HPMOR and the Power of Consciousness

by Algernoq3 min read25th Nov 20156 comments


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Throughout HPMOR, the author has included many fascinating details about how the real world works, and how to gain power. The Mirror of CEV seems like a lesson in what a true Friendly AI could look like and do.

I've got a weirder theory. (Roll for sanity...)

The entire story is plausible-deniability cover for explaining how to get the Law of Intention to work reliably.

(All quoted text is from HPMOR.)

This Mirror reflects itself perfectly and therefore its existence is absolutely stable. 

"This Mirror" is the Mind, or consciousness. The only thing a Mind can be sure of is that it is a Mind.

The Mirror's most characteristic power is to create alternate realms of existence, though these realms are only as large in size as what can be seen within the Mirror

A Mind's most characteristic power is to create alternate realms of existence, though these realms are only as large in size as what can be seen within the Mind.

Showing any person who steps before it an illusion of a world in which one of their desires has been fulfilled.

The final property upon which most tales agree, is that whatever the unknown means of commanding the Mirror - of that Key there are no plausible accounts - the Mirror's instructions cannot be shaped to react to individual people...the legends are unclear on what rules can be given, but I think it must have something to do with the Mirror's original intended use - it must have something to do with the deep desires and wishes arising from within the person.

More specifically, the Mirror shows a universe that obeys a consistent set of physical laws. From the set of all wish-fulfillment fantasies, it shows a universe that could actually plausibly exist.

It is known that people and other objects can be stored therein

Actors store other minds within their own Mind. Engineers store physical items within their Mind. The Mirror is a Mind.

the Mirror alone of all magics possesses a true moral orientation

The Mind alone of all the stuff that exists possesses a true moral orientation.

If that device had been completed, the story claimed, it would have become an absolutely stable existence that could withstand the channeling of unlimited magic in order to grant wishes. And also - this was said to be the vastly harder task - the device would somehow avert the inevitable catastrophes any sane person would expect to follow from that premise. 

An ideal Mind would grant wishes without creating catastrophes. Unfortunately, we're not quite ideal minds, even though we're pretty good.

Professor Quirrell made to walk away from the Mirrror, and seemed to halt just before reaching the point where the Mirror would no longer have reflected him, if it had been reflecting him.

My self-image can only go where it is reflected in my Mind. In other words, I can't imagine what it would be like to be a philosophical zombie.

Most powers of the Mirror are double-sided, according to legend. So you could banish what is on the other side of the Mirror instead. Send yourself, instead of me, into that frozen instant. If you wanted to, that is.

Let's interpret this scene: We've got a Mind/consciousness (the Mirror), we've got a self-image (Riddle) as well as the same spirit in a different self-image (Harry), and we've got a specific Extrapolated Volition instance in the mind (Dumbledore shown in the Mirror). This Extrapolated Volition instance is a consistent universe that could actually exist.

It sounds like the Process of the Timeless trap causes some Timeless Observer to choose one side of the Mirror as the real Universe, trapping the universe on the other side of the mirror in a frozen instant from the Timeless Observer's perspective.

The implication: the Mind has the power to choose which Universes it experiences from the set of all possible Universes extending from the current point.

All right, screw this nineteenth-century garbage. Reality wasn't atoms, it wasn't a set of tiny billiard balls bopping around. That was just another lie. The notion of atoms as little dots was just another convenient hallucination that people clung to because they didn't want to confront the inhumanly alien shape of the underlying reality. No wonder, then, that his attempts to Transfigure based on that hadn't worked. If he wanted power, he had to abandon his humanity, and force his thoughts to conform to the true math of quantum mechanics.

There were no particles, there were just clouds of amplitude in a multiparticle configuration space and what his brain fondly imagined to be an eraser was nothing except a gigantic factor in a wavefunction that happened to factorize, it didn't have a separate existence any more than there was a particular solid factor of 3 hidden inside the number 6, if his wand was capable of altering factors in an approximately factorizable wavefunction then it should damn well be able to alter the slightly smaller factor that Harry's brain visualized as a patch of material on the eraser -

Had to see the wand as enforcing a relation between separate past and future realities, instead of changing anything over time - but I did it, Hermione, I saw past the illusion of objects, and I bet there's not a single other wizard in the world who could have. 

This seems like another giant hint about magical powers.

"I had wondered if perhaps the Words of False Comprehension might be understandable to a student of Muggle science. Apparently not."

The author is disappointed that we don't get his hints. 

If the conscious mind was in reality a wish-granting machine, then how could I test this without going insane?

The Mirror of Perfect Reflection has power over what is reflected within it, and that power is said to be unchallengeable. But since the True Cloak of Invisibility produces a perfect absence of image, it should evade this principle rather than challenging it.

A method to test this seems to be to become aware of one's own ego-image (stand in front of the Mirror), vividly imagine a different ego-image without identifying with it (bring in a different personality containing the same Self under an Invisibility Cloak), suddenly switch ego-identification to the other personality (swap the Invisibility Cloak in less than a second), and then become distracted so the ego-switch becomes permanent (Dumbledore traps himself in the Mirror).

I can't think of a way to test this without sanity damage. Comments?

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6 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 2:31 PM
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You're reading waaaaay too much into it. I am at least 99% confident, even after reading what you wrote, that Eliezer was not intending anything remotely like what you suggest. (I suppose there's, let's say, a 10% chance that he had some analogy between the Mirror and human minds in view. But "such-and-such an artefact, in a story about magic, has such-and-such magic powers" is not any sort of licence for assuming that everything the artefact can be analogized to has the same magic powers.

Consider: Any number of authors have written stories in which magical things stand in for the power of imagination. They aren't making a coded claim that your imagination can work magic, they are making a not-so-coded claim that your imagination can do something that is like magic. And we already know that Eliezer thinks human minds can do non-magical things that are like magic in a useful sense.

So, I think: probably (p=0.75) Eliezer didn't intend the Mirror to be a symbol of human minds generally, but if he did (p=0.25) then almost certainly (p>0.99) what he intended was something more like that "Mundane Magic" post (see the section headed "The Ultimate Power"), and in any case nothing to do with the "Law of Intention".

[EDITED to fix a trivial typo.]

If the conscious mind was in reality a wish-granting machine, then how could I test this without going insane?

It is a wish-granting machine. The mechanism by which it grants your wishes is your own muscles.

I think that you can make an argument like this about any agent with well described attributes because all complex agents are going to be based on humans unless the author makes a effort to make them completely alien.

Based on what I have just read you have nothing to worry about

I think the important facts about the mirror are that it is a not-quite-right AI that fails to give you what you want, and that it is Harry's future big problem - there was no way EY was going to let intelligence not be the final problem, and so it is this that lies in the future of the current story.

I can't think of a way to test this without sanity damage.

Basically you don't do it alone. Hypnosis does provide the way to make people who are suggestible temporarily have the self image of a chicken or whatever you want.