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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

My understanding was that the story was true as stated: Voldemort showed up, destroyed the place, then calmed down and realized Quirrell now had the only remaining copy of the information he was looking for, so he set up some contingency to eventually put himself in Quirrell's body with the martial-arts skills intact.
Is there any hint in MoR that Quirrel was already a total badass before Voldemort's body-snatching job, as this interpretation would require ("I was a prodigy of Battle Magic even then [at the times of the dojo]")?
I think 'last surviving student of the greatest martial-arts teacher' counts as a hint, yeah. Why would Quirrel's battle-magic skill, or lack thereof, be relevant in Voldemort's choice of host? Magic is at least partly a function of the mind, and judging by the descriptions of zombie-like behavior when off-duty, the body-snatching didn't do Quirrel's mind any favors. Rather, the point would be to combine Voldemort's lifetime of rationality and Battle Magic practice with Quirrel's sixth-dan hand-to-hand combat skill, resulting in a single individual with two lifetimes' worth of powers, without the expense and possible side-effects traditionally associated with magical life extension. Speaking of which, isn't there a prefabricated, ready-to-use Alchemist's Stone somewhere on campus?
Philosopher's Stone, or in the American version, Sorcerer's Stone. Although it does belong to an alchemist.
Agreed, except there's no particular reason for a Dark Lord to actually leave a survivor when he can just have his minions disseminate it. (Or do so himself as Quirrell; we have no knowledge of how long this story has been around.) ETA: Actually I should say my first thought was that Voldemort destroyed the dojo not out of anger, but simply to make sure that no rival wizard ever got the awesome martial arts training that he did. This seems strongly implied when he says: "You are wondering where this marvelous dojo is, and whether you can study there. You cannot."
As pointed out in the recent Dr. Who series, you occasionally let one go so you can live with yourself.

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

Well, you kept it out for a long time.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky
A ShoutOut is not the same as contaminating the plot.
ETA: Spoilers for chapters in the early 100s. Very true, and I don't agree with some comments that I've seen lately (and probably they've been around all along) complaining about all of the shout outs. But we may have more of a shout-out here: there's a strong implication that the Mirror of Noitilov was created by Atlanteans attempting to create an honest-to-goodness FAI to avert an existential threat. Since Atlantis may have created magic entirely, and since there is already a lot of speculation among the fans that the existence of magic implies that MOR is a simulation run by an AI, this would put FAI and the existential threat of UFAI into the background of the world at a deep level. Of course, only you know if this implication and speculation are correct. And either way, I'm not complaining!
As someone who's often creeped out by LW, I approve.
That's fine. I'm actually not that into AI, so I wasn't thinking about that problem, but you're probably right. I also made a slight edit to your slight edit so that it still sounds like me.

The fic now has a hate blog dedicated to it.


Congrats Eliezer! Now you've really made it.


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

That's a really good analysis of the problems with MORSucks. Unfortunately, people who only slightly dislike a work, or acknowledge that has some flaws but enjoy it anyway, seldom form blogs devoted to deconstructing it. In general, you have to choose between overwhelming praise and overwhelming hate.
So maybe it's just me but my reaction to the fanfic was something like "Eliezer is writing rationalist Harry Potter fanfiction. That's pretty awesome. And educational!" I check it every so often to see if there is a new chapter and I've shared it with a couple people. That's pretty far from: It seemed like most people had similar reactions to mine, but maybe Less Wrongers have been making a bigger deal out of it elsewhere? We didn't even have this thread until a couple of chapters ago. Similarly: My sense was that we had almost nothing to do with the popularity. It didn't get linked to from LW until like chapter 12 or so, if I remember correctly. I know a couple people here made image macros but Eliezer's following isn't nearly large enough to generate this kind of popularity by itself, right? As for the rest of it: it reads like my mother critiquing MTV, the author doesn't understand where the author is coming from or who he is writing for and as a result totally misses his target. For example, the fact that Harry has three last names clearly isn't Eliezer making sloppy feminist statement. If anything, he's laughing at himself and the subculture he's a part of. I laughed out loud when I read it because obviously rationalist-Harry would have a compounded name. It's exactly the right amount of PC-vanity for the family of an Oxford professor with a kid too smart for his own good.
I was referred to initially to it by two people who are not LW readers. The individual writing the blog may be suffering from a bit belief overkill (one of my favorite cognitive biases. Someone should do a top-level post about it at some point. Many different cognitive biases can be thought of in a belief overkill framework).
Is belief overkill different from confirmation bias (which is what comes up when I google)?
They're related. Some argue that confirmation bias is an example of belief overkill. Belief overkill is basically the tendency for people to accept all arguments that support their opinion even if it is only in a peripheral fashion. Thus, for example, people who think that using fetal stem cells for medical purposes are moral are much more likely to think that stem cells will be really medically helpful than people who think that such use is bad. Essentially, people compile arguments for why X is Good/Bad rather than dividing questions properly. There are some posts that touch on this issue (such as those discussing why politics is a mind-killer) but I'm not aware of any post discussing this issue in detail (although given how extensive the archives are I estimate a high probability that I've simply missed the relevant ones).
Sounds a lot like the halo effect.
Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided is related to belief overkill, I'd say.
Motivated cognition would also be a special case of belief overkill-- it's being too ready to develop and accept arguments what you want to believe. Belief overkill is the same process applied to arguments from both yourself and other people.
Well, so far I'm not impressed by the criticism of chapter 1. I've been meaning at some point to write something about where I think Eliezer's gone wrong, but now I think it might be more interesting to wait and see if this individual produces anything interesting. Given that the individual is a fan of the xkcdsucks blog, I'm a bit skeptical that I'm going to see much of interest. Judging from the chapter 1 review it looks like the writer is having some of the same problems as those people (One major one is assuming that setups or characters are necessarily ideals just because they are sympathetic or protagonists)
The Chris Christie joke was excellent, however.
That site does seem like a bad case of motivated cognition, but I'm going to read a little more of it to see whether the author comes up with something interesting. One thing that's mildly interesting is a criticism of MoR as being humanities-deficient. It would be interesting to see someone (possibly not Harry Potter-- he's too young) coming into the wizarding world with a strong humanities background.
I read a fanfic a while ago involving a journey to afterlife (set after 5 and written before book 6 had come out) involving a journey to the underworld to try to get Sirius back. Hermione had apparently read enough mythology and other works to become genre savvy about what to expect. The end involved dealing with a creature that had been promised a pound of flesh from Harry and she then used the standard trick from The Merchant of Venice to deal with it. When the others are impressed she explicitly stated where it was from and gave a brief rant about how wizards should read more Muggle writing.
I would think using magic you actually could extract a pound of just flesh...
Yes, in the story it went slightly differently than it occurs in Merchant of Venice. Hermione waited until after the flesh had been torn from Harry to tell the underworld spirit that it had violated the deal and then negotiated back the restoration of everything as an appropriate penalty for it violating the deal.

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

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

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

You'd think that, but in the series there are references to people inventing spells of their own. The series implies that the "science" behind spells does exist, but Rowling never explains any of it.
'Inventing' might mean 'discovering'.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky
Not to mention, the ancient wizards made the levitation spell be called "Wingardium Leviosa"?
Well, the word 'wing' does date back to the 12th century, a little earlier than halfway between us and Merlin, and a time in which learned people did know Latin but were also starting to mangle it up pretty badly (not quite that badly IRL, but if we assume wizards were always a bit more eccentric than Muggles...). Unfortunately, that particular fan-wank completely breaks down when you consider that the pronunciation (let alone spelling) of 'wing' was nowhere near the same back then. Although you could save it by suggesting that, just as spoken language evolves really, really slowly, so did the spell-marks imprinted on reality as the spell got cast a million times over a thousand years, a wee little bit differently every time.
I haven't thought about this idea completely, but a karma system can actually be maintained in a magical society. I mean actual karma, the way Hindus and Buddhists think about. What goes around, comes around. Violate it badly enough and the universe will make an exception just to get you out of the way. As another commentor put it, somebody would have tried to protect another while they were being avara-kedavra'ed, earlier than lily protecting Harry. But voldemort's karma credit really ran out. So, whoopsie, there goes the body. But of course, he had his horcruxes. But if making people realize that we have to wake up in this hostile universe is one of the goals of this fic, the above wouldn't be true in HP&MOR. Another speculation, maybe true prophecies only come when there are serious thresholds crossed.
Or maybe it just doesn't work on children? No one knows because no one's ever tried it. If you could program a slaying weapon, what is the one group of people that no-one in their right mind could possibly ever want to kill? I'd say that group would be children too young to speak. Anyone going after them is certainly an absolute psycho.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] The link goes to quite an interesting speech

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

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

I think he was testing the differences between Harry and his dad, and was surprised enough at the contrast to keep asking questions.
Quite the opposite. I was tempted to respond to the review but had been left without an appropriate forum. I had to go back and figure out where you thought the Omelas reference was. Harry's observation just seemed obvious to me. Personally, I don't even see anything to explain. Billions of people are suffering, and at least billions are going to die, and most people are observably doing nothing about it. Harry seems to have good reason to think he's the only one that can do anything, if only because he's the only one (or one of just a few) who noticed and/or cares. Harry is right to take responsibility for the universe's troubles, as we all should. I think Harry was just using Azkaban as an example, and there will turn out to be more of a general solution to the world's problems unless Harry finds himself dealing directly with Azkaban.
Harry's problem seems to be not that he has decided to do something about it but that he takes pride in feeling guilt over the suffering of everyone (even obscenely evil people). It is on thing to prefer to take over the universe and allow the evil people to live freely in a way that can't hurt others, but it is quite another to be all emo about it. That achieves nothing except allow harry to feel self righteous.
IMO he's not all emo about it. He is also aware of his feeling guilty about it and agrees with Neville when he says he's silly. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall him feeling proud of it.
I also wonder why Snape got offended. Harry's answers were extremely supportive of Snape's situation back then: which makes me think Snape wasn't really offended, just pretending to be. Maybe the whole point was just for Snape to tell Harry the unpleasant truth about his parents in an emotionally powerful way, as a way of getting back at Harry because of his parents.

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

Awww... but that puts Harry in an impossible position. There's nothing he could have said that would have worked. If he had said Lily made a good choice, that would have directly insulted Snape. And Snape must have known that Harry would be in an impossible position, so he must have wanted to trap Harry into thinking he had done something wrong.

It's not quite impossible. He could have roundly blamed everything on James, casting Lily as a pure, victimized, agency-less casualty of his manipulations. That seems to be what Snape does.

It is possible to respond in a less direct way. Competent social skills would suggest putting very little actual content into his answer. I am less cunning than Harry and not known to be particularly conservative in my expression of potentially provocative positions but even so I do not think I would have all that much trouble responding with tact. Snape would still make a hostile reply but he does that to answers to potions problems anyway. He probably wouldn't be tempted to kill me.
I don't know about you, but having someone tell me I should give up something I've been overfocused on for a long time can be quite painful.

Assuming Snape was genuinely hurt by Harry's interpretation of Lily, I would expect to see a fraying between Snape and the Dumbledore faction as Snape questions why he is so faithful to Lily.

Yes, I suspect that was the point of that scene - to make things harder for Harry by taking away a (secret) ally. That would align with Eliezer's stated philosophy of fanfiction.

Furthermore, the major event in Aftermath 2 is that Snape reads students' minds again-something he agreed not to do under his agreement with Dumbledore. Which is further evidence that he has "gone rogue."

Ch. 18 In Aftermath 2 it seems reasonable that safety of Alissa requires reading her mind. Edit: Thus, the change is that he directly addressed cause of her distraction.
Seconded. That's what I wrote right after Ch. 27 came out: "Nice job turning Snape dark, Harry."
What is most interesting to me is how Snape handles being offended. Snape has been portrayed in this FanFic as being extremely shrewd and self controlled. Harry even made observations along those lines himself, upgrading his respect for Snape considerably. Snape (quite rightly) downgraded his trust in Harry's cunning. I wonder if Harry downgrades his respect similarly. If Severus had the cunning of even the 11 year old Malfoy he would not 'never talk to Harry again". Any benefit that he could hope to extract from Harry is still there and Severus is enough of a political agent to work past some offence when given a few months to cool down.

I just read Chapter 27. My thoughts:

"Mr. Bester" - great reference.

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

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

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

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

Indeterminate at this point. (By which I mean, even if Eliezer didn't intend Quirrel to have those reasons, he could easily make Quirrel have had those reasons.) The reasons given earlier are quite enough to justify the lessons: Quirrel doesn't want Harry to be easily scanned by either Snape or Dumbledore for obvious reasons, and once he threw his hat in the ring, a neutral third party was the only viable option - and such a neutral third party can only remain neutral by being Obliviated since anyone in the know about Voldemort is, eo ipso, a member of one faction or another.
Just read Chapter 27. Haven't read the original books, but Wikipedia says Snape was a secret agent of good because of his past love for Lily. Nice job turning Snape dark, Harry. Considering your friendships with Draco and Quirrell, I don't see what you're doing out of Slytherin. Also, the chapter reads a lot like Sword of Good. It's not a bad thing per se because a good story needs to be retold several times before it comes out right, but in this iteration the hero's epiphany that "woah, the world contains a lot of pain, gotta do something about it" came out quite a bit weaker. The protagonist in Sword of Good had a device that relayed the world's pain to him, but Harry has to settle with imagining other people in unfamiliar situations. Eliezer could make this plot point hit harder next time by making his protagonists actually see pain and suffering up close.
No, no, this mistake suggests the opposite. No Slytherin with Harry's preferences, intellect and level of development would ever make such an idiotic mistake. A Ravenclaw might. Harry gave the wise, or at least what he considered to be the correct answer, given very little regard to what he was trying to achieve. Self absorbed know it all. Don't even let me start on the pretensions crap about knowing what is good, and more importantly what is wise, by reading it in a fantasy book. Even Hermione isn't that much of a git.
My take: That part reads like a fairy tale that we tell children. It doesn't really convey the difference between Harry being naive, having terrible boundaries and generally being emotionally weak and Harry recognizing 'simple on the other side of compexity' that could apply to constructing value systems. Some of cousin_it's suggestions would help in this regard.
Also, I've been trying to come up with science fiction that has forgiveness as a primary value, and I can't think of anything.
Ursula Le Guin, "Four Ways To Forgiveness"
That too. For stories instilling forgiveness I must look to those generated for the purpose of religious indoctrination.

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

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

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

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

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

Her delight at ... (read more)

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

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

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

I think it's more a matter of approaching romance with the maturity and self-reflection abilities of an eleven-year-old.
In fact Harry himself doesn't seem particularly worth being particularly close to. He'd be a pain in the ass to be around and he's probably going to become a demi-god and care about what you want no matter what you do.
I agree to an extent. He does remind me of people I've known in the rationalist movement. It's worth pointing out that him blurting out the wrong thing at the wrong time isn't just an annoying character trait, it's probably symptomatic; I'd speculate he doesn't really consider other people as fellow actors in his decision making. If there was someone who did not make efforts to bond with people around him, would you be willing to trust him with power over their happiness? That's a non hypothetical question, I'd love to hear a rebuttal.
I should reread, but the most recent chapter with Hermione presents her as a person who's at least much less worth spending time with than the HP Hermione.
Really? It seemed that she's just a bit genre savvy. She's an 11 year old who's main understanding of how the world works is from distilling tropes.
The reverse halo effect you describe is called the horns effect.

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

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

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

... (read more)
That thread is an interesting read. Fun to see people taking this so seriously. Personally I just like that it is educational material presented in a fun to read fashion that pokes fun at a rather silly story / fictional universe that has been forced upon us all by the engines of cultural osmosis. I have no problem with HP used as a cheap mnemonic device to memorize and illustrate a set of concepts that everyone should know but most people don't. I also don't have a problem with using it as a cheap advertising gimmick to get people to pay attention to matters that they should be paying attention to but don't. The annoyance of DLP folks at this is understandable, but somewhat hilarious from a perspective that thinks of there as being more important nerdy things to obsess over in life.
Yes, it seems to work great for that. I find myself saying things like, "As Lucius Malfoy would say, that sounds like the sort of plot that would work in a story but not in reality." or "That's like the time Harry Potter..."

What happened to the Harry from Chapter 6?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Create a fake...
    • Lie to Hermione to get assistance?
    • Transfiguration not likely to work, given the teacher responsible.
  • assume that wizarding security is crap and guess (corre
... (read more)

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

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

7Eliezer Yudkowsky
...don't take this the wrong way, but even Harry knows better than that. If you genuinely think this is a smart thing to do in real life, it makes me seriously worry about your safety and the safety of people around you.
There is NO DOWN SIDE! It may be best to hand over the time turner but you do so after having a chance to think it through. Time turner. Plan. Decide that it is better to hand over the device for now. Write your analysis down. Give it to yourself at the appropriate time. (And give it to yourself again to make the loop stable.) I have offended you by questioning the rationality of your fictional persona. My own safety is not in any danger. Every other exceptional use that Harry put the device to is risky and I would not do any of them. But giving himself a chance to think through his options in a way that would not be detected by anyone else is the trivially correct strategic option. My own safety is secure in the short term, and medium term (human life span) but for the long term the threats to my life are human mortality and existential risk. And that's kind of what I've been counting on you to take care of (with any contribution that I could hope to make purely financial). That being the case, this conversation is quite literally scaring me. I'm not quite there yet, but the key quote from Snape is at least springing to my mind: "And I no longer trust your cunning." Examples of stupid things to do with a Time Turner: * Throw pies at people through misguided altruism. It would be better to let them break your finger. You're at Hogwarts... a 5th year Luna could fix it. * Have a dramatic stand off over a rememberall. If it is so important... use the time turner to find and or steal the thing beforehand and leave it somewhere Neville will find. I mean seriously... using a time turner in a way that is detectable is for emergencies! * Disappearing acts from a class room. Of all the things to do with a Time Turner in that situation making a bigger scene is not one of them. At the very least, if you must refuse to be bullied, write yourself a note telling yourself to not attend potions and make another arrangement. It would be much easier to convince Dumbledore to
You seem to misunderstand how the time-turner works (or at least, how it's been suggested it works). You don't get to overwrite anything; the universe doesn't "end up in" a stable state that results from using it; there isn't any meta-time (or at least, we've seen nothing to suggest such). If he were going to use the time turner to give himself advice, he would have already gotten the advice. And having used the time-turner right there and visibly, he couldn't use it "later not use it there" and have his going back in time undetectable. A possible way he could use the time turner to help himself in this case would be to ask to go to the bathroom or somesuch, use the time turner, use the extra time to think, and then return to the room shortly after he left having thought about things. (Edit: But this would be pretty obvious, and McGonagall probably wouldn't let him leave the room with the time turner in any case.)

You seem to misunderstand how the time-turner works (or at least, how it's been suggested it works). You don't get to overwrite anything; the universe doesn't "end up in" a stable state that results from using it

My interpretation of the "DO NOT MESS WITH TIME" incident was that you can try setting things up so that temporal consistency implies the result you want, but actually ruling out every other possibility whatever, including vast classes of outcomes you never even imagined, is next to impossible, at least for an 11-year-old boy, however smart. It hadn't even occurred to him that there was a problem in his reasoning when he tried the experiment that gave him "the scariest result ever in the history of science". Temporal consistency in the presence of time loops is another blind idiot god, far more swift and powerful than evolution.

Anyway, he still has the Time-Turner. All that stands between him and it is a magical lock. How difficult can that be for him to get around? No, actually what stands between him and it is the author's necessity not to unbalance the plot by giving him a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Harry's error in the experiment was responding to "DO NOT MESS WITH TIME" with the same. If he didn't have the property of responding to that message with the same, that message wouldn't appear. Actually, this whole consistency-based time travel seems to be an extremely expressive thought experiment infrastructure for thinking about Newcomb-like problems and decision theories able to deal with them. Maybe I should do a top-level post on that (I don't have a sufficiently clear picture of the setting, so I might be wrong about its potential)... Though I consider that happening unlikely, so other people who understand UDT are welcome to try.
I was thinking exactly the same thing. After getting my head around the implications it seems to be an extremely intuitive way of handling such problems. I didn't write a post myself since I have yet to look close enough at UDT to be able to explain the difference between UDT and TDT.
I think you summed that up perfectly. I would have liked to see a little more of that explanation in the Fan Fic. It would make the story feel more natural and also be a perfect excuse to include the 'blind idiot god' kind of message. Without Hermione backing him up? I think he'd struggle. Harry just isn't that smart! He really should be spending more time sweet talking her. Well intentioned genius with ambition that doesn't involve gaining power... just the kind of ally Harry needs. Uh huh. It's even worse than if Harry had actually gone and made himself rich on day 1!
He has been rich since day 1, it just that all his money is tied up in a variety of non-liquid "investments."
I should say "insanely rich", not merely 'well off heir'.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky
Time travel in this universe has a consistent single line; once McGonagall sees Harry disappear, he can't undo it.

once McGonagall sees Harry disappear, he can't undo it.

Sounds like UDT might be applicable here. Here's a time-traveling version of Counterfactual Mugging:

Harry appears to McGonagall and tells her, "If you give me 1 Galleon now, I'll go back in time and hand you 100 Galleons an hour ago." Suppose McGonagall does not recall being handed 100 Galleons an hour ago. What should she do?

Here's my analysis. Suppose McGonagall decides not to give Harry 1 Galleon, then there are two possible consistent timelines for this universe. One where McGonagall gets 100 Galleons, and one where she doesn't. How does the universe "choose" which one becomes reality? I don't know but let's say that the two possibilities have equal chance of being true, or get equal amount of "reality juice".

Given the above it seems clear that McGonagall would prefer to have pre-committed to "give 1 Galleon even if not handed 100 Galleons an hour ago" since that would make the "not get 100 Galleons" timeline inconsistent. I think that's also UDT's output (although I haven't written down the math to make sure).

ETA: I didn't follow the previous discussion closely, so this might not apply at all to it. Hopefully, in that case the above is of interest in its own right. :)

Seems straightforward to me. McGonagall knows that she does not recall being handed 100 Galleons an hour ago, so the three states of the world with high probability are: 1) She is not in a universe where she will hand Harry 1 Galleon, 2) She is in a universe where she hands Harry 1 Galleon and Harry breaks the agreement, or 3) She is in a universe where she hands Harry 1 Galleon and Harry keeps the agreement in a way that leaves her unable to recall this happening. By not handing Harry a Galleon, she will ensure that she is in universe 1. By handing Harry a Galleon, she will find herself in universe 2 or 3. She should therefore give Harry a Galleon if she judges it less than 99 times more likely that Harry will break the agreement than fulfil it in a way consistent with her experience. As Harry has access to a time machine, he doesn't need to decide to give her 100 Galleons before he gets the 1 Galleon, so the situation is quite different to one based on predicting her actions, as Omega does in the Counterfactual Mugging. Rather it has most of the properties of the forward-time version of the gambit: "If you give me 1 Galleon now, I'll hand you 100 Galleons in one hour", except that McGonagall has a big piece of evidence that the promise will be broken, namely that she doesn't remember it being kept.
Vladmir and I agree with the applicability of UDT and have suggested time-travel-with-consistency is a good way to consider Newcomblike problems and the the decision theories that can handle them.
Precommit, give him the Galleon, then reach in her bag to get the 100 Galleons. (She must have been Obliviated; otherwise, she would remember.) You can actually get around a lot of the problems with time travel by taking advantage of the difference between observation and reality. For instance, if you see one of your friends die, you can go back in time, save him, then plant a fake double so you still have the same observations.
You can never know consistency, can never rely on it, otherwise you are inconsistent (2nd incompleteness theorem).
Though Godel was interested in time travel loops, that's not the type of consistency that his Second Incompleteness Theorem discussed (it's limited to formal axiomatized systems that can describe arithmetic).
I suspect Vladmir is considering the system in question here in a way that meets that description.
Only because you termed that event "real", but the characters can't know that it is.
Is information in other minds what gets stabilized?
McGonagall went a fair way towards earning Harry's respect, with her behavior about the med kit among other things; he is inclined to tolerate (with however much whining) her authority, particularly on school grounds.
Respect is all well and good... sure, maybe he will do some detention some time. But this is a matter of survival and something that can help him in a broad manner to achieve just about all his goals. This is compared to Snape who.... said some things that might hurt Harry's feelings. Harry isn't acting like a rationalist. He's acting like a nerdy ape.
He's eleven years old.
He is a week older than he was a week ago. So again I wonder what happened to the Harry from chapter 6?
I think he doesn't want to become a criminal by stealing the Time Turner.
This doesn't warrant one sentence worth of inner dialog? Seriously not buying it. It's a different Harry hacked together for a different parable and as a plot hack to get rid of the Get Out Of Jail Free Card of Awesomeness +4.

He can't have inner dialogue during that section, it's in Minerva's point of view!

That's a good reason. So are you saying that Harry actually did do a thorough analysis of his optimal strategy for securing the benefits of time travel for "actually 5 minutes" at some stage but we just don't hear about it? This would make the situation credible.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky
No, Harry's experimental result scared the hell out of him and he decided not to do any more clever experiments until he was fifteen. This is actually more rational than what you are advocating.
Are you sure you understand what I'm advocating? Your claim here suggests to me that you do not. The most probable outcome of the thought process I outlined, and I say most probable because this is what my reasoning concluded but Harry is smarter than me, is that he will go and earn enough enough money to buy a time turner just in case. I aren't advocating the use of the time turner to make reckless experiments or any of the non-authorized uses that Harry had previously used the device for. I actually made it quite clear what I thought of clever experimentation when explaining the note I would send myself. "Arrogant git" was the key phrase if I recall. What kind of usage is sane? Emergency usage. For example, I would advocate the use of a time turner when locked in a room being tortured and at a high risk of suicide if I do not prevent it. (I liked the touch with the destroying all sharp objects too.) I would also advocate the use for saving lives (including his own depending on circumstances) with minimalist interventions, many of which would be not at all experimental given what he has already safely gotten away with. It would also be extremely valuable in the reduction of risk to have an extra 36 hours available for emergency use. Many threats to Harry's world optimisation plans will come with some warning. Impending attack of some sort, etc. Having a turner on hand means that he would be able to take more time to make preparations or give th device to McGonnagal in the emergency situation and allow her to prepare. As far as either myself or Harry know she isn't wise enough to have one on hand herself. A time turner is a device that is massively useful and it is massively useful even if you use it conservatively and take no risks with it. Having one on hand does not make bad things happen unless you know you will be unable to control your foolish impulses. This is not Harry's reasoning. If Harry does not spend at least five minutes thinking through his priori
That's a good answer.
Timeturner awesomeness for jail escape is pretty much discounted, when jailers know that one has it. And Harry risks being put under constant supervision because of his apparent disability of infancy.
It never occurred to me to consider it a literal way to escape from jails. That's nearly useless. Instead, I consider it, among other things, as a nearly universally more effective med. kit. If someone just fell off the roof would you rather be able to bandage them up a bit or go back and tell them to watch their step? ... a good reason to not do things that are infantile... and when you do slip up you go back and give yourself a scolding so that you never do the infantile thing in the first place (but still give your past self the scolding note).
9Eliezer Yudkowsky
Good heavens, Mr. Wedrifid, you can't change time! Do you think students would be allowed Time-Turners if that was possible? What if someone tried to change their test scores?
Good heavens Mr. Yudkowsky, I thought the inventor of Timeless Decision Theory would have a better grasp on how being the kind of person who would make a certain decision can determine what happens, even when that decision never needs to get made, whether that be with Omega and his boxes or in the stable resolution of time loops. In all the previous time related events, things worked out how they did because the situation in which Harry did not use the time turner was not stable. If Harry was different (for example, by being Hermione or by not having a Time Turner) then the stable, 'final version' given by the universe-time-loop-processor would be the simple one where he doesn't go mess with stuff. But it wasn't. But lets say that for some bizarre reason Harry never found a note warning him about a stumbling risk and he didn't think to send one back later. At the very least we should find out a few seconds later that the friend fell off the building and landed on a great big padded mat.

Good heavens Mr. Yudkowsky, I thought the inventor of Timeless Decision Theory would have a better grasp on how being the kind of person who would make a certain decision can determine what happens

I do indeed.

I've written unpublished fiction about it.

From before TDT was invented, actually.

Harry has not worked all that stuff out yet.

He did work out one important principle so far.


And considering that he got that result, you seem to have missed some of the implications for how time travel works in that universe which would make it potentially dangerous to try and blackmail reality.

Time travel was the first optimization process I considered which was truly alien enough to deanthropomorphize my thinking; evolutionary biology didn't do the job, but the unpublished story I was writing about time travel did.

What you're suggesting is a bit more potentially incredibly dangerous than you seem to think.

I think you are mistaking me for straw-wedrifid here. I saw the problem with trying to blackmail reality before he went ahead and actually tried it. But then I'm not eleven and while I am arrogant I am not nearly as arrogant as Harry seems to be.
Exactly. To make certain situations impossible, you have to be the sort of person that makes the correct actions in the impossible situations, the actions making those situations impossible. (This is also at the core of bargaining.) You are not to take the money from two boxes in the Open Box Newcomb's problem, even if you clearly see that money is there in both of them (and if you have that property, then the situation will never arise).
Harry tried "being the kind of person who would make a certain decision" when using the Time Turner. The result was DO NOT MESS WITH TIME.
He was trying to create a stable time loop, which had consequences along the same lines as the Outcome Pump - there's no way to know which stable time loop you'll get. However, if he was using a "being the kind of person" strategy, we might expect he'd avoid being the sort of person who would pass along "DO NOT MESS WITH TIME".
Yes, to repeat what I said earlier, this seems easy to avoid by replacing his "blank paper" condition with a more general "anything other than a pair of numbers in the given range" condition. I have to suppose Eliezer had him get that specific message because it wouldn't be good for the story if Harry noticed this fact. Though even if he does take that approach, as with the outcome pump, there's still other possibilities, because they can screw with Harry's ability to execute his intended algorithm.
Yes, like it turning out that he was predetermined to die at the time of the experiment, and never complete it.
He did the same thing every time he used the time turner. I mean every time, even the times when he was being a good boy and using it to manage sleep. the universe doesn't care whether it is a conversation with McGonnagal, juggling bullies and pies, someone falling off the roof or just bed time. What does matter to the universe is whether the agent in the time loop is interacting with the time loop in a way that is complex and improbable. That is, factoring large primes should give unpredictable outcomes, long detailed tricks like throwing pies and playing with bullies should be slightly safer, giving yourself a time out simpler again and pre-sheduled study and sleep breaks right down at the bottom of the scale. I argue that all the instance of time turner differ use differ only in degree. There are many things to do with a time turner that are far, far less disruptive, complex or unstable than what Hermione did when attending multiple classes. Given her interaction with other people who would be encountering her other self there are butterfly effects that would need to be resolved by the system. If Harry set up a smart system to communicate with himself unobtrusively things may be simpler to predict. He could send himself SMS messages (when outside Hogwarts) or use one of those coins to send messages.
This "scale" sounds extremely anthropomorphic.
An artifact of human language. The easiest way to describe most things (right down to basic forces) tends to be anthropomorphic.
As Eliezer said already, timeturner can't change the past. One generally can't even calculate probability of desired outcome of timeturning... Ouch. This is discussed already.
If anyone wants some sf on the subject, I recommend Leiber's The Big Time and "Try and Change the Past". They're both based on the same premise. The timeline is changeable but highly resistant. Humans can't change it (that's the short story) but there are two superhuman sides (called Snakes and Spiders, but never seen onstage) which recruit humans who are willing to be cut out of their timelines just before they die.
Probability is in the mind. It is the thing that is being calculated.
And the thing is "DO NOT MESS WITH TIME".
That is a significant quote from the FanFic but I am having difficulty seeing it as relevant to Vladmir's statement.
I found Vladimir's utterance (I'm not sure of word's connotations, I use it in pragmatics sense) incomprehensible on my current level of understanding his intentions and his ways of expressing toughts. So I've took literal meaning of his words into current context. However, beside joke part my message points on difficulties in dealing with stable states of closed time loops (the thing).
This is not an unusual occurrence. V thinks clearly, and thoroughly but presents his conclusions in a way that assumes a similar thinking style and a lot of shared prior knowledge. Petty things like 'intermediate steps' are not necessarily included.
I disagree with this statement. See earlier discussion of 'idiot god' by Richard.
Those closed time loops are weird. I considered timeturing before outcome, but, yes, even in that case one can be told by one's timeturned twin, that all is set up for good outcome. And timeturing after desired outcome... should be done unconditionally, as you can't know it is not you who caused this outcome. Weird.
Definitely weird. A related consideration is that I would always give reasons for any advice I give my former self. That cuts off a large swath of potential stable loops that consist of me giving myself advice for absolutely no reason at all except that it happens to be stable. The better the reasons I have been given myself the less likely it is that the self perpetuating cycle is a completely arbitrary cycle. For example, I wouldn't have sent back "Don't mess with time". I would have sent "the universe doesn't particularly care about your rules and plans you arrogant little git! What's more likely, guessing your way through 128 bit encryption or something seriously nasty that distracts you from your games, such as ? That's right. Think." (Yes, I'd include the 'arrogant git' part. That is information I would clearly need to be reminded of!) Now, not all scary situations give me the chance to write an explanation but a large swath of the probability mass does. While I would still follow the hastily written directive I would also know that to write that particularly message something really bad must be happening. Without having a predetermined policy for giving details I would have no idea whether the message meant something bad almost happened or not. (It also means that I am far less likely to get such a message - I'll probably get one of the many possible detailed messages.)
The problem is that you aren't source of advice, you are one of constraints to be satisfied. Any message, that you will reproduce with picometer precision and that will create stable state, will do. Precision isn't a problem in deterministic world, and maybe in quantum one too (if our neurons are sufficiently classical), but I'm hesitant to estimate influence of one's preferences on stable state.
I am both. The advice that I will choose to give is determined by the same physics that allows me to breath. Regarding quantum effects - the uncertainty effects can be amplified based on the elimination of unstable loops. Most obviously when my behavior is determined by a quantum coin. The way that plays out looks seriously when pictured in 4 dimensions.
Not necessarily. Self-existing objects and auto-generated information in chronology-violating space-times: A philosophical discussion
I read the link and make the same claim I made previously: I am both. The advice that I will choose to give is determined by the same physics that allows me to breath.
Wait a second, you will not choose an advice. You will reproduce the advice (consistency constraint!). And for the advice to be advice you choose, it must be physically impossible to you to reproduce anything you think is not of your origin. I envy your self-esteem. Edit: Given condition is sufficient, but not necessary.
You don't have to reproduce the advice. And if you don't, you won't have to.
That is important special case: the advice = no advice. But that is easy to overlook, thanks.
Well, you've convinced me.
I guess you could argue that it wasn't criminal to do so, but he had no qualms about stealing gold from his bank vault.
I mean that he doesn't want to deal with the consequences of being known to have stolen a valuable artifact; in other words, he doesn't to be a fugitive from the wizard police.

David Brin is apparently now a fan of MoR.


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

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


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

Oh, you're right - and what's more, it doesn't take much to make the "anything goes"-crazy hypothesis more ridiculous than magic. We know that human brains have limited processing power and storage capacity, so if you can produce sensations which the brain should be unable to fake, you can reduce the probability mass of the hypothesis significantly.
How can you use your brain to test if a sensation your brain is experiencing cannot be faked by your brain?
How long would it take you to factor the number 495 967 020 337 by hand? And how long would it take you to multiply two numbers, both less than 1 300 000, together? Some operations are much easier to verify than to execute.
I wrote out a long response involving an analogy to a CPU self-test program, but at the end I realised that I had arrived at the same conclusion you stated. :-) So I'm voting you up and wish to extend you an Internet high-five. However, on this topic, it seems like there's no good approach for handling the scenario where your brain messes with your internal tests in such a way as to point them invariably at a false positive, i.e. anosognosia. I agree that a good self-test of the sort you describe would reduce the probability for most kinds of anything-goes insanity, but what sort of test could be used to check against the not-insignificant subset of insanity that specifically acts against self-tests and forces them to return false positive at the highest level?
It's always possible to produce insane minds that cannot fix themselves - the interesting question is how big a diff can be bridged at what price. And that's a bit more difficult to answer. I wonder, however, whether a sufficiently educated anosognosiac could determine that the sources informing them of their paralysis were more reliable than their firsthand observations. It seems unlikely, of course.
The answer appears to be no. There were a few articles in Scientific American: Mind about it a while back. Experiments show that the flaw causing stuff like people denying they can't move their arms is part of their logic processing; they proved this by figuring out they could reset their thinking for a short time, at which point people were able to clearly state that they were paralyzed and they were surprised at their earlier thinking. After a minute, the effect wore off and the patient returned to an earlier state. So the effect appears to short circuit the decision making process on a hardware level.
True. Even if upon witnessing such absurdities he had immediately assumed he was seeing things and demanded to be checked into a mental hospital, he couldn't even be sure that there was really anyone around him to hear, or that he was really saying what he thought he was saying, etc. But then, if he's that far removed from reality, whatever he's really doing must appear crazy enough to draw the attention of those around him. Maybe he's already in a mental institution... which he imagines to be a school of wizardry! From the inside, he already sort of feels (and acts) as though he's the only sane person in a madhouse... while in reality, he's just another patient.
I think David Hume said something more or less like this when discussing the likelihood of miracles; that if you witnessed a miracle, you ought to conclude you were insane. I am not sure I buy into this. For one thing, I see a problem with falsifiability. If there is nothing that I could see to convince me that magic might work, I am not objecting to the reality of magic on rational grounds, but as a sort of knee-jerk. It's like the doubleplus loony creationist types who think the devil planted archaeopteryx. There are reasons I think magic in the Harry Potter sense is not true, reasons that could be argued against (e.g., show me a plausible medium for magic to be carried in). I don't think it would be very rational to make it sort of... axiomatic that magic is false. That seems to in fact be the attitude Eliezer is criticizing in the character of Harry's father. So yeah, some probability mass goes to the "hallucination/insane" hypothesis, but not very much. Most goes to the "I don't know what's going on here at all, but she did just apparently turn into a cat" hypothesis.
Miracles are one-time events, whereas magic spells are repeatable (in every fictional universe I've seen, anyway).
True; but where does that factor come in? I mean, hallucinations can presumably be repeatable too. "I tested Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - and I am still Napoleon!"
If he was having completely full-blown auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations (note that this is fairly unusual, for example schizophrenia apparently usually only manifests hallucinations in one modality), then what exactly could he do about it or even how would he test it?
Yes, me[2010-05] did not think of that :) I agree now
Addenda: 1. From the reader's perspective, it doesn't appear that that's what we are supposed to believe (though I'm still wondering...), so I'm tentatively guessing that the mechanism of magic is some kind of technology, and that the in-story universe has the same laws as this one. It does seem implausible that an ancient civilization could have invented technology advanced enough to be indistinguishable from this kind of magic, but that could be different in an alternate history, and it still seems less implausible than any set of physical laws that would actually make this kind of magic a normal, natural thing that a non-industrial civilization could invent/discover. 2. We are supposed to be wondering why magic works at all, right? It doesn't seem like Eliezer to expect us to be satisfied with an Inherently Mysterious phenomenon at the center of the story, even if it's a story based on someone else's fictional world that already had that feature... but I don't know, maybe it's a demonstration that, no matter how ridiculous the rules are, rationality will still allow you to win. But I'm still hoping that magic will be explained at some point, and I'm still looking for clues about it.
I think magic will be explained as an addition onto physics: a new "force" is involved, but still behaves in an intelligible way. I can't imagine how the MoR series would explain the magic exhibited thus far as coming from current physical understanding. Unless the magicians control quantum wavefunctions directly, or something like that. Or Harry is a brain in a vat.

Or if Harry figures out that he's in a story.

What kind of evidence would convince you that you were in a story?

If something totally crazy seemed like it was about to happen and the world was at stake, like a technological singularity was about to occur or something, and I was called to work for the team of great minds that were trying their hardest to stop the destruction of the entire universe, dropping out of high school in the process, and meeting a beautiful girl who had been living literally a few houses down from me for the last 4 years without my knowing about it, who just so happened to be doing an essay on transhumanism for her English class and would just love to interview someone who was doing work for the Singularity Institute.

Oh wait...

The events in a story fit into a narrative. If I were in a story, I might be able to make especially accurate predictions by privileging hypotheses that make narrative sense. Dumbledore did this on an intuitive level, and it is the reason for his success.
This is basically an attempt to formalize genre savviness.
And of course, if you really were in a story and tried it, story logic dictates that you would almost certainly end up being wrong genre savvy
Then again, if your predictions are part of the narrative, the narrative might go on to explicitly falsify your predictions. And if you except it to falsify your predictions... well, two can play that game.
If I started hearing the narrator's voice
* Talking animals * Beanstalks of unusual size * A pair of boxes, one containing $1000 ... * Black comedy * Poetic justice * People living happily ever after.
I'm not sure, considering the number of different kinds of story there are even in our world, and especially considering that entities which could create our world will probably have sorts of fiction we haven't thought of, and may have sorts of fiction we can't think of. However, Eliezer may come up with something which would plausibly convince Harry.
I think something like "brain in a vat" is the best inference from observing magic. [EDITED to add: of course I mean after getting very good evidence against deception, insanity, etc.] More precisely: if you find evidence that something deeply embedded in the universe is best understood at something like the level of human concepts -- it matters what words you say, whether you really hate someone else as you say them, etc. -- then you should assign more probability to the hypothesis that the-universe-as-it-now-is was made, or at least heavily influenced, by someone or something with a mind (or minds) somewhat like ours. That could be a god, a graduate student in another universe with a big computer, superintelligent aliens or AIs who've messed with the fabric of reality in our part of the world, or any number of other things. In a manner of speaking this is obviously correct for the Potterverse (either Rowling's or Yudkowsky's): in that universe, magic works; and indeed that universe was designed by an intelligent being or beings, namely Rowling or Rowling+Yudkowsky. It probably doesn't work "internally" for the original Potterverse -- I've no idea whether Rowling has any particular position on whether within the stories the world should be thought of as created by intelligent beings -- but I'm guessing that it does for Eliezer's.
I'm not convinced that concluding one is in a simulation is really the best bet here. A simulation would have a terrible amount of trouble specifying these effects. If for example, I have a simulation for say just our local system, how the heck are the people running the simulation easily going to be able to specify emotional states or the like? The only possible explanation I can have for this is that the simulation was originally started with humans having certain (simulated) brain structure and that structure is the type of structure that wizards have. Other humans can't do it because their structure isn't of the type the simulation recognizes to trigger magic.
I agree. This is why I think the Hogwarts letter is charmed to make itself sound more plausible than it should be (which would be a sensible way to ease the transition for muggleborns). Harry explicitly wonders where his own certainty that magic is real comes from and doesn't get an answer via introspection. That sounds like the effect of a weak charm to me.
Oh, and you're forgetting the bit where Mrs. Figg just randomly knows magic exists. That would be pretty jarring.

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

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

Given that one of the catchphrases around here is "rationalists should win", i'm curious why the main character of this story loses in the end. Why would her plans "neatly backfire" in the end, or is it enough for us to admire her rationality that she almost achieved her goals, despite her lack of obvious assets?
She makes a poorly considered wish to an unfriendly genie AI. As a result, she has to kill herself and her boyfriend to save the world. No kidding.
What was the wish? And can you at least write a short summary of the story?
"Can you make some paperclips for me?"
Is that where that's from?
I wonder where I can procure an ebook version. I still read russian.
Would you be willing to translate it?
No, it's too big. Would take me weeks of full-time work.
Just out of curiosity, how much does a week of your time cost? Your recommendation of the book, plus the very fact that it wasn't originally written in english and has a genie AI, makes it fascinating on a number of levels. If there was a translation, I would probably want to buy and read it.
He has an English website: http://lleo.aha.ru/e/index.htm , which suggests that asking about buying the English-language rights might not go amiss.
Thanks for the link! I sent Leonid Kaganov an email expressing interest in a translation and directing him to this URL. Hopefully something comes of it :-)
Thanks for trying. Please keep us updated. I was thinking to introduce some English-speaking audience (represented by i.e. Less Wrong and Hacker News) to Leonid Kaganov for quite some time. I absolutely don't feel able to translate a whole novel (and I haven't read Lena Squatter yet, as it's quite recent) but I think I can pull off translating a short story or a blog post. The best story of him that I've liked so far is Predator's Epos (2001) which depicts a dramatic incident in space and tries to analyze human ethics through the eyes of an alien studying human epos and comparing it to other species'. The short story, as author noted in his blog, was written on a crunch for a short story competition, which had a theme "a knight quests for saving a princess from a dragon" and, would I say, the author had his fun with the theme. To my mind, the story remains one of his best to date. Definitely best of short stories; I haven't read the more recent of his novels; he might have improved in the recent years, but as of several years ago, I had an opinion that Kaganov is the kind of author for whom the short story format and good crunchtime is an optimum format; the longer stories I read feel watered down. I appreciate that it takes more work and skill to forge a novel while maintaining reader immersion and the pace of the story, and everyone has to start somewhere, but still - I liked his short stories and some of the blog posts best. Which brings me to the topic that Kaganov raised that I wanted to translate and link to on Hacker News. At the time when he finished Lena Squatter he wrote a very detailed blog post where he said he is at the turning point in his career where the sales of his new book (Lena Squatter) will determine whether he will be able to support his family by starting to write novels full-time or will have to earn money the other way (programming) and have little time for writing. So he asked everyone who would consider reading his books to go buy Lena

It looks from my casual observations like the difference between pirated and not pirated (as opposed to plagiarized and not plagiarized, which is a different matter) isn't whether something is in the public domain, but whether it is freely available. As long as it is easy to get a work for free from the author's preferred distribution method, there's little to no incentive to get it with more hassle from a different distribution method. So putting his prior works in the public domain probably isn't getting this author many bonus points, compared to an author who retains copyright or Creative Commons licensing but still makes the work freely readable.

There is no way that he addressed every possible concern to the satisfaction of his audience while charging money for his book. Money is a concern, and while his book might be inexpensive, adopting a general policy of buying inexpensive books when someone asks nicely isn't, and making many individual decisions about when to buy them and when not to isn't either. To an audience accustomed to getting reading material for free, a demand that they shell out money for a new book feels like extortion, and that provokes negative affect ind... (read more)

Incidentally, some online content creators have been able to support themselves through means other than selling their work directly.
Yeah, things like that happen in the rest of the world, too. Creators of software are hit pretty hard, as do people who make things that are easily converted to digital format. (Printed books are kind of hard to pirate, because you have to put every single page into a scanner, one at a time, instead of just sticking a CD or DVD into a drive, but it still happens.)
Given the generally awful quality of translations into English done by Russians, I hope the eventual translation will be by a native English speaker who knows Russian, not the other way round. That was actually one of the reasons I refused.
Any update?
The email still hasn't been answered. I'm not planning on sending a second if he wasn't into the first.

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

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

  1. Had you already registered an account before seeing this? (Edit: That is, had you already registered an account for a reason other than to reply to this comment?) If not, had you been planning or expecting to?
  2. Have you been reading through the sequences, or just generally looking around and lurking?
  3. What new rationality skills that you learned from HPMoR or LW have you found most useful? Most interesting? Most change-the-way-you-look-at-everything-ly?
  4. Have you referred anyone else to HPMoR? Have you referred anyone else to LW?
1. Yes, I had registered an account, and had managed ten whole karma points as of this post, of which I am rather proud. 2. I have been reading through the sequences. 3. I've found a lot of the biases fascinating, particularly when it comes to testing a hypothesis, and I just finished a sequence on words and definitions, which I quite enjoyed. 4. I've attempted to refer a couple people, but found that my brother had already found Less Wrong independently (and hadn't told me about it!).
I knew of LW's existence before HPMoR, through the same source that referred me to HPMoR (ESR). 1. I registered mostly to comment on this post. 2. I've been reading the Sequences. 3. More stuff about Bayes' Theorem (my extent of knowledge before I read the Intuitive Explanation was the idea that there will be many false positives on searching for rare events). 4. No.
1. Yes, I made an account shortly after I read HPatMoR. 2. I've been taking peeks here and there. I mean I was aware of Less Wrong existing before. I've read stuff by Eliezer before, specifically the first contact story, and I found it fun if extremely formulaic and didactic. It was a pleasant surprise for me, that I could find something so stilted so fun. 3. I haven't noticed anything I haven't heard of before. 4. I've referred people to HPatMoR but not LW.
I don't exactly fit your set since I had seen LW before, but there's some good reason that I should be included in your sample. Explanation follows: I had read most of the sequences before (and frankly didn't learn that much from them. A handful of cogsci and psych classes along with a fair bit of phil sci gives one a lot of the same material) and had previously read some of Eliezer's fiction. I hadn't really taken that detailed a look at LW as a whole, until HPMR. That was partially due to a conversation with a friend that went something like Friend: So who is the author of this stuff? JZ: He's Eliezer Yudkowsky who is an all around very bright guy. He has some a bit off ideas about the Singularity. Friend: What evidence do you have of that he's bright and not just a good fiction writer? The one thing you've mentioned is something you disagree with. JZ: Um, let me get back to you. Then when reading I felt a need to register an account to make a comment, and then it has been downhill from there (I just linked an LW post to a friend who said that she refused to read it because "I'm not sure I'm willing to let myself -oh god oh god- be sucked into Less Wrong. I have heard it wastes time like tvtropes on crack." I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing). I've linked HPMR to a fair number of people, and it seems to be having some impact on some of them. Indeed, it seems that it is quite effective at getting through defense mechanisms that some people have against being more rational, because the arguments aren't being coached in an obvious way of trying to just present what is wrong with their thinking processes. I'm running into concerns about whether linking HPMR to people without telling them about that is ethical or not.

That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.

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

I'm not sure I understand. Lions can destroy any human, no matter how strong, right? Is the implication that truth is a weapon? Or that the only people who support truth are the ones who think they're right? But people frequently think they're right when they're not.
If you are rational, you both are already more likely believe things that are true (or less wrong than your competitors) and more able to defend your false beliefs using knowledge of argument and cognitive biases. Substitute well armed for strong if you like.
"Well-armed" makes a little more sense, but I still don't think it's a good analogy. Lions destroy people who aren't well-armed, so it's disingenous for a well-armed person to say that a fair procedure for who lives is to let the lions attack and see who survives. Truth destroys false ideas, not people, and people frequently don't know in advance which ideas will be destroyed by the truth. People, even rational ones, are often wrong in their predictions, unlike the well-armed man. A precommitment to letting experiments and truth decide what ideas will survive doesn't stack the deck in your favor, unlike in the lions example. The whole point is that you are willing to take the chance of having your ideas die, as long as the true ideas survive.
I think you could say that the truth does destroy people. You can't be the same person once you've really accepted an entirely new, important idea, and rejected an old belief. When someone says "that which should be destroyed by the truth should be" and he's talking to a Christian or a white supremacist or thousand other people defined by the silly idea they take very seriously, you are often asking them to do something a lot more scary than go up against a lion. If you've already seen the truth and accepted it, the deck is as stacked as it could be. And if you haven't but are otherwise making your bet rationally, while the other is not, then you've still got a lot better chance.
And if that destruction itself requires withholding information? In most contexts I'm pretty sure most people here would think that something of the form "I know I'm right, but they'll more likely to not believe the truth if I don't tell them X" is not good rational behavior.
1: No. Most of my time I was lurking. Lot of stuff on LW. 2: Following links, like I was on TVtropes 3: Nothing yet. Eliezer has a distinct way of expressing himself, which is why I enjoy HPMoR, but most of the ideas he is expressing I have heard before. 4: Yes to HPMoR, no to LW.
You're not very rational for a bunch of extreme rationalists, are you? It's only possible to answer this survey if you register for the site, so excluding nearly all possible commenters (there is science on this) and presumably an even greater proportion of those who are uninterested in the ideas in LW. So that's a Big Old Fail. So, here goes: 1. No, I have registered purely for the purpose of replying to this comment. 2. I started to read through the Sequences, but they rapidly set off my nutcase detectors. So you might want to do something about that. But I was interested in who had written the fan fiction; and quickly found this thread. 3. I have learnt that there is a community of extreme rationalists who believe that humanity will soon use science to cheat death. Actually, I already knew that. But I have found one of their websites. I was already familiar with most of the philosophical tropes explored in HPMoR; I don't think it would be anything like such a good story otherwise, and I think most of the readership will be people who are already relatively rational. So in terms of 'raising the sanity waterline', an endeavour which seems to be entirely worthwhile, I am not sure it will do that. 4. I have and will referred people to HPMoR. I have not referred anyone to LW.
You really think we've never talked about selection bias here? It is constantly a concern every time we do a survey. This is why ata's questions were directed at those who had registered and not at the entire group that read the fanfiction. If you know of some way we could poll everyone who read the fanfiction without response bias by all means tell us. Something about us rubbed you the wrong way. Which is fine, things about us rub me the wrong way. But I'd much rather you articulate what that was than go searching for random things to criticize us about just because you want us to be irrational. What specifically?
Please Elaborate.

Are you asking because you don't know, or because you want to know which ones BohemianCoast noticed?

Most of the world is wrong. Formal education is overrated. The world as we know it is may cease within a century. Lots Of Math. Simultaneously mentioning the word quantum and talking about psychology. For that matter, mentioning the word quantum.

Those are just the ones off the top of my head, and I'm not BohemianCoast. But a lot of stuff written here (and in the "Sequences") is true despite setting off nutcase detectors, not without setting them off.

There Isn't That Much Math, Really. And none of the cargo-cultish use of mathy writing as impressive-looking gibberish that tends to mark nutcase stuff. Agree with the rest though. Oh, and also: The scientific method is poor and needs to be improved. A central notion on physics held by most practicing physicists is fundamentally misguided.
I've seen plenty of nutcase-stuff in which the math wasn't gibberish - it was correct as math but was simply window-dressing for the nutcase argument. Sometimes, it seems that EY is just using it as garnish for his arguments as well. So, I think that there is a kernel of truth in what GuySrinivasan said about the mathiness of the site. It fits the pattern. Which is not to say that EY is a nutcase. Those nutcase detectors may be returning false positives. But that doesn't mean that the nutcase detectors are defective.
CronoDAS definitely knows that Eliezer is not a nutcase. He's very rational and well-informed.
1. Yes. I went from LW to the OB archives, I created an account to comment on an old post there. 2. I've been ignoring the Sequences as such, but have been working my way through the OB archives chronologically, which I gather covers the same material. 3. Hard to answer that question. The cognitive bias stuff is fairly old hat. The timeless-physics stuff is new to me, but isn't really a skill. I'm currently working my way through the metaethics stuff, which I'm not finding particularly convincing but haven't finished thinking about. 4. One friend, to both HPMoR and the OB archives. Not so much LW per se, which (sorry) seems to have a higher noise:signal ratio than the old stuff. I've been paying a little bit of attention to recent posts, but not a lot; mostly I've been "time-travelling" through the archives. I've been responding to posts here and there when I have something to say I don't see in the comments. I do this even though I don't expect anyone is reading old comments (though sometimes they get upvoted or responded to, so it's not a complete vacuum), mostly because I often don't really know what I think about something until I've tried to formulate a response to it.
In my observation, replies to old comments and comments on old posts frequently get a fair amount of activity. I think that many users (including myself) operate largely from the "recent comments" list, so we stand a good chance of noticing new material wherever it is.
1. Yes 2. Reading through the Sequences. Well, I say reading through...you read through and then there's a link, and then there's another link, and another and another...So yes, reading through, but not in exact order. 3. I suppose...not necessarily have yet found useful, but am anticipating finding most useful in the future: the planning fallacy, the bit about believing the way Spinoza thought you did and not Descartes, and the conjunction falllacy. 4. Yes. And yes.
1. Yes. 2. More towards looking around and lurking, but I've been reading LW long enough that I've read a fair number of important articles. 3. I'm not sure-- to some extent, I've been working on this sort of thing anyway. I'll post later if anything comes to mind. 4. Yes to both, mostly in conversation and on my livejournal.

Several speculations/thoughts/questions:

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

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

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

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

This is awesome. Probably not where the story's actually headed, but it would create a cool Vader-Skywalker kind of relationship and explain what Voldemort is trying to accomplish with Harry. If he wants his Harry-shard to finish the job of becoming Dark Lord, then it makes sense to come to Hogwarts to be Harry's mentor (and to be disgusted by Harry's ambition to be a scientist).
In canon, before he became Lord Voldemort, Tom Riddle demanded that Dumbledore give him the Defense Against the Dark Arts position, and the "jinx" on the position came about when Dumbledore refused. So teaching at Hogwarts is, indeed, something Voldemort has always wanted to do.
That's a good point... though if I recall, he is just known as The-Boy-Who-Lived. In canon, it's not revealed until book 4 that he is the only one to have ever survived the killing curse, in particular, and it's Znq-Rlr Zbbql who says this (though, in truth, it was Onegl Pebhpu We.). Onegl Pebhpu is a highly loyal Death Eater who had been in contact with Lord Voldemort, so maybe the dark lord just told him? Though it's probably more likely that everyone just assumed Voldemort had used his favorite curse. What bugs me is how they know that Harry is the first and only person to have ever survived that curse. I mean surely, sometime in the entire history of wizards and witches, somebody has sacrificed themself for a loved one who was then Abracadabra'd (i.e. did just what Lily did). /shrug edit: Redacted a name.
Wizards are far less numerous than Muggles - in world like that it's easy to be the first at something.
Oh yeah, forgot that it's not revealed until then. But given that he has the title of "The Boy Who Lived", that suggests that it's known or widely believed in the wizarding world. ie, It's not "They Boy Who Lived Through a Mild Flu", right?

Here's what I think will happen:

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

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

1a) "Aftermath" scene: Hogsmeade. Zabini meets his broker. Hogwarts is basically a closed economy, and Zabini has now walked off with the lion's share of the student body's dispos... (read more)

Predictions? Regarding the note of confusion Harry feels in Chapter 3: the Killing Curse "strikes directly at the soul", but in Voldemort's case it burned his body. More likely he never cast it at Harry Potter, and the burnt hulk they found wasn't him. He learned about the prophecy and, being smart, changed his plans rather than risk fulfilling it. And the Source of Magic is a UFAI that optimizes the world into stories. I hope all my predictions turn out wrong. What I want most from this story is to go on being surprised.

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

And I think that would make Blaise the quadruple agent, with Dumbledore as the fourth faction, and Quirrell aware of the entire thing, masterminding his own little stanford prison experiment in order to achieve whatever ends he's ultimately aiming for. It was interesting to see how deeply Harry got into his "General Chaos" role in this light. (Also, I think Ch. 32 was the first time I've laughed out loud over the story in a while. It was getting pretty serious and this was way more fun. The "vader/emperor voices"... I was busting up! I think this kind of hilarity at the beginning is part of why the story took off the way it did.) Plotwise, I've been wondering lately if Eliezer might be laying the groundwork for Voldemort to turn out to actually be the good guy and maybe Harry's true challenge as a protagonist will be to recognize that rationalist!Voldemort will actually turn out to be good for the world, and deserves to be supported. I could image the army lessons turning out to have a positive global outcome if they ended in the right way, which would add a bit of support to this theory.
This is how one of Eliezer's early stories turned out: "The Sword of Good". (There are some traces of that story in MoR - Harry early on not engaging in moral relativism is similar to the hero's final understanding of the evil of the status quo of the fantasy world. But ultimately I think Quirrelmort will be evil. Voldemort killing the entire dojo and sparing only his friend is a mortal sin and Quirrel does not exhibit the kind of heroic remorse necessary to make up for mass & serial murder. Which reminds me, we don't know who Voldemort killed to get the Horcrux on Pioneer. A security guard, probably.)

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

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

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

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

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

It's more that both Harry and Draco were mentally handicapped here. Draco has the glamorous dream of being the dark overlord who controls everything from the top, his orders unquestioned and his name spoken in hushed tones. Harry has the habit of trying to think up an ingenious plan by himself, and it just didn't occur to him to get other people in his army to do strategy planning. Tactics, sure, but not strategy. Hermione, in contrast, is perfectly used to learning from others, and doesn't have particularly grandiose ambitions. And maybe Quirrell casually hinted that some of the people in her army were good at planning things. It seems the sort of thing he'd do, to make his plan less brittle.
As I argue in the reviews for chapter 31, Hermione herself was surely not playing possum, and likely neither were her 6 soldiers. That was not their idea. (Whether Nevile is smart enough to tell Harry, or whether one of the other armies will think of it in time for battle 2, is a question for the future.)

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

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

3Eliezer Yudkowsky
I increased the number of soldiers Hermione had left to help make this clearer.
Harry has been learning an Evil Overlord List (warning: tv tropes), but apparently he had to figure out #13 the hard way. Coincidentally enough, today's Overcoming Bias post is about the same thing.
Cremating people isn't enough to make sure they're dead if you have backup records and nanotech. I don't know if that approach has been used on a naive villain in fiction.
I wonder if he is going to learn #92 as well!
0Paul Crowley
"You got played, Sam. And you forgot that all warfare is based on deception"
Yeah, not double-killing everyone seems just grossly incompetent (and therefore out of character) on Harry's part.
By the way, everyone, an anon on Wikipedia is disputing mention of MoR in the Eliezer Yudkowsky article, so if you see any further reviews/discussions/mentions/links of MoR by prominent people* besides ESR & Brin, please be sure to mention them here (and maybe message me about it). You may not like Wikipedia, but people go to it for information - EY's article gets a solid 1000 hits per month. * where I define prominent as 'has a Wikipedia article'

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

Harry is mistaken about McGonagall's transformation into a cat breaking conservation of energy; indeed, it seems to me that he is not really putting a lot of effort into finding an alternative explanation, but jumping straight to "Everything I thought I knew was wrong". (Perhaps Lord Kelvin's not the only one who gets a charge out of not knowing something; after all Harry has been wanting to do Something Big, and the more laws of physics are broken, the better!... (read more)

I think the "it's bigger on the inside" phenomenon is a better foundation to build such a spell on.
Ah yes! You can store the whole human body in a cavity of the cat's body, and vice-versa; lightspeed is no issue - indeed you could run the whole thing at ordinary neural speed. This might even solve the problem of how to order a cat's body around; the Animagus in effect has a cat as an ordinary part of her body, and has learned to operate it the same way she learned to operate her human body. One problem is the carrying-over of wounds from the animal to the human body, and vice-versa; this does not seem implied by the model, and requires additional explanation. Psycho-somatic damage? Since there a requirement for conscious control of which shape one is in, the opportunities for unconscious failure seem strong.
In fact, come to think of it, wasn't there an experiment recently with remote-controlled rats, using plain Muggle science and electrodes in their brains? Extrapolate that forward fifty years and add those direct-to-brain conputer interfaces, and we could do something rather similar, given lots of training to get the feedback right. "When I think like this the rat goes that way..." An Animagus might learn this almost as a child learns to control its body.
Switching the material still violates conservation of energy. You could make a perpetual motion machine by creating a heat engine and switching hot water with cold water located elsewhere on the planet, for instance.
Without external input such a machine would eventually make the entire planet lukewarm, and run out of steam. No violation there. You're also assuming that the switching doesn't require energy.
Yeah, you're right, that that would just increase entropy faster. But what about using gravity to get the hot air or water to rise? Hmm. If the switching requires no energy, it still seems like something is violated, but I'm not sure I know enough physics to determine what. What about conservation of momentum? Do the switched objects keep their current acceleration and speed?
The concept of switching in itself violates all kinds of fundamental assumptions in physics, so trying to think about it mostly results in nonsense. That's if the switch doesn't actually involve moving A to B and B to A by some path, though; if it does, you naturally pay the relevant costs to maintain conservation laws while switching.
Still FTL, but that's a violation that's turned up explicitly many times already.
It doesn't have to be FTL. You could store the cat body in Magical Britain and run the communications link at lightspeed. It would look instant to a human - the speed of neuron processing would still be the bottleneck.
Although, given that there's already stuff like time turners, it's kinda a bit late in the game to be worried about FTL.
You're right - and the speed-of-light delay in a straight line even through the diameter of the earth is only 42.55 milliseconds. That might be small enough not to be noticed.
Though through the diameter of the earth is not an easy way to transmit messages.
Neutrinos! However by the time you're postulating teleportation and time travel and so forth, I don't think it's necessary to insist on (obvious) conservation of energy in the first place.
Taking a great circle route increases lightspeed time to approximately 66.8 milliseconds. That might still be small enough to miss if you're teleoperating from Britain a body in New Zealand, but it's pushing the boundary. Wikipedia suggests 50 milliseconds#Latency_in_simulators_and_simulation).
Getting light to follow the curvature of the Earth without a fiber-optic cable or some other specialized medium seems difficult. Probably better to go straight through and just use a wavelength to which the Earth is transparent. Of course the Muggle solution is a network of satellites...