Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 16-25)

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Jaybird

Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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  1. Avatar dragonfrog
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    I quite enjoyed the meeting in Dumbledore’s office in 18. Some good chuckles there, picturing that scene with the actors from the HP movies, since they’ve now completely taken over whatever images I made up for myself reading the first book or two when I hadn’t seen the movies. Snape’s apology was pretty poor, which I guess is about right for powerful people apologizing not because they feel it but because they’ve been informed an apology is called for…

    Chapter 23 is probably too optimistic (is that the word?) about the power of science. Harry is the protagonist, and maybe science is a/the hero, hence maybe Yudkowsky overplaying Draco’s irrecoverable fall into the trap of being a scientist. Perhaps Draco will come back with some Andrew Wakefield-esque junk science later to back his pet theory.

    Oh, and I can’t remember now from the HP books – was the experimentally observable distinction between Muggles and Squibs made up just for the purpose of the genetics experiment, or was there something there in the original books?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog
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      Well, one thing we see over and over and over again in the story is that if you are given a useful tool, you can’t *HELP* but use it when the opportunity shows up.

      It happens with Time Turners, it happens with Science.

      Last week, I said “Harry has a lot of faith in the power of science.”

      So does Yudkowsky.

      Oh jeez. I don’t remember what the experimentally observable distinction was between Muggles and Squibs. (Unless it was just the “uses magic” thing… Surely not everybody who *CAN* use magic in the world ends up at one of the schools. Surely there are a number of Wizards out there who don’t even know that the term for everyone around them is “Muggle”…)Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird
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        In HPMOR, muggles have no access to magic, squibs can use potions and magic artifacts but not ritual magic, and only Wizards have access to spell casting.

        In the HP books I just remember serious being the same in manifestation as muggles, just with at least one wizard parent. Wizard-born muggles, basically.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog
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          We saw Argus Filch in the books a lot… but I don’t know that we ever saw him use magic.

          Here’s from the Harry Potter Wiki (and I am prepared to take its information as good):

          Squibs are incapable of practising magic in anyway, as Argus Filch found out when he attempted to use the supplementary course Kwikspell, which was designed to improve inadequate wizarding skills, to no effect as he had no magical skills to improve upon.

          But, just a little further down:

          In addition to being born into magical rather than Muggle families, Squibs are different from Muggles by their knowledge of the wizarding world. They are able to see things that are hidden from the Muggles: certain magical objects and creatures that can help them.

          So… clear as mud.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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            And, now that I think about it, Harry’s (adopted) mother in our story can use a potion that improves her looks and isn’t it canon that Voldemort’s mother used a love potion on a muggle? (Was the muggle a squib, then?)Report

            • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird
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              If muggles can neither do magic, nor be affected by magic, that does rather diminish the dread power of magic.

              So, I’d interpret that to mean that squibs can make potions and operate certain magical objects, while muggles can only be affected by magic, whether ritual, potion, or artifact-based.

              Otherwise it puts Potterworld magic in the same realm as fairie magic in the original White Wolf Changeling RPG. It gets you access to wonderful adventure and is usable within those adventures, but it poses no threat whatever to boring old humanity – it’s boring humanity that poses a threat to magic.Report

              • Avatar Ozzy! in reply to dragonfrog
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                Magic and its offshoots (potions, etc) have effects on muggles and squibs in both books, so that’s a baseline.

                I hadn’t considered if a muggle or a squib could brew a potion in this book’s universe of rules (or cannon for that matter).

                I’d say no to muggle or squib creation of potions, must be done by magic person, but yes to effected by potions, works on all types.

                The above gets weird when I layer on later in the story, based on some stuff that comes up re: magic use and potions and spoilers. Are we doing spoilers?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ozzy!
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                We can do spoilers if we use rot13. It’s a simple encryption protocol that allows you to take a sentence like “The butler did it” and turn it into “Gur ohgyre qvq vg”.

                Someone who wants to read spoilers can take “Gur ohgyre qvq vg” and put it into the rot13 decryptor and get the original sentence, but people who want to avoid spoilers will only see gobbledygook.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Ozzy!
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                Then what is the observable difference between squibs and muggles, that allows Draco to quiz portraits as to whether they knew any squib couples and their children, and whether each of those children was a wizard, squib or muggle?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog
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                If two wizards have a kid and the kid isn’t a wizard, it’s a squib. You can observe the parents, I guess.

                If two muggles have a kid who is a wizard, the muggles have the gene, I guess, and would have been considered squibs had their environments been different? I guess?

                So there have been ways to find people like Hermione for centuries, I guess?Report

  2. Avatar Vikram Bath
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    I don’t know how many are reading through trying to solve the book’s puzzles. Remember that they are actually *meant* to be solved. This is not a puzzle novel, not a mystery novel that tries to to cast shadows on everyone and everything and just pick one of several possible reveals at the end.

    Anyway, if you are trying to solve it as a puzzle, please realize that this from Chapter 17 is an extremely significant hint:

    Harry trailed off. All conversation stopped.

    The Remembrall was glowing bright red in his hand, blazing like a miniature sun that cast shadows on the ground in broad daylight.

    Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Vikram Bath
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      I assumed that Harry had forgotten the note that he wrote himself JUST THAT VERY MORNING.

      Jeez. Did I get that wrong?Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Vikram Bath
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      Yeah, I’m sure trying to figure this one out. So far I’ve noticed
      – the remembrall,
      – the scene with McGonnagall’s line of questioning as to whether Harry had been abused & Harry trying to figure out if he could have been obliviated
      – the frequent questioning as to whether Harry is going to be the next dark lord
      – the whole mysterious dark side / Bruce Potter / credible hulk / you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry thing (specifically how the phoenix has to use its song to heal Harry after he uses his rage to outmaneuver Dumbledore and Snape in the blackmail scene)Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to dragonfrog
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        One theory I’m looking at is that the canonical and fanfic realities are sorry of overlaid, coexisting to store extent, kind of like in Matt Ruff’s Mirage where there are hints that our reality exists somewhere behind the novel’s inversion of it. So his canonical abusive childhood is sort of half experienced through the fairy food induced experience of his happy upbringing.

        And/or maybe Harry is a kind of Manchurian candidate dark lord. Maybe it’s not Quirrel but Harry who’s carrying about the half-living dark lord in the back of his headReport

      • Avatar North in reply to dragonfrog
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        Well, Horcrux explains the entire dark side element quite well.Report

  3. Avatar Vikram Bath
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    This Dumbledore passage Jay quoted:

    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.”

    Despite having read this through a good number of times, I’m only now realizing that Dumbledore is actually directly telling us how to make sense of what he is doing.Report

  4. Avatar Ozzy!
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    I read through this on a *very* long flight to a faraway land a couple weeks ago, h/t to Jaybird for bringing it to my attention, and although I knew going in that the puzzles were supposed to be solvable, I found I rarely knew when to stop and try to solve them!

    Maybe a pointer to a good place to “stop and solve the puzzle!” in each post on a puzzle or two in the upcoming chapters would be fun to provide? As this is already alot of work to do recapping, I won’t blame anyone if this isn’t taken up, but I would have had fun with it during my first read.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ozzy!
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      Here is my problem with that (it’s an engineering problem rather than a moral one):

      I, too, have no idea where the puzzles are. For example, I didn’t even know that the Remembrall puzzle was a puzzle until today.

      While I know that the Rita Skeeter storyline provides a bit of a puzzle, I don’t know what any of the others might be. So I cannot possibly give people warnings beforehand because I don’t friggin’ know.Report

      • Avatar Ozzy! in reply to Jaybird
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        Sounds like a perfect crowd sourcing opportunity. Anyone have puzzles? Send in some tips!

        And now that is a moral problem?

        Puzzle is to add commas to the previous sentence to make it fit your desired outcome.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ozzy!
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          says:

          Then that is the plan.

          Okay, EVERYBODY! In reading chapters 26-35, were there ever any moments that had you saying “wait, what in the heck is going on?” before having your question resolved by the end of the chapter (or by one of the following chapters)?

          If so, that’s probably a puzzle.

          Leave us a comment to that effect, please. I guarantee you that we’ll enjoy going back and looking at all of the puzzles we solved, the puzzles we got wrong, and the puzzles we missed entirely.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ozzy!
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      says:

      Oh! And let me say “Awesome to have you aboard, Ozzy!”Report

  5. Avatar James K
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    Harry is NOT The Hero. He’s merely The Protagonist.

    I think this is a very important thing to understand about HPMOR. I think a lot of the dislike the story gets is from people who see Harry as some kind of author-insert who’s just so smart and can see that the Harry Potter world is dumb.

    This is very much not what Yudkowsky is doing. In fact, you don’t really get to see what he is doing until pretty much the end of the story.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K
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      We’re used to liking him.

      Hell, we’re used to liking Ron and he doesn’t show up at all. Draco does. And we’re making friends with Draco! This is bullcrap!

      At least Quirrell is awesome the way that Lupin was awesome.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        I find HPMOR Harry more than I like regular Harry or Ron (they’re too “ordinary kid” for me ), but he definitely not supposed to be Mr Always Right.

        And HPMOR Quirrell is very awesome. I’m looking forward to getting to Mad-Eye Moody.Report

  6. Avatar KenB
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    says:

    Reading through again, I see that I forgot how didactic it is. The majority of the “rationality” topics he brings up were familiar to me before the first read, and I was happy enough to learn a bit more about others, but I do wonder how well these many very quick presentations do as an introduction for the uninitiated. The ones that get thrown into a paragraph or two seem a little forced and rushed.

    One small item in Chapter 2 that I picked up on only with the second read — Harry describing his peculiar sleep patterns to McGonagall and her saying “I’ll find a solution in time.”Report

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