Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 36-46)



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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44 Responses

  1. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    The annoyance that was foreshadowed with the Ender’s Game hat tippery, came through with “the secret to beating a dementor is scientific transhumanism”. Ugh indeed.

    My only guess in Quirrell’s hints is that Harry keeps guessing at places to hide things that are very far away and hard to get to – so the places that Harry actually would actually fail to look, and so that wood work for hiding things from him, would be places much closer to hand. Such as his own suppressed memories (?)

    I’m still not sure what’s going on with the dementor revealing that it’s here to get Harry. Hermione reveals herself to be much more badass than people have been giving her credit for, which is a nice capture of that character by Yudkowsky.

    Also I think having Harry be a total jerk at dinner with the Grangers, and Hermione rescuing things as gracefully as she can, is a good character-revealing scene for both of them.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The childish belief that Harry needs to right injustice RIGHT NOW and, indeed, that all injustices are his to right is captured *PERFECTLY*. That’s one of the fun parts of the book to read, even as I feel it hit just a hair too close to home.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        I note that Yudkowsky did with dementors what you thought he should have done with transfiguration – he made it a riddle other wizards could solve, and in fact did solve. As to why he cant share it – if you know what the lesser patronus is doing, distracting you from the fear of death, it won’t work because deliberating not thinking about something is basically impossible. And that’s why the greater patronus is a human – animals are safe from fear because they don’t understand it, but only a human has the capacity to defeat death on its own terms.

        This is Yudkowsky at his most didactic – how well this works depends on how you feel about death and transhumanism, but there is an important point buried in there – to be able to solve a problem you have to be willing to try. If you use your intellect to come with reasons why problems can’t or shouldn’t be solved you will never be able to solve them no matter how smart you are.

        Since I do agree with Yudkowsky about death I find this arc to be among the most powerful things I have read. Re-reading it for the 6th or 7th time still brings tears to my eyes.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          And that’s why the greater patronus is a human – animals are safe from fear because they don’t understand it, but only a human has the capacity to defeat death on its own terms.

          I can’t help but remember what happened when a serpent offered that deal the first time.

          Oh, this time it’s different because an entity made entirely of light is making it?Report

          • Avatar James K says:

            You have an approximately 0% chance of convincing transhumanists of anything by resorting to Christian myth.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              You know, I considered writing a short “Harry Potter and the Blood of Christ” in which Harry Potter destroys a Dementor through the Patronus of Faith and how he shares the Faith with his friends and they go on to share great signs and wonders and they convert the unbeliever by showing, and sharing, their Faith Patronus Charms.

              I figured that I wouldn’t be able to do it as well as, say, C.S. Lewis would have been able to pull it off, but I like to think that readers would be able to see how irritating the assumptions would be for someone who does not share them.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                I’ve read the Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings, and the New Testament. Our entire culture is soaking in Christianity. You read one story that challenged your metaphysics and it feels jarring and wrong to you. Imagine what I feel.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                You read one story that challenged your metaphysics and it feels jarring and wrong to you.

                It didn’t “challenge” my metaphysics. It made assertions of standing on moral ground that isn’t there by making appeals to things that didn’t happen.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog says:

          Yeah, for me transhumanism is the TED talk version of the nightmare of vampirism – the wizard so afraid of death that he sentences himself to an eternal inescapable undying half life.

          So, as the perfect weapon against dementors it doesn’t do it for me…Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I like transhumanism. Willem Defoe Meme: “I’m something of a transhumanist myself.”

            But it’s not a *MORAL* position.Report

          • Avatar bookdragon says:

            Same. I kind of cringed at his patronus being a human being.Report

          • Avatar James K says:

            Out of curiosity, how long does human life have to get before we hit the magical threshold where living longer crosses over into “half-life”?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I think that the thing about the magical threshold is not that there is a number associated with it but that it requires magic to cross it.

              Hence the name.Report

            • Avatar dragonfrog says:

              It’s not what Faust accomplished, it’s that he sold his soul to Satan to do so.

              It’s not longevity that bugs me, it’s the willingness to “transcend” (i.e. lose) one’s mere humanity to achieve it.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                That is where the ‘Death is the Ultimate Enemy’ thing runs aground. If there is nothing worse than death, then one can justify absolutely anything done to defeat it. Where anything runs the spectrum from self-sacrifice to free others from it all the way to blood rites to perpetually extend one’s own life.

                I feel like this Harry’s cold rationality could lead either way at this point.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                David Rockefeller was an interesting example from a year or so ago. The guy was a billionaire. Lived to 101. Had four heart transplants.

                Are there problems with 101 year olds getting a fourth heart?

                David Crosby is an example from the 90’s. The famous musician (he was at Woodstock!) got a liver transplant after many decades of hard drinkin’.

                While it’s not obvious that any given one of these crossed a threshold, there is a point at which we might be able to say “this guy shouldn’t be at the front of the line”.

                “Who should be?”
                “I dunno, but it shouldn’t be this guy.”

                Adding magic might, kinda, escape some of the ethical problems… fewer scarcity issues… but Health Care has these problems too. (Certainly the American version… but, if you look, you can find problems hidden in the systems of countries where it’s free, free, free.)Report

              • Avatar James K says:


                I think there are parts of our humanity that matter a great deal, and parts that don’t matter at all. I can certainly agree that we need to consider the trade-offs of any efforts to extend life we come up with.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                In the specific context of HPMOR

                Harry said, “I thought of my absolute rejection of death as the natural order.”

                We’re not talking about universal safe drinking water, a political order that avoids war, titanium hip replacements, laser eye surgery, or self-experimentation with putative nootropic drugs.

                We’re talking about – I don’t even know what it would take to ‘absolutely reject death as the natural order’.

                Emulating the neural networks of our scanned brains in computers so some parody of human consciousness can continue? Vat-growing human bodies with empty brain cases for periodic brain transplants into youthful new flesh-vehicles?

                What resources would be required for these things? How many third-world slaves have to give their blood in the rare earth mines to enable one vampire to continue in a Transylvanian data centre above the village?Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                Or maybe we all turn into fleshjob Cylons…

                But then we better be putting tons of resources into going out into space – and hope there’s no one else out there – because with no death this planet is going to get unliveably crowded real fast.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Emulating the neural networks of our scanned brains in computers so some parody of human consciousness can continue?

                As you contemplate this, consider the year you were born. Consider how many programs written the year you were born are still being run. Consider how many operating systems for those systems are still in common use. Like, if you found a tape or disk with a simple program from the year you were born, what would it take to get that thing running?

                Now: how confident are you that we’ll be able to maintain your consciousness program?Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                We’re talking about – I
                don’t even know what it would take to ‘absolutely reject death as the natural order’.

                Even discounting the Philosopher’s Stone, the Potter world includes an incantation that will repair a broken bone and the damage to surrounding soft tissue. There is a potion that will neutralize the effects of any poison. Given those two, it would seem reasonable that there are means for a person to live as long as they want to — any damage, including that due to aging, should be reversible. Presumably there are magical means to overcome some of the less common problems with a greatly extended lifespan — like whether the human brain has sufficient storage and indexing capacity to integrate a few hundred years of accumulated knowledge.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                What you are discussing are legitimate issues with the ways a total elimination of death could be achieved in practice. And to be clear, there is nothing wrong with discussing such things. And I don’t think Yudkowsky is objecting to lines of argument like your either. Note that Harry rejected gaining immortality by horcrux immediately.

                What Yudkowsky is talkign about here is simpler moral argument – that death is bad, not just sometimes but always. Even if it can’t be prevented right now, the world would be a better place if we could. That’s what Yudkowsky means by “rejecting death as part of the natural order” – he wants people to accept the idea that we should see death as a problem to be solved, not a neccesary or good part of existence. Once we’ve agreed on that, we can start having necessary and important discussions about how we do that, and what social and economic problems need to be overcome to make it happen.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                What Yudkowsky is talkign about here is simpler moral argument – that death is bad, not just sometimes but always.

                This is one of those things that needs to be more than merely asserted.

                I mean, do *I* want to die? Heck no! Would I like to live for another 100 years? Sure! I want to see what happens! There’s a lot of stuff I’d like to experience.

                But always is a long time. In both directions. And assertions that the way that the world works is morally wrong and has *ALWAYS* been morally wrong strikes me as… well.

                I wouldn’t call it a moral argument.

                I’d call it a religious argument. Nothing wrong with religious arguments, of course. I’m a fan of many of them. But there are a lot of unshared priors here.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                All sorts of natural things are agreed to be bad, including death, outside the context of discussions around Life Extension. When someone dies from a disease we don’t shrug our shoulders and say “well, we can’t consider it bad that they died because their death was natural”.

                I wonder if anyone tried to convince Jonas Salk that Polio wasn’t bad because it was part of the natural order.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “Bad”? Yes. “Morally Evil”?

                That seems to be in a different category than “Cone Snails are bad”.

                When someone dies from a disease we don’t shrug our shoulders and say “well, we can’t consider it bad that they died because their death was natural”.

                No, we don’t.

                I wonder if anyone tried to convince Jonas Salk that Polio wasn’t bad because it was part of the natural order.

                I wonder if anyone has used this argument to explain why killing Moaning Myrtle should be re-examined.

                She became a ghost, after all, and was able to experience things for decades after her corporeal form passed.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                What Yudkowsky is talkign about here is simpler moral argument – that death is bad, not just sometimes but always.

                This is one of those things that needs to be more than merely asserted.

                See, I wasn’t kidding about the nightmare of vampirism. The idea of NEVER dying is a nightmare scenario to me.

                I don’t like the idea that I might die tomorrow. If I spend too much time thinking too closely about it and how my loved ones would feel, I get sad. In bad times, that knowledge that my death, whenever it comes, will cause my loved ones and family sadness, and that if I were to die by my own hand their sadness would be much worse – is part of what keeps me going.

                But the idea that I might die NEVER? That the ONLY way out would be suicide – is horrifying. An absolutely nightmarish cold-sweats panic concept.

                there are a lot of unshared priors here is putting it mildly.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                I’m going to level with you, that is utterly incomprehensible to me. What is it about (eventually) dying that appeals to you?Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                It’s kind of hard for me to write this, but I’ll write it.

                One measure of success I would like to achieve in my life, is successfully holding out long enough that I spare my daughter having her father’s death be by suicide. So far I think I’m likely to achieve this – I’m mostly happy most of the time; most years I have fewer and shorter periods of suicidal thought than the previous year. And of course, each year I have, actuarially, a bit under a year less that I have to make it through to achieve this. As it is, I’ve probably got forty-ish years to success.

                But if there were no realistic prospect of my dying by any other means than suicide – no number of years I could hold out and have achieved that success… There’s a good chance “immortality” would shorten my lifespan. Because every single day I’d get up knowing that my daughter would probably see her dad die by suicide – or, if she didn’t, it would probably be because she killed herself first. And I don’t think I could make it another forty years of confronting that every day. Don’t know if I could have made it the forty one I’ve done so far.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                I don’t want to give the impression that I’m deeply depressed or anything – but at the same time, I’m entering an age bracket where suicide is like the fourth leading cause of death for men.

                I’ve seen the hurt and bewilderment of losing someone to suicide. And I want to spare people who attend my funeral that hurt.

                And, knowing that release is coming is reassuring. And that reassurance I feel, is part of why I know I can’t just cavalierly assume I won’t be one of those who die by suicide. It’s one reason I’m unwilling to keep a gun or live with someone who does, for example – because of the impact on the suicide risk of everyone in the house, of living with a gun in the house.

                I can probably keep waiting, partly because I know I’m not going to have to wait forever.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                Thank you for sharing your perspective. I’m not sure what to say to that, and I suspect anything I had to say would need more discussion than is feasible in the comments section of a readthrough of Harry Potter fanfic, but at least see where you are coming from now.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          I got it, myself, I totally do but it still grated something awful. I think it’s because Harry’s tone was almost exactly the same tone that trans-humanists use and that’s a really grating tone.
          And I say that as a person who’s got some serious humanist and trans-humanist sympathies.Report

          • Avatar James K says:

            I suspect a lot of that was borne of frustration. I’m almost certain that much of the Harry-Dumbledore discussion was harvested form actual conversations Yudkowsky has had.Report

  2. Avatar James K says:

    I recall there was some discussion before we started about Hermione being sorted into Ravenclaw. I note that during this arc, we see that Hermione was offered every house but Slytherin, so it would appear that she holds the virtues of all three of those houses, meaning that which one she got was due to her mood at the time, and not her inherent capacities.Report

  3. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    Harry figures out how to not only cast a patronus but he is the first wizard in the history of the world to actually kill a Dementor

    He is *not* the first or at least not necessarily the first. He realizes in Chapter 46 that any number of other wizards might have figured it out as well but kept it a secret:

    Harry opened his mouth, and then, as realization hit him, rapidly snapped his mouth shut again. Godric hadn’t told anyone, nor had Rowena if she’d known; there might have been any number of wizards who’d figured it out and kept their mouths shut. You couldn’t forget if you knew that was what you were trying to do; once you realized how it worked, the animal form of the Patronus Charm would never work for you again – and most wizards didn’t have the right upbringing to turn on Dementors and destroy them –

    I’m not terribly surprised, but Jay and I had almost completely opposite reactions to the dementor chapters. I found these parts quite moving. I do understand the criticism, and frankly you might be all the more critical if you knew more about Yudkowsky’s writing and philosophy because this was definitely coming. Nevertheless, I found the forty-something chapters to be touching and responsible for a lot of my affection for the whole bookReport

  4. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    Regarding hints, I’m going to go ahead and not rot13 this one, but this from chapter 46 right after Harry destroys the dementor is retrospectively a neon sign of a hint:

    They walked for a while before Professor Quirrell spoke, and all background noise dropped into silence when he did.

    “You are exceptionally good at killing things, my student,” said Professor Quirrell.

    “Thank you,” Harry said sincerely.


  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One thing I want to reiterate:

    I very, very much enjoyed the story and the twists and turns and new takes on old characters.

    I did some old-schooly “one more chapter… one more chapter…” and missing bedtimes because I just had to find out what happened next. I laughed out loud several times as I read the story. I gasped and had my jaw drop several times as I read the story. I learned stuff as I read the story. This story is really, really good. I was delighted to read it and I’m pleased to share it and I want my friends to read it too.

    I have some complaints about it, sure. We’ve covered two of the big ones this week and last week. There are a handful more complaints to come. Those complaints shouldn’t be interpreted as me not liking the story or thinking that people shouldn’t read it.

    There are a lot of really interesting insights to people, to institutions, to relationships, and to rationality in here. It’s a good story! It’s a story that made me better for having read it!

    So, please, don’t interpret me complaining about this or that event in it as a moral judgment against the story on my part. It’s an awesome story. (And, for some reason, if you’re reading this without reading the story with us… I think that you should read the story!)Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      Same! I’ve done a number of “one more chapter” nights too. This has been a really fun read so far, and having this weekly catch-up has been a lot of the fun – hey df, remember this bit you just read, see what others thought of the same section.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Agreed, I don’t know many people who have read HPMOR, so its nice to be able to talk about it with people.Report

  1. May 26, 2019

    […] ici nous passons en revue les chapitres 26 à 35 ici nous passons en revue les chapitres 36 à 46 ici nous passons en revue les chapitres 47 à 64 ici nous passons en revue les chapitres 65 -77 ici […]Report