This is a Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality fan-fiction which contains spoilers. If you haven't, you should read or listen to Eliezer Yudkowsky's original work before reading this.
Chapter 2 >>
“The wizarding world has magical healers. So are there magical equivalents to muggle psychiatrists?”
Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall was sitting in her office riffling through a thick pile of ministry paperwork. When the question registered she stopped and lifted her head to face Harry.
“Harry you poor thing. If there’s anything you need to talk about – anything at all – you can always come to me.”
Harry interrupted, “No, it’s not that. I’m fine. I really am. I just need to know, are there healers that specialize in illnesses like depression, addictions, phobias, those kinds of things?”
“Well, not as far as I know,” she replied. “Let me think... Healer training is 3 years and then another 3 working as an apprentice in Saint Mungo’s but the curriculum is the same for all healers. We have several Hogwarts alumni who started healer training just last year. I could put you in touch if you want? Are you sure you’re okay Harry?”
It was just as he had feared. If there were psychiatric spells as powerful as the healing spells he had seen you simply wouldn’t ever see an unhappy witch or wizard – and that wasn’t the world Harry saw around him.
“But do spells like that exist?” continued Harry.
“Well there’s a spell called Mulceo which can be used for students with phobias. We sometimes have first year students with, say, a crippling fear of spiders – and that’s a problem because they won’t turn up to Care of Magical Creatures class.
“I would have them imagine a spider in their mind’s eye and as they’re doing that, cast the spell. What it does is flood their mind with warm happy memories. Then you repeat it whilst they look at a muggle photograph of a spider, a moving magical photograph, all the way up to petting one of Mr Hagrid’s acromantulas. It’s a way for them to gradually get comfortable with spiders you see.”
Harry suspected that this would work even without magic involved. He couldn’t be entirely sure that the spell did anything. But it was a start.
“You have to understand, even these kinds of weak mind magic are delicate and dangerous. And they’re not taught to students because you can get addicted to using them.”
The night before, Harry had compiled a list of hypotheses that might explain the conspicuous lack of magical psychiatrists: mind magic is dangerous, mind magic is hard, mental illness isn’t taken seriously in the wizarding world, a taboo around invading the privacy of other people’s minds. Asking Professor McGonagall had been the obvious first step – a cheap and quick way to test hypotheses on his list, and to gather new ones.
He hadn’t considered that addiction might be an explanation but it was true – a society that was perpetually blissed out on magical opioids would never have a strong emotional incentive to confront and fix any of its problems. Fear, guilt, anxiety – they all serve a useful purpose. Or at least they do when they alert you to something real in the world that you can take action on.
But those would be reasons to keep those spells in the possession of specialists and to always have them administered by a third party. Harry noticed that he wasn’t any less confused.
Professor McGonagall had stopped talking, realising that she had already said more than was sensible.
“Harry, you must tell me why you’re asking these questions.”
He remembered the commitment he had made to himself just last week. Professor McGonagall was on his side. Unless there was a good reason not to, he should simply tell her the truth.
“I have two motivations… no three actually. The first is curiosity. I don’t understand why wizards don’t seem to take their mental health seriously when it seems like there are some really obvious easy wins. And when there’s a big area of the universe like that which on the surface makes no sense, that’s a sign that I’m confused about something. That I’ve got a blind spot and who knows what’s hiding in that blind spot and how important it might turn out to be.
“The second is I’ve been thinking about creative strategies for defeating Voldemort. From what I’ve heard he and the Death Eaters sound kind of, you know, crazy?
“As in, it might make sense to describe them as suffering from mental illnesses. They might be really unhappy and if I could find a spell or potion that would make the dark Lord Voldemort more happy and less evil he might want to take it. And that would be so much easier than fighting him in a magical duel or whatever everyone is expecting me to do. It felt like the kind of strategy people might not have thought of because it doesn’t fit the normal tropes in fiction.”
Minerva’s face relaxed considerably upon hearing this explanation.
“And the third reason” Harry now realised that this is what he had wanted to hide.
“I’m really interested in improving my decision making skills. And well, a lot of people think being rational and making sensible choices is all about thinking and nothing to do with emotions. In actual fact I don’t think you can even separate the two neatly like that. Realising how you feel, what’s influencing what you want and what thoughts you’re even allowing yourself to have – it’s super important.
“Even if I’m not depressed or suffering from insomnia I do have days where I feel more or less confident in myself, and nights where I sleep badly,” he admitted. “Why wouldn’t I fix that if there was an easy solution?”
One of the first things Harry had tried when he had learned to cast the sleeping hex Somnium in battle magic class was to cast it on himself so that he could fall asleep faster every night. But he found that he would wake up feeling groggy and tired. Evidently the brute clumsiness of that spell knocked you unconscious but unconsciousness was not the same as the delicate cycle of sleep stages involved in proper restorative sleep
“I gave you a time turner for your sleep problem. Isn’t that working?” asked Professor McGonagall.
In her mind there was one problem and therefore one, and only one, solution required. That a time turner and a supply of magical sleeping pills would be strictly superior to either one alone wasn’t obvious to her.
“No, no. The time turner is working brilliantly. It’s… never mind. I better be going,” and Harry raced out the office clutching his time machine protectively.
“Ah, what a wonderful plan,” boomed the jovial headmaster.
“The sad fact that Voldemort never was happy may indeed be his Achilles' Heel. That you would use love and kindness as your weapon speaks well of you.
“Of mind magic there is much I could teach you and far more that I should not teach you. Legilimency, Imperius, memory charms I will not teach you, and besides your magic would not be sufficient at such a young age.”
Dumbledore stood up and wandered into an ante-room behind his desk, continuing, “however, since the time is obviously right I shall gift you this”.
The old wizard returned and handed Harry a book. He read the words that were ornately lettered on the cover Psychomagic for Beginners by Ugyen Lingpa.
A voice in Harry’s head announced triumphantly: quest item received.
And not just any quest item – a book!
“Now young Ravenclaw, I can see from the look on your face that you’re keen to start reading. For myself, I have a lot to do today and I haven’t even had breakfast yet.”
And before Harry could reply Albus and Fawkes had disappeared in a blaze of flames.
Excerpt from Psychomagic for Beginners, Chapter 2...
When a legilimens reads the thoughts in another mind there are several interesting observations that we can immediately make about the process.
When teaching mind reading, for instance in modern Auror training programmes, it is common practice for the target to think about something inconspicuous – for example what they ate for breakfast that morning. That way when the legilimens gains access to their thoughts they only see this harmless piece of information. All of Occlumency is elaboration and modification on this concept (see chapters 4 through 6).
In this situation the target knows many other things, possesses many other memories, opinions, perhaps secrets but they are not accessible since the memory of breakfast is the object within conscious awareness at that time.
A powerful legilimens can extract information beyond this only by first manipulating that information into conscious attention. The typical method being torture or if the target is inexperienced to simply ask them if they have any secrets they want to keep hidden which will often cause them to bring those thoughts directly to mind.
Here we will introduce some terminology since the concept of conscious attention will come up many times in this text. We refer to the contents of conscious attention as illuminated – light being a particularly apt metaphor for reasons which will soon become clear.
From the legilimens monks of the 15th century we get the metaphor of the mind as a dark theatre with a single illuminated spot in the centre of the room where a single actor delivers a line of monologue. The majority of the mind’s parts operate within the darkness, only the action in the light visible to all parts.
As an example the reader is invited to notice themselves reading this very book. Around the book in your peripheral vision you now see the rest of the room. Notice upon reading the preceding sentence that part of your psyche became illuminated. Although you could see them before you are now consciously aware of walls, the floor, your legs, windows etc. around you.
Imagine for a second that I had not included that instruction and that your conscious attention was once again entirely engrossed in conceptualizing the words and ideas in this book. From the point of view of conscious attention the room around you would not exist.
Now imagine that a Peruvian fire toad had crept into the room and had just now launched itself at your face. In an instant you would notice and attempt to push yourself out of the way. It is clear then that some part of your mind, entirely outside of conscious awareness, was quietly scanning your peripheral vision for threats as your conscious mind was fully engaged in reading. A fast moving fiery object hurtling towards your face proved perfect to set off that alarm and forcefully shove the more important drama of the fire toad into strong illumination, immediately displacing any conscious thoughts about the book.
Keen readers may at this point feel a note of confusion. You may be asking yourself “How is it that I make choices then? Where am I in this model?”
This unfortunately is a difficult question which we will be unable to answer until chapter 8 The Self. For now you shall have to be satisfied with the following brief explanation: in the metaphor of the illuminated stage you are not sitting in the audience observing the scene around you. The theatre represents your mind and consequently you are the entirety of the theatre not any single privileged part.
But for now we have covered enough of the initial theory and can introduce the first practical spell in the psychomagic curriculum.
Are the cross overs with the book "The Mind Illuminated" here coincidence? If not very excited to see a mash up of two of my favorite texts!!
Well spotted! The Psychomagic for Beginners excerpt certainly takes some inspiration from that. I read that book a few years ago and really enjoyed it too.
I like where you are going with this. Do you plan to expand on it?
I've already written first drafts of a couple more chapters which I'll be polishing and posting over the next few months.
So I can guarantee at least a few more installments. After that it will depend on what kind of response I get and whether I'm still enjoying the writing process.
Early in HPMOR there's a bit where Harry mentions the idea of using magic to improve his mind but it's never really taken much further.
I wanted to write about that: if you lived in a universe with magic how could you use it to improve your intelligence and rationality? If Harry and Hermione studied legilimency using the scientific method what would they discover? And also tie in some things I've been reading recently about neuroscience, psychotherapy, theories of consciousness.
If anybody fancies reading some early drafts of the next few chapters and giving me some feedback please do get in touch.
This is our second important observation
The numbering seems to have gotten borked somehow.