Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 100-113)


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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41 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Bxnl, uvf jnaq unf gb or cbvagrq fgenvtug qbja. Fb zl fbyhgvba jnf fbzrguvat yvxr guvf: lbh qba’g arrq n jnaq gb qb genafsvthengvba. Uneel’f srrg ner gbhpuvat gur tebhaq. Fb ur perngrf n cbpxrg haqre uvf srrg. Gheaf gur tebhaq gb Ulqebtra be fbzrguvat tnfrbhf gung jbhyq vzzrqvngryl syl fgenvtug hc naq bhg bs unez’f jnl. Vs ur uryq uvf oerngu, vg jbhyqa’g ragre uvf flfgrz. (Znlor fbzr fgenl zbyrphyrf pbhyq tb hc uvf abfr naq bar bs gur qrabhrzrag puncgref pbhyq gnyx nobhg ubj ur’f oybjvat uvf abfr naq jbhyq or oybjvat uvf abfr dhvgr erthyneyl sbe gur erfg bs uvf yvsr, juvpu jnf yvxryl gb or rgreany.)

    Naljnl, snyyvat qbja gur cvg jbhyq tvir uvz gur arprffnel gvzr gb pnfg Cngebahf 2.0. Naq *GUNG* jbhyq tvir uvz rabhtu gvzr gb pnfg “Fhzzba Qrzragbe”. V nffhzr gung abar bs gur Qrngu Rngref pna fhzzba Cngebahfrf.

    Naljnl, ur pna abg bayl fhzzba Cngebahf 2.0, ur pna fhzzba Qrzragbe 2.0.

    Naq Qrzragbe 2.0 qnzcraf gur urpx bhg bs rirelguvat naq rirelobql naq nyybjf Ibyqrzbeg gb or qnzcrarq gb gur cbvag jurer ur pna’g fhzzba uvf cbjre. Fghcrsl, znlor n zvaq-jvcr be gjb (qb *ABG* xvyy Ibyqrzbeg’f arj obql!), naq chg Ibyql va Nmxnona jurer ur’f fheebhaqrq ol Qrzragbef hagvy Uneel ab ybatre unf gb oybj uvf abfr.

    Dunno if that breaks rule 2, though.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird says:

      Bu lrnu gur cerqvpgvba tnzr.

      Ubj qbrf Cbggre rfpncr?

      Ernyvfgvpnyyl bs pbhefr ur qbrfa’g. Gur jubyr cbvag bs gur cerqvpnzrag ur’f va vgf gb znxr vg frrz gubebhtuyl ubcryrff, naq bs vg jbhyq or, vs jr ernyyl sbyybjrq gur ybtvp bs gur fvghngvba. Ohg jvgarff gur ohfg bhg bs nmxnona…

      Fb jung qbrf ur qb?

      Fgenvtug hc gnyx Ibyqrzbeg bhg bs xvyyvat uvz? Ernfba bhg fbzrguvat gb qb jvgu gur angher bs cebcurpl, naq ubj vs Ibyqrzbeg xvyyf uvz abj vg whfg zrnaf ur tbrf bss yvxr n obzo naq qrfgeblf rirelguvat ng gur zbzrag bs uvf qrngu?

      Genafsvthengvba ur pna qb jvgubhg jbeqf. Fb ur pbhyq genafsvther fbzrguvat juvyr ur oyhssf Ibyqrzbeg gb ohl gvzr? Ohg jung?

      Fbzrguvat fbzrguvat qrngu rngref / yvsr rngref / cbjre gb pbzznaq qrngu?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Jryy, bar bs gur ehyrf vf “gur Qnex Ybeq’f hgvyvgl shapgvba pnaabg or punatrq ol gnyxvat gb uvz.”

        But I may have broken Rule 2 so maybe we can play with that for a little bit.

        There was a DC Elseworlds comic where Superman’s rocketship landed not in Kansas but in the USSR somewhere. “Red Son”, it was called. At the end of the comic, the oh-so-American Lex Luthor causes a mental breakdown in Superman by saying the right thing at the right time. (Or by having the right note written in his pocket which Superman uses X-Ray vision to read. Same thing.)

        One of the rules is that there is no “Why don’t you just put the whole world in a bottle?” question that would work on Voldy… but what if there were? What would it be? The big one that I thought might do it would be something like “hey, just be Professor Quirrell and teach at Hogwart’s and that should be enough!” but we already established that that wouldn’t be enough. (Maybe if Harry had a time-turner that could go back 40 years.)

        If there’s a solution, I don’t think that it’s going to come about via persuasion.Report

        • dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird says:

          Yeah, whatever he says couldn’t be a bluff, since they’re speaking in parseltongue. But maybe Harry thinks of a thing Voldemort missed.

          V jnf guvaxvat fbzrguvat yvxr “Vs lbh fgevxr zr qbja V jvyy orpbzr zber cbjreshy guna lbh pbhyq cbffvoyl vzntvar.”

          Yvxr, ur ernyvmrf naq rkpyhfvir ubj vs ur qvrf ba gur fcbg gura gur cebcurpl pbzrf gehr va gur boivbhf frafr gung Ibyqrzbeg vf pehfurq naq zhpu bs gur jbeyq jvgu uvz, ohg vs ur trgf gb yvir ybatre gura vg pna pbzr gehr va n farnxl frafr gung vf cersrenoyr jvguva Ibyqrzbeg’f hgvyvgl shapgvba.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog says:

            Well, the rules say “if you can think it, Harry can think it”. You can’t necessarily give him powers that he hasn’t manifested before but you can give him whatever thoughts you want.

            So the Parseltongue statement will need to be True and precise to the point where it’d get Voldy to stay his hand.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Stop speaking Cthulhu. Not all of us majored in Lovecraft Studies.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Rot13 is a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers (or premature answers to puzzles) to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.

          This allows statements like “Gur ohgyre qvq vg” to be discussed by people who know that “The butler did it” while protecting people who want to avoid spoilers to be able to do so.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to dragonfrog says:

        One of these is correct (as in it is what Harry ends up doing to solve the problem)! You just need to flesh it out more.

        I’m rot 13-ing which one it is. (Though you may want to not have the hint. The rest of this post will contain spoilers about subsequent chapters. The spoilers get progressively more spoiler-y as you go down)

        Uneel genafsvtherf fbzrguvat.

        And I’ll give you another hint if you want it:

        Jung Uneel genafsvtherf vf noyr gb xvyy nyy gur qrngurngref, qvfzrzrore (ohg abg xvyy) Ibyqrzbeg

        And a final one:

        Vg vf n grpuabybtl-eryngrq guvat gung unf orra genafsvtherq UCZBE orsber, gubhtu vg jnfa’g hfrq sbe guvf checbfr, boivbhfyl. Erzrzore Uneel unf yvzvgf ba ubj zhpu ur pna genafsvther ng n gvzr, fb arrqf fbzrguvat gung tvirf n ybg bs onat sbe abg zhpu ibyhzrReport

  2. Jaybird says:

    Okay, one thing that ticks me off about Horcrux theory from the POV of The Voice Of God: spirits don’t exist.

    In the original books, Voldemort made a Horcrux by ripping his soul in half and placing the half into various containers. Well, since *WE* are rationalists, *WE* know that souls don’t exist! In a world that has mountain trolls and boggarts in it. We know that there isn’t an afterlife.

    But, seriously, if there is something that would be able to convince me that there is, in fact, an afterlife, it’d be the existence of Magic.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird says:

      Do we know there aren’t souls, or do we just know that Harry has convinced himself there aren’t?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Not just Harry. Voldemort.

        I suppose your point is well-made but, even so, we’re no closer to Harry having an insight that dying wouldn’t be so bad after discovering magic. If anything, we’re a bit further away. Magic, after all, can sustain your life indefinitely.Report

        • James K in reply to Jaybird says:

          What have they seen that requires souls to explain? When you add that to the things that muggles know that make no sense if souls are real (Phinneus Gage, for one), there is no reason to suppose souls are real.

          Same deal with Centaur Astrology. What muggles know makes it profoundly unlikely that looking at stars can predict the future, and the existence of magic doesn’t change that.

          And if you thought that Eliezer Yudkowsky was going to write a story where accepting death was the moral thing to do, then I’m sorry you were disappointed.Report

  3. dragonfrog says:

    Chapter 104 was fun – Harry’s “just buy a clock already” sign had me laughing.

    Also Voldemort’s story in 108 of how he ended up as moustache twirling pantomime villain – that was funny.

    In general, the way Voldemort / Quirrell played Harry really worked – likeable or not, Yudkowsky really built up a character who believes he’s way too smart for everyone, and can be tricked into all kinds of stupid stuff by playing to his personal exceptionalism.Report

    • James K in reply to dragonfrog says:

      I think this is an important point Yudkowsky is making. Harry is very smart, but he keeps using his intellect against himself, making his intelligence a liability as often as it is a virtue. Harry came up with sophisticated reasons while Quirrellmort was dark, but not evil, while Hermione was capable of seeing the obvious – that they evil-seeming Defence Professor was actually evil.

      Similarly, Quirrelmort played Harry like a fiddle all year, constantly manipulating him to get him to where he needed him to be. But every attempt Quirrelmort made to manipulate Hermione failed. Her moral reasoning may be less sophisticated than Harry’s, but that isn’t an insult because her lack of sophistication worked, while Harry’s sophistication didn’t.

      It makes me wonder what Hermione would have been able to accomplish if she had been the recipient of Voldemort’s dark intellect instead of Harry.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to James K says:

        Which parts of his personality are the Tom Riddle parts, I wonder. Harry points out at one point that Voldemort has a tactical blind spot where being nice would be the simplest and most effective tactic. Is “driven, brilliant, glaring intellectual blind spots” the basic Tom Riddle trait set?Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to James K says:

        Harry is very smart, but he keeps using his intellect against himself, making his intelligence a liability as often as it is a virtue. Harry came up with sophisticated reasons while Quirrellmort was dark, but not evil, while Hermione was capable of seeing the obvious – that they evil-seeming Defence Professor was actually evil.

        Yes, yes, yes! As mentioned in the kick-off for the book, Harry is smart and clever and often annoyingly smart and clever and things work out for him in an annoying way, but it ends up not actually being the point of the book. Harry certainly is smart, but Hermione is the one who actually gets the right answers to the most important questions. If we read HPMOR as “be cool like Harry” then we’ve missed the entire point, in my opinionReport

  4. North says:

    I would like to pause in all this to note something that I found quite impressive. We know, all of us who have watched the first HP movie or read the first HP book that Quirell was the host for Voldemort. And yet, after a dozen chapters or so I was quite thoroughly uncertain that HPMOR Quirell was still pure malevolence and felt mildly surprised when, in the end, the story circled around to agree that, yes, Quirell was Voldemort. That was some impressive writing.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to North says:

      You’re absolutely right. I was almost convinced that he wasn’t until… well, until the Unicorn. Azkaban almost had me believing it… but I was doing some serious motivated reasoning to make myself say “well, maybe he’s not… he does give some pretty good speeches…”Report

      • James K in reply to Jaybird says:

        The story had me fooled right up to the reveal. What was definitive for me was Harry’s reasoning that a true Dark Rationalist should have destroyed the Order of the Phoenix immediately. Of course, it turns out the Dark Rationalist wasn’t really trying. This too is an important lesson, it is easy to confuse irrational behaviour for rational behaviour motivated by unknown preferences.Report

        • Vikram Bath in reply to James K says:

          Same. And yet, in Chapter 102, we got this:

          The snake was hissing laughter, strange sharp laughter, almost hysterical. “You tell me of that sspell? Me? You musst learn more caution in the future, boy.

          Somehow I went through the hysterically laughing snake and thought “no, he might still be OK.”

          In chapter 101, Quirrell tells Harry

          I would be lying if I said I’d never considered killing you myself.”

          Harry drops it, perhaps out of shock from being almost killed by the Centaur, but why did I drop it as the reader? Somehow I laughed it off or thought there must be some sort of sensible explanation. After all, why else would he just say it like that?

          As mentioned before, this is a book whose puzzles were designed to be solvable by the reader, but I failed just about every testReport

          • Jaybird in reply to Vikram Bath says:

            He’s Dark! Of course he’s thought of killing everybody. By sharing his internal states with Harry, he’s offering friendship of a sort *AND*, at the same time, giving Harry an out for being all “oh, oh, oh, you saved my life how will I ever repay you this is a huge debt that House Potter now has” and Professor Quirrell made a joke that said “don’t worry about it” that, at the same time, expressed to Harry that his friendship is not all sweetness and light like in the fabric books for Toddlers.

            I mean, Voldemort.Report

          • dragonfrog in reply to Vikram Bath says:

            I was mostly wondering “how is Quirrell Voldemort?”, not “is Quirrell Voldemort?”

            IIRC in the original book, Voldemort had somehow persuaded Quirrell to carry his (V’s) spirit in his (Q’s) body – but there was still a mind that was Q distinct from V. So I was wondering whether in HPMOR’s take there were two distinct entities behind various actions that all seemed to be taken by the singular Quirrell, or if (as turned out to be the case) Q was just V with a fake ID, or if something else was going on.

            After Quirrell’s sketchy excuses for busting Bellatrix Black out of Azkaban, I was sure that at least during the planning and explaining of that action, Voldemort was in charge. The bits about Quirrell’s slumping over in near catatonia had me suspecting the former option much of the time though, that there might also have been a separate person in there who was Quirrell – something something the strain of carrying two souls in one body, etc.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog says:

              There was one moment right after Voldemort’s body was returned to him that Quirrell, on the ground, said something like “I’m free!”

              So Quirrell was in there somewhere… and the statement seems to communicate that he was aware of what was going on in a way that “what happened, where am I?” wouldn’t have (indeed, would have communicated something else entirely).

              So it’s like Quirrell was cordycepted. (shudder)Report

              • dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird says:

                Oh right, because V was trapped in his network of inconveniently located horcruxes, until Q finally stumbled upon one.Report

              • North in reply to Jaybird says:

                Not quite that unfortunate since cordycepted victims would, in theory, go mad with pain and eventually lose the capacity to experience or reason. Quirell, on the other hand, presumably was stuck riding along though it’s not clear if he was perceiving what was going on in his mind and body or if he was just in a box. I’m not sure which of those three options would be more horrid.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to North says:

                Plenty of theories out there.Report

  5. James K says:

    This might be a good opportunity to revisit Quirell’s speech about democracy from Chapters 34 and 35. It is worth noting at this point that Quirell’s anti-democracy speech was:
    A) Put forward by Lord Voldemort and;
    B) Put forward by someone who confected a dark lord to use national unity as a tool to become ruler of Great Britain.

    For all the mistakes Harry has made, his criticism of Quirell’s “Mark of Britain” plan was dead on.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to James K says:

      I re-read those and, knowing what I know now, am struck by them still kinda being good speeches.

      I mean, Grindelwald might have made a Horcrux and put it somewhere findable…Report

  6. Jaybird says:


    Last week you said that you stopped reading when Hermione was fridged. Well, now that she’s been resurrected a little bit (and had some minor upgrades), the term for what happened to her might be Defrosting. From the wiki:

    In response to fans who argued that male characters are also often killed, content editor John Bartol wrote “Dead Men Defrosting”, an article arguing that when male heroes are killed or altered, they are more typically returned to their status quo. According to Bartol, after most female characters are altered they are “never allowed, as male heroes usually are, the chance to return to their original heroic states. And that’s where we begin to see the difference.”

    As such, I submit to you that, okay, yes… Hermione was fridged. But she was also defrosted.

    I hope you come back and finish the story.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird says:

      Yeah that’s almost a superhero origin story for Supermione.Report

    • bookdragon in reply to Jaybird says:

      I may. Like I said, it’s not so much that it’s sexist (Spidey’s uncle was fridged) as that the person fridged exists *only* so their death will motivate the hero. The sexist part is that women are used b/c even if the character has no real personality or anything to make us care about her we’re supposed to feel bad about women being killed b/c they’re weak and need protecting, etc.etc. Even if the author was using it to hold a mirror up to the trope, it just rubbed me the wrong way to have Hermoine reduced to that.

      But once I get past some RL distractions I’ll give it another shot and see how the defrosting plays.Report

  7. Vikram Bath says:

    You all might find it interesting to go back and see different sections of the book knowing for sure what you now know. Among the things that strikes me as funny is now this Chapter 18 (https://ordinary-times.com/2019/06/03/the-heroic-knight-in-the-wife-of-baths-tale/ ) exchange with Dumbledore after Harry confronts him about Snape’s treatment of students:

    “I suppose,” Dumbledore said slowly, “that from your perspective it is a reasonable question. So, Mr. Potter, if Professor Snape is to leave you alone henceforth, will that be the last time this issue arises, or will I find you here every week with a new demand?”

    “Leave me alone?” Harry’s voice was outraged. “I am not his only victim and certainly not the most vulnerable! Have you forgotten how defenseless children are? How much they hurt? Henceforth Severus will treat every student of Hogwarts with appropriate and professional courtesy, or you will find another Potions Master, or you will find another hero!”

    Dumbledore started laughing. Full-throated, warm, humorous laughter, as if Harry had just performed a comic dance in front of him.

    Minerva didn’t dare move. Her eyes flickered and she saw that Severus was equally motionless.

    Harry’s visage grew even colder. “You mistake me, Headmaster, if you think that this is a joke. This is not a request. This is your punishment.”

    “Mr. Potter -” Minerva said. She didn’t even know what she was going to say. She simply couldn’t let that go by.

    Harry made a shushing gesture at her and continued to speak to Dumbledore. “And if that seems impolite to you,” Harry said, his voice now a little less hard, “it seemed no less impolite when you said it to me. You would not say such a thing to anyone who you considered a real human being instead of a subordinate child, and I will treat you with just the same courtesy as you treat me -”

    “Oh, indeed, in very deed, this is my punishment if ever there was one! Of course you’re in here blackmailing me to save your fellow students, not to save yourself! I can’t imagine why I would have thought otherwise!” Dumbledore was now laughing even harder. He pounded his fist on the desk three times.

    Harry’s gaze grew uncertain. His face turned toward her, addressing her for the first time. “Excuse me,” Harry said. His voice seemed to be wavering. “Does he need to take his medication or something?”

    “Ah…” Minerva had no idea what she could possibly say.

    “Well,” said Dumbledore. He wiped away tears that had formed in his eyes. “Pardon me. I’m sorry for the interruption. Please continue with the blackmail.”

    Dumbledore’s laughter makes a lot more sense when you know that he knows that he is talking to literal Voldemort using threats to try to save schoolchildren from mistreatmentReport

  8. Vikram Bath says:

    This from 17 is also great, I think:

    Dumbledore’s left eye twitched. “You intend to sow seeds of love and kindness in Draco Malfoy’s heart because you expect Malfoy’s heir to prove valuable to you?”

    “Not just to me! ” Harry said indignantly. “To all of magical Britain, if this works out! And he’ll have a happier and mentally healthier life himself! Look, I don’t have enough time to turn everyone away from the Dark Side and I’ve got to ask where the Light can gain the most advantage the fastest -”

    Dumbledore started laughing. Laughing a lot harder than Harry would expect, almost howling. It seemed positively undignified. An ancient and powerful wizard ought to chuckle in deep booming tones, not laugh so hard he was gasping for breath. Harry had once literally fallen out of his chair while watching the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup, and that was how hard Dumbledore was laughing now.

    “It’s not that funny,” Harry said after a while. He was starting to worry about Dumbledore’s sanity again.

    Dumbledore got himself under control again with a visible effort. “Ah, Harry, one symptom of the disease called wisdom is that you begin laughing at things that no one else thinks is funny, because when you’re wise, Harry, you start getting the jokes!” The old wizard wiped tears away from his eyes. “Ah, me. Ah, me. Oft evil will shall evil mar indeed, in very deed.”

    Now that we are also wise (in that we know what Dumbledore knew then, we also get the joke!

    And my understanding of that last line is that Voldemort’s last act was to mar the very evil he was trying to commit. He had created a good(ish) Voldemort to oppose the badReport