Update: Discussion has moved on to a new thread.

After 61 chapters of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and 5 discussion threads with over 500 comments each, HPMOR discussion has graduated from the main page and moved into the Less Wrong discussion section (which seems like a more appropriate location).  You can post all of your insights, speculation, and, well, discussion about Eliezer Yudkowsky's Harry Potter fanfic here.

Previous threads are available under the harry_potter tag on the main page (or: one, two, three, four, five); this and future threads will be found under the discussion section tag (since there is a separate tag system for the discussion section).  See also the author page for (almost) all things HPMOR, and AdeleneDawner's Author's Notes archive for one thing that the author page is missing.

As a reminder, it's useful to indicate at the start of your comment which chapter you are commenting on.  Time passes but your comment stays the same.

Spoiler Warning:  this thread is full of spoilers.  With few exceptions, spoilers for MOR and canon are fair game to post, without warning or rot13.  More specifically:

You do not need to rot13 anything about HP:MoR or the original Harry Potter series unless you are posting insider information from Eliezer Yudkowsky which is not supposed to be publicly available (which includes public statements by Eliezer that have been retracted).

If there is evidence for X in MOR and/or canon then it's fine to post about X without rot13, even if you also have heard privately from Eliezer that X is true. But you should not post that "Eliezer said X is true" unless you use rot13.

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But "pessimistic" wasn't the correct word to describe Professor Quirrell's problem - if a problem it truly was, and not the superior wisdom of experience. But to Harry it looked like Professor Quirrell was constantly interpreting everything in the worst possible light. If you handed Professor Quirrell a glass that was 90% full, he'd tell you that the 10% empty part proved that no one really cared about water.

Well. That settles it for me - Quirrel is based off Robin Hanson.

EDIT: It saddens me a little that this is my most-upvoted comment ever.

And Mad Eye is Bruce Schneier.

Is he really? I've read Schneier for years and I don't get any vibes off Moody. For example, Moody espouses all sorts of complicated theories which are the sort of 'movie plots' that Schneier derides. If anyone, I think Mad Eye is James Jesus Angleton, or possibly Moody is an 'anti-Schneier'. (Personally, I think Eliezer is simply exaggerating Moody in the spirit of I'll-show-you-true-constant-vigilance!)
5Eliezer Yudkowsky
Because Moody wonders whether the Muggles are just pretending to have wards - that's a Schneierism.
cargo-cult fencing
Well, what would Schiner be like with the Eye of Vance? When you can easily protect yourself from non-movie-plot problems through magic coupled with amazing situational awareness, the movie-plot problems get to be what's left (not to mention that the wizarding world seems to breed movie-plot villians).
Man, this just makes the fanfic-as-idealized-autobiography bells go off in my head even more. (Also, I totally sympathize on the most-upvoted sadness.)
You hit the nail on the head when you describe the story as "idealized autobiography," but I think it makes sense for one's most important ideological frenemies (Hanson) to end up getting represented in a satire chiefly about ideology.
I've been getting this impression, too; there have been several occasions where Quirrell has advocated something very close to Hanson's signaling theory of human behavior.

Harry missed an opportunity to do good with Lesath. He should have given him orders that would make him behave in a way that might make him happier. Like:

"Acquire friends. Acquire power. Acquire happiness. Try to publicly join a faction, if any will have you, so that you aren't a loner associated with the one Death Eater that even other Death Eaters repudiate, but are instead associated with respectable Slytherins. If Slytherins won't have you because you're worthless as an ally, try moving to Hufflepuff. Note that Neville was willing to defend you from bullies; make him and others like him like you. Publicly repudiate your mother if plausible."

And even more importantly:

"Do not ever try to act on my, the Dark Lord Harry's, behalf, or to help me, without explicit orders from me. Not if you're sure you'd be helping me greatly. Not if you're sure I'd approve afterwards. Not if you're among Death Eaters. Not even if you come face-to-face with your mother. Not if you think I ordered it but you can't be sure because I wasn't talking literally. Not if you get mailed orders from me and you know they're from me because they appear under your pillow while you're sleeping and everybody knows only I can do the impossible. Not ever. If I want you to do something, you'll know."

As it is, my story-pattern-matching is yelling that Harry is going to be exposed by Lesath trying to help him.

Those would all be excellent ideas if Lesath was a perfect Occulemens. As it is, as far as Harry knows Snape may very well be mind-reading as a matter of routine. He's probably get away with claiming to be playing along for the sake of manipulating Lesath, but given the circumstances cannot be blamed for playing it safe.
Harry should certainly say to Lesath: "I am not your Lord and I did not free your mother from Azkaban, but since you wrongly believe that I am and did, here are my orders for you, which you will notice benefit you and not me." Snape was the one who originally introduced Harry to Lesath with the intention of helping Lesath (at least, he didn't mind that Harry helped him). He wouldn't be surprised if Harry reacted this way.
I like this idea, except I'd leave out the last bit if it were me. You've already left yourself some wiggle room with the "if plausible," so you probably wouldn't get Lesath into much trouble that way, but given what we've seen of him fanatic & public loyalty seems to be a big part of his nature. It's probably the only reason he's in Slytherin (loyalty to the idea of Slytherin, I mean--I bet he had to beg the Sorting Hat, as otherwise he seems completely unsuited to the House). It looks like he's formed his identity around that loyalty, and it might do a number on his head if he had to suddenly act in an inconsistent manner. That capacity for loyalty would make him a great minion though. Harry already caught himself wishing for a Bella of his own, and now! Here's her son, pledging his life...
A fourth-year Slytherin who doesn't understand the concept of pretending in public isn't worth feeding to a pet snake. He doesn't have to speak against his mother so much as to keep quiet and find a way to avoid bullies. But what you say is true. All the more reason he should associate with Hufflepuffs - they can appreciate loyalty.
Agreed. I think if Harry had had proper prep time (which he would have if he hadn't assumed it was a different L.L.) he would most likely have done this. Unless Hermione has succeeded in shaming him into stopping. There is a strong similarity to a certain storyline in Death Note, isn't there? But unlike Mikami, Lesath doesn't have the power to expose Harry other than by coincidence, because Harry hasn't trusted him with any information. There's certainly a danger of Lesath ridding him of a meddlesome priest, or jumping in front of an Avada Kedavra.
Exactly. He might compromise Harry by doing some stupid and/or evil thing and then, when found out, telling everyone he did it for Dark Lord Harry. Like ridding him of a meddlesome Hermione by pushing her down the stairs, since Draco told all Slytherin that Harry and Hermione are enemies. Imagine Lesath trying to be to Harry what his mother was to Voldermort. Only even less intelligently.
I didn't understand then, and I don't understand now. Why was what Harry did wrong (according to Hermione)? And how is it similar to my proposal?
He's heavy-handedly manipulating someone for their own good, in a way that increases his own power and makes him feel superior. He's treating someone who should be a peer like a trainable dog.
If you accept that it's for their own good - and if it does result in their own good - then shouldn't that outweigh the heavy-handedness? But Hermione told him not to do that kind of thing at all, instead of "be less heavy-handed next time". As for making him feel superior? Harry already feels vastly superior to someone like Lesath, as well as mostly everyone else apart from Hermione. I don't think giving him a few 'orders for his own good' would change anything there. And he can't treat Lesath like a peer, for the simple reason that Lesath wouldn't accept it. If Lesath insists that Harry is his Lord, and Harry can't change his mind about it (he tried!), why shouldn't Harry use it for Lesath's own good?
Come to think of it, we may well get to see this exchange. But since we won't see it for a while, I'll try to channel it: "Harry, taking people's interests into account--being a good guy--requires thinking of them as people. You care a lot about a human, less about a dog, and not at all about a paperclip, right?" "Right." "So when you don't treat a human like a human--" "Hold on. You're equivocating. To 'treat a human like' their desires are as important to my utility function as my own is an absolute good. To 'treat a human like' convention dictates a human should be treated is a contingent good--it only makes sense when that helps them achieve their desires." "No, they're not the same thing, Harry. But they're closely linked in your head. You have a cluster of concepts, instincts, and behaviors to do with humans, and each bit reinforces each other bit. You can plainly see how it works: if you spend a year pretending that a toy is a person, you'll become incredibly reluctant to take it apart for spare parts. Conversely, if you start acting like people are your toys..." "Now you're dehumanizing me a bit, Hermione. If I go into an interaction with Padma planning to help her, I'm going to end up doing my best to help her. Because I'm a sentient being who is aware of his own intentions, not a finite state machine that can get accidentally stuck in the mode for dealing with paperclips." "Well, Harry, I guess you have more faith in yourself than I do. I think you want your utility function to be different from what it is. I think that, like a lot of people, you're more selfish than you want to be." "That's incoherent." "Exactly. You're not going to behave in a logically coherent way. It's okay to aspire to do so, I guess, but please realize that right now, you have to be sure not to--" "Accidentally train myself to be a bad dog rather than a good dog?" "Not to drift into Evil while trying to be Good. That's the human condition."
"To 'treat a human like' convention dictates a human should be treated is a contingent good--it only makes sense when that helps them achieve their desires" The obvious thing this seems to miss is that most people do desire to be treated like people -- at the very least as equals, and with dignity and respect. So treating them otherwise is by itself of negative value -- not just contingent to other consequences.
I basically agree, although in my mind it doesn't make Harry's line technically incorrect. It's not always another's desire to be treated as an equal, so in that sense it's not an absolute good to treat people as one. Whereas it's always another's desire to have her desires fulfilled.
Since Lesath is an exception (at least when treated by Harry), that should mean that Hermione's objection doesn't apply in this case, and Harry should realise as much.
I originally had written that below, but actually I disagree. Lesath doesn't abase himself because he enjoys it! He does so because that's how you get Dark Lords to do what you want. It's reasonable to assume that he'd prefer being treated as an equal--he just has higher priorities than trying to make that happen.
I don't get that from Lesath; he seems like somebody who's just a natural minion. But maybe he's just that good at appearing to be a natural minion!
I like this. Let us know if you ever write fiction of your own, please :)

Dumbledore is an r-strategist.

He tells Harry to carry around a random object purely on the theory that "it is wiser to do than not", and he tells Blaise that it's important to have multiple plots going at once. His basic strategy is to try as many things as possible, in the hopes that a few of them will work.

Furthermore, he's in pretty much the ideal situation for r-strategy: a highly chaotic environment, and few to no direct rivals or real peers.

I like this analogy. Dumbledore's cost per plot is also very low: he has a large supply of minions whose time would otherwise be wasted playing Unicorn Attack, and he has no credibility to lose when his plots fail. He also tries to force his rivals to be play the same way, since they don't have his advantages. If Voldemort is scheming to get at the Philosopher's Stone by year's end, he has to simultaneously target the third-floor corridor, Harry's father's rock, the Hogwarts vault at Gringotts, and who knows what other decoy locations. Similarly, Dumbledore engineered a three-way tie in Battle Magic to try to force Quirrell to pursue three different plots (Quirrell being a rival for the students' hearts and minds).
Do you think this will backfire if/when he pulls it all off?
Quite possibly! Dumbledore expects the curse to have kicked in by that point, but he doesn't know that Quirrell is Voldemort.
An interesting point. I hadn't considered that Quirrell might be exempt from the curse due to being Voldemort (or being closely connected to Voldemort, perhaps).
He wasn't exempt in canon. Here, I don't know.
Even if Quirrel is entirely under Voldemort's control here, it's unlikely that Quirrelmort will want or need to remain professor after this year. Heck, he could leave the school now, and even odds say that Harry would follow him; a few more months, and his work here will be done.
Considering the blow his trust in Quirrell just received, I don't think Harry would really throw away his future to follow him from school at this point, if he even would have before.
I'm assuming that, if he wanted to, Quirrell could think of something pretty smart to say to Harry, and even now I'd give him even odds on success. Before the blow to trust, I'd have given him much higher odds, again conditional on his really trying. However, I wrote my comment before reading Chapter 66. If Harry succeeds in saying No to Quirrell once, then he'll find it much easier to say it again. Quirrell should have started with something that he really could talk Harry into (although he might yet talk Harry into this).


Has anybody unscrambled Harry's secret message?

(To avoid spoilers, please give your answer in rot13.)


On a slightly more serious note....

Flitwick: "Yes, Harry, what is the matter?"

Harry: "I have been instructed to deliver a message to you, Professor. "Silver on the tree"."

Flitwick: "I... see. May I ask who sends this message, Harry?

Harry: *pause*

Flitwick:"...the Headmaster? Prof. McGonagall? Prof. Snape?"

Harry's inner Hufflepuff: Next time maybe let's not be so lazy with doing a few extra Caesar shifts, eh?

Harry: I don't know if I'm supposed to say. Remember, Innocent!Harry has no idea what's going on.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
I'll fix it.
He would have guessed and any timeline where he would have guessed wrongly would have been inconsistent, since he sure as hell would have remembered to include the relevant information then. So either the note would have included that information or he would have guessed correctly and not have bothered to include the information because he remembered guessing correctly. If you are willing to risk paradox to force a resolution you know with absolute certainty to be possible you never actually have to go though with it (compare Harry's first, third and fifth time travel escapades).
But this is essentially a less systematic variation of the trick he tried with factoring prime numbers. "I'll guess, and since guessing wrong would lead to paradox, it guarantees that I have guessed right" should have ended with another DON'T MESS WITH TIME note. Besides, it costs him absolutely nothing to add a few more details to the letter. The only reason I can think of for not doing so is if he somehow evaded Flitwick's obvious question without arousing suspicion, (and so found himself needing not to know to replicate the feat).
The difference is that the factoring trick involved several thousand other timelines that had to be resolved while adding any information he lacked to the message involved one. Spontaneously generating timeline stabilizing random data that only requires resolving a low number of timelines to calculate being preferred over having to calculate thousands makes sense, being preferred over a stabilization that requires calculating at most one other timeline does not. It's not really any different from any other trick that involves him observing the results of his time travel before he carries it out. The difference between a) resolving to use time travel to get himself out of the empty class room and b) just having thought of it and being willing to get himself out of the empty classroom if he observes it actually having happened is that in a) he would do it even if he had not observed the results, there is no other potential behavioral difference between a) and b) for the difference in outcome to correspond to.
Good point! Since Harry's ruse seems to have succeeded, this looks like an oversight on Eliezer's part. Which reminds me: While this cypher may be the kid-brother type, it used to be the major-governments type. So for unEnlightened Wizards, maybe it still is enough to fool major governments!
In Order of the Phoenix, Sirius Black seems to know that codes exist, at least. Although he dismisses them as "breakable" and decides to communicate over a floo network connection instead (which makes me wonder if wizards know about one-time pads, and if there are any spells which can break them).
Given that the magical community didn't seem to get into mathematics much, and provably strong crypto needs a ton of math, I could see how they never went beyond Caesar Ciphers.
It could have been a compressed code - maybe if Minerva had sent the message to Dumbledore there would have been no prefix. Also, as the Time-Turner goes back in hourly increments, some additional security could have been achieved by making Harry use it in front of Minerva, and monitoring the room in question at 8PM, 7PM etc. It's possible that might cause or be purposely made to cause paradox, though.

(To avoid spoilers, please give your answer in rot13.)

Har har.

I went through the trouble of finding a tool to brute force the Caesar cipher before I realized that of course it would be in rot13. I feel silly now.
I tried that and I still don't get it. What is it?
Consider what the earlier version of Harry needs in addition to the secret message. (You did click Unnamed's link, right?)
I can't tell if you're being clever here or are just suffering from compartmentalization.
I liked your original message better, where it wasn't clear whether you knew that I was joking or not.

Chapter 63: The last chapter was very satisfying. I was afraid it might be something along the lines of "and then Harry went to Ravenclaw dorm and glanced at Hermione sadly and then when to bed, the end." Instead I got not one but TWO good Hermione scenes,as well as a nice resolution for literally every character. While I look forward to the next act, I think I can spend the next month in relative peace. So thank you.

One thing that's been concerning me is Harry's view of Hermione. I'm assuming/hoping that you intend to delve into this further, because idolizing someone to the degree that Harry does Hermione is not healthy. I had a friend/romantic-interest (who did not return my affections in that way) that I put on a pedestal. And unlike Hermione, she really HAD been dedicating her life to helping people. I looked at her as a beacon of hope for what humanity could be like. And she knew that's how I looked at her, and it was hella awkward and it (along with other factors) caused us to drift apart for a while.

By now I've successfully split my "beacon of human salvation" mental construct and the "replica of my friend" mental construct into two separate t... (read more)

I've been on the opposite end of this-- someone believed, for complicated reasons, that I was an angel or living saint-- and I can confirm that it's really weird and that it caused me to avoid interacting with the person in question for a long time.

There's a substantial fraction of the total people who know me who believe I'm a beacon of human salvation, and even though that's exactly who I try to be, it still weirds me out.


I just wanted to note that people take everything you write very seriously and tend to up vote everything. They only go berserk and punish you heavily if you contradict your earlier self from the sequences. Which is funny if you think about it, shouldn't they assume that your.more recent position is the better one?

Anycase, I've thought up of an experiment that might interest you. Try posting all your regular interaction, except the stuff where your represent SingInst or do sort-of-moderator-like stuff, with a sock puppet account for 3 months. I wonder how your experience of LW would change. It would give you some information about how your status influences how people treat you here. Or perhaps you may be better off not knowing...

Of course maybe you've already tried this - if so, can you tell us the results? With graphs if you have them. Mainly I like graphs, but if you don't want to you don't have to.

This is a good idea. I am really in support of the graphs. There are not enough graphs here lately.
I agree; It must be done for science! It would be an interesting experiment in the prevalence of the Halo effect of the LW community.
He really should do this experiment. At the conclusion of the test there will be delicious ca... M&Ms? Taste the rainbow Eliezer! And think of all the things we can learn!
If you guys care that much, perhaps you should make it worth Eliezer's time with some monetary commitments: conducting the experiment would require some cognitive overhead, use of time at the end to analyze & write it up, and naturally leads to some of his contributions being fragmented from the rest of his corpus.
EY can easily outsource the analysis, all posts and their karma are public anyway. Making a sock puppet is rather trivial and takes literally less than a minute. Information might help us optimize newbie experience too, since if it is a new user name, we would get to see what the experience is like for a new poster that makes comments on the same level of quality as Eliezer.
I doubt it would be particularly hard for someone with access to the LW database to magically change ownership of all of the secondary account's posts.
Hmmm... contrary to what most people would say about themselves, I am nihilistic and generally do not care about the well being of people who I am not in regular contact with. I do have ideals which may work for the benefit of humankind, but this is mostly social conditioning and coincidence, there are just as many things I am attached to which have a net negative impact. Given that I have spent more time and money on video games than I have on saving lives, I would have a hard time classifying myself as a remotely good person. However, I suspect that my interpretation of good is different than most humans. I don't really care if someone WANTS nobody to suffer, if you decide to go on a two thousand dollar vacation when you could easily have spent a day looking for efficient charities and made a donation, you have just demonstrated that your personal desires trump the continued existence of several human lives, or minimizing an existential risk. When I do things which are generally beneficial to humankind, I don't have to think very hard to discover a selfish motive for it, and when I see anyone else doing something good I generally follow the same thought process. Haphazardly getting back on topic, Harries perception of Hermione seems extremely optimistic to me, and I don't think Quirrel would have a very hard time turning me to the dark side if it that meant actually fixing the flaws in the world at the expense of peoples trust and approval.
I don't that "good" exists outside of something that is important to humans. And for Goodness to be something that actually matters to humans, it needs to have a definition that is actually useful. Sure, you can find a selfish motive for every "good" thing you do, even if that motive is "to make yourself feel better." But I think if the only reason you do something Good is to feel like a Good person... honestly, that's good enough for me.(As far as motivation goes anyway. To be an EFFECTIVE good person (i.e. "good at being good") you need to apply some intelligence to make sure you're actually helping people. Every living person has the potential to do a lot more than they actually do. If you're judging goodness on an absolute scale, of course everyone fails to save thousands of lives. And yeah, you can think of that as "you are responsible for killing thousands of people." But that's not an actually healthy way to live. The reason most people aren't Gandhi is because being Gandhi is hard, and rewarding people for whatever good they DO accomplish is more effective at creating a wholesome world than punishing people who failed to save an additional 10 lives on any given day. I don't have solid evidence to back this up, but I'm pretty confident that if everyone measured goodness on an absolute scale, LESS good would get accomplished, not more. (Though if someone could cite studies regarding that assertion, I'd be appreciative).
Saving myself sounds like work, saving humanity myself even worse. Someone else doing it sounds good. Someone smart and already dedicated to the cause? I can sure do some upsucking and cheerleading (and consequently feel good). (Who weird me out are those who seem to believe in Bacon of Human Salvation).

In regards to the nearly empty vial left in Bellatrix's cell:

Back when we first saw the flask, I remember there being confusion over the point of leaving something foreign behind what was supposed to be "the perfect crime." It definitely came in handy once they were found out, but it didn't make sense to leave it behind when there was a serious possibility that they could have gotten away with it. I was thinking about the arc the other day when it (belatedly) occurred to me just what Quirrell might have been thinking.

Just before this point, we are told that in the MOR-verse, a prisoner stays in Azkaban until their sentence is up, even if they die. For those with life sentences, their corpse stays there until they need the cell. Furthermore, snake!Quirrell confirms that she's alone, and thus is the only live prisoner in her particular area. Therefore, it would be reasonable to say that after Bellatrix died, the Aurors would stop frequenting that particular area until the next time someone who does "worse than murder" needs to be locked up. Even then, it's possible that there are other empty cells, or (more likely) that the guards dispose of the older corpses firs... (read more)

It took you long enough, but you are still to be congratulated on having realized it before most. Unfortunetly, like the rest, you're still stuck thinking it was a mere distraction. Ask yourself, what happened as a result? Who's plan benefited from it? Was it foreseeable? Harry is still too young, his magic is still weak. He will need some more time before he can be the Hero and Leader Dumbledore and Quirrell wants him to become. Suppose the rescue plan goes flawlessly. No one would be the wiser, until the time some Bellatrix-sightings or something similar casts doubt on her death. Once her cell is investigated (if enough of her clothes remained to cover her after ten years, the vial would last long enough too), the same thing would have happened, Dumbledore soundig the alarms, and people turning to Harry Potter to save them. That was the plan, anyways. It succeeded the moment the vial was placed in the cell, so long as they got out without being identified. And it's only a minor inconvenience that it had to happen early. It's difficult to see only if you think Quirrell lied about wanting Harry as a leader.
That's an interesting idea. However, I think that you may be missing a couple of issues. For one, if the implication that magically created objects are more susceptible to the Dementors’ aura of destruction is sound, then the vial could easily degrade before the clothes, especially if it was designed to disappear quickly (e.g. hyper-thin glass, or made of something even more fragile than glass). You do make a good point about the clothes, but honestly, that makes me question why she still had her original clothes at all. When the Dementor was taken to Hogwarts, it was wearing a cloak that was new that morning, but is tattered by the time the students practiced their Patroni on it. Very close proximity to one Dementor did that in hours, why does she still have her original clothes after a decade of being in rather close proximity to dozens of Dementors? The intensity of the aura could fade quite sharply relative to distance, I suppose, but if it weakened that quickly I don’t think it would be the issue that much of the story makes it seem to be. The only explanation that leaps to mind quickly is that they make several copies of an inmate’s clothes when they enter, and replace them as the old pair wears out. It would keep them from having to bother about making clothes themselves, and be consistent with the story. Though, if the clothes are copied magically, it seems that they’d wear out quickly as well…perhaps they preserve the original and make dozens of copies, but overall it seems like a reach. It might also be that while a Dementor’s emotional drain is more or less unaffected by physical barriers (is this true? I think it is, but I can’t seem to find anything that points in either direction) their destruction aura is not, thus the color was leeched from the clothing but they stayed more or less intact. This seems at least as plausible, and supports your argument about the flask. In an aside, if the cloaks aren’t an integral part of the Dementors, how do they
With respect, it sounds like you're clinging to your theory. A much simpler explanation is the effect significantly decreasing over distance. Also the effect on living prisoners body is psychological, wasting away, not physical, like corrosion or decomposition. Harry? You mean Harry "the Defense Professor of Hogwarts was all like 'Let's get Bellatrix Black out of Azkaban!' and you were like 'Okay!'" Potter? As I recall he was busy pretending to be Voldemort in front of Bellatrix, and afterwards busy angsting over the loss his mentor. I don't see his lack of fussing over details as a strong reason to conclude anything.
I did say that I thought it was a reach. As for distance, she's at the bottom of Azkaban, directly adjacent to the Dementor nest. There really isn't much distance there at all. Physical barriers, on the other hand, there are. As I mentioned above. Notice the part where I said "this theory is supported by the story and supports your idea"? And the effect on living prisoners was what I was referring to when I mentioned the emotional draining. You're assuming he didn't know about the flask beforehand. I'm assuming that he had to have, to have reacted the way he did (ie, not at all). Just because Harry has made mistakes doesn't mean he's a moron.
Seems to me Quirrell gets all the same benefits without the vial. As soon as he stages a Bellatrix-sighting or whatever, Moody will arrange for her body to be carefully examined, and the deception will be uncovered. Cue Dumbledore sounding the alarms, etc.
Even assuming it's possible to tell the difference between a few years old rotting corpse and a few years old rotting death doll (magic might help there), Dementors don't care about the dead, and a powerful enough wizard can easily sneak into Azkaban to replace a corpse. Finding a fake corpse in Bellatrix's cell would be a mystery, another conspiracy theory, not a sure signature of Voldemort. It might not convince anyone. Why settle for half-solutions?
Yes, I'm assuming that someone actively looking for signs of deception would eventually determine that "Bellatrix" was a deathdoll, especially if the wizard who created the doll intended them to. That seems pretty likely. As for being convincing... well, unknown agents breaking Bellatrix out of jail with the vial isn't a sure sign of Voldemort, either, but it didn't have to be: Dumbledore inferred, entirely sensibly, that the expected disutility of Voldemort's return given the probability of it conditioned on someone breaking Bellatrix out of Azkaban was high enough to be worth sounding the alarm. Perhaps you're right that Quirrell wasn't confident that Dumbledore (or Moody) would perform the same calculation without the vial. But it seems unlikely to me.

Ch. 63, writing as I read:

I wonder what's the Death Eaters' opinion of phoenixes. If they agree that they're a force for good, seeing one of them in Dumbledore's retinue should make them ask themselves a few questions (a generic problem whenever you put a public, physical moral compass in any world, really - it becomes much harder for the villains to delude themselves into thinking they're heroes). Perhaps they think they're just creepy, winged endorphine peddlers.

Cool that Hogwarts has invented onion routing seven years in advance. Although I don't think it's a big improvement in security when the three messengers are so close to each other, and so much more likely to (occasionally) conspire to piece together the connection.

For the couple of seconds I considered Harry's guess on LL, I brightened up considerably. I dearly hope you don't plan for the fic to finish before you get a chance to write Methods!Luna.

Lesath... you know, I always hate pathetic characters in fiction, they make me cringe whenever they show up and I smile when they disappear from the story, but Lesath made me realise that MoR didn't have a truly pathetic character, Neville having "leveled up" extremel... (read more)

Phoenixes encourage you to go out, and throw yourself full-strength against a problem, regardless of whether you can solve the problem, regardless of your chance of death. To a slytherin, this is simply irrational. Gryffindor is brave, AKA foolhardy. Slytherin is devious AKA rational. The gryffindor method is the phoenix method: ignore the dangers that stand in the way of your goal.
"Verdandi" is Belldandy. And "Bahl's Stupefaction" is the Idiot Ball.
(smacks head)
And Vance is (was?) a certain infamous lich, though that's probably obvious by now.
An "Avada Kedavra" to the back from point-blank range probably would have worked well enough. A blade would have worked too, I suspect.

It has only just occurred to me that the fact that Harry ultimately proved unable to forgive Quirrell for casting Avada Kedavra is kind of brilliant.

2Eliezer Yudkowsky
Say more?

"Unforgivable curse". Or maybe TheOtherDave meant something else?

Nope, that's what I meant.
But did EY do it on purpose?
I've wondered that. His reply to my original comment would in most contexts suggest not, but doesn't strictly imply it, and I don't have a good enough model of him to feel confident one way or the other. And... great googly moogly! What on Earth is that comment doing with 14 upvotes? I mean, don't get me wrong, I get just as much of a warm glow of social approval from high karma numbers as the next guy (and am somewhat embarrassed by how much I'm anticipating ticking over into four digits) but... seriously?
I don't think he did, but I second your uncertainty. LOL. Eh, it was clever. And people are in a happy mood talking about MoR. I just hit three digits, and I was anticipating it for a while too.
I figured MoR was just the most popular subject to read and upvote posts about, but there could be other factors.
And this is just one reason why this was moved to the Discussion section of the site.

Chapter 65:

I thought the way chapter dealt with Hagrid was very appropriate. The fact is Hagrid wouldn't have much to add to the story and Harry wouldn't be able to interact with him well, but that fact IS a little sad. If Harry had been the POV character at the time we might have gotten a little sense of that sadness, but having us experience it through McGonnagal helps remind us that there are real social consequences to the way Harry thinks about things.

I understand, intellectually, why Harry is still working with Quirrel. It's not necessarily rational, but it makes sense for emotional reasons that I can buy. But the fact is there's only so far I can go along with this before the reader-character disconnect becomes too great. Yes, we have information Harry doesn't, but what started out as interesting irony is becoming really frustrating, to the point that I just won't be able to root for Harry if he continues down this path.

On a related note, if Harry is becoming increasingly hard I think the story will need alternate sources of the warmth and humor that defined it in the beginning, to help break up the sheer bleakness. On top of that, I'd already been hoping to see more chapters from the POV of Padme, Hermione and various other secondary characters. The small exchange between them in chapter 65 has me hoping we'll get some of that soon.

Can I ask for clarification as to WHY a Harry/Quirrel alliance is a bad thing? Please don't say "because he's Voldemort". It seems possible that MOR!He-Who-Sall-Not-Be-Named wasn't pure evil, and it's been hinted that even good people like Dumbledor used some decidedly evil tactics. Furthermore, it is strongly suggested that Quirrel/Voldemort have learned quite a bit from the first attempt at world-optimization and are taking corrective action. Is it because this path leads to taking over the world? This seems a strange objection if we consider that one of the purposes of at least a portion of the HPMoR readers is to create a minor god. World-optimization is an explicit goal. Is it because if a Harry/Quirrel alliance takes over they won't implement at CEV? Is that necessarily a bad thing if we consider that a CEV may well result in Azkaban staying open? I love the battle of wits between the two, especially because it seems a large part of it isn't just "using" the other person, it is attempting to convert the other person to one's own view. And I think I particularly love this battle because I myself am often caught between cynicism and idealism, and I find myself rooting for BOTH of them at the same time. As a result, I kinda hope they both win together. Maybe end up using each other for balance, each one preventing the other from swinging too far to one extreme (or at least from taking extreme action). Everyone needs a check, and only Harry is powerful enough to be Quirrel's, and only Quirrel is powerful enough to be Harry's.
There's a lot we don't know about Quirrel, which might turn out to make him a good guy, or an interesting guy, or a guy who we ultimately would root for for one reason or another. Right now, we don't know those things. What we do know is that he killed Rita Skeeter for, as far as we can tell, no good reason. That's one thing we know for sure which Harry specifically doesn't know, and IMO it's enough to assume that (from our perspective) Harry should not be working with Quirrel. Eventually we may learn new things, but for now the disconnect is too great for me. I do like the interaction between two when it comes to the "battle of wits," as long as its an actual contest and not Harry going along with things that are obviously a bad idea. So far we haven't really seen Harry's response - all he either says or even thinks is "let me think about it." So maybe I'm needlessly worrying. But seeing the first thing Harry do after participating in what was clearly a [i]very bad series of decisions[/i] is to initiate a similar conversation to what led to those decisions in the first place.... it just made me feel really squicky.
I've heard this a lot. I'm still not sure I agree with it. Harry gained quite a lot from the excursion. A great deal of knowledge about magic, about the politics of the wizarding world, about Quirrel himself. He discovered new uses for the Deathly Hollow, new ways to fight Dementors, and how he functions in life-threatening situations. A lot of practice in problem-solving under intense pressure. And two very powerful wizards now owe him... something? A favor? At any rate, it worked to strengthen ties, he can more readily call on them in the future. And a fellow student will follow any order he may ever give, unto death. On the other hand, he also lost his freedom and a portion of his soul, and mauled a guard with rocket-fire. If Harry was asked before the adventure began "Are you willing to get the above advantages and penalties in exchange for a 1% chance of death and a 30% chance of capture and disgrace?" he would have very likely said no. But he also saved another person from Azkaban, a person who was being tortured to death. That's huge, especially for Harry. Throw that into the mix as well and he might very well have accepted. At any rate, it's not blindly obvious that he'd immediately reject it as a very bad decision. And for our side we got to witness a huge amount of character growth, a fair bit of plot development, and a very entertaining series of chapters. Literary figures get some wiggle room for "poor decisions" in the interest of a good story. Not in an "idiot ball" sort of way, but how much fun would Moby Dick have been if Ahab had just said "Eh, it's a dumb whale, shit happens" and got on with life?

how much fun would Moby Dick have been if Ahab had just said "Eh, it's a dumb whale, shit happens" and got on with life?

Congratulations, you just wrote "Moby Dick and the Methods of Rationality".

It was a bad decision specifically because, as Harry himself articulates, he did not actually properly weight the pros and cons. It could have very well BEEN the right decision if he had spent more time evaluating it. But instead he made his decisions based on the assumption that his life had a plot. I should clarify that I DON'T have any problem, from a literary or a reader perspective, with the decisions Harry made towards the end of Act 1. Eliezer put a lot of effort into setting up that finale so that it made sense in context, and had a huge emotional payoff. But I feel that that effort has now paid off in full. For me to get behind Harry making a new set of questionable decisions, I need more proper setup for it to feel right. Granted, there are people who felt from the very beginning that Harry was psychotic and evil, and stopped rooting for him as soon as he dismissed Ron. And nothing will satisfy those people. And my own preference is just that - my own preference, and it may be that the story Eliezer set out to tell will not fully satisfy me either. I'm simply stating my own concerns.
Eh. It and the Ron thing make the elitism increasingly distasteful. I mean, what does it say when the Malfoys care more for the underclass than you do? Honestly, I think it's passed that point for me. This was the Harry who told Minerva about the enchantment on the Sorting Hat; for him to make the choices he's made means he's in full Dark Lord mode. Harry's lost, and it's a question of whether or not he'll be redeemed, not whether or not he'll resist. It also doesn't help that his morality is bland and broken; if he were rejecting interacting with Hagrid because he's an Objectivist, I'd be more interested; instead, he's just made the calculation that Hagrid is worthless to him but is deluding himself into believing he actually has compassion for all other people.

"I don't have much to gain from hanging out with Hagrid" and "I don't care about Hagrid's well-being" are radically different statements, and the former doesn't imply the latter.

Harry believes that he is unusually capable of improving the world. That means his time is valuable, and shutting up and multiplying suggests that he should avoid entanglements unless they are expected to improve his chances of success. Harry is acting cold but not evil.

In practical terms, though, he's in danger of losing his anchors to people - going cackling, to use Pratchett's term. He's failing to avoid being so sharp he cuts himself. He's smart, but he's eleven. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Agreed, and I move to adopt "cackling" as the official name for that failure mode.

It sounds like EY is getting tired of that--the latest chapter implements a method for aging Harry up more quickly.
Eh, not significantly so. In 1 year, he'll be 1 year and 3 months older. As he himself noted that would still leave him younger than most of his classmates. He'll need 4 years just to catch up to Hermione's biological age.
Yeah, you're right. Maybe I'm just getting tired of it.
But what if he's wrong about the former? It seems to me that Harry's biases have led him to a false conclusion. It's true that Hagrid is not terribly smart, which is I gather what causes Harry to write him off -- but Harry has not bothered to find out about Hagrid's other abilities before he made this judgment. I mean, firstly, as a half-giant, Hagrid is highly resistant to magic, which is an ability of exceptional flexibility in this world. Secondly, Hagrid has unfettered access to the Forbidden Forest and all kinds of interesting alliances with the creatures who live there--is Harry entirely sure that he will never have a use for a juvenile dragon, a pet hippogriff, or an army of spiders? And thirdly and probably most importantly, Hagrid has access to rare magical components (e.g. unicorn hair) that Harry could use in spells or potions, potentially giving Harry access to a wide range of new skills and abilities. I think he made a very unwise decision when he wrote off Hagrid.
Yes, this is a failing on Harry's part. Harry doesn't realize how useful things can be that aren't connected to sheer brainpower. Harry is not a perfect individual. He's very far from it. If Harry had gone and befriended Hagrid that would make him a less plausible, more Mary Sueish character.
At the moment, Hagrid probably has zero friends, as I imagine he's too intimidated by Dumbledore to think of him as a friend instead of a father-figure/employer/crazy old wizard, and I doubt Ron would have befriended him without Harry as a bridge.* The amount of effort Harry has to expend to brighten up Hagrid's life is rather low. Harry is being seduced by Quirrel, and the more friends he has, the harder that will be for Quirrel. But Harry is cutting out everyone he can besides Quirrel, Hermione, and Draco. That's not a recipe for staying good. When it comes to Hagrid, yes. Combined with the rest of the situation, Harry is definitely acting evil. What's his something to protect? His hubris. Or, possibly, the three seducers he's surrounded himself with. Not the simple people he can't stand to even share a meal with. How is that not a recipe for evil? What would he have to do to convince you that he's on the road to hell? He's definitely got the good intentions. *Further research suggests the Weasley twins, at least, were friendly with Hagrid.

"Harry doesn't value real friendship enough" is a legitimate concern. But the solution is not "be friends with Ron and Hagrid and the other people that canon-Harry liked." The solution is to make better friends with Padme and Anthony and Blaise and Neville and various other people who actually share interests with him. (I'd also like to see some chapters that showcased him actually hanging out with the Weasely twins instead of referring to other times when they hung out. If Harry feels bad about teasing Neville I'm not sure what kind of pranks they pull that he doesn't feel bad about).

Would it benefit Harry to try and be friends with people who aren't interesting to him from the get-go? Well, yeah. But seriously, that's a lot of work. Just making friends with people you start off liking can be a lot of work.

Now, right now none of that is even really an option, because the whole point is that Harry feels incredibly isolated. He isn't sure he can trust Dumbledore, he's pretty sure he can't trust Quirrel about most things, he doesn't want to burden his existing friends with the stuff he's going through, on top of it simply not being safe to tell anyone. And he doesn't want to risk getting close to new people right now because it wouldn't be safe for them either.

Which is exactly where Quirrel wants him. And that's bad, and he needs to get out of this situation. But if you were up against Quirrel, you'd probably be exactly where he wanted you to be too.

I'm shooting for "Be friendly towards," not "Be friends with." At the very least, Harry could stop by Hagrid's hut and ask him to tell some stories about James and Lily. I mean, Harry is apparently so inept at dealing with other people that he doesn't realize indifference is often more wounding than disliking someone. That's how Harry got into this mess- in his mind, the only important students at Hogwarts are himself, Draco, and Hermione, and the only important professor is Quirrel. Heck, when you take into account his skewed morality it looks like the only person that shares interests with him is Quirrel (because of Azkaban). I share very few weakness with Harry. I imagine Quirrel is clever enough to figure out my weaknesses and attack them, but I'm not sure he'd succeed; I know several effective defenses against seduction. I am over twice as old as Harry, and so there is no guarantee the same was true of me at Harry's age- but I would be as comfortable giving a fictional 10 year old me that ability as I would be giving a fictional 10 year old me Harry's repertoire of read books.

If I think of Harry as a real person in a real situation, I basically agree with you.

Indeed, I asked the question a couple of months ago of whether the rational thing to do would be to stop Harry then, before it was too late, though I had a different mechanism for his corruption in mind. Mechanism aside, it was pretty clear at that point that he had placed himself firmly on the isolate's path; we're just reading about his first stumbling steps on that path now.

But the thing is, Harry is the main character in a rationalist bildungsroman, and we've already seen that literary tropes have power in his world.

And given the author's stated-at-length beliefs about the relationship between rationality and moral behavior, I expect that -- whether it's true of the real world or not -- a constraining principle of this bildungsroman will be that a sufficiently powerful optimizer can preserve morality (in the human sense) given an adequate commitment to rationality, even in the absence of social entanglement.

And the related (and true in the real world) general principle that social entanglement works just as well to enforce immoral-but-conventional ideas as for moral ones (and is therefore u... (read more)

Harry could usefully collaborate with Hagrid, but Hermione or Draco may need to point that out. Hagrid has had limited access to practicing his magic, so provides something of a control to his classmates, to test whether magical strength is an increasing function of magical use, if magical strength is easily measured - Dumbledore seemed to be able to sense it. Hermione challenged by Fawkes, may see improving the performance of everyone in the class as the effective way of working harder. Asking Harry "Why are we different?" and based on "Great artists steal", what existing techniques should we look at could be both effective for both of them.

I'm sorry, but "Hagrid is lonely" is not a concern worth five seconds of thought when Harry could be working on getting rid of dementors or Azkaban or Death Eaters or death.

Harry trusts Quirrell less now than ever before, and he spent much of the chapter before this one rhapsodizing about Hermione's exceptional moral behavior, which definitely sounds to me like it could be his something to protect.

What would he have to do to convince you that he's on the road to hell?

Anything evil? I'm still a little dubious of Harry's judgment of late (though it seems to be recovering), but I'm really surprised you're worried about his intentions.

Harry trusts Quirrell less now than ever before,

Pish posh. That's what Harry tells himself, but what do his actions say? He's doubled down in favor of Quirrell. His self-reported unease is meaningless because the stakes are on the table and Quirrell is setting up the next round. Harry's resistance to bailing on one of his plans is proportional to the difficulty faced, and so next time around he will be even more in Quirrell's camp then he is now.

I'm still a little dubious of Harry's judgment of late (though it seems to be recovering), but I'm really surprised you're worried about his intentions.

I'm worried about his intentions because they suggest his morality is ill-tuned to the problems he faces. They will allow him to excuse himself all the way down to the bottom.

What about Neville? They seem to spend serious time together and have a strong connection. Hopefully this will be more apparent in the future (a la chapter 67) Maybe even the Weasley twins? With the new chapters he may even be approaching Cedric Diggory--though it could be more of a cameo.
Apparently, according to the last chapter, Hermione + Draco were enough to keep him grounded. (And Neville + Cedric will help too, I imagine.) I was also amused by reading between the lines here: Friendship 1 Quirrel 0. I think this might be Harry's first victory over him, and he doesn't realize it.
This a hundred times. It is entirely possible to not think someone's interesting as a friend or useful as an ally, and still care about them as people.

It and the Ron thing make the elitism increasingly distasteful

Is it really elitist to not make friends with people you don't like (Ron) or people you might not have time for (Hagrid)? I never befriended any of the janitors at any of my schools (have you?), even if they might have really enjoyed my friendship, and I don't consider myself elitist for that.

for him to make the choices he's made means he's in full Dark Lord mode. Harry's lost, and it's a question of whether or not he'll be redeemed, not whether or not he'll resist

I think the term "Dark Lord" is suffering from Sword of Good symptom. If "losing" means deciding to make the world a better place, eliminating Azkaban and/or death, and preventing future atrocities then I'm all for this sort of loss. Call it "becoming a Dark Lord" if you want, it's much better than any alternative.

It depends on why you don't like them or don't have time for them. It's more a comparison to the original than it is a lack of justification in-world (the class balance of the protagonists and antagonists has shifted significantly). If Ron is just a snot that wants to exclude Malfoy from everything, then sure, don't be friends with him. But is that really all Eliezer saw in him? I make it a priority to befriend support staff, but so far that hasn't included any janitors; mostly secretaries. Do you have any evidence beyond wishful thinking that's what'll happen? So far, it looks to me like "losing" means getting tricked by your prophesied enemy into releasing his strongest follower. I put the odds at pretty strong that the story will turn into a UFAI cautionary tale, where Harry and/or Quirrel FOOMs and the results are not pretty. Quirrel has been playing Harry like a fiddle from day one. We might have some information about Harry's goals, but Quirrel's goals are the ones that will be put into place.
I put those odds quite low, because it's a story about rationality and only incidentally about the Singularity. The overall moral of the story has to be consistent with EY's conviction that becoming truly rational helps (rather than hurts) you in moral dilemmas. To quote an analogous bit of the story:
Having compassion for all other people doesn't necessarily mean wanting to be friends with them. We can value others' lives and well-being while realizing that we might not get along personally.
To use Eliezer's example, is someone compassionate if they do not hold open doors for old ladies? Likewise, is Harry's decision to pretend Hagrid doesn't exist evidence of compassion, or its lack?
I think this is at least in part a coincidence based on how JKR wrote the originals. She made all the upperclass people cold and Slytherin, and the underclass warm and emotional but short on brains, power, and/or rationality. MoR!Harry's personality leads him to like the ambitious plotting brainiacs, so he ends up hanging out with the upperclass.
I like this. The principle exception to is the Weasley twins and Hermione, none of whom are short on brains. And Harry is interacting with them about as much as he did in canon.
Good point. Hermione's family is comfortable economically, but she's still "underclass" because of her muggle parents. Kind of the exception that proves the rule. Also, I'd like to see more of the Weasley twins (though I doubt we will, as the story is too dark and serious now for them to fit well).
As the Weasley twins are probably my favourite characters from the original series, I agree!

I suggest that the clock that Dumbledore gave to Trelawney contains at least one recording spell, to make sure that if she has another prophesy, Dumbledore will find out about it.

I further submit that he has placed similar spells on various objects of hers, so that he as this assurance even when she isn't near the clock.


I was left with the same impression about the clock.

Warning, big swath of text coming through.

I've recently been rereading the story from the beginning. By now the whole thing has a bit of a halo effect and judging things without bias is getting tricky. So kudos on accomplishing that... but there are a few issues that I think harm the piece overall. They didn't hurt my enjoyment of it, but they end up limiting it to a smaller audience. There's a lot of smart people who would love this fic if there weren't certain things that turned them off to it.

The main problem is that Harry too absurdly intelligent to believable at first glance. In the first few chapters people tend to assume that the "primary change" is simply that Petunia married someone different, which isn't enough to justify him not only being saner but being genuinely smarter than the original Harry was. My sister was particularly annoyed by this. I'm not sure how much of that had do with her reading it before you updated the intro-text to say "multiple points of departure." But by now she's internalized Harry as a creepily overintelligent jerk and I can't get her to give it a second chance, despite the clues you've dropped more recently about why he is ... (read more)

Ch. 61: "And there is no one else in the world who would accidentally overestimate my wit, and leave me a message I cannot understand at all." Ch. 62: "The Death Eaters learned, toward the end of the war, not to attack the Order's families."
I didn't say there weren't good clues. Just that those clues come too late to help with the sort of person likely to give up around chapter 20.
Just answering the questions.
Dumbledore plays a deep game. He's not "the Dumbledore we know and love" in many, many ways, and perhaps that big change is the largest cause of the issues.
First, I know Eliezer's deliberately keeping Dumbledore mysterious and forcing us to question what we think we know about him and how we think we know it. But I think, in the end, he is the same character with the same core virtues that we originally loved. The difference is that he is now in a world where he could not be content "merely" being Gandalf, because in this new universe, Gandalf would have lost. Dumbledore in the original universe didn't make the hard, cold decisions this Dumbledore does, not because he was incapable of it, because that universe didn't require it of him. This universe does, and because he DOES share the same core virtues it breaks his heart, which is what finally sold me on his character in chapter 62 (and even in chapter 39, when I went back and reread it). I may turn out to be wrong, but I would be disappointed if that is the case.

On first reading of Ch.1, I got the impression that Harry was giving too much credit to the possibility of magic being real, since the prior must be such that even taking the effort to make the test would be incorrect. But now it's blatantly obvious that the whole cognitive distortion event was caused by magic!

But this bizarre certainty... Harry was finding himself just expecting that, yes, a Hogwarts professor would show up and wave a wand and magic would come out. The strange certainty was making no effort to guard itself against falsification - wasn't making excuses in advance for why there wouldn't be a professor, or the professor would only be able to bend spoons.

Where do you come from, strange little prediction?

(Notice a reference to belief in belief, distinguishing true anticipation.)

I would say that while there are hypotheses with such low priors as to make it irrational to expend the effort to check them (and Harry would probably have assigned such a low probability to the existence of HP-style magic, and magical Britain, before he got the letter), one of these hypotheses being promoted specifically to your attention in the manner of the letter probably raises the prior to the point where it's worth testing, at least.

The probability of magic is still vanishingly vanishingly low, but given how useful magic would be it might still be worth Harry's time to test for it.

I hereby dub this class of argument Pascal's Muggle

It's also worth noting that the letter does not only provide several orders of magnitude jump in the prior for whether magic exists or not, but also provides a method of testing its existence that is much lower-cost than before (beforehand, Harry would have had to do some fairly strenuous things to break The Masquerade; with the letter in hand, he merely needs to send a reply.)
Talk to a prominent academic who gets lots of letters, and you'll change your mind. My advisor developed this index to use before bothering with the letters he's given. (The index itself is a joke, but the idea is real.)

A prominent academic receiving a letter that claims the existence of magic is less strong evidence than an elementary school aged kid receiving such a letter. In the absence of real magic, a prominent academic is quite likely to receive such letters from crackpots, whereas an elementary school aged kid is not.

Your point is valid, but remember that this elementary school aged kid is the son of a (prominent?) academic! It could be subtle ploy.
In the absence of a pattern of such random crackpot letters, I would probably call a single letter sufficient evidence to make it worth testing. If that one didn't pan out, or the next few, it stops being so. A specific oddity--such as an eleven-year-old receiving a letter purporting to be an invitation to attend a school of magic--is more evidence than an entry in a continuing pattern. (What would have happened, I wonder, if Mrs. Figg had not been present, and Harry had simply thrown out the letter as junk? Probably someone would have come anyway when no reply was received.)
I so wish I had your address...
If canon is any guide, it would have resulted in more letters. Lots and lots of letters. With Hagrid being sent after they don't respond to the first thousand or so.
Based on my memory from the movie (which is more extreme than the book, but I forget how much), it would have been well worth responding to long before Hagrid arrived.
You're right; if there had been such a pattern, the narration would surely have said so.
Harry's father is supposedly a professor at Oxford. If "professor" has its UK meaning (= full professor, in US parlance), then being a professor at Oxford pretty much implies being a prominent academic: it's the highest "normal" academic rank at the oldest and (roughly equally with Cambridge) most prestigious university in the country. ("Associate professor" in the US is roughly equivalent to "reader" in the UK; "assistant professor" in the US is roughly equivalent to "lecturer" in the UK.)
As an American, then, I ask: is every full professor at Harvard a prominent academic? Perhaps at least as prominent as John Baez (who is more prominent, or at least better known to the public, than most of the full professors at his school but is at a much less prominent school).
The US is bigger, and has more first-rank universities, than the UK. So on the plausible hypothesis that the number of people who can be rightly called prominent in a given large community is roughly independent of the size of the community (since I'd expect it to be a matter of how many people one can remember easily) the threshold for prominence in the US should be higher. (I take it that "prominent" here means something like "with a reasonable chance of being one person a crackpot picks on when s/he goes looking for an academic in the relevant field to contact about his/her crazy theories". I don't think this implies "well known to the general public", though doubtless professors who are well known to the general public get more crank mail.)
I think that it should be strong evidence for ‘better known to the general public than most’, but not strictly implying that, nor good evidence for ‘well known in an absolute sense’ (although that depends on where you draw the line).
Your advisor is that person? Lucky!
Yes, he's a very nice guy to work with! (Although "was" is better than "is", since I finished in 2006 and he's now working on very different things.)
God no.
The letter alone would probably not make the existence of magic worth testing. But if you combined it with Petunia's seemingly earnest insistence at having personally witnessed magic, it probably would.

if you combined it with Petunia's seemingly earnest insistence at having personally witnessed magic, it probably would

As far as simply testing the nature of reality, I'd still say no. However, Harry cares about his mother and wants his parents to stop fighting. This is what justifies the test, IMO.

AAnnd that the result is bound to be entertaining no matter what.
I no longer remember what I thought when I first read Chapter 1, but now I don't think that Harry should need this cognitive distortion (which I agree is there) in order to make the effort to test. He would propose (and then make) the test anyway, to try to settle the dispute between his parents.

"And before you ask, it must be the original grave, the place of first burial, the bone removed during the ritual and not before. Thus he cannot have retrieved it earlier; and also there is no point in substituting the skeleton of a weaker ancestor. He would notice it had lost all potency."

I wonder how long a ritual can last. If it was started ten years ago but never finished, would that be a loophole?

There's a potion too, right? (Whatever's in the cauldron before Wormtail's hand is added, although that might have only been in the movie.) If that has to be made before the grave is robbed and goes bad after a few hours, then you have a time limit.
I had forgotten about the potion. Still, I don't think he would have bothered breaking Bellatrix out if he didn't expect to use her in the ritual. I also can't think of a reason to have her hide his wand next to his father's grave unless that connection was enough to keep the bone potent.

Ch. 62-63: I think I found a plot hole. Not as big as the one with eagles in LOTR, but close.

Why didn't anyone ask Harry to drop his occlumency shields and check his memories? There are three people who can propose it:

1) Dumbledore: should have done it immediately upon picking up Harry in Mary's Place, because he still suspected him then. Also the Animagus potion isn't evidence that Harry is innocent, why does everyone think it is?

2) Snape: knows about the existence of the covert message-passing network, knows about the Time-Turners given to students, knows about McGonagall's woefully inadequate method of testing Harry's Time-Turner (just giving Harry a tricky task instead of confiscating the device and checking it), knows Harry had a motive for the crime. A natural first step would be to read the minds of all students with Time-Turners to see if they conveyed suspicious messages on that time/day. He may even stumble upon that accidentally while reading students' minds later.

3) Moody: an order of magnitude smarter and more paranoid than Dumbledore. Should suggest inspecting Harry's memories immediately upon learning the details of the story, e.g. the use of Muggle artifacts in the jailbreak.

Final note: unlike the Time-Turner test, this one can be carried out at any later time unless Harry Obliviates himself or something. It took me three days to get the idea, in-universe characters should be smarter and more motivated than me, so I give them three days of story time and then I will officially declare them stupid.

The obvious test I noticed they failed to perform involves Dumbledore asking Harry to summon his patronus.

That's why I think that Dumbledore is covering up for Harry to a certain extent.
To these three, the animagus potion is such a blatant Voldemort calling-card that it screens off Harry's involvement. Not only that, they simply haven't thought of the idea that Voldemort and Harry are working together, so to them Voldemort's involvement exonerates Harry. Voldemort's potion was just that good of a trick. The only people it could fail to work on were people who were plotting at too low a level, and they were fooled by the time-turner test.
Maybe I'm being obtuse, but why is it a Voldemort calling card?
I think because it's the equivalent of cherry tapping to use a well-known and not-that-powerful magic to do the impossible, and Voldemort showed himself to be that kind of perfectionist.
Judging from the quotations that top the TVTropes page, Alan Rickman tends to play characters who engage in cherry tapping. So shouldn't they be suspecting Snape?
And why test Harry's time tuner if the potion rules him out completely?
Dumbledore received hints of a paradox if he moved to protect Harry before the Azkaban escape. So that highly increased the possibility Harry and time-travel was involved somehow, but it was possible that Harry had been used only as a messenger, rather than the more direct (Azkaban-going, Patronus-wielding, cloak-of-Invisibility-wearing) involvement that they also feared.
In general, this is explained when bringing up Occlumency in the first place. If he was good enough, he could readily agree to dropping his shields, then just keep them up. How would they tell? Again, this is assuming that he's good enough, but it does mean that they could never be certain. If they were motivated enough, they could Imperios to make sure he actually did it, but it is an Unforgivable... 1) I agree w/ JoshuaZ, Dumbledore might not want to further antagonize Harry w/o quite possibly gaining anything from it. It might be worth the risk, though. 2) That is quite possible, but I think that Snape's biggest hurdle in this is that he is still seriously underestimating Harry. Though the fact that Quirrell had to deduce that the girl had a Time Turner, and not just know, means that he possibly wouldn't know that there's a Slytherin w/ a Time Turner, or even necessarily that there are any issued at the moment. He could, through checking his student's schedules, but he might not know offhand. 3) I really wouldn't say an order of magnitude smarter than Dumbledore, he's just tuned his mind to that kind of thinking through decades of experience. Again, I agree w/ JoshuaZ in that Moody wouldn't be thinking of him as an option. He honestly might not even know the information that would be required for him to make that deduction, like Harry's predilection for Muggle artifacts. edit: I forgot to say, I did not think of the animagus potion as evidence of Harry's innocence, but rather of Voldemort's guilt. Rather than making Harry less likely, it merely makes Voldemort more likely.
Harry isn't good enough to fool Dumbledore's Legilimency, and he knows that. See Ch. 58:
Harry knows it--or believes it, at least. Does Dumbledore?
Even if they don't suspect Harry, they should still have searched his memories in order to figure out what event might have triggered the time-paradox. That really ought to trump any concerns about Harry's mental privacy, and besides, they should expect Harry to go along with it.
I think that the story leaves a lot of uncertainty in its depictions of other characters' disposition towards Harry and each other. We still don't know what level Dumbledore's playing on. Did he notice Harry in the prison cell (he could, since he might have mastered the deadly hallows)? Did he connect the hole in the wall or transfigured rocket fuel with Harry's magic style? Could he stop rocket-powered broomstick in time? Is he Santa Claus? Did he mislead McGonagall to try the flawed test? Did he prompt Snape to confront Quirrell at Mary's Place? What does he know and suspect about Quirrell? McGonagall seems to be irrationally optimistic about everything and hopeful about Harry. Snape underestimates Harry, or at least doesn' t interfere with him all that much. Mad-Eye doesn't know Harry personally, or else he would probably instantly unravel all of his plots and half of Quirrell's and Dumbledore's for good measure.
1 is a good point, but Dumbledore doesn't know how good Harry's barriers are and may not want to further antagonize Harry. 2 is certainly an issue and it could easily occur to Snape. 3 isn't that much of a big deal since it isn't at all clear that Moody is thinking about Harry as an option at all.
How would they know if his occlumency barriers were down? It is pretty clearly established that if you are sufficiently skilled, you can make a Legilimens who tries to read your mind see whatever you want them to. So if harry said he let his occlumency barriers down and he was telling the truth, they would see his barriers down and see whatever he remembered seeing. But if he was not telling the truth it would still look like his barriers were down and they were seeing his memories. Harry is already good enough that he does not think veritaserum would be able to have any effect on him, so it seems unlikely that anyone could have been sure if he was telling the truth even if they saw in his memories that he was innocent. Edit: looks like someone already said this
Telling Harry to drop his Occlumency is no good if he also knows Obfuscomency (from Always and Always).
Which I believe he is as 63 talks about Harry trying to keep up an fake persona of a surprised and Confused Harry in his mind.
As far as I can tell, Occlumency in MoR works like Obfuscomency from Always and Always.
When you think about it, it wouldn't make much sense if canon occlumency didn't, otherwise Snape could never have gotten away with pretending to be a loyal servant of Voldemort. If he was obviously putting up barriers to keep his mind from being read, Voldemort could just have told him to take them down.
From the Wikia: I think that this would be enough. Snape only had to hide a few key conversations and actions from Voldemort; most of what he said and did in the Order can be open. If Snape had been a good Obfuscumens, he could have fed Voldemort positive misinformation, but he didn't. He only kept secrets.
That might be the case. The wiki article is uncited on that count, so I don't know where they got the information to indicate that it's true in canon. It's possible that Snape did feed Voldemort misinformation, but the extent to which he could do so would be limited, since he had to be able to convince Voldemort that he was a loyal spy whose true allegiance was not suspected by Dumbledore's faction. Suppressing only key parts of ones thoughts and emotions might accomplish the same task, but it seems to me that this would pose difficulties, because the rest of your thoughts might not make sense without the context of the thoughts you're suppressing, giving anyone reading your mind the impression that it was being selectively edited.
I think that the whole paragraph is supposed to be covered by the citation at the end, but that's just OotP, and I'm not about to go through the book looking for evidence. You're certainly correct that it's unclear, and that it would be difficult.
I don't quite have time now to go back to Eliezer's text to check, and I never read the original Harry Potter, but based on my memory of how occlumency is explained, I don't think it's that simple. I thought occlumency was something like the ability to present a totally convincing false image to a legilimens. It sounded like the legilimency analogue to being a truly excellent liar - no one can ever completely trust anything you say, even if you promise real hard that you're telling them the truth, or are threatened with horrible things. I was not under the impression that you could tell whether someone had dropped their occlumency barrier, and therefore becoming a skilled occlumens renders them forever opaque.
Because once you're sufficiently skilled at Occlumency, nobody can tell if you have shields up or not.

Ch 62. Holy crap! Dumbledore killed Narcissa in response to the kidnapping and murder of Aberforth?! That doesn't sound right. For one thing, how can he still own the Bird of Good, then?

Well, he didn't free the prisoners of Azkaban, so how can he still own the Bird of Good? Clearly there's room for some disagreement between Dumbledore and the Bird without breaking up their relationship.
"Not giving into blackmail" sounds like letting Aberforth (etc?) be killed by the Deatheaters rather than giving into demands, but I dunno if it was implied that Narcissa was direct revenge for that, or if that was a separate incident.
The relevant sentence is "The Death Eaters learned, toward the end of the war, not to attack the Order's families.". At least, that's the one that made me say something like "oh crap" out loud.
Yeah, I was thinking "learned how exactly?", which would match with the Narcissa thing, but then the further elaboration took me away from that idea. But it could still well mean that.
I didn't notice an elaboration that qualified it.
From the same paragraph: So that seems to confirm ShardPhoenix's interpretation (which was also mine).
The sentence in between explicitly changes the subject, so that he's referring to Voldemort and not the Death Eaters.
"Bird of Good", that's great. I can't help but think that whenever I read about Fawkes, now.
Sorry, where's this?
D says that the Deatheaters learned not to try to blackmail or attack the families of the Order, and so Harry's family should not be in any danger.
OK, this is a highly nonobvious inference; it shouldn't be stated as if it were obvious from the text.
My apologies. I was going to comment on how Ch61 made me realize I lack the ability to predict what others find obvious (specifically why Dumbledore and Snape doesn't see the purpose of the left-behind vial, and, more importantly, do reviewers fail to mention it because it's obvious or because nobody sees the discrepancy), but then I didn't, because I realized probably no one cares.

Chapter 65:

Should Harry believe what Quirrell told him about the destination of the Portkey?

And where did the Portkey lead to before Quirrell tapped it with his wand?

I was more interested in Quirrell's statement about the note. Have we seen evidence before that the lawyer/genie style of not-technically-lying is particularly relevant in the magical world? Veritaserum, perhaps?
Magical means of compelling truth do seem like a good reason to develop a habit of being able to mislead others without technically lying to them.
Would veritaserum allow you to remain in a state in which you are capable of deliberately misleading, even if by strict reading of what you say, it's true from a certain perspective? (I guess we'd have to in part know something about the mechanism of its operation, and why it is that in the MoRverse, being an occulamens makes you immune to it, before we could guess at that)
Given what we know about how other magic in the setting works, my guess would be that it works partly by doing some mechanical Legilemency and keying off of intent to deceive, whereupon it triggers some sort of inhibitory condition. Seems in line with Eliezer's explanations for other apparently inexplicable effects, like the Comed-Tea.
Yes. It's a question that could be verified by a third party without too much difficulty, and I think Quirrell would strongly disprefer to be caught lying. Making Harry mistrust the note-sender may be to his advantage, but I don't think it's enough to outweigh the downside.
If he did (somehow) know about the note before Harry told him about it, there could well be some plausibly deniable reason he could later give as to why he was only able to say "London" and not "The Chancery Building" I'm not sure what potential risks portkeys could have over long distances (in Canon Potter, to say nothing of MOR Potter) so this might not actually be evidence of trickery on Santa Claus' part, although since neither of the two brought it up I'm probably just fighting Santa Claus not intending to send Harry to Salem because that's just what Eliezer wants us to think.
Canon presents it as very safe. It's used internationally; I believe we read in Goblet of Fire of people coming from North America to Britain via portkey and possibly even further. No risks are ever seen or mentioned (in stark contrast to apparition or Floo or broom). It's used in preference to any of the other methods for children going to the Quidditch World Cup, further cementing its apparent safety. And so on. The downside seems to be that it's somewhat unwieldy and inflexible, and not too great at moving lots of people from point A to point B (witness the Hogwarts Express versus the the difficulties Harry & co. have with their large portkey group going to the Cup).
And it still might be useful as a "panic button" if all else fails - yes, it might be a trap of some kind, but it still might be better than whatever immediate danger Harry finds himself in.
Of course, the best time to lie is once you have a reputation for perfect honesty.

Nobody trusts anyone to be perfectly honest. In my view, the best time to lie is once you've built up a misleading reputation for being bad at lying.

Not quite - it's the easiest time to lie, but it can still be a terrible idea. The best time to lie is when you can't be caught.
Quirrel has been reluctant to outright lie so far...

Thinking about ch63 (which is among my favorite chapters to read so far)...

I am, of course, curious to see what the implications are of Harry's formally declaring opposition to Death.

But more than that, I am curious about the implications of his epistemology.

Ultimately Harry breaks his connection to Quirrell because he realizes Quirrell can maintain a surface appearance that is radically distinct from his deep structure, and consequently Harry can't know what Quirrell "truly" is. As distinct from, say, Hermione or Draco, who (Harry believes) can be read on the surface.

That seems to suggest that Harry has entirely given up on the idea of judging people by what they do... at least, when it comes to Quirrell.

Well, and Hermione. After all, this is precisely Harry's criticism of Fawkes: Fawkes only judges her based on what she has done, rather than on "the notion of there being something that a person is".

Now, in the real world, I know a lot of people who have more or less this attitude; who judge people based on their apprehension of some kind of core self, and believe that core is what really matters, and that judgments based on people's actions are inadequate by comparison. But those people don't describe themselves as rationalists. Indeed, most of them talk about that "core self" in language that soi-disant rationalists dismiss out of hand. Presumably Harry isn't going that route.

I will be interested to see what route he goes instead.

Reminds me of this article. Now, Hemmens is being a little polemical there and I'm not sure the morality of the books is well-developed enough to support his reading, but there's some interesting convergence anyway. My take on it is that our judgments of people are ultimately about predicting how well their future behavior will align with our (moral and/or personal) interests. This is determined by their core motivations and assumptions, but our access to that deep structure is often patchy and speculative; if we don't have a reliable enough read on it, about all we can do is fall back on nearest-neighbor matching against their past actions. It's not a binary actions-or-motivations dichotomy, in other words: the more confident about someone's motivations we are, the higher we weight those motivations relative to their actual deeds. Harry's just found out two important things about Quirrell: that his deep structure isn't as accessible as he thought it was, and that he's willing to use death spells in questionable circumstances. That might not be enough to completely destroy his confidence in Quirrell (and indeed I think Harry's overreacting a bit given the evidence), but it's definitely enough reason to take a step back and reevaluate.
Quirrel is a schemer and what he does or rather wants you to think he does is not what he really did. Let's take the dementor for an example. What Quirrel did was bring a powerful creature within reach of Harry with the effect of almost killing him. But also with the effect of teaching Harry the true Patronus. How would you judge Quirrel according to this deed? With a more straight forward character you could assume he really wanted to teach the children to defend themselves which probably is good. And Harry realized that this straight forward reasoning doesn't apply to Quirrel.
In this instance Quirrel probably realized something of the problem with good and powerful wizards could not cast Patroni and thought that Harry's absolutely odd way of thinking of things might be able to solve it. It would make sense that he should do this quickly as his plans to turn Harry into a Dark Lord might get in the way of this.
Unless he didn't. He is not, after all, a good and powerful wizard :D
He may not be good, but he is good at research.
Meh. He declares war on Azkaban, not on Death. I suppose it could be read (very) broadly to mean he declares war on severe torture. If only he'd shut up and calculate, he'd realize that to prevent the largest amount of suffering he should dedicate his life to researching magical means of granting immortality to everyone, like the Philosopher's Stone.

If only he'd shut up and calculate, he'd realize that to prevent the largest amount of suffering he should dedicate his life to researching magical means of granting immortality to everyone, like the Philosopher's Stone.

Granting immortality is not the same as preventing suffering. Maximizing life span may in fact maximize the opportunities for suffering.

Future suffering or death must be discounted to provide a present value. It is more valuable to save a life now than to save a life a year from now, all else being equal.

Harry would also have to consider opportunity costs and the likelihood of success. He knows that dementors can be killed now. Finding an acceptable magical approach to immortality is less certain, and may actually take more time to develop than a non-magical approach. Harry's optimal approach may be to kill dementors now, research the nature of magic, and to wait for muggle science to find immortality.

I question the extent to which the two goals have to be juggled in any case, since he already knows how to kill Dementors, and isn't willing to throw his life away to destroy them, which would be the main conflict. Destroying the Dementors is now a tactical issue that need only concern him when playing politics, so the only way it interferes with his transhumanist goals is if his politicking interferes with his research more-so than it would have if he weren't doing it with Dementor destruction in mind.
He was already at war with Death, AND with Azkaban/severe torture. The big character-shift in 63 is that he no longer believes in democracy. If he becomes God, he will not necessarily be a CEV, he'll do what he personally believes to be right.
Democracy isn't CEV. People will vote for all sorts of things when they're not as good or smart as they could be.
It seems pretty clear that Harry's opposition to Azkaban is because of the Dementors. He isn't opposed to prisons in general, and all of his emotive thinking about Azkaban has centered on the Dementors. And we've established that the Dementors are, in the HP:MORverse, instances of Death. I'll admit that I haven't the foggiest clue what that actually means, but that's kind of true of pretty much all magic; I accept it on narrative grounds. So I stand by the original statement.
Harry is opposed to people feeding other people to Dementors, slowly, over many years, until they die. If Dementors were just dangerous evil creatures roaming out there and occasionally killing unlucky people who didn't Apparate away in time - like trolls, or dragons - Harry wouldn't care much about them and their association with Death. This is precisely what I'm saying: he previously swore to end death (not just Dementors!) but now he's swearing to end Azkaban - a much smaller goal. In fact it's insignificant in comparison. Let's hope it doesn't get exclusive priority on Harry's time.
I don't think the important thing in Ch. 63 is that Harry changed his goals (you're right, he didn't really) but that he changed the methods he's willing to consider. The long-term argument (since chapter 35) between Harry and Quirrell has been about the utility of democracy. When Harry declared himself with the 3 and against the 47, he is acknowledging (at least the way I read it) a willingness to become a benevolent dictator if necessary.
Agreed that taking out the Dementors is a relatively narrow goal compared to other goals he might have adopted instead. (Like immortality, or unlimited Fun, or whatever.) He's only human: it may take him another year or two to completely reshape the universe. The fact remains that he just made a commitment to oppose Death, in a universe where Death really does seem to be something other than just death, and (unlike his previous oaths and determinations) this declaration seems to have had some implications in terms of the foreseeable future.
"Humanism" suggests he'd technically want to eliminate them anyway, and as it turns out this desire seems wise. Dementors can breed (asexually) if whatever makes decisions for them decides to prepare for more victims. It happened in canon. In the absence of any Patronus 2.0 this seems like an existential risk or a risk of an unpleasant future for humanity, depending on how the Dementor decision maker works. And again, given the existence of Dolores Umbridge with her canon use of Dementors, I see no reason to believe that every present and future Ministry official will refrain from offering them Muggles. Nor does it seem wise to wait until Dementors start multiplying before reducing their numbers. Now, Harry doesn't know all this, but "hole in the world" sure sounds like a possible threat to humanity's existence. He must believe in a non-zero risk from Azkaban. Logically Harry should ask if this risk exceeds the Star Goat or Anti-Pascal's probability. (Example: the chance of cryonics working, in any particular case, seems to far exceed the Star Goat probability of it interfering with or preventing an afterlife.) And neither his pessimistic mentor nor his conditionally pro-death mentor seems to consider the chance of ending humanity through killing Dementors worth mentioning.

62: Huh, somehow (nearly?) everyone who speculated how Harry would get out of that one forgot that they hand out time machines to children so they can attend more classes.

Including Dumbledore and Snape and McGonnagal! Who really should know better. They speculate that Harry was forced to use his Time-Turner for the Dark Lord, but they don't even think to check up on all the other children who have one? For shame.

But they only suspect Harry because of Dumbledore's stumbling onto paradox at Mary's Place.
The paradox tells them that the perpetrators used a Time-Turner to send messages back in time. TTs are generally locked to a single person's use; someone else can't come along, steal or take the TT by force, and use it for themselves. They explicitly say they suspect someone might have forced Harry to use his TT in this way. They are fools not to check if someone forced or tricked another child to use their TT. Also, they check if Harry can still use his TT that day because they suspect him. But they do not treat him as an adversary. Flitwick doesn't question him closely to make sure the Harry in front of him really just came back 6 hours in time. It would be trivial to ask him questions interactively to prove that, instead of just have him pass a message. Minerva should have had the message say: "Filius, please question Harry to make extremely sure that he just came back 6 hours in time!"
Indeed, Dumbledore and his allies are being somewhat less than maximally clever here... it would make more sense if they simply didn't know about the other student with a Time Turner because it was an unauthorized copy, or something. (And it's quite apparent that Time Turners are far more common in the MoR-verse than in canon, Hermione was only able to get one in book 3 was said to be a very unusual event which was only happened because the staff had an extraordinarily high level of trust in her.)
After noticing the effects of Harry's Patronus 2.0, I think that Dumbledore would have suspected Harry regardless. Didn't he tell Amelia Bones that he suspected two possibilities as they were racing to get far enough away from Azkaban to Phoenix Fire away? He hadn't discovered the paradox yet at that point.

I think the missing insight was that there were students who would be willing to convey messages back in time with no explanation and keep their mouths shut.

I'm definitely a bit confused on how this is expected to work, unless the additional money is for bribing Professor Flitwick (which seems unlikely to work), seeing as how McGonagall explicitly asks whether Harry gave him the message. Then again, if he doesn't know what is being tested for, he might not know that its not being delivered in person is a problem... though he would probably find Margaret's insistence that she was delivering a message from McGonagall on behalf of Harry a bit strange - normally you just specify who the message is from and who it's to; why would he care about an additional messenger? OTOH you would expect this sort of testing to be not so unusual and thus expect Flitwick to know what was the point was. ...yeah, I'm definitely still confused about this. Alternative hypothesis: Harry has failed McGonagall's test, he just hasn't heard about it yet. EDIT: ...oh. I just realized she would be conveying the message to Harry, not Flitwick. Nevermind. I ignored that possibility. (Assuming he was there at 3 PM...)

Harry picked up the message in the empty class room while invisible, decoded it and told Flitwick the message. He was already waiting there because Quirrel had anticipated that he would be subjected to a test of this sort. It's all in the chapter.

It wasn't til around this post that I realized that Harry's plan was going to work. I was thinking the situation was something like Harry at 9 PM being Time-Turned from 9 PM +t, so that by the laws of time, no piece of information from him could travel back past 3 PM +t. I think I can see now that that wouldn't have made sense, but now I'm back to DanArmak's question.
Someone somewhere proposed something that included sneaking in and using Dumbledore's time turner.
After reading that Bones and Dumbledore had timeturners, and remembering that if the ministry hands them out to schoolchildren, I thought probably any ministry official rating an iPhone, Blackberry, or Franklin Planner would have one as well. So, certainly the Dark Lord should/could/would have recognized their utility and gathered a few for his side.
...Which is weird, because unless they want to prohibit students from taking certain pairs of electives, no two classes should take place simultaneously for any given house and year.

That is an oddity. However, note that they don't have computers, and setting up a schedule properly for everyone who's signed up for whatever classes seems like it might well be incredibly difficult without same. It could be that someone saw this and said 'F* it, just give them time machines.' That would certainly fit with the level of sense shown so far in magical Britain.

It could be that someone saw this and said 'F* it, just give them time machines.'

I now declare this MoR!canon.

I've been to college and suffered the frustration of trying to juggle classes that take place at inconvenient times relative to each other. But we don't seem to have the conflicts divulged to the students. Hermione "just signs up for everything", she doesn't say "gosh, it looks like this class and that one conflict, so I'll have to pick one - but I can't choose! Aaah! - Professor McGonagall, isn't there something you could do?!"
They do, however, have magic. And if there are charms that specifically identify trash to clean, then there must be charms that can organize words on parchment according to a few simple rules.

The rules are not that simple. School timetabling is NP-hard and even stimulated annealing is unlikely to get it completely correct.

The rules are simple. So are the rules for Go. I had to look up whether that was, in fact, a new kind of optimisation algorithm. It certainly sounds like it should be. ;)
I assumed that it was well-known since I learnt about it in first-year computing (nearly 7 years ago now..). In retrospect, that was probably a silly assumption.
I think the joke is that you wrote "stimulated annealing" rather than "simulated annealing".
Oh! I always that was a valid alternate spelling of the same word. My bad.
2Paul Crowley
Almost unrelated words. From thefreedictionary.com: simulate stimulate.
Ok, objection noted. My first sentence, however, stands and they still have magic. Though this might be a matter similar to the clocks - nobody has thought of doing it, so it hasn't been done.

I should probably have been clearer: the reason classes are often scheduled at the same time is because it's impossible not to. You have some amount of staff, each of whom have to teach some amount of lower level and/or elective classes, and then you have a couple hundred students each of whom pick 5-7 (or whatever it is, I haven't read the books recently) electives in whatever combination most appeals to them. The chances of not having a collision anywhere in the whole timetable are pretty damn low. Non-magical schools deal with collisions by forcing students with unpopular combinations to change one of their options (which is what my school did), or by offering a an extra class during lunch or outside regular school hours (which I've heard of other schools doing)

And house elves. There are almost certainly spirits of intellect they could summon too! If not, they have had time to do plenty of selective breeding on their chattel. That said... HP wizard authorities are really thick when it comes to these things.
It's not that weird. School timetabling is hard (probably NP-hard, since the best way to do it by computer is stimulated annealing followed by human tweaks. In reality it's pretty much always done entirely by hand), and it's normal in regular schools for uncommon elective pairs (for example, computing and art) to be scheduled at the same time.

Harry has decided, I'm sure correctly, that Quirrell's ability to flawlessly adopt any persona and simulate any intention for long stretches of time while simultaneously furthering his own (true) goals makes him impossible to trust. But if Harry buys into Quirrell's claims, Harry is equally capable of perpetual, undetectable duplicity and therefore equally unworthy of trust. And if he believes that's the case, it's just going to isolate him further, since he'll conclude that anyone who wants to be his friend is either irrational or overlooking the factors that make him an untrustworthy person. So Quirrell may have just convinced Harry that literally all of his relationships, present or future, are tantamount to a sort of deception. Good job!

Oddly enough, salvation here might come from Draco, with his arguments that influence/manipulation/persuasion is, far from being evil, actually a good thing and you can't have healthy relationships without it.

I am very interested in what the effect of magics to nullify "opposite reaction science" will be. Biochemistry cannot work in such a regime, and unless the witch actively puts in something to account for this, you're going to get a lot of dead Aurors and prisoners; although I suppose they'll learn this as they experiment with the jinx. Even if it does work in the sense of not instantly killing everyone in the area of effect, there will be much weirdness; whatever humans expect when they start to consciously think about physics, our reflexes have to be tuned for Newtonian mechanics. I will look forward to seeing how plausibly weird this can get.

On another note, I wonder if we can create a repository of links to other Internet discussion of the fic? I'll start with this thread on Orson Scott Card's discussion site.

My take on this is that it's just an illustration that wizards really don't understand science, and they'll be unsuccessful at implementing their anti-physics charm.
Who knows, free Transfiguration works but seems to conserve mass, broomsticks work, but have effects similar to the standard reactionless drive+inertial dampener (and you can make a "reactionless" drive if you can shake masses about fast enough in curved spacetime paper)
Isn't the normal force dependent on/related to this? My mental image is of people falling through the floor because the normal force doesn't automatically balance their weight.
I'm not sure but I don't think so. Thinking out loud: We do not fall through floors because the normal force is equal to the force of gravity. However this is not a consequence of Newton's laws as such, it happens because our weight compresses the atoms of the floor so that the repulsive forces between them become stronger, as they are closer together, and thus the topmost ones push harder on the soles of our feet. We can use Newton's laws to analyse this situation, but they don't seem to be immediately causal, as it were. That said, I could easily be missing something more fundamental that causes both the opposite-reaction effect and the equilibrium I described above. I have zero intuition for how things would work in a physics so non-Newtonian as all that!
You may well be right. I was just thinking that that's how the opposite reaction manifests. I don't really know which law is more fundamental, they're all the same deep laws anyway. This.
XKCD forum discussion http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=62115

Should we maybe add a prominent note to the prior threads that current discussion is here? New users who aren't aware of the discussion sections may have trouble locating the new thread.

Threads 1, 3, and 5 have been updated with a link here.
4 too, now. Thanks for the reminder.
Done already.

I was bothered by the irrationality preceding the whole prison sequence. Harry thinks of himself as one of the first people able to adequately investigate an entire branch of previously unknown human capabilities. capabilities so powerful that they have the promise of significantly speeding up human progress toward nullifying existential threats and eliminating vast swaths of needless suffering. and then he puts himself in personal danger of death to save one innocent person.

now from a story telling perspective it was great. I even regard it as a worthy trade off since we got some choice anti-democracy bits out of it.

9Eliezer Yudkowsky
It's like Harry is Harry Potter instead of Eliezer or something!
This does seem like it would be the proper rationalist manifestation of canon!Harry's 'saving people thing'. He's just more self-aware about it.
Of course he isn't! The beard is all wrong.
He also has trouble not throwing his life away to destroy some dementors for no lasting gain at all. Harry is just deeply irrational about these things.
No one is perfect. I suspect a lot of people would have trouble in that situation, even highly rational people. I know I probably wouldn't, but that's not because I'm being a good utilitarian. Quite the opposite: in fact, I'm too self-centered to do it.

In his author's notes, Eliezer said that MoR was the 5th or 6th most reviewed HP fanfic (or something like that). How does he know? Is there a list of top-reviewed fanfics somewhere?

Well, he specifies "on fanfic.net". This isn't a definitive answer, but it's a start: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090122202501AA0vhnZ

An inconsistency (handing Harry an unnecessary Idiot Ball).

In Ch. 61, Harry uses the following as an impostor recognition precaution:

M: What did the hat tell me to tell you?

  • H

"Ah," Minerva said aloud in surprise, her mind taking a moment to place the question, it wasn't the sort of thing you'd forget but she hadn't been thinking in that mode, really - "I'm an impudent youngster and I should get off its lawn."

But in Ch. 12, Harry announced this fact publicly, thus making the weight of evidence of the correct response lower than... (read more)

Harry doesn't actually suspect McGonagall, but wishes to seem as though he does. As it's a goal that's a degree removed, he probably didn't think it through a thoroughly as he could have. Especially with the stress of other issues weighing on his mind. Whether anyone will pick up on that depends on their faith in Harry's abilities. In general, I don't think they're so convinced that he's supersmart, and capable of maintaining composure in situations where he's under significant threat, that they'll find it unusual. Hence, his actual goal (convincing them that he needs convincing) is achieved. So, considering those two factors, I wouldn't really consider it an idiot ball. Just Harry being human, rather than a hyperintelligent FAI.
Standard rationalization of an Idiot Ball: the character was intended to be not smart/distracted/making an error just this once. Usually author's error. Even if actually not, this argument holds too little convincing power to be worth mentioning.
It could be author's error. In fact it probably originates as author error. But how much smarter than Eliezer do you think Harry is intended to be? In order for something to be an idiot ball it has to be significantly stupider than the character is supposed to be. This mistake is not significantly below the threshold for Harry; it's actually less stupid than his decision to go with Quirrel to Azkaban. Or his impulsive decision to boost his patronus up to maximum. Or his failure to consider the difference between flying a rocket and flying a broom. Calling any failure in perfect rationality an "idiot ball" is accurate only when dealing with a perfectly rational AI.
If there should be an error, this should be decided by the author, not chance. Having a character make an error where they shouldn't is equally an author's error as having a character not make an error where they should. You can't improve the result by injecting randomness. This is a normative argument, which is distinct from a factual observation that the author can't avoid errors. Even if in fact the author can't avoid all errors, it's still preferable to avoid errors where possible.
And this is a situation where it's reasonable either way. Noting that Eliezer has a tendency to err on the side of making his characters too rational, except where necessary for the plot, rather than the other way around, I can guess that Eliezer probably intended that Harry not make an error. However, Harry making an error here actually increases the verissimilitude to me; now that I know about it. It makes the plot-relevant errors seem less "idiot ball"* and more "Harry makes errors occasionally, whether the plot requires it or not" *(in the sense of "this person needs to make a mistake in this scene for the story to go the way I want") You can if the alternative is worse than random (ie. a character only making mistakes when the plot requires it)* *and the only reason I believe this was a random mistake is that I suspect Eliezer of having that flaw. So, if Eliezer lacks that flaw, I expect that this was intentional.
Is it an error? The reply in McGonagall's voice with Dumbledore's voiced reaction is good authentication, he is after all still supposed to be under Quirrell's guard, and trying to avoid causing suspicion.

I finally realized what all this slithering reminds me of! If you want to experience the same emotions as Harry and the other kids when they weave Slytherin-style plots, lying to X about Y and to Y about X, brilliantly escaping from detection... just try juggling two or three concurrent girlfriends or boyfriends.

Or if you want to do it in a way that isn't unethical, you can play Illuminati or Diplomacy or The "A Game of Thrones" Boardgame.

just try juggling two or three concurrent girlfriends or boyfriends.

I'm actually rather curious as to what that would be like, specifically how difficult it would be to keep the intrigue from exploding. I'm actually thinking that these days Facebook would be most irritating hurdle.

...who don't know about one another.
From experience, open and informed polyamory isn't actually less work.

Honest N-way relationships involve less plotting, lying, and escaping from detection than dishonest ones, which was my point. But, agreed, they still involve work.

I think he added that line in reference to this part of the first poster that said: Hopefully, that would not be included in an open relationship of any kind.

Chapter 62.

Well, that was interesting.

I'm wondering whether the general opinion of Harry as dark is going to change as a result of a freaking phoenix following him around.

Incidentally, I've honestly got mixed feelings about this issue. Dumbledore is completely correct in his "it's not that simple" sentiment but Dementors are evil.

I'm actually wondering whether Wizards in general agree with Azkaban torture or if they just feel that Dementors have to be dealt with somehow. Since everyone 'knows' they're invulnerable, they decided to deal with them... (read more)

It's monstrous, yes, but does anyone here honestly have a better solution, if you accept the premise that Dementors are indestructible?

Were I involved in the decision-making, and assuming the Dementors are not just indestructible but also unimprisonable, unteleportable-to-the-surface-of-Jupiter, and so forth, I'd like to think I would present the following argument: "Right now, we can't defeat the Dementors, so we do best to negotiate some kind of agreement with them. We ought to continue researching a way to defeat them, and implement it when we find one. If we negotiate an agreement that we find convenient or easy to ignore, our odds of doing those things decrease, so Azkaban is a bad solution. I propose instead that we institute a lottery and feed the selected people to the volcano god -- um, I mean, the Dementors. I further propose that we do so publicly, and that the only exception we allow is for people who are actively and effectively working on solving the Dementor problem."

But I would expect to be voted down.

At which point I would be briefly tempted to "walk away from Omelas," but wouldn't follow through on it.

They seem to be un-imprisonable, as far as I see. They can drain magic and decay matter. So that covers.... everything. Eventually, they'd get out of any ward or prison you'd devise for them. Remember that Harry's hypothesis of Dementors having no structure but what the wizards involved think of them is untested at best. So they might take revenge if they were suddenly faced with wizards trying to get rid of them. Even if they do not have any such structure, wizards who started teleporting Dementors to Jupiter would probably think that the Dementors would take revenge on them, and so they would. They're, after all, capable of breeding and barring Dementor-detecting magic(which I suppose is possible) it's fairly unlikely that you'll get all of them. And yes, it's a bad solution, unless you think that threatening scientists with killing random people unless they invent a cure for cancer is a good idea.
* People already are being "randomly" killed by cancer, and will continue to be until