Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 16-25)
This week we resolved to read chapters 16-25. (These brief summaries are probably going to miss stuff and put emphasis on the wrong stuff and, probably, miss the point from time to time. When I’m wrong, please call me out in the comments.)
Chapter 16: We go to our first Defense Against The Dark Arts class! And we meet Draco there! And he has henchmen! And they want to know, among other things, why a Ravenclaw kid showed up for the Slytherin DADA class! And then the Professor shows up! And he gives a speech about how the textbooks are dumb! And how he’s going to teach REAL Defense! And ALL of the Houses will be in the same class! And classes will be twice as long! But there will be no homework! And there will be Quirrell points! And we cast our first hex spell! And we find out who is the most dangerous student in the class! And it’s not Hermione! And then the chapter wraps up with Harry hexing somebody, but not Draco and not Hermione. (Kind of a letdown, after all that buildup, if you ask me.)
Chapter 17: We don’t mess with time. We shouldn’t mess with brooms. Neville has his Remembrall played keepaway by proxy. Remembralls don’t tell you what you’ve forgotten; just that you have. We have a conversation with Professor McGonagall. We have a conversation with Heh. We learn that Dumbledore, despite his first syllable, is not dumb. We get a rock. We take an oath. We get a book. We burn a chicken. We don’t trust Dumbledore. We talk to Professor McGonagall again.
Chapter 18: We prepare for Potions class. We prepare a cake. We have a conversation with Snape. A long conversation. Jeez. We have a conversation with Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape. We figure out suitable punishments for everybody. We learn that common sense is often mistaken for Legilimency. We have a one-on-one with Professor McGonagall. We have limitations on the Time-Turner. We learn that wizards have paperwork too. And the cake has 51 candles on it.
Chapter 19: We talk to Draco all about what in the heck happened in the previous chapter. In doing so, we learn how Syltherin read what in the heck happened. We learn that Draco has a lot of training. We learn that he wants to help train Harry. We learn that Draco knows that Harry knows that Draco knows that Harry knows… well, it’s complicated. We have our second DADA class. We learn why to lose. Dang. We learn how to lose. (No, we don’t.)
Chapter 20: We ruminate on why it’s important to learn why to lose. Maybe this helps us learn how to lose a little better than we did last chapter. I guess. We see the dichotomy between the representativeness heuristic and the Bayesian definition of evidence explained. We learn that the Sorting Hat probably wasn’t “just kidding”. We discuss moral theory. We discuss the downsides and upsides of being a Dark Lord. We discuss nuclear weapons. We discuss the space program. We talk to Dumbledore. We ask “Was it that obvious to a real Slytherin?” And we find out that Quirrell snuck into NASA once.
Chapter 21: We go back to Hermione, having ignored her for a while. We beat Harry Potter (who, it should be pointed out, did not lose particularly gracefully). And Harry and Draco start talking about sciency-stuff and staring into each other’s abysses. We get a letter from Santa Claus. We have another cake. We have a prophecy bubble up again. And we write mum and da.
Chapter 22: We test magic. Like, what happens when we hold syllables too long when we cast a spell? What happens if we use the wrong vowels? What happens if we don’t tell people what the spell does before we ask them to cast it? And, yeah, the first test falsified the first hypothesis. Dang it. Harry’s books on the Scientific Method might not worth as much as we thought when it comes to dealing with magic and Hermione’s books on Magic might not be as worthless as we thought. We have another session with Draco while Draco has another session with Harry. We discuss Rita Skeeter. We learn about Blood. We learn how to reject papers. We learn that there are some alternate explanations for what’s going on with magic since 800 years ago and we need to test them. We learn the Litany of Tarski. We figure out how to falsify some of those alternate explanations.
Chapter 23: We gather data. We learn about the Interdict of Merlin. We explain why we have to articulate our theory BEFORE we look at the data. We go over the big ones for DNA theory in a handful of paragraphs. We give our theories of what’s going on with Blood. We look at the data. Then we talk to some paintings about magical creatures. We see the trap shut. And we learn that you shouldn’t sacrifice things lightly. And we learn that you shouldn’t manipulate a Malfoy lightly.
Chapter 24: We have Act 3 without having had Act 1 or Act 2. And we tell Malfoy about how we got out of yesterday’s situation. And we learn that, yeah, Draco learned his lessons. We learn about the Rule of Three. We borrow some money from Malfoy. And we get all twisty and think about the plans within plans within plans.
Chapter 25: Oh, there’s Act 1 and Act 2. In Act 1, we see Harry explain his plans about Draco to Dumbledore. In Act 2, we ruminate on genetic inheritance and fitness and Atlantis and whatnot and it ends with prep for Act 3. Ooooh! And then we have Act 5 without having had Act 4! Act 5 shows us the map. And we meet Ambrosius Flume. And we see tomorrow’s headline. And then it’s Act 6? Well, this is where Quirrell has a conversation with Rita Skeeter. And, seriously, read the part about Mary’s Place again. It’s important. And then we have Act 4. Whew. The Order of Chaos is reborn. And we discuss media theory. And we learn about how important pranking is.
That was a wild 10 chapters.
One of my favorite parts in the book was the scene in Chapter 17 where Dumbledore said:
The old wizard gestured, a sweep of one hand that seemed to take in all the mysterious instruments around the room. “When we are young we believe that we know everything, and so we believe that if we see no explanation for something, then no explanation exists. When we are older we realise that the whole universe works by a rhythm and a reason, even if we ourselves do not know it. It is only our own ignorance which appears to us as insanity.”
If I had to pick a favorite part of just these 10 chapters, though, I’d pick this line of Draco’s from chapter 24: “Father had warned Draco against people like this, people who could ruin you and still be so likable that it was hard to hate them properly.”
Anyway, I think it was around here that it started sinking in for me that Harry is NOT The Hero. He’s merely The Protagonist.
And that’s our first twenty-five chapters.
Next Sunday, we’ll cover chapters 26-35 which should take us all the way up to the very beginning of Christmas Break.
So… What do you think?
(Featured image is Foucault’s Pendulum by Sylvar. Used under a creative commons license.)