Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 47-64)

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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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26 Responses

  1. Avatar dragonfrog
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    That was a wild ride!

    I did not find the transfiguration on the wall eye rolling. It was pretty thoroughly foreshadowed, with the whole Draco locking him in a room bit.

    I rolled my eyes at the second great discovery about how to best dementors. I mean, you have to have the self discipline to not fear death? That’s it? I could grudgingly accept that no other wizard had discovered the scientific transhumanism trick for destroying them (or at least free enough that it could be covered up). But that no other wizard discovered the trick of the mental discipline to not fear death? Gimme a break – the one thing wizards spend like all the time working on is mental discipline.

    Given all the weaknesses in dementors, is hard to keep buying them as these very terrifying things, you know…

    Anyway the development on “who the heck is this Quirrel character anyway” is interesting. I don’t know that I buy his story about wanting Black to teach Potter the secrets of Slytherin. Does he know the bit about the resurrection? The risk trade off seems terrible, which given all the fail safes he built into the plan, seems out of character.

    Oh and the thing where Hermione was one of the few who resist doing or allowing harm even in the face of authority, that was goodReport

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog
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      It was, specifically, this section: “his thoughts had begun taking the true universe for granted, so that it required only slightly more effort to keep its timeless quantum nature in mind, even as he kept a firm mental separation between the concept of Form and the concept of substance”.

      Seriously. They rolled out of my head.

      Quirrell, as written in HPMOR, is probably one of the most interesting characters I’ve read. I don’t know if I buy his story either… but, let’s face it, Black probably could teach Harry a thing or two and help him take over the world.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird
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        Oh he totally could. I figure whatever help he offers to Harry, it’ll be with the aim to use him as a tool, not to serve him as a faithful and honest servant. Maybe he’s on Voldemort’s side. Maybe he’s playing double agent, setting Potter and Voldemort against each otherReport

    • Avatar James K in reply to dragonfrog
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      I didn’t read that section as Harry becoming immune to dementors, but rather him diminishing his unusual vulnerability to them, after all Dumbledore is also highly resistant to dementors because he doesn’t fear death.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K
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        Fortified to Dumbledorian levels by doing some light self-reflection?Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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          Harry was literally of two minds about fearing death, which makes his case unusual. This does lead one to wonder just what is his dark side anyway?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K
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            I don’t mind his dark (or his light) side being unusually intelligent (though the whole “being the first person able to have the necessary insight to be able to figure out something” is irritating).

            I mind his ability to mimick wisdom by thinking “what would a wise person think?”, then thinking that, and then being able to fortify himself against dementors.Report

            • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Jaybird
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              Somehow Harry scaring off the Dementors didn’t bother me. He killed one, and he was prepared to do it again, so they ran away. I don’t see it as much more complicated than that (though I realize Harry does and is unsure about whether they left for expectations reasons or his threat.)

              I vote it was Harry’s credible threat that he was willing (perhaps even eager!) to follow through on if neededReport

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Vikram Bath
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                I am down with him scaring them off (and with it being up in the air whether they were scared off because of stuff inside of them or stuff inside of Harry). That was cool and within the bounds of what we’d learned so far.

                It’s the “I need to have a moment to have a deep conversation with my dark side” and coming to an accord with it and, for a short while, gaining Dumbledorian resistance to Dementors thereby.

                It’s the difference between being able to scare a Dragon off and being immune to Dragonfire, if you see what I mean.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                While climbing, I thought of another way to put it:

                You know the koan, “Chop Wood, Carry Water”?

                Imagine someone really, really smart thinking about this. Do you think that they’d get to understand what it means faster than someone who chops wood and carries water for years?

                My answer, if you haven’t guessed, is “no”. “Chop Wood, Carry Water” is understood by chopping wood and carrying water. Not on thinking about chopping wood and carrying water.

                Even if you’re really, really, really, really, really, preternaturally smart.

                “I chopped wood and carried water once. Extrapolating out from that leads me to a handful of conclusions that someone who does that thrice a day for fifty years is most likely to reach… hey! Chop Wood! Carry Water!”Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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                That really helps me understand your objection, not just to this, but to some of Harry’s earlier feats.

                If you’re modelling human capability on the basis that capability is proportional to experience, then every time Harry does anything remarkable it will destroy your Suspension of Disbelief. So you see resistance to Dementors (or the ability to understand the true structure of the universe) as requiring experience, something an 11-year old boy definitely lacks. Dumbledore should be better than Harry at everything because he is more experienced.

                Yudkowsky still thinks experience matters (consider Quirrell vs Harry), but he also believes that it’s too easy to get in your own way – that unless you approach problems with a certain rigour of thought, that you will end up using your own intellect and experience against itself.

                Harry has knowledge other wizards don’t, because he has read books they haven’t. And he is more rational than most people – he is able to use what he knows in ways that wouldn’t occur to others. This is the source of his strength – he has resources they lack and is efficient in pursuing his goals in ways that other wizards are not.

                And you can see this in how things work out for him in the story – when he is knowledgeable about a topic (like in understanding the structure of matter), and rational (like when he plans an escape from Azkaban) he achieves great things. When he lacks knowledge (like when discussing relationships with Snape) or chooses irrationally (like choosing to participate in the breakout because it sounded like a Call to Adventure) he makes terrible errors – worse errors than a normal child would make, because they wouldn’t try, while Harry tries and fails.

                I intend to elaborate on this theme, but I have to wait until we get to the end of the story.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K
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                No, not exactly.

                It’s more that Yudkowsky is saying “Intelligence checks and Wisdom checks are the same thing, really.”

                I don’t necessarily mind Harry figuring stuff out because he’s really, really smart. I don’t mind him coming up with really, really clever out-of-the-box solutions for any given problem. Lateral thinking? That’s *AWESOME*!

                He makes some mistakes in the story. Some *HUGE* ones. We’ve seen a handful (the biggest being stuff involving relationships… his “harmless” prank on Neville at the train station, for example… some of the stuff he hammered out with the Sorting Hat offers more examples). I’m not talking about when he effed up and justified to himself and others that, seriously, he did the right thing because they aren’t good enough at rhetoric to argue against him that he did the wrong thing.

                I’m talking about him being able to stand up to dementation because he does some quick self-reflection in the basement of Azkaban.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon in reply to dragonfrog
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      The reflection on Hermoine at the end was really good. I was almost surprised though that Harry didn’t wonder if the strength to do that was a rare trait like magic – both after all only seem to express in only a small fraction of the human population.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to bookdragon
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        Is it evenly distributed among populations?

        The thing that I didn’t catch the first time and only caught now the second time is that Harry taught the Patronus to Draco because it’d help his army and, indeed, even showed him how Patronus 2.0 worked and even promised that, one day, Draco’s could be similar.

        But Harry declined to teach Hermione.

        And he didn’t notice that all of the reasons he gave Draco were reasons to teach Hermione.Report

        • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Jaybird
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          I don’t know about distribution, but that would be difficult to measure given the need for records of examples under circumstances where records are frequently partial and unreliable (martyr stories, etc.). Do we know if is magic evenly distributed?

          On Draco vs Hermoine, that’s a really good observation and I had missed it. Thanks for pointing it out. All I think is that either his attachment to Draco is just that much stronger, or he reveals all that To Draco because it’s part of a path to redemption and Draco needs saving; Hermoine doesn’t.Report

  2. Avatar North
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    Yeah the Azkaban episode was what really reminded me “This is a fan-fic, not a book, of course the pace is going to accelerate and the stakes are going to steepen.” Despite that I still was displeased with that plot arc.

    I think I would have been extremely displeased by the aftermath when Harry went on his rampage about Azkaban itself and laid into Dumbledore but then the author went and squared that circle with the second phoenix and basically made everything that came before it on that plot line just peachy. It was sooo cathartic for me.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Cain
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    This is a fan-fic, not a book, of course the pace is going to accelerate and the stakes are going to steepen.

    Why limit that to fan-fic? I know you’re following Game of Thrones this season, which is preparing to absolutely race through tying up the loose ends in two more episodes.Report

  4. Avatar Vikram Bath
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    says:

    One thing Jay didn’t mention was how chapter 51 ended with Harry guessing that Quirrell wanted to bust out Black (leaving the name “Sirius” left unsaid) but Quirrell said Bellatrix. That must have been. shock to Harry, who is ordinarily so bad at covering himself in front of Quirrell. I don’t know how he could have covered for that. We are only left to imagine how he might have done itReport

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