPMOR 89: grimdark

There will be spoilers ahead. Although if you cared about spoilers why are you reading this?

So I thought the plot moment we were leading up to was a Quirrell reveal and I was dead wrong (a pun, because Hermione dies). By the time Hariezer arrives, Hermione has already been troll smashed (should have used the time turner,bro).

A brief battle scene ensues in which the Weasleys fail to be very effective, andHariezer kills the troll by floating his father’s rock (which he has been wearing in a ring) into the trolls mouth and then letting it go back to its original size, which pops the troll head.

Hermione then utters her final words “not your fault” and then dies. Hariezer is obviously upset by this.

Not a bad chapter really, even though it required a sort “rationality failure” involving the time turners to get here. Normally I wouldn’t care about this sort of thing, but the fact that basically every problem thus far was solved with time turners makes it very hard to suspend my disbelief here. It feels a touch to much like characters are doing things just to make the plot happen (and not following their ‘natural’ actions).

I fear the next ten chapters will be just reflections on this (instead of things happening).

HPMOR 90: Hariezer’s lack of self reflection

Brief note- it’s mardi gras, and I’m about as over served as I ever have been. I LIKE HOW OVER SERVED AS A PHRASE BLAMES THE BARTENDER AND NOT ME. THIS IS A THEME FOR THIS CHAPTER. Anyway, hopefullly this will not lack my usual (non) eloquence.

This chapter begins what appears to be a 9 part section on Hariezer trying to cope with the death of his friend.

As the chapter opens, Hariezer cools Hermione’s body to try to preserve it. I guess that will slow decay, but probably not by enough to matter.

And then Hariezer gets understandably mopey. Everyone is concerned he is withdrawing from the world, so Mcgonagall goes to talk to him and we get this bit:

“Nothing I could have done? ” Harry’s voice rose on the last word. “Nothing I could have…Or if I’d just approached the whole problem from a different angle - if I’d looked for a student with a Time-Turner to send a message back in time..

It’s the one in bold that is especially troubling because the time turner is seriously what Hariezer always turns to (TURNS TO! GET IT! IT’S AN AWFUL PUN). When your character is defined by his munchkining ability to solve problems via time turner, and the one time he doesn’t go for the time turner a major plot point happens, it’s jarring to the reader. Almost as if characters are behaving entirely to make the plot happen…

Anyway,

She was aware now that tears were sliding down her cheeks, again. “Harry - Harry, you have to believe that this isn’t your fault!” “Of course it’s my fault. There’s no one else here who could be responsible for anything.” “No! You-Know-Who killed Hermione!” She was hardly aware of what she was saying, that she hadn’t screened the room against who might be listening. “Not you! No matter what else you could’ve done, it’s not you who killed her, it was Voldemort! If you can’t believe that you’ll go mad, Harry!” “That’s not how responsibility works, Professor.” Harry’s voice was patient, like he was explaining things to a child who was certain not to understand. He wasn’t looking at her anymore, just staring off at the wall to her right side. “When you do a fault analysis, there’s no point in assigning fault to a part of the system you can’t change afterward

So keep this in mind- Hariezer says it’t no use blaming anyone but himself, because he can’t change their actions. This seems like a silly NPC/PC distinction- no one can change their past actions, but everyone can learn how they could have improved things.

“All right, then,” Harry said in a monotone. “I tried to do the sensible thing, when I saw Hermione was missing and that none of the Professors knew. I asked for a seventh-year student to go with me on a broomstick and protect me while we looked for Hermione. I asked for help. I begged for help. And nobody helped me. Because you gave everyone an absolute order to stay in one place or they’d be expelled, no excuses…. So when something you didn’t foresee happened and it would’ve made perfect sense to send out a seventh-year student on a fast broom to look for Hermione Granger, the students knew you wouldn’t understand or forgive. They weren’t afraid of the troll, they were afraid of you. The discipline, the conformity, the cowardice that you instilled in them delayed me just long enough for Hermione to die. Not that I should’ve tried asking for help from normal people, of course, and I will change and be less stupid next time. But if I were dumb enough to allocate responsibility to someone who isn’t me, that’s what I’d say.”

What exactly does Hariezer think she should have said here? If a fire had broken out in the meal hall does Hariezer think that everyone would have stayed in the cafeteria and burned to death out of fear of Mcgonagall? Also, it certainly sounds as if Hariezer has plenty of blame for people not himself. ”I only blame me, but also you suck in the following ways…”

But normal people don’t choose on the basis of consequences, they just play roles. There’s a picture in your head of a stern disciplinarian and you do whatever that picture would do, whether or not it makes any sense….People like you aren’t responsible for anything, people like me are, and when we fail there’s no one else to blame.” I AM THE ONLY PC, YOU ARE ALL NPC. I AM THE ONLY FULL HUMAN. TREMBLE BEFORE MY AGENTYNESS. I get that Harizer is mourning, but is their any more condescending way to mourn? ”Everything is my fault because you aren’t all even fully human?” You are a fucking twerp Hariezer, even when you mourn.

His hand darted beneath his robes, brought forth the golden sphere that was the Ministry-issued protective shell of his Time Turner. He spoke in a dead, level voice without any emphasis. “This could’ve saved Hermione, if I’d been able to use it. But you thought it was your role to shut me down and get in my way. No, Hariezer, you were told THERE WERE RULES and you violated them. You yourself have said that time travel can be dangerous and you were using it because Snape asked questions you didn’t know the answer to, and really to solve any trivial problem. You broke the rules, and it locked your time turner down when you might have really wanted it. Total boy-who-cried-wolf situation, and yet its conspicuously absent from your discussion above- you blame yourself in lots of ways, but not in this way.

Unable to speak, she brought forth her wand and did so, releasing the time-keyed enchantment she’d laced into the shell’s lock.

The only lessons learned from this are other character “updating towards” the idea that Hariezer Yudotter is always right. And he fails when other people have prevented his natural PC based awesomenes.

Anyway, Mcgonagall sends in the big guns (Quirrell) to try to talk to Hariezer, which leads Hariezer to say to him:

The boy’s voice was razor-sharp. “I’d forgotten there was someone else in Hogwarts who could be responsible for things.”

And later in the conversation:

“You did want to save her. You wanted it so strongly that you made some sort of actual effort. I suppose your mind, if not theirs, would be capable of that.”

So you see- it’s clearly not about assigning himself all the blame (because he can only change his own actions), it’s about separating the world into ‘real people’ and ‘NPCs’ Only real people can get any blame for anything, everyone else is just window dressing. Maybe it’s a pet peeve, but I react in abhorrence to this “you aren’t even human enough to share some blame” schtick.

8 more chapters in this fucking section.

HPMOR 91

Total retread of the last chapter. Hariezer is still blaming himself, Snape tries to talk to him. They bring his parents in to try to talk to him. Nothing here really.

HPMOR 92

Really, still nothing here. Quirrell is also concerned about Hariezer, but as before his concern seems less than totally genuine. I fear this arc is basically just a lot of retreads.

HPMOR 93

Still very little going on in these chapters…

So Mcgonagall completes the transformation she began two chapters ago, and realizes rules are for suckers and Hariezer is always right

“I am ashamed,” said Minerva McGonagall, “of the events of this day. I am ashamed that there were only two of you. Ashamed of what I have done to Gryffindor. Of all the Houses, it should have been Gryffindor to help when Hermione Granger was in need, when Harry Potter called for the brave to aid him. It was true, a seventh-year could have held back a mountain troll while searching for Miss Granger. And you should have believed that the Head of House Gryffindor,” her voice broke, “would have believed in you. If you disobeyed her to do what was right, in events she had not foreseen. And the reason you did not believe this, is that I have never shown it to you. I did not believe in you. I did not believe in the virtues of Gryffindor itself. I tried to stamp out your defiance, instead of training your courage to wisdom.

Maybe I’m projecting too much of canon McGonagall onto my reading of this one in this fanfic, but has she really been stamping out all defiance and overly stern? Would any student really have believed they would have expelled for trying to help find a missing student in a dire situation?

Hariezer certainly wasn’t expelled (or punished in anyway) for his experimenting with transfiguration/discovering partial transfiguration. He was punished for flaunting his time turner despite explicit instructions not to… But in a school for magic users, that is probably a necessity.

Also, Hermione’s body has gone missing. I suspect Hariezer is cryonicsing it.

HPMOR 94

This is the best chapter of this “reflect on what just happened” giant block of chapters, but that’s not saying much.

Hariezer might not have taken Hermione’s body, but seems unconcerned that it’s missing (maybe he took it to freeze the brain, maybe Voldie took it to resurrect Hermione or brain upload her or something). That’s the only real thing of merit that happens in this chapter (a conversation between Dumbledore and Hariezer, a conversation between Neville and Hariezer).

Hariezer has finally convinced himself that Voldemort is smart, which leads to this rumination

Okay, serious question. If the enemy is that smart, why the heck am I still alive? Is it seriously that hard to poison someone, are there Charms and Potions and bezoars which can cure me of literally anything that could be slipped into my breakfast? Would the wards record it, trace the magic of the murderer? Could my scar contain the fragment of soul that’s keeping the Dark Lord anchored to the world, so he doesn’t want to kill me? Instead he’s trying to drive off all my friends to weaken my spirit so he can take over my body? It’d explain the Parselmouth thing. The Sorting Hat might not be able to detect a lich-phylactery-thingy. Obvious problem 1, the Dark Lord is supposed to have made his lich-phylactery-thingy in 1943 by killing whatshername and framing Mr. Hagrid. Obvious problem 2, there’s no such thing as souls.

So, all the readers are already on board this train, because they’ve read the canon novel, so I guess it’s nice that the “super rationalist” is considering it (although Voldemort is smart, therefore I have a Voldemort fragment trying to possess me is a huge leap. You didn’t even Bayes that shit bro).

But seriously, “there’s no such thing as souls?” SO DON’T CALL IT A SOUL, CALL IT A MAGIC RESURRECTION FRAGMENT. Are we really getting hung up on semantics?

These chapter are intensely frustrating because any “rising action” in this story (we are nearing the conclusion after all) is blunted because after anything happens, we need 10 chapters for everyone to talk about everything and digest the events. The ratio of words/plot is ridiculously huge.

We do maybe get a bit of self-reflection when Neville tries to blame himself for Hermione’s death:

“Wow,” the empty air finally said. “Wow. That puts a pretty different perspective on things, I have to say. I’m going to remember this the next time I feel an impulse to blame myself for something. Neville, the term in the literature for this is ‘egocentric bias’, it means that you experience everything about your own life but you don’t get to experience everything else that happens in the world. There was way, way more going on than you running in front of me. You’re going to spend weeks remembering that thing you did there for six seconds, I can tell, but nobody else is going to bother thinking about it. Other people spend a lot less time thinking about your past mistakes than you do, just because you’re not the center of their worlds. I guarantee to you that nobody except you has even consideredblaming Neville Longbottom for what happened to Hermione. Not for a fraction of a second. You are being, if you will pardon the phrase, a silly-dilly. Now shut up and say goodbye.”

It would be nice for Hariezer to more explicitly use this to come to terms with his own grieving (instead of insisting on “heroic responsibility” for himself a few sections back, and also insisting it’s McGonagall’s fault for trying to enforce rules, and now insisting that blaming yourself is egocentric bias). I hope this is Hariezer realizing that he shouldn’t blame himself, and growing a bit, but fear this is Hariezer suggesting that Neville isn’t important enough to blame.

Anyway, Hariezer insists that Neville leave for awhile to help keep him safe.

HPMOR 95

So the chapter opens with more incuriousness, which is the rest of the chapter in miniature:

Harry had set the alarm upon his mechanical watch to tell him when it was lunchtime, since he couldn’t actually look at his wrist, being invisible and all that. It raised the question of how his eyeglasses worked while he was wearing the Cloak. For that matter the Law of the Excluded Middle seemed to imply that either the rhodopsin complexes in his retina were absorbing photons and transducing them to neural spikes, or alternatively, those photons were going straight through his body and out the other side, but not both. It really did seem increasingly likely that invisibility cloaks let you see outward while being invisible yourself because, on some fundamental level, that was how the caster had - not wanted - but implicitly believed - that invisibility should work.

This would be an excellent fucking question to explore, maybe via some experiments. But no. I’ve totally given up on this story exploring the magic world in any detail at all. Anyway, Hariezer skips straight from “I wonder how this works” to “it must work this way, how could we exploit it”

Whereupon you had to wonder whether anyone had tried Confunding or Legilimizing someone into implicitly and matter-of-factly believing that Fixus Everythingus ought to be an easy first-year Charm, and then trying to invent it. Or maybe find a worthy Muggleborn in a country that didn’t identify Muggleborn children, and tell them some extensive lies, fake up a surrounding story and corresponding evidence, so that, from the very beginning, they’d have a different idea of what magic could do.

This skips all the interesting hard work of science.

The majority of the chapter is a long discussion between Quirrell and Hariezer where Quirrell tries to convince Hariezer not to try to raise the dead. It’s too dangerous, may end the universe, etc.

Lots of discussion about how special Quirrell and Hariezer are because only they would even think to fight death,etc. It’s all a boring retread of ideas already explored in earlier chapters,etc.

It reads a lot like any discussion of cryonics with a cryonics true believer:

The Defense Professor’s voice was also rising. “The Transfiguration Professor is reading from a script, Mr. Potter! That script calls for her to mourn and grieve, that all may know how much she cared. Ordinary people react poorly if you suggest that they go off-script. As you already knew!”

Also, it’s sloppy world building- do we really think no wizards in the HPMOR universe have spent time investigating death/spells to reverse aging/spells to deal with head injuries,etc?

THERE IS A RESURRECTION STONE AND A LITERAL GATEWAY TO THE AFTERLIFE IN THE BASEMENT OF THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC. Maybe Hariezer’s FIRST FUCKING STOP if he wanted to investigate bringing back the dead SHOULD BE THAT GATE. Maybe some scientific experiments?

It’s like the above incuriousness with the invisibility cloak (and the typical transhumanist approach to science)- assume all the problems are solved and imagine what the world be like, how dangerous that power might be. This is no way to explore a question. It’s not even producing a very interesting story.

Quirrell assumes Hariezer might end the world even though he has shown 0 aptitude with any magic even approaching dangerous…

HPMOR 96: more of the same

Remus takes Hariezer to Godric’s Hollow to try to cheer him up or whatever.

Hariezer discovers the Potter’s family motto is apparently the passage from Corinthians:

The Last Enemy to Be Destroyed is Death

Hariezer is super glad that his family has a long history of trying to end death, and (at least) realizes that other wizards have tried. Of course, the idea of actually looking at their research doesn’t fucking occur to him because this story is very silly.

We get this rumination from Hariezer on the Peverell’s ‘deathly hallows’ from the books:

Hiding from Death’s shadow is not defeating Death itself. The Resurrection Stone couldn’t really bring anyone back. The Elder Wand couldn’t protect you from old age.

HOW THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW THE RESURRECTION STONE CAN’T BRING ANYONE BACK? HAVE YOU EVEN SEEN IT?

Step 1- assume that the resurrection stone doesn’t work because you can’t magically bring back the dead

Step 2- decide you want to magically resurrect the dead

Step 3- never revisit step 1.

SCIENCE!

GO INVESTIGATE THE DOORWAY TO THE AFTERLIFE! GO TALK TO PEOPLE ABOUT THE RESURRECTION STONE! DO SOME FUCKING RESEARCH! ”I’m going to resurrect the dead by thinking really hard about how much death sucks and doing nothing else.”

HPMOR 97: plot points resolved arbitrarily

Next on the list to talk with Hariezer regarding Hermione’s death? The Malfoys who call Hariezer to Gringotts under the pretense of talking about Hariezer’s debt.

On the way in he passes a goblin, which prompts this

If I understand human nature correctly - and if I’m right that all the humanoid magical species are genetically human plus a heritable magical effect -

How did you come to that conclusion Hariezer? What did you do to study it? Did you just make it up with no justification whatsoever? This story confuses science jargon for science.

Anyway, Lucious is worried that he’ll be blamed for Hermione’s death (although given that it has already been established that the wizard court votes exactly as he wants it to I’m not sure why he is worried about it) so he agrees to cancel Hariezer’s debt and return all his money if Hariezer swears Lucious didn’t have anything to do with the troll that killed Hermione.

This makes very little sense- why would anyone listen to Hariezer on this? Hariezer doesn’t actually know that the Malfoys weren’t involved. If he is asked “how do you know?” he’ll have to say “I don’t.” If he Bayesed that shit, the Malfoys should be near the fucking top of the suspect list…

Anyway, the Malfoys try to convince Hariezer that Dumbledore killed Hermione as some sort of multi-level plot.

I’m so bored.

HPMOR 98: this block is nearly over!

The agreement put in place in the previous chapter is enacted.

Malfoy announces to Hogwarts that Hermione was innocent. Hariezer says there is no ill will between the Potters and the Malfoys. Why did we even need this fucking scene?

Through backstage maneuvering by Hariezer and Malfoy,the Hogwarts board of governors enacts some rules for safety of students (travel in packs, work together,etc). Why they needed the maneuvering I don’t know (just ask McGonagall to implement whatever rules you want. No effort required).

Also, Neville was sent away from Hogwarts like.. three chapters ago. But now he is in Hogwarts and stands up to read some of the rules? And Draco, who was closer to Hariezer, returns to Hogwarts? This makes no sense given Hariezer’s fear for his friends? ”No one is safe! Wait, I changed my mind even though nothing has happened.”

There was also a surreal moment where the second worst thing I’ve ever read referenced the first:

“Remind me to buy you a copy of the Muggle novel Atlas Shrugged,”

HPMOR 99

This chapter is literally one sentence long. Unicorn died at Hogwarts. Why not just slap it into the previous chapter?

HPMOR 100

Remember that mysterious bit about the unicorns dying? That merited a whole one-sentence chapter? Luckily, it’s totally resolved in this chapter.

Borrowing a scene from canon, we have Draco and some slytherin palls (working to fix the school) investigating the forest with Hagrid as part of a detention. This leads to a variant of an old game theory/cs joke:

Meself,” Hagrid continued, “I think we might ‘ave a Parisian hydra on our ‘ands. They’re no threat to a wizard, yeh’ve just got to keep holdin’ ‘em off long enough, and there’s no way yeh can lose. I mean literally no way yeh can lose so long’s yeh keep fightin’. Trouble is, against a Parisian hydra, most creatures give up long before. Takes a while to cut down all the heads, yeh see.” “Bah,” said the foreign boy. “In Durmstrang we learn to fight Buchholz hydra. Unimaginably more tedious to fight! I mean literally, cannot imagine. First-years not believe us when we tell them winning is possible! Instructor must give second order, iterate until they comprehend.”

This time, it’s just Draco and friends in detention, no Hariezer/

When Draco encounters the unicorn killer, all of a sudden Hariezer and aurors come riding in to save the day:

After Captain Brodski had learned that Draco Malfoy was in the Forbidden Forest, seemingly in the company of Rubeus Hagrid, Brodski had begun inquiring to find out who had authorized this, and had still been unable to find out when Draco Malfoy had missed check-in. Despite Harry’s protests, the Auror Captain, who was authorized to know about Time-Turners, had refused to allow deployment to before the time of the missed check-in; there were standard procedures involving Time. But Brodski had given Harry written orders allowing him to go back and deploy an Auror trio to arrive one second after the missed check-in time.

So… why does Hariezer come with the aurors? For what purpose? He is always talking about avoiding danger,etc so why ride into danger when the battle wizards will probably be enough?

Anyway, we all know its Quirrell killing unicorns, so I’ll skip to the Hariezer/Quirrell interaction:

The use of unicorn’s blood is too well-known.” “I don’t know it,” Harry said. “I know you do not,” the Defense Professor said sharply. “Or you would not be pestering me about it. The power of unicorn’s blood is to preserve your life for a time, even if you are on the very verge of death.”

And then

“And why -” Harry’s breath hitched again. “Why isn’t unicorn’s blood standard in healer’s kits, then? To keep someone alive, even if they’re on the very verge of dying from their legs being eaten?” “Because there are permanent side effects,” Professor Quirrell said quietly. “Side effects? Side effects? What kind of side effect is medically worse than DEATH? ” Harry’s voice rose on the last word until he was shouting. “Not everyone thinks the same way we do, Mr. Potter. Though, to be fair, the blood must come from a live unicorn and the unicorn must die in the drinking. Would I be here otherwise?” Harry turned, stared at the surrounding trees. “Have a herd of unicorns at St. Mungos. Floo the patients there, or use portkeys.” “Yes, that would work.”

So do you remember a few chapters back when Hariezer was worried about eating plants or animals that might be conscious (after he learned snake speech)?

He knows literally nothing about unicorns here, nothing about what the side effects are,etc. I know lots of doctors who have living wills because they aren’t ok with the side effects of certain life-preserving treatments.

This feels again like canon is fighting the transhumanist message the author wants to insert.

HPMOR 101

Still in the woods, Hariezer encounters a centaur who tries to kill him, because he divines that Hariezer is going to make all the stars die.

There are some standard anti-astrology arguments, which again seems to be fighting the actual situation because the centaurs successfully use astrology to divine things.

We get this:

“Cometary orbits are also set thousands of years in advance so they shouldn’t correlate much to current events. And the light of the stars takes years to travel from the stars to Earth, and the stars don’t move much at all, not visibly. So the obvious hypothesis is that centaurs have a native magical talent for Divination which you just, well, project onto the night sky.”

There are so, so many other hypothesis Hariezer. Maybe starlight has a magical component that waxes and wanes as stars align into different magical symbols are some such. The HPMOR scientific method:

observation -> generate 1 hypothesis -> assume you are right -> it turns out that you are right.

Quirrell saves Hariezer and I guess in the aftermath Filch and Hagrid both get sacked (we aren’t actually shown this, instead Dumbledore and Hariezer have a discussion about it, because why show when you can have characters talk about! So much more interesting!)

Anyway, Dumbeldore is a bit sad by the loss of Filch and especially Hagrid, but Hariezer says

“Your mistake,” Harry said, looking down at his knees, feeling at least ten percent as exhausted as he’d ever been, “is a cognitive bias we would call, in the trade, scope insensitivity. Failure to multiply. You’re thinking about how happy Mr. Hagrid would be when he heard the news. Consider the next ten years and a thousand students taking Magical Creatures and ten percent of them being scalded by Ashwinders. No one student would be hurt as much as Mr. Hagrid would be happy, but there’d be a hundred students being hurt and only one happy teacher.”

First “in the trade”? Really?

Anyway, Hariezer isn’t multiplying in the obvious tangible benefits of an enthusiastic teacher who really knows his shit regarding magical creatures. Yes, more students will be scalded but its because there will be SUPER AWESOME LESSONS WHERE KIDS COULD BE SCALDED!

In the balance, I think Hariezer was right about Filch and Dumbledore was right about Hagrid.

Anyway, thats it for this chapter, its a standard “chapter where people do nothing that talk.”

Harry Potter and the Methods of Expository Dialogue.

HPMOR 102: open borders and death spells

Quirrell is still dying, Hariezer brings him a unicorn he turned into a stone.

We learn how horcruxes work in this world:

Only one who doess not believe in common liess will reasson further, ssee beneath obsscuration, realisse how to casst sspell. Required murder iss not ssacrificial ritual at all. Ssudden death ssometimes makess ghosst, if magic burssts and imprintss on nearby thing. Horcrux sspell channelss death-bursst through casster, createss your own ghosst insstead of victim’ss, imprintss ghosst in sspecial device. Ssecond victim pickss up horcrux device, device imprintss your memoriess into them. But only memoriess from time horcrux device wass made. You ssee flaw?”

Wait? A ghost has all the memories of the person who died? Why isn’t Hariezer reading everything he can about how these imprints work? If the Horcrux can transfer ghost-like stuff into a person, could you return any ghost to a new body? I feel like Hariezer just says “I’m going to end death! Humanity should end death! I can’t believe no one is trying to end death!” But he isn’t actually doing anything about it himself.

Also, if that is how a horcrux works WHY THE FUCK WOULD VOLDEMORT PUT ONE ON A PIONEER PROBE? The odds of that encountering people again are pretty much nill. At least we’ve learned horcruxes aren’t conscious- I had assumed Voldemort had condemned one of his copies to an eternity of isolation.

We also learn that in HPMOR world

There is a second level to the Killing Curse. Harry’s brain had solved the riddle instantly, in the moment of first hearing it; as though the knowledge had always been inside him, waiting to make itself known. Harry had read once, somewhere, that the opposite of happiness wasn’t sadness, but boredom; and the author had gone on to say that to find happiness in life you asked yourself not what would make you happy, but what would excite you. And by the same reasoning, hatred wasn’t the true opposite of love. Even hatred was a kind of respect that you could give to someone’s existence. If you cared about someone enough to prefer their dying to their living, it meant you were thinking about them. It had come up much earlier, before the Trial, in conversation with Hermione; when she’d said something about magical Britain being Prejudiced, with considerable and recent justification. And Harry had thought - but not said - that at least she’d been let into Hogwarts to be spat upon. Not like certain people living in certain countries, who were, it was said, as human as anyone else; who were said to be sapient beings, worth more than any mere unicorn. But who nonetheless wouldn’t be allowed to live in Muggle Britain. On that score, at least, no Muggle had the right to look a wizard in the eye. Magical Britain might discriminate against Muggleborns, but at least it allowed them inside so they could be spat upon in person. What is deadlier than hate, and flows without limit? “Indifference,” Harry whispered aloud, the secret of a spell he would never be able to cast; and kept striding toward the library to read anything he could find, anything at all, about the Philosopher’s Stone.

So standard open borders stuff, not worth spending time with.

But I want to talk about the magic here- apparently you can only cast the killing curse at people you hate, and toward people you are indifferent toward. So you can’t kill your loved ones! Big limitation!

Also, Hariezer “99% of the fucking planet is NPCs” Yudotter isn’t indifferent to anyone? I call BS.

HPMOR 103: very punny

Credit where credit is due, this whole chapter sets up a pretty clever pun.

The students take an exam, and then receive their final “battle magic” grades. Hermione is failed because she made the mistake of dying. Hariezer gets an exceeds expectations, which Quirrell informs Hariezer “It is the same grade… that I received in my own first year.”

Get it? He marked him as an equal.

HPMOR 104: plot threads hastily tied up/also some nonsense

So this chapter opens with a quidditch game, in an attempt to wrap up an earlier plot thread- Quirrell’s reward for his battle game (a reward given out back in chapter 34 or so, and literally never mentioned again until this chapter) was that slytherin and ravenclaw would tie for the house cup and Hogwarts would stop playing quidditch with the snitch.

Going into this game, Hufflepuff is in the lead for house cup “by something like five hundred points.” Quirrell is out of commission with his sickness, but the students have taken matters into their own hands- it appears the plan is just to not catch the snitch?

It was at eight pm and six minutes, according to Harry’s watch, when Slytherin had just scored another 10 points bringing the score to 170-140, when Cedric Diggory leapt out of his seat and shouted “Those bastards!” “Yeah!” cried a young boy beside him, leaping to his own feet. “Who do they think they are, scoring points?” “Not that!” cried Cedric Diggory. “They’re - they’re trying to steal the Cup from us! ” “But we’re not in the running any more for -” “Not the Quidditch Cup! The House Cup!”

What? It’s totally unclear to me how this is supposed to work. In the books, as I remember it, points were awarded for winning quidditch games NOT for simply scoring points within a quidditch game? Winning 500 to 500 will just result in some fixed amount of points going to the winner.

Also, there appears to be a misunderstanding of quidditch:

The game had started at six o’ clock in the afternoon. A typical game would have gone until seven or so, at which point it would have been time for dinner. No, as I recall, games go on for days not one hour. I think the books mention a game lasting longer than a month. No one would be upset at a game where the snitch hasn’t been caught in a few hours.

Basically, this whole thing feels really ill-conceived.

Luckily, the chapter pivots away from the quidditch game pretty quickly, Hariezer gets a letter from himself.

Beware the constellation, and help the watcher of stars and by the wise and the well-meaning. in the place that is prohibited and bloody stupid. Pass unseen by the life-eaters’ confederates, Six, and seven in a square,

I note that Hariezer established way back when somewhere that he has a system in place to communicate with himself, with secret codes for his notes to make sure they really are for him. I’m too lazy to dig this back up, but I definitely remember reading it. Probably in chapter 13 with the time travel game?

Anyway, apparently Hariezer has forgotten this (I hope this comes up and it’s not just a weird problem introduced for no reason?) because this turns out to be a decoy note from Quirrell to lure him to the forbidden corridor. After a whole bunch of people all show up at the forbidden corridor at the same time, and some chaos breaks out, Hariezer and Quirrell are the last men standing, which leads to this:

An awful intuition had come over Harry, something separate from all the reasoning he’d done so far, an intuition that Harry couldn’t put into words; except that he and the Defense Professor were very much alike in certain ways, and faking a Time-Turned message was just the sort of creative method that Harry himself might have tried to bypass all of a target’s protections - … And Professor Quirrell had known a password that Bellatrix Black had thought identified the Dark Lord and his presence gave the Boy-Who-Lived a sense of doom and his magic interacted destructively with Harry’s and his favorite spell was Avada Kedavra and and and … Harry’s mouth was dry, even his lips were trembling with adrenaline, but he managed to speak. “Hello, Lord Voldemort.” Professor Quirrell inclined his head in acknowledgement, and said, “Hello, Tom Riddle.”

We also indirectly find out that Quirrell killed Hermione (but we already knew that), although he did it by controlling professor Sprout (I guess to throw off the scent if he got caught?)

Anyway, this pivotal plot moment seems to rely entirely on the fact that Hariezer forgot his own coded note system?

HPMOR 105

So Quirrell gets Hariezer to cooperate with him, by threatening students, and offering to resurrect Hermione if he gets the philosopher’s stone

And know this, I have taken hostages. I have already set in motion a spell that will kill hundreds of Hogwarts students, including many you called friends. I can stop that spell using the Stone, if I obtain it successfully. If I am interrupted before then, or if I choose not to stop the spell, hundreds of students will die.

Hariezer does manage to extract a concession:

Agreed,” hissed Professor Quirrell. “Help me, and you sshall have ansswerss to your quesstions, sso long ass they are about passt eventss, and not my planss for the future. I do not intend to raisse my hand or magic againsst you in future, sso long ass you do not raisse your hand or magic againsst me. Sshall kill none within sschool groundss for a week, unlesss I musst. Now promisse that you will not attempt to warn againsst me or esscape. Promisse to put forth your own besst efforts toward helping me to obtain the Sstone. And your girl-child friend sshall be revived by me, to true life and health; nor sshall me or mine ever sseek to harm her.” A twisted smile. “Promisse, boy, and the bargain will be sstruck.”

So coming up we’ll get one of those chapters where the villain explains everything. Always a good sign when the villain does apparently nothing for 90 or so out of 100 chapters, and then explains the significance of everything at the very end.

HPMOR 106

Not much happens here, Quirrell kills the 3 headed cerberus to get past the first puzzle. When Hariezer points out that might have alerted someone, Quirrell is all “eh, I fucked all the wards up.”

So I guess more time to go before we get the villain monologue chapter.

HPMOR 107

Still no villain monologue. Quirrell and Hariezer encounter the other puzzles from the book, and Quirrell blasts them to death with magic fire rather than actually solve them.

However, Quirrell has some random reasons to not blast apart the potion room (he respects Snape or something, blah,bah). Anyway, apparently this means he’ll have to make a long and complicated potion, which will give Quirrell and Hariezer some time to talk.

Side note: credit where credit is due, I again notice these chapters flow much better, and have a much smoother writing style. There is some wit in the way that Quirrell just hulk-smashes all the puzzles (although stopping at Snape;s puzzle seems like a contrived way to drop the monologue we know is coming next chapter or so into the story) When things are happening, HPMOR can be decently written.

HPMOR 108: monologue

So we get the big “explain everything” monologue, and it’s kind of a let down?

The first secret we get- Hariezer is indeed a copy of Voldemort (which was just resolving some dramatic irony, we all knew this because we read the books). In a slight twist, we find out that he was intentionally a horcrux-

It occurred to me how I might fulfill the Prophecy my own way, to my own benefit. I would mark the baby as my equal by casting the old horcrux spell in such fashion as to imprint my own spirit onto the baby’s blank slate… I would arrange with the other Tom Riddle that he should appear to vanquish me, and he would rule over the Britain he had saved. We would play the game against each other forever, keeping our lives interesting amid a world of fools.

But apparently creating the horcrux created some sort of magic resonance and killed his body. But he had somehow made true-immortal horcruxes. Unfortunately, he had put them stupid places like on the pioneer probe or in volcanos where people would never touch them, so he never managed to find a host (remember when I complained about that a few chapters back?)

Hariezer does point out that Voldemort should have tested the new horcrux spell. He suggests Voldie failed to do so because he doesn’t think about doing nice things, but Voldie could have just horcruxed someone, killed them to test it, then destroyed the horcrux, then killed them for real. Not nice, pretty straightforward. It feels like this is going to be Voldemort’s weakness that gets exploited.

We find out that the philosopher’s stone makes transfigurations permanent, which I guess is a minor twist on the traditional legend? Really, just a specific way of making it work- in the legends it can transmute metals, heal sickness, bring dead plants back to life, let you make homunculi,etc.

In HPMOR, powerful magical artifacts can’t have been produced recently, because lore is lost of whatever, so we get a grimdark history of the stone, involving a Hogwarts student seducing professor Baba Yaga to trick her into taking her virginity so she could steal the stone. Really incidental to anything. Anyway, Flamel, who stole the stone, is both man and woman and uses the stone to transmute back and forth, and apparently gave Dumbledore power to fight Grindlewald.

Quirrell killed Hermione (duh) because

I killed Miss Granger to improve your position relative to that of Lucius Malfoy, since my plans did not call for him to have so much leverage over you.

I don’t think this actually makes much sense at all? It’s pretty clear Voldie plans to kill Hariezer as soon as this is over, so why should he care about Malfoy at all in this? I had admittedly assume he killed Hermione to help his dark side take over Hariezer or something.

Apparently they raided Azkaban to find out where Black had hidden Quirrell’s wand.

Also, as expected, Voldemort was both Monroe and Voldemort and was playing both sides in order to gain political power. He wanted to get political power because he was afraid muggles would destroy the world.

Basically, every single reveal is basically what you’d expect from the books. Harry Potter and The Obvious Villain Monologue.

The only open question is why the Hariezer-crux, given how that spell is supposed to work, didn’t have any of Voldemort’s memories up until that time? I expect we are supposed to chalk it up to “the spell didn’t quite work because of the resonance that blew everything up” or whatever.

HPMOR 109: supreme author wank

We get to the final mirror, and we get this bit of author wank:

Upon a wall of metal in a place where no one had come for centuries, I found written the claim that some Atlanteans foresaw their world’s end, and sought to forge a device of great power to avert the inevitable catastrophe. If that device had been completed, the story claimed, it would have become an absolutely stable existence that could withstand the channeling of unlimited magic in order to grant wishes. And also - this was said to be the vastly harder task - the device would somehow avert the inevitable catastrophes any sane person would expect to follow from that premise. The aspect I found interesting was that, according to the tale writ upon those metal plates, the rest of Atlantis ignored this project and went upon their ways. It was sometimes praised as a noble public endeavor, but nearly all other Atlanteans found more important things to do on any given day than help. Even the Atlantean nobles ignored the prospect of somebody other than themselves obtaining unchallengeable power, which a less experienced cynic might expect to catch their attention. With relatively little support, the tiny handful of would-be makers of this device labored under working conditions that were not so much dramatically arduous, as pointlessly annoying. Eventually time ran out and Atlantis was destroyed with the device still far from complete. I recognise certain echoes of my own experience that one does not usually see invented in mere tales.”

Get it? It’s friendly AI and we are all living in Atlantis! And Yud is bravely toiling away in obscurity to save us all! (Note: toiling in obscurity in this context means soliciting donations to continue running one of the least productive research organizations in existence.)

Anyway, after this bit of wankery, Voldie and Hariezer return to the problem of how to get the stone. The answer turns out to be by confounding himself into thinking that he is Dumbledore wanting the stone back after Voldemort has been defeated.

I point out that the book’s original condition where the way to get the stone was to not want the stone was vastly more clever. Don’t think of elephants, and all that.

Anyway, after Voldemort gets the stone, Dumbledore shows up.

HPMOR 110

Apparently Dumbledore was going to use the mirror as a trap to banish Voldemort. But when he saw Hariezer was with him, Dumbledore sacrificed himself to save Hariezer. So now Dumbledore is banished somewhere.

So after the big HPMOR reveal

It sort of feels like HPMOR is just the overly wordy gritty Potter reboot with some science stuff slapped on to the first 20 chapters or so.

Like, Potter is still a horcrux, Voldemort still wanted to take take over the wizard world and kill the muggles, etc.

Even the anti-death themes have fallen flat because of “show, don’t tell”- Dumbledore was a “deathist” but he was on the side of not killing all the muggles, Voledmort actually defeated death but that position rides along side the kill-everyone ethos, and Hariezer’s resolution to end death apparently was going to blow up the entire world. So the characters might argue the positions, but for reasons I don’t comprehend, actually following through is shown as a terrible idea.

I read the rest of HPMOR/113 puzzle

I read HPMOR, and will put chapter updates when I have time, but I wanted to put down my version of how Hariezer will get out of the predicament at the end of 113. I fear if I put this down after the next chapter is released, and if it’s correct, people will say I looked ahead.

Anyway, the way that this would normally be solved in HPMOR is simple the time turner- Hariezer would resolve to go and find Mcgonagall or Bones or whoever when this was all over and tell them to time turner into this location and bring the heat. Or whatever. But that has been disallowed by the rules.

But I think Yud is setting this up as a sort of “AI box” experiment, because he has his obsessions and they show up time and time again. So the solution is simply to convince Voldemort to let him go. How? In a version of Roko’s basilisk he needs to convince Voldemort that they might be in a simulation- i.e. maybe they are still looking in the mirror. Hasn’t everything gone a little too well since they first looked in? Dumbledore was vanquished, bringing back Hermione was practically easy, every little thing has been going perfectly. Maybe the mirror is just simulating what he wants to see?

So two ways to go from here- Hariezer is also looking in the mirror (and he has also gotten what he wanted, Hermione being brought back) so he might be able to test this just by wishing for something.

Or, Hariezer can convince Voldemort that the only way to know for sure is for Voldemort to fail to get something he wants, and the last thing he wants is for Hariezer to die.

HPMOR 118

The story is still in resolution mood, and I want to point out one thing that this story does right that the original books failed at- which is an actual resolution. The one big failure of the original Harry Potter books, in my mind, was that after Voldemort was defeated, we flashed immediately to the epilogue. No funeral for the departed (no chance to say goodbye to the departed Fred Weasley,etc).

Of course, in the HPMOR style, there is a huge resolution after literally every major even in the story, so it’s at least in part a stopped clock situation.

This chapter is Quirrell’s funeral, which is mostly a student giving a long eulogy (remember, Hariezer dressed things up to make it look like Quirrell died fighting Voldemort, which is sort of true, but not the Quirrell anyone knew.)

HPMOR 119

Still in resolution mode.

Hariezer comes clean with (essentially) the order of the Phoenix members, and tells them about how Dumbledore is trapped in the mirror. This leads to him receiving some letters Dumbledore left.

We find out that Dumbledore has been acting to fulfill a certain prophecy that Hariezer plays a role in-

Yet in your case, Harry, and in your case alone, the prophecies of your apocalypse have loopholes, though those loopholes be ever so slight. Always ‘he will end the world’, not ‘he will end life’.

So I guess he’ll bring in the transhumanist future.

Hariezer has also been given Dumbledore’s place, which Amelia Bones is annoyed at, so he makes her regent until he is old enough.

We also get one last weird pointless rearrangement of the canon books- apparently Peter Pettigrew was one of those shape shifting wizards and somehow got tricked into looking like Sirius Black. So the wrong person has been locked up in Azkaban. I don’t really “get” this whole Sirius/Peter were lovers/Sirius was evil/the plot of book 3 was a schizophrenic delusion running thread (also, Hariezer deduces, with only the evidence that there is a Black in prison and a dead Black among the death eaters, that Peter Pettigrew was a shapeshifter, that Peter immitated black, and that Peter is the one in Azkaban.)

And Hariezer puts a plan in place to open a hospital using the philsophers stone, so BAM, death is defeated, at least in the wizarding world. Unless it turns out the stone has limits or something.

HPMOR 120

More resolution.

Hariezer comes clean to Draco about how the death eaters died. (why did he go to the effort of the subterfuge, if he was going to come clean to everyone afterwards? It just added a weird layer to all this resolution).

Draco is sad his parents are dead. BUT, surprise- as I predicted way back when, Dumbledore only faked Narcissa Malfoy’s death and put her in magic witness protection.

I think one of the things I strongly dislike about HPMOR is that there doesn’t seem to be any joy…

I think one of the things I strongly dislike about HPMOR is that there doesn’t seem to be any joy purely in the discovery. People have fun playing the battle games, or fighting bullies with time turners, or generally being powerful, but no one seems to have fun just trying to figure things out.

For some reason (the reason is that I have a fair amount of scotch in me actually), my brain keeps trying to put together an imprecise metaphor to old SNES rpgs- a friend of mine in grade school loved FF2, but he always went out of his way to find all the powerups and do all the side quests,etc. This meant he was always powerful enough to smash boss fights in one or two punches. And I always hated that- what is the fun in that? What is the challenge? When things got too easy, I started running from all the random encounters and stopped buying equipment so that the boss battles were more fun.

And HPMOR feels like playing the game the first way- instead of working hard at the fun part (discovery), you get to just use Aristotle’s method (Harry Potter and Methods of Aristotelian Science) and slap an answer down. And that answer makes you more powerful- you can time turner all your problems away like shooing a misquito with a flamethrower, when a dementor shows up you get to destroy it just by thinking hard- no discovery required. The story repeatedly skips the fun part- the struggle, the learning, the discovery.

HPMOR 121

Snape leaves hogwarts, thus completing an arc I don’t think I ever cared about.

HPMOR 122: the end of the beginning

So unlike the canon books, the end of HPMOR sets it up more as an origin story than a finished adventure. After the canon books, we get the impression Harry, Ron and Hermione settled into peaceful wizard lives. After HPMOR, Hariezer has set up a magical think tank to solve the problem of friendly magic, with Hermione as his super-powered, indestructible lab assistant (tell me again how Hariezer isn’t a self insert?) , and we get the impression the real work is just starting. He also has the idea to found CFAR:

It would help if Muggles had classes for this sort of thing, but they didn’t. Maybe Harry could recruit Daniel Kahneman, fake his death, rejuvenate him with the Stone, and put him in charge of inventing better training methods…

We also learn that a more open society of idea sharing is an idea so destructive that Hariezer’s vow to end the world wouldn’t let him do it:

Harry could look back now on the Unbreakable Vow that he’d made, and guess that if not for that Vow, disaster might have already been set in motion yesterday when Harry had wanted to tear down the International Statute of Secrecy.

So secretive magiscience lead by Hariezer (with Hermione as super-powered “Sparkling Unicorn Princess” side kick) will save the day, sometime in the future.