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Subject: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality rss

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Sean McCarthy
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Imagine the first book of the Harry Potter series... but instead of the main character being fairly stupid, he's really freaking smart and had a good upbringing with an extremely solid scientific grounding.

That's the premise of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a piece of HP fanfic. To be honest, I almost ran away immediately when I heard it was fanfic, because seriously, that's not going to be any good.

But it is good. In fact, it's one of the most awesome things I've ever read. I think that there are three main things that will make you like it, too:

* Having read Harry Potter. (At least the first. Ideally, more.) (It won't be as funny if you don't understand the point of reference.)
* Liking rationalism, or wanting to learn about it. (That Harry is a rationalist was the original premise of this story. The author, I understand, is concurrently writing a nonfiction book about rationalism.)
* Liking intelligent main characters. (I know that some people don't, citing it, for example, as a reason they don't like Ender's Game. Others do. Personally I hate it when characters are dumb.)

My guess is that if two of those are true for you, you will enjoy this book and think it's fine, and if three are true, you will think it's great.

So, interested?
Here's the URL to where the author posts it.
Here's the url to a pdf formatted version. (Maintained by a fan, but otherwise official, and much nicer to read.)

Note, 63 chapters - 1000+ pages - are written, but the whole story isn't finished yet. IMO it is plenty good enough to read now.

I posted this in RSP because I think it would interest those people more than chit-chatters. It's somewhat about rationalism and science, which seems to get grouped in with religion and politics around here.

Here is a small text sample from a bit past the beginning which should not spoil anything, or ruin any of the most hilarious moments:


I don't recommend a lot of things to large groups of people, but this is a rare exception. I strongly suggest giving it a try. (Download the pdf version, read at least 5 chapters. No problem!)
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Sean McCarthy
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tscook wrote:
So wait, you chose the chapter on the efficient market hypothesis as an example of rationality based Harry Potter fanfic? How does magical thinking fit into a rational world view?


"The Efficient Market Hypothesis" is the name of the chapter, not the premise of it. I didn't notice anyone on the story claiming the Efficient Market Hypothesis accurately describes reality, though it's possible I just wasn't paying enough attention.
 
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I came across this story a few months ago and it is indeed fantastic.
 
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I'm waiting for the sequels:
Harry potter and the Morgage backed Securities of Doom.
(Lord Voldebanks strikes back!)
Harry Potter and the Self-Funding Tax Cuts.
(A real Lafer!)
Harry Potter and the Backroom Chamber of Secret Deals.
(A sausage grinder's worth of action)
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Sean McCarthy
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Heh. You know, I chose the currency example because it was mostly irrelevant to the rest of the story and therefore was pretty non-spoilerish.
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I'm not especially fond of the series, but Harry is not fairly stupid. Or even a little stupid.
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mistermarino wrote:
I'm not especially fond of the series, but Harry is not fairly stupid. Or even a little stupid.


Arrogant, obnoxious, unlikeable, disloyal, hot-blooded, liar ... OK, he is.
But stupid ? I agree he isn't
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mistermarino wrote:
I'm not especially fond of the series, but Harry is not fairly stupid. Or even a little stupid.


Calling him "fairly stupid" does perhaps gives the wrong impression. I am talking about that completely unbelievable stupidity that many characters in fiction have. Something like:

"Hey look, a scary evil thing that is clearly 10x more powerful than me. I think I will, without telling anyone, sneak around behind it and see if it meets up with some other extremely powerful and evil beings, so that I can confront them all at once."

Since in some sense it's completely the plot's fault, I can understand not seeing him as stupid. But in another sense it's stupider than any real-life stupid person I have ever met. Anyone who was actually that dumb is already dead.

In the Harry Potter series, some other things are also clearly the plot's fault, and it sure doesn't reflect well on the characters, including Voldemort.

(Book 4)
Spoiler (click to reveal)
For example the fact that there was this elaborate plot to get Harry to touch specific portkey in order to kidnap him.


I would say that not reacting to some of the poorly-conceived things in the Harry Potter world with incredulity is stupid too.

I can suspend disbelief about a lot of things (it's a different, made-up world; things work differently) but this type of plothole just pisses me off (dear author: why did you choose to make up a world where all the people are morons? It's less pleasant to imagine).
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Are we really discussing a series of kids book? Really?
 
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Dispaminite wrote:
Are we really discussing a series of kids book? Really?


Kids are people too.

And it's kids' books. Grammar nazis are here to torture you!
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quozl wrote:
Dispaminite wrote:
Are we really discussing a series of kids book? Really?


Kids are people too.

And it's kids' books. Grammar nazis are here to torture you!


Maybe I meant Kids book, as books of kids. Did you think of that? Huh? Huh? Huh? goo
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SevenSpirits wrote:
Imagine the first book of the Harry Potter series... but instead of the main character being fairly stupid, he's really freaking smart and had a good upbringing with an extremely solid scientific grounding.

Based (only ) on the excerpts I have read just now, I would say that Harry comes across more as being unrealistically precocious. This isn't just a book where an adult and snarky "Harry" goes from scene to scene shooting holes in the premise of the HP books, is it?

I mean, I appreciate the link, and I have downloaded the book and am certainly willing to give it a try, but the premise of the book has to be more than just "ha ha, look how stupid JK Rowling is". arrrh
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He's precocious. Whether you will find him unrealistically so, I can't predict. I think it's comparable to Ender's Game (though with a bit more effort by the author put into making supposedly good choices actually be good).

He doesn't just go around being right all the time though, he actually screws up a lot of things. I don't remember if this is apparent in the first few chapters, where the plot isn't really moving yet.
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I'm enjoying it.
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I'm the last person on Earth to rise to J.K. Rowling's defense, as I think there is a lot of better children's literature out there.

But if you could condense the Writer's Guide to Successful Children's Literature into two commandments, it would be something like these:

1. Kill or remove the parents/teachers/supervising wizards from the picture so the children can have adventures.

2. Precocious children with an underdeveloped appreciation for their own mortality get themselves in trouble way over their heads but manage to dig themselves out and save the day.

I think the Potter series falls squarely within this time-honored and proven tradition.

The fact that the series is one of the most critically acclaimed and inarguably the most influential bit of children's literature of all time doesn't prove or disprove much. But it does demonstrate pretty conclusively that she did a lot of things right and well.

There is a lot of other children's literature that I would rather read (or reread.) But I don't think your criticisms are particularly accurate.
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mistermarino wrote:
I think the Potter series falls squarely within this time-honored and proven tradition.

...

I don't think your criticisms are particularly accurate.


I don't think I ever said the Harry Potter books were bad (in fact it sounds like I like them more than you, probably because I was younger when I read them), I just said I personally prefer smarter characters.
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The fundamental problem I see here is that Harry Potter is not at all stupid but Rowling has carefully set up a situation in which he does not have the information that he needs. The HP saga is really about how he gets the information he needs and what he does with it.

So I don't understand the premise of this discussion.
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I like the Methods of Rationality so far, and I enjoyed the books as they were published starting in 1998.

I think one thing the books do that differentiated them was to approach consequence differently than children's literature frequently does. There's no,"Good children clean their plates after dinner," sort of preachiness, or the commonly artificial series of consequences adults devise for children (grounding, spankings, withholding of toys).

Making bad choices gets people killed, loses you friends, earns you a bad reputation. While I never worried that Harry or Hermione or Ron would die, you were often braced by the fact that some people got caught by the bad guys, that there were real and permanent results from people's choices.

But in the universe of the books, the criteria for good and bad choices were fluid (much like life), so they didn't build up a stock flow chart for approaching life.

Harry certainly could have avoided risking his friends' lives and gone back to bed and listened to grow-ups, but it wouldn't have made a very good story.

And underneath all of it was a brilliant sort of reverse psychology: in every book, something Harry really desired was being normal. So many children's books frame themselves in a boring, normal world and the fantastic is an escape where they feel important, smart, and not boxed in by the constraints of childhood. IN Harry Potter, the fantastic adventures were a vehicle to achieve normality.

As long as you're willing to redefine what normal is.
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From the excerpt, it seems like a case of writing that's really trying to make a statement and loses the enjoyment of good writing along the way. Not something I'm interesting in reading further.

The comparison to Ender's Game seems more than a little presumptuous...if that blurb is representative, you basis for recommending the owrk needs some refinement.
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whac3 wrote:
The fundamental problem I see here is that Harry Potter is not at all stupid but Rowling has carefully set up a situation in which he does not have the information that he needs. The HP saga is really about how he gets the information he needs and what he does with it.

So I don't understand the premise of this discussion.


As the original poster I am under the impression that the premise is "here is a book you probably haven't heard of; I recommend it to people who meet the following conditions".
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fizzmore wrote:
The comparison to Ender's Game seems more than a little presumptuous...if that blurb is representative, you basis for recommending the owrk needs some refinement.


The comparison to Ender's Game was this:

I've looked around to find opinions of people who didn't like this book, and found it was almost completely because of a single thing: people found the intelligence of the main character unrealistic. Many of those complainers compared it to Ender's Game which they said they also did not like for the same reason.

I don't think it's at all "presumptuous" to tell people this in the hopes of making my recommendation more likely to hit the right people.
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It's almost as if it were "Artemis Fowl goes to Hogwarts" ...
Except than in the the Artemis Fowl books the magic is mainly of the nature indicated in Clarke's Third Law,
see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke%27s_three_laws.

Never heard of Artemis - shame on you! See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemis_Fowl_%28series%29
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SevenSpirits wrote:
whac3 wrote:
The fundamental problem I see here is that Harry Potter is not at all stupid but Rowling has carefully set up a situation in which he does not have the information that he needs. The HP saga is really about how he gets the information he needs and what he does with it.

So I don't understand the premise of this discussion.


As the original poster I am under the impression that the premise is "here is a book you probably haven't heard of; I recommend it to people who meet the following conditions".

OK That wasn't how I took it.
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To continue the extreme non-RSP worthy-ness of this thread.
I'm looking for a new series for my son (who's autistic) He loves Star Wars, Dr. Who, LEGO, Mythology, Lovecraft Mythos, not into horror, high fantasy.

He enjoyed the SW dime novels, Leviatan, The Olympians series, How to Train Your Dragon series, Captain Underpants (currently "reading" this one), ANY suggestions?
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