Thursday, March 05, 2015

A quick-informal post on - Yudkowsky's Harry Potter!

My mid-week posting will be of NO interest to most of you! (Move along, now.  Move along.)  It has to do with Eliezer Yudkowsky’s brilliantly popular-if-weird, episodic fanFiction novel: “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.” I know some of you have enjoyed it as much as I have, all the more so, since this deliberate re-imagining of J.K. Rowling’s epic fantasy universe is logical, well-written, compelling… and Eliezer can never make one slim nickel from it!

(In this alternate world, Harry is raised by a scientist to be a math-sci prodigy before the Hogwarts letter arrives. He goes to the magical academy determined to study the underpinnings of magic and to find out what the HECK is going on!)

(Yudkowsky's Harry Potter! Sounds a bit like Jodorowsky's Dune?)

Here is the beginning of this fun riff off a beloved universe, taking it in directions very different from the original. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

HPMoR is finally coming to a close. In fact, Eliezer went to great lengths to show - by episode 113 - a stunningly clever Lord Voldemort anticipating and neutralizing every possible gambit that might be tried by Dumbledore or (this super-smart version of) Harry to thwart him.  E.Y. sets up a graveyard confrontation in which there appears to be no way out! Harry is doomed!…

… Then Eliezer challenges his readers to come up with a solution!  One that culminates Harry’s year long efforts to understand and utilize magic… using rationality.

See that penultimate scene, followed by Eliezer’s challenge and his rules.

Okay, I couldn’t help it. After reading the dire chapter 113 and Eliezer’s challenge/dare to his readers, I took maybe half an hour and dashed off my own proposed way-out for Harry, to both save his own life and thwart the Dark Lord’s sadistic plans.

Eliezer’s rules demanded that any solution make maximum use of Harry’s rationality and that it should take into account all that we had seen, during his year at Hogwarts. And above all, take into account the fey prophecy that “Harry Potter would destroy the world.”

 Frankly, I could see no other way-out than the one that I contrived. The author had us (and himself) thoroughly boxed-in. Moreover, to be honest, I expect any of you HPMoR fans to intensely dislike my solution!  Because (1) it consists mostly of TALK (hence the “rationality” part, and (2) it sounds a bit like the oldest cliche in the business.  Hence, I can see why Eliezer chose something else...

…a MAGIC TRICK.  Indeed, one that’s hardly foreshadowed at all. One that the Dark Lord would almost certainly have detected and expected, and that we had no reason to imagine Harry capable of. One that in no way answers the problem of the “prophecy,” nor answers any questions from Harry’s year long ponderings of the roots of magic.

Ah, but the one Eliezer chose is fun! And it has action! (Precisely because it does not use much “rationality.”) I will give Eliezer all that.  While grumbling that “my version makes more sense!”— I am still reading along and enjoying the heck out of his alternative.  After all, it’s his world.  Well… no… I mean… it’s more his world than mine.

Back to working on my own worlds, now. But here, below, just for you HPMoR fans, is David Brin’s alternate solution to the dilemma of chapter 114.


Dear Eliezer.

First off. I was disappointed to learn that V's death threat to "hundreds of students" was a lame magic circle under the stadium bleachers.  Really? When it was so obvious that Voldemort was referring to the TRAIN?  Some loosened bolts on a bridge and hundreds would die under exactly the conditions V described... "if I am not here to prevent it" and “not within this castle.”  This could have led to a very cinematic race to save the train, after Harry's escape. Ah well.

As for the problem at hand, posed at the end of the dramatically tense chapter 113, the answer should be obvious.

1) It must make maximum use of rationality.

2) It must take into account all the weird stuff Harry has seen and learned about “magic” and the mostly-moronic nature of Magical Britain.

3) It must be consistent with the prophecy that Harry Potter can and someday would “destroy the world.”

4) Voldemort has demanded that Harry offer “new muggle wisdom.”  So then? Go to a muggle level that Voldie has not yet plumbed.  Here goes --


"You are aware, of courssse," Harry says at the start of 114. "How abssssurd you are? How blatantly obvious the Truth issss?"

"Explain yourssself!"

"I will use English, only verifying in Parssseltongue. But I promissse you, if you ssslay me for thisss, it will make the prophecy come true!"

Voldemort stared for a moment, then shrugged.  "In English then, Explain."

"I don't have time to explain fully, but it's become clear to me that all of this is just too convenient, too pat.  Everything from the fake-Latin of our charms, that preceded the invention of the Latin language by 6000 years... to the way that there's a clear inverse ratio between magic and intelligence..."

"Is it your intent to insult me before you die?"

"That is a side benefit, of course. But not the point. You asked about muggle insights, and I can tell you one, right off the top. And thisssss isss true. That - for all your cleverness, Lord V, you'd not rise above the level of a mid level advertising agent, in the outer world, and most likely still be in your mother's basement, gorging on Cheetos and playing at video games."

"Are you enjoying a last moment of insulting defiance, Mr. Potter?  For this, I will omit the stunning curse before dismembering --"

"A man of brilliance and substance would not care, Voldie, and that is the next to last clue."

Voldemort winced at being interrupted and his wand hand twitched. But he asked, through gritted teeth. "Clue?  What clue?"

"Ah, but then there is the final clue... this prophecy that I would ‘destroy the world.’ Are you freaking kidding me?  And you cannot see it? You truly cannot?"

"I --"

“What power could I conceivably have to ‘destroy the world’? Your habits of thought were so desperate to thwart any action on my part -- (and yet you left me in posssssessssion of my wand) -- that it never occurred to you to ask – might Harry’s power be inherent in who he is?  What he is?”

“Well. You’re a different version of me! And therefore…”

Harry laughed.  You know I accepted that rot for far too long.  Sure, there was some imprinting – but it’s not inherent.”

“Then what is? Oh time-wasting boy. Be warned that my patience is running thin.”

“Look at how you’ve struggled to arrange so that I can take no actions that destroy the world,  and yet, what actions are YOU about to take, Lord Voldemort?”

“Why, I am about to kill…”  the dark lord blinked. ""

“Hm, yes. And how did that go, the first time you tried it? Anyway, since you have removed any way for me to 'destroy the world' by volition, it means clearly that killing me will destroy the world!  Of course I am obliged by my recent vow to prevent it, if I can. And that issss why I am sssaying all thisss.”

Voldemort was silent, thinking hard, so Harry pressed on.

“How would killing one more Tom Riddle destroy the world? Answer. It couldn’t.  In fact, there’s only one way your killing me can do that.”

The dark lord stepped closer. “Tell me now.”

“Only if you swear in Parseltongue that my parents and all Hogwarts students are safe from you, for a year.”

“You would have me give up my one big leverage over you?”
“You have plenty more!... But…” he arched an eye at Voldemort.  “But I have leverage too. Thisss I tell you

Seconds passed.  One of the Death Eaters behind Harry let out a low moan.

Very well.  I ssswear if you offer up a plaussssible explanation, your parents and all Hogwarts students are safe from me, for a year.”

“Okay then… and what I am about to sssay isss the only plausssible explanation…” Harry took a breath -- "That we are living in a simulation,  A game.”

Again, the dark lord blinked, culminating in a sneer. “Truly, is that it, Potter? Such a bluff--”

"Sure, it's such a cliche that I have struggled to find any other way. But for a whole year, ever since Professor McGonnagle turned herself into a cat,  I've been pondering how ANY of this could be consistent with the physical universe I was brought up to understand and respect. A cosmos whose rules may not be fair by human standards -- making that happen is up to ussss -- but at least those rules are fair on the level of logic and common sense. 

"All this "magic" is what you'd expect from a much, much cheaper Creator."

"As you say, this is a wretched cliche! You are making all of this up, Potter."

“Am I? You can sense that I am sincerely trying to satisfy your last command to me in parseltongue! I am telling you the exact truth of the world, as I see it from my muggle training.  I am telling you this so you'll spare my parents! Thissss isss exactly how I sssee it!"

"But... but Atlantis and Merlin... "

"Yeah, sure. The simulation could be one of two things.  The first possibility is that those long ago Atlantis guys got some super good tech, like maybe we muggles think we'll have in a century or so, and they wrote all this magic stuff into the system, and people have been using it through "incantations" and silly ass arm motions for thousands of years. In fact, I was planning to go searching for the Big Atlantean computer, during some summer break. But that’s not the theory I now see as likely.

“Not as much as the second possibility.”

“Which is?”

“That Merlin and Atlantis are just back story!  For a game that only started a little while ago.  I think I know how to tell which of these to believe, you know."

"I believe neither! Still, despite myself, I am too fascinated to end this, Potter. Truly, you are Tom Riddle at his best."

"So you'd want to believe – that I’m a version of you. But it doesn’t work."

"Never mind that. Just get on with it, child. How can you tell which simulation we are in?"

"Simple, look at your behavior, Voldie.  Classic petty tyrant aiming to become feudal lord-of-all.  What propels you? Sure, fear of dying. A spectacular exaggeration of my own war against death. We shared that motive, though I never became an asshole about it."

Harry hurried on, as V raised his wand. "No, look at the rest of it, not just you but _all the dark lords, through time.  Ask yourself WHY ARE THERE STILL MUGGLES?”


"Seriously, feudal tyrants were almost always propelled – deep down - by something fundamental that arose out of evolution – reproductive advantage. Animals – especially males – tend to try to dominate others in order to maximize offspring! Because that’s how the trait of will-to-dominate was passed down to them.

“Indeed, we’re all descended from the harems of guys who grabbed other mens’ women and wheat. Even when you’re sterile and couldn’t care less about procreation, that drive bubbles up in masked ways. Our recent, muggle-enlightenment society has tried – with some success – to break that old, nasty pattern. But look around you at Magical Britain!”

Careful to keep his wand hand still, Harry held up two fingers of his left hand.

“One, the will to dominate is un-attenuated in you, even exaggerated in volcanic displays of preening bluster. You are clearly an heir of the old drive. Dark lords all act like they want all the women and wheat!  And yet… do you see any increased number of offspring?  The present situation is insanely unlikely! Across 10,000 years, magic users would have had their way with muggle women right and left, till the Atlantean genes utterly dominated and there were no more muggles anymore!”

While Voldemort puzzled over this, Harry wondered, thinking furiously. Well? You found a way to distract him. So, while he's fascinated and arguing, is there anything else you can do, meanwhile? He left you holding your wand! The Death Eaters will strike if you lift it, but what about doing something subtle, some kind of transfiguration...

But no.  Voldemort never leaves anything to chance. After he made me take the vow, he could have said "Drop the wand, Potter," and I'd have no choice but to comply. He knows I'll try anything I can think of, and lots of possibilities present themselves...

...but remember how he tricked you into using that gun against him and thus canceling the Riddle Curse! This is more of the same.  He has wards of detection on your wand right now and simply wants to learn from whatever last gambit you'll try against him.

Harry shuddered briefly, envisioning Voldemort empowered with new tricks, say, able to send invisible fibers through an open window, decapitating any foe without warning. Or creating killer-ants out of dirt, or... any of the other clever tricks that Harry had thought-up, over the last year. Stuff that the dark lord must right now be waiting for Harry to teach him.

No, while you try to think of something else, you'd better concentrate on defeating him the best way... with rationality.

“Hah!  Now I have you!” Sneered Lord Voldemort. “ How do you know that’s not what I intend to do, as soon as I have power? Grab all the muggle women! Spreading my seed far and wide!”

Harry laughed. “Bullshit. Excuse my French, but you’ve never shown the slightest interest. You are as sexless as a ten year old. And do you forget that I saw this new body of yours?" Harry smirked but hurried on. "ALL of your efforts have been aimed at preserving one lame consciousness, never at the continuity of Nature, of Darwin, of life.”

“So now you are going all Dumbledore on us?”

“Not at all. I will always fight against death, but I am not a zero-sum fool. I may not have much sex drive, yet. Hey, I really am ten! But I know I’ll want both sex and family, someday. Kids and a posterity.  So who’s the cranky “little child” here Voldie. Me? Or thee?”

“I have been puzzling why you seem bent on provoking –“

“Your frail ego?”

The wand aimed at Harry’s face and he felt power build. But V then lowered it.

“While I ponder why you seem bent on provoking a more hurried death, let me point out that these imbeciles behind you do like sex.”

“Sure, perverted, stereotypical villain sex – cheap, sadistic, melodrama stuff. Now ask yourself how many offspring they have?

“Anyway, you are evading the point of why there are still muggles. And face it, you have no answer. Moreover, you know that’s just one item on a very, very long list, Lordy V.  I could lay out forty or so clues  – including huge ones like the Fermi Paradox and the Interdict of Merlin."

Harry shook his head. “Ah, I see from your face that you are putting it together. Maybe not so stupid, after all?  Yes, the only reason why I am not already dead for insulting your frail ego. Come on, Voldie. Say it. Say the reason why you are still listening to me, right now. Why you are feeling fear.”

“I feel no fear!”

“Then say it!  Say the words.”

Voldemort glared.

“Then I will. You’ve taken my reasoning in context of the PROPHECY that had you so worried, a few minutes ago.

“In fact,” Harry dared to take a step toward Voldemort. As he had expected, most of the Death Eaters were quivering, their wand arms drooping.  One of them emitted a sob. 

“In fact, now that you are putting it all together, you are starting to see how utterly useless and stupid your imposed vow was, as a way to get Harry Potter not to destroy the world.”

“I… no… it can’t be.”

“You know, at first I wondered. Could I be less important in this simulation than I appear to be? After all, characters in a truly advanced simulation would each be programmed to see themselves as vital dramatic players. And so I wondered –“  Harry glanced at the Death Eaters. “Your servants are looking really haggard, Voldie.  One of them may get an itchy trigger finger. I suggest--”

“Lower your wands!  But be ready to raise them at my command!”  All of the Death Eaters obeyed, though three of them sagged to the ground.

“I wondered,” Harry continued, “if the core protagonist might be you, Voldie.”

“Of course…” Voldemort swallowed, then lifted his head, greeting Harry’s gaze fiercely.  “It would have to be me!”

“Hm… normally I’d agree.  In real life, you may be a syphilitic, crotchety 90 year old Thomas Riddle, who dropped some quarters into a holodeck in the year 2050, in order to live the vicarious fantasy of a Dark Lord, before… or maybe after… senility claims him…”

Again, the fell wand aimed and Harry’s scar throbbed.

“Thisss isss real!  I remember everything!”

“Yeah, that Parseltongue thing. Can you really evade realizing what a clue that is?”

He went on, driven partly by anger but mostly by the joy of rationality.

“Anyway, I just said, characters remember what the simulation tells them to remember. Or are you saying that all the powers of Atlantis could not implant false memories in one such as you?”

A low gurgle escaped the mouth of the dark lord, each liquidy pop causing nearby stones to shake. Harry’s scar felt like it would burn through his skull, but he concentrated and managed to meet V’s gaze. Behind him, Death Eaters either collapsed or popped out of existence, fleeing.

Well?  Part of Harry's mind pushed forward.  Now is your chance to do something!  The Death Eaters are neutralized and Voldemort is distracted by rage, perhaps enough to ignore the wards on your wand.  Do something now!

But Harry shook his head slightly. If Voldemort saw all of this as a ploy to distract him, then his weak ego might use that as an excuse to ignore the logical corner he was being boxed-into. No. It must be rationality. All the way to the end.

“Well?  What’s staying your hand, Lordy V?  Could it be that prophecy, again?  It’s got you trapped, doesn’t it. If you kill me, there’s a chance that I am the protagonist! That you’ll stand crowing over the body of the Boy Who Lived, shouting victory… till you see great big letters spelling GAME OVER, shining across the sky. And if THAT is how ‘Harry Potter destroys the world,’ well then, the vow you made me take ain’t worth a bucket of spit. ."

Harry grinned. “I’ll still be the one who wakes up.”

Hate filled Voldemort’s eyes.

“It… would … sssseem… worth … the rissssk.”

Harry shrugged. “So much for the defeater of death. You realize that your horcruxes won’t mean a thing, then?

“And there’s this -- if I decide to play the game again, I’ll beware of all the tricks that worked for you this round! That is, if I don’t decide to move on, to another game. Something with better logic.”

“You are just guessing!”

“Yessssss… but sssincere.  This is a conclusion I was arriving at across the entire year.”

“I don’t have to kill you! I can put you in the worst torment imaginable, in a cell filled with boiling--”

“Really? You think the prophecy can't work its way around that? Do you imagine death is the only way to interrupt a simulation? True, you made me take a vow, or I’d right now be shouting “RESET!” at the top of my lungs. You fixed it so I can’t do that. But are you willing to bet it won’t end anyway, if I suffer enough? Or – even worse – if I ever get bored?”

He took another step toward the tall figure, and their height difference did not seem to matter.

“Frankly, Voldie, now that I’m seeing it all clearly, my boredom with your clich├ęd… silliness… would seem to be the worst danger you have ever faced.”

Harry knew then that it was time to stop talking. Seconds dripped past.

Finally, the Dark Lord said: “If not for the prophecy, I would have laughed at your blatant bluff, no matter how many 'clues' you have sincerely woven together!  The only effect would have been to get you dismembered more slowly.”

Harry responded with a shrug.  He backed away three paces, then looked around.  Five Death Eaters were left standing, though all of them swayed, as if barely holding on.  He turned and walked over to look at Hermione.

Lifting his wand took some effort, overcoming a leaden feeling from V’s threat. But he managed to brandish it properly and murmur: “Ennervate!”

Voldemort did not stop him.  Instead, the Dark Lord asked: “What is it that you want?”



Okay, there you have it. And since writing this, I thought of several more reasons why Voldie would reluctantly conclude the GAME OVER scenario is how HP would "destroy the world." Certainly, obliviating Voildemort is not a fulfilling of the prophecy, since the seer-prophetess Trelwawny (?) would not interpret that as destroying the world, but saving it, exactly as HP saved it ten years earlier.

Drawbacks to my approach: there’s no action at all!  As a novelist, I accept that Eliezer’s published chapter 114 is far more satisfying!  Indeed, because of that, it is probably the correct choice!  There’s violence and tension and trickery and mayhem and loads and loads of magic!

… that seems contrived and does not follow the rules the author himself laid down. (Indeed, EY never answers the question of why V left HP in possession of his WAND! Or why, knowing HP is powerful, he would not put detection wards around HP's wand, to go off at the slightest use of magic.)  But never mind all that. As I said, his version is more dramatic and that matters in a cool story!  Screw "rationality!"  

Still, let's follow my reasoning in a thought experiment. Suppose he had chosen my version, then what would be the aftermath, starting in chapter 115?

Well, there’d be more talk. Harry’s leverage – while strong – is very narrow!  He would have to negotiate very carefully. There'd be four parties to any deal.  Magical Britain, Muggle Humanity, Voldemort and Harry... and all four want/need different things.

Leading to the Big Question for the ultimate rationalist -- Is there a positive sum outcome that all parties might agree-to?

Voldemort wants (1) to be absolutely guaranteed continued life and freedom of action. (2) for there to be no GAME OVER destruction of the world. (3) Excitement that comes from real challenge. (4) Other desires that HP sees as symptomatic of illness... lust for power and some sadism. (5) He will not willingly give up the Philosopher Stone. What Eliezer call’s Voldemort’s Utility Function.

Magical Britain wants (1) Dumbledore back, (2) Security from any more murder rampages by dark lords and their meddling with imperious spells. (3) A cleaning out, at last, of all Death Eaters. 

Muggle humanity wants (1) to continue developing safe from magical interference... though maybe (2) with some very carefully chosen interventions to help a bit. (3) A gradual easing of Magical Britain's combination of secrecy and stupidity.

Harry wants (1) goodness and joy and life and (2) some commitment to a reduction in death. (3) destruction of Azkaban and (4) rubbing Magical Britain's noses in how awful that was and how awful they have been. (5) to continue hunting down the truth about magic, and ... (6) Hermione.

In addition, Harry's vow now makes him as determined as Voldie is, not to get the GAME OVER destruction of the world.  Unless he can mentally envision that the bigger outer world is the one not to be destroyed, in which case the game won’t matter to his vow!  A project for another time and he keeps that possibility secret from V.

What he really wants is some challenges that will distract V long enough for the lunatic to be at least somewhat healed.  There are major possibilities, like searching together for the Atlanean Big Computer.  Or setting up a new academy to compete with Hogwarts.  Potter House versus Riddle House?

The overlap of all those desires should be possible, in a positive sum way.  There is a clever way to do it... if you ask!
It connects many earlier threads.

Hey, I do this for a living.

But enough of that.  It’s not my party, it’s Eliezer’s!!  And a fine one it is. And his climax works much better as FICTION!  As drama!   I am astonished by what he’s accomplished in this series.  And he’s a terrific writer.  And I am glad he will soon be writing stuff he can get paid for.

Still... Indeed, his commitment to "rationality" prompted me to fiddle with it for – well – more than an hour now.  And it is unimportant.  And it is done.

Back to the real novel now.  Carry on, Harry!


Aric said...

I just want to say thank you for introducing me to this wonderful story through your blog almost 5 years ago.

In case you are not aware, readers submitted over 700,000 words of proposed solutions to this puzzle in those 2.5 days! There was an online task force formed to attempt to sort through the reviews and find all unique ideas. See, for example

Anonymous said...

Yeah, no. Your idea is the obvious, cliche, boring one. It was a terrible, stupid idea when Sophie's World did it, and it's no better here.

Partial Transfiguration has been heavily foreshadowed and thoroughly discussed. It was so obviously the sensible solution to this dilemma that the subreddit couldn't believe the riddle was this easy.

Also, your solution would have actually ended with Harry instantly being killed for speaking in English instead of Parselmouth. So there's that.

Please get over yourself. You pretentious clod.

David Brin said...

How sweet. Fortunately, anonymous trolls are their own refutation. Little, little, little person who will not affect the world in any way.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Brin said...

I owe no rebuttal or courtesy to a raging assbite. Limited lifespan to waste on deeply immoral and stupid twits.

Rhaidot said...

Just leaving a positive comment because I can't stand bystander effect.

Even if Mr. Brin solution isn't good for EVERYONE, at least he tried. And hating just because hating is supposedly fun isn't rational at all.

Writing is hard, and it is very satisfying when you do it with no regrets.

TCB said...

I'll take the liberty of copypasting the answer I came up with. Like David Brin's, it's all based on argument, not magic, and mainly meant to buy time and plant reasonable doubt about the prophecy:

Harry regarded the pale, terrible face of Voldemort with breath caught. The situation was impossible, impossible. Failure. Death. An unbroken chain of DNA from the forming of the Earth, Harry could feel his ancestors, survivors all, and here it ended, all his wit, no possible act of volition could change the outcome. Somehow, he felt... peace? To die, to know nothing at all- volition? Harry took a sharp breath now, as if walls were collapsing into the distance, and he could SEE...

“Three probabilitiesss, and a proposal. First: there isss a very tiny probability that the Mirror is not yet finished with us. Perhaps everything has been an illusion, and we yet stand before the mirror. I assign this low probability, and yet, I have just realised the inscription is a simple backwards spelling. noitilov detalo partxe tnere hoc ruoy tu becafruoy ton wo his: I show not your face but your coherent extrapolated volition. Whose volition? Only yours? Mine also, and Dumbledore's perhaps? I only suggest that we may be watching events that are not real or not yet real. In a world with false memory spells, is this not possible? If you kill me, perhaps it will not go as you expect.”

“I'll rissk that trivial chance.”

“Ssecond: there is a good probability that you will really, really need me later, because of the others.” “Fool child, I have defeated all othersss.”

“No. I sspeak of otherss of other worldsss. Alienss! I already showed you a sssimple thing you had overlooked. The moon missionss, the Manhattan project, these required many intelligent people, not one! Even Emperor Voldemort of Earth cannot think of everything. As time passess you must look outward. You know how many other worldss there are! Muggle scientistss say that the ssame physsical lawss apply in all known space from the Big Bang onward. There musst have been many intelligent speciess, and if humanss can create magic, then so could they. And they may be millionsss of yearss ahead of uss! We cannot know what iss needed when we encounter the otherss. Perhaps you will need to know the True Patronusss, and perhapss we can find a way to implant the proper memoriess directly. To learn and teach magic without inefficient, dangerouss-”

“You are ssstalling. But you have made a decent point or two. Third?”

“It is very probable that you are misssinterpreting the prophecy! Conssider again! You may have read of the Drake Equation, and of the many sssentient races that musst have exissted even if we are pesssimisstic, and even if many desstroyed themselves-”

“Yess! Destroyed themselves as you wil desstroy uss all!”

“But! If young Harry Potter could desstroy the very starss, then it is overwhelmingly probable that sssomeone elsse would have done it already! And yet, there they are! Do you not ssee? The probability that I cause this universsal doom when unknown innumerable othersss have not done so is minuscule!”

“The prophecy says this will happen.”

“Doesss it ssay everyone diess?”

“Not explicitly.”

“Perhaps there is something that happens to stars but does not harm the people?”

“And how could that be?”

“There is a concept called a Dyson sphere, in which the bulk of a solar system is used as raw material to

create a habitat far vaster than any planet.”

“Interesting... but still, you could pose an existential risk. It is probably still safer to kill you... what is your proposition?”

“A new Unbreakable Vow, in which we both agree not to desstroy each other unless one of us will bring about the prophecy in a destructive way, and then that one must help destroy himself.”

“You assk ME to include myself in this? Arrogant and foolish to the end, and stupid. How can anyone be certain, in advance, when that condition has been met?”

“Well... exactly how does Comed-Tea work?”

Andy said...

Love HPMOR! Very good stuff.

David I wonder if there might yet be a twist somewhat similar to your solution. Did you notice what the writing on the mirror said?

David Brin said...

Cute stuff TCB! Indeed, Harry ought to mention the Fermi Paradox as one more simulation clue!

Stephen Peterson said...

I didn't think EY's 114 was entirely contrived, as in, we knew about Partial Transfiguration and rational!Harry certainly knows about carbon nanotubes. But...

1) In the canon HP universe, wands seem to be very very precisely manufactured... how would Partial-Transfiguring the tip off a wand affect its magical-conductive capacity?

2) Has anyone in the real world actually used carbon nanotubes in monofilament like that? Or is it still in the materials-science lab testing phase?

One slighly amusing thing about the Brin version of 114 is that... spoilers...







Is exactly the case with Ra, another web series (though wholly original, as far as I know). The reason magic exists is because the world is actually a re-creation of modern-day Earth by far-future humans, using far-future technology way scarier than the incantation "magic" used by the unwitting Earthlings. Both HPMoR and Ra are great in their own ways, but Ra is shorter and finally concluded!

Tacitus2 said...

On a tip from C.Brin I did binge read the first part of the Yudowsky Potter thing. Great promise, wonderful concept. Alas, I thought it quickly stalled out and I lost interest.

The Harry Potter universe is/was a great concept. Two, maybe three solid books there. But when J.K. got the mega contract and seems to have started writing "by the pound" all sorts of literary "bloatware" crept in. Trying to make sense of it was no longer worthwhile.

Still for all that it is a wonderful age for some kinds of homebrew entertainment. Big thanks for the suggestion - probably from our much missed Robert - that has me reading Girl Genius regularly. I also suggest StandStillStaySilent for those who have not found it yet.


Steven said...

I didn't think EY's 114 was entirely contrived, as in, we knew about Partial Transfiguration and rational!Harry certainly knows about carbon nanotubes.

And, of course, the three first lines of fiction in Chapter 1, since day one, have been:

Beneath the moonlight glints a tiny fragment of silver, a fraction of a line...

(black robes, falling)

...blood spills out in litres, and someone screams a word.

Which mostly makes me wonder what Brin means by "hardly foreshadowed".

1) First three lines of the story depict its ultimate use.
2) Transfiguration was one of the few forms of magic extensively developed by EY from the rudiments given in canon.
3) Partial Transfiguration is explicitly called out by Dumbledore as one the Dark Lord knows not.
4) Harry uses the power in both previous major crises, both in the escape from Azkaban and on the troll that killed Hermione.

"Hardly foreshadowed"?

Alex Davies said...

I agree with anon, although they could have been a lot more polite about it.

Frankly, both endings are not great. A few days before this chapter went up I posted this

Hmm. Use it to kill everyone somehow? The answer "Transfigure everyone presents spinal fluid into francium" seems a bit silly. If the answer is "Use my magic to kill everyone" I'll be suprised, and anything that is fast enough to work in this situation would be pretty deus-ex-machina-ey.

EY has presumably already written this, and it has a lot of parrelels to the AI box experement. Evidence that the solution is going to be talking and not much else. Knowing that you're saying the truth should be considered and advantage (and truth is one of the assumption made in the AI box game).

So you can see I'm sympathetic to the cause. But this chapter would have been worse.

The "it's all a simulation" answer has been foreshadowed against a few times, including some reference to time travel not being np-complete.

Honestly it just seems like a lazy way to complete it. Simulation hasn't been a central theme, and you can use it to get out of just about any problem if you're willing to deus-ex it into your story.

Everyone who reads hpmor is going to be familiar with that set of concepts, and it's such an obvious way to get out of any pits the author has dug himself into. It's boring.

roystgnr said...

So, number 4 from the Stories We've Seen Too Often list?

I know, that plot won a Hugo recently. I still hope it doesn't become popular again.

PJE said...

In addition to the epigraph foreshadowing, and the fact that nanotube transfiguration against tension was shown (lifting heavy weights with them!), it was recently stated that Harry had learned shaped transfiguration, and that he'd noticed his wand's magic was resilient against small losses of wood. So it might not have been foreshadowed *well*, but it was definitely foreshadowed.

Chapter 1 is five years old, and some of the other relevant scenes (Harry and Hermione experimenting with nanotubes) are almost as old. And that two key abilities (shaping, loss of wood) were just mentioned in passing, rather than *shown*, well, I think that's perhaps a legitimate criticism. There's a lot of telling that should be showing in HPMOR, but if more of it were shown, it'd be an even longer work than it already is.

David Brin said...

Look, I know simulation is a hoary cliche and rage-inducing... and that is one of several reasons EY doubtless avoided it. Still, it is the likely distracting dialogue that Harry would have used to distract V and do the transfiguration.

And it truly is the only explanation for the rather contrived nature of the entire HP universe. AND for the Prophecy that has V obsessed. EY's version of 114 simply brushes the prophecy aside. V's Obliviation would not send the see/prophetess into a tizzy!

But then, is no one out there objecting to the problem of the WAND?

First Harry falls for V's trap, ignoring that fact that V lets him have his POUCH in an obvious ploy to tempt HP int grabbing and shooting his gun.

Now V leaves HP holding his WAND????

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Clearly, V lets Harry keep the wand for a reason... which neither EY not I follow up on. For me to ignore it is fine. For EY? Not so good. We are never told the reason and HP would suspect a trap.

And it would be a trap! Are you honestly saying Voldemort would leave his worst enemy with wand-in-hand, without placing wards to detect if the wand is being used?

Sorry. That's a gaping hole.

Jake said...

There were lots of people objecting to the wand in the subreddit. Eliezer's response to that was that, although Voldemort let Harry keep the glasses, no one objected to that (and presumably, lots of people would have objected if the glasses had been part of the solution). Voldemort didn't know about partial transfiguration, he didn't expect Harry to be able to do anything with his wand.

Aside from transfiguration, all wandless, wordless magic is far beyond what a first year student could achieve.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Harry didn't fool Voldemort the first time, he planned for Harry to do that.

David Brin said...

Jake you utterly failed to understand the "fool me once" reference. Try flipping it and you'll see my point.

And no. Unless V was planning another trick like the gun, he would not have left HP with the wand and if he did, there would have been a war detector on it.

Jake said...

Uh, yeah, sorry, I did fail to understand that.

I'm not quite satisfied with Harry keeping the wand myself, but I did want to mention what I read Eliezer say about it.

David Brin said...

Jake sorry for the word "utterly." It was a minor point, after all.

roystgnr said...

I'm ready to be proven wrong in the next few chapters, but I'd assume that prophecies are a "side effect" of some way-longer-that-six-hours stable time loop. "HE IS COMING ETCETERA" gets generated the same way "DO NOT MESS WITH TIME" does. No simulation hypothesis needed.

Leaving Harry with a wand was very objectionable, though. An ordinary supervillain might be unprepared for unknown unknowns, but Lord "snipping the threads of destiny" Voldemort should have realized that removing tools is a thread-cut that should precede removing limbs (or even stunning).

The Vow was an excellent excuse for leaving Harry with his wand, but not after the Vow was done, not without at least some uninvited distraction.

David Brin said...

roystgnr perhaps re the prophecy, but not the other clues that I mention. And there really are maybe rorty more!

Brian said...

I (publicly) predicted that the ending would involve Aumann's agreement theorem and mostly talking, and wondered if that would be a good story. But I predicted a lot of wrong things. Oh well, there were surprisingly many reasonable solutions...

TCB said...

Incidentally, the HPMOR fans do seem to have come up with some variant of every reasonable solution...

and just the other day there was this nice article on crowds making better predictions than any individual!

Anonymous said...

"So who’s the cranky 'little child' here Voldie. Me? Or thee?”

Immediately after reading that line I imagined Harry proceeding to sing "Baby Got Back" in parseltongue.

(river song)I hate you.(/river song)

David Brin said...

Clearly a VERY different, whimsical and friendly-teasing "anonymous" poster than our last (nasty) one!

David Brin said...

A very interesting riff relates Eliezer's Harry Potter gambit to his famous challenge having to do with an "AI locked in a box."

This writer expected (as I did) that Eliezer would choose for chapter 114 an escape scenario in which HP TALKS his way out of the trap he is in, using the Methods of Rationality. That was the basis for my own contribution.

Alas, the one EY chose focused on a Magic Trick, having nothing whatsoever to do with the AI in a box problem. As I've said repeatedly, the chosen scenario is better fiction! More dramatic and fun!

But it breaks all of his rules.

Herm said...

EY did say in the subreddit that V left Harry his wand because it was required for the Unbreakable Vow procedure; up to that point I accept his explanation. I'm not sure Vows work that way in canon, so it's possible EY actually changed how they work in order to give Harry his wand at that point. Forgivable massage of the storyline. Up to the end of the Vow-taking procedure.

However, afterwards... not having a minion remove Harry's wand from his hand is unforgivably stupid. I think EY intended that to show Voldy's overconfidence, but he constructed his Voldy be too cynical and humble for that to be entirely believable.

Herm said...

P.S. I'm tickled pink when writers I love read each other's works. /fanboyism

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Voldie had his death eater's all pointing at Harry under the instruction to kill him in many ways if he moved. V was also asking H to reveal some magical secrets, powers which H knew, but V knew not, it would be quite inconvenient to disarm him (heh) and then have to give back the wand every time H needed it to show V a new spell or trick.

As EY put it, if the glasses had been the key to H's success, you'd be saying, "Why didn't he take the glasses from him?"

The thin line, robes falling with liters of blood spilling has been foreshadowed since the FIRST post, with H finding his ability to Partially Transfigure and transfigure carbon nanotubes throughout the story. It'd also be safe to say his ability to transfigure things has grown quite a bit since he first learned it.

You adhered to your own assessment of how H should deal with V, based on the similarity to the AI in the box problem. A decent idea, but there are always going to be alternative to speech that a person backed into a corner might think of. Such is the problem when using characters in a story to try to gain insight on an allegorical problem.

Speech is a boring solution if it isn't written in a compelling way, which your's was not. Your ego may lead you to believe otherwise, but I digress.

Of all the proposed solutions that weren't used, this one may be the most entertaining;

Soak it up, maybe it'll give you an idea of how something as epic as HPMOR was desired to have ended. Desired by the actual fans of the story anyway, though general consensus is that the canon solution is acceptable provides some loose ends are tied up.

As a personal aside, responding to your criticisms in the manner in which you have choosen, elevates neither yourself, nor anyone reading this silly blog post.

David Brin said...

I started reading this anonymous troll's missive with interest because (1) this time it contained some actual content and (2) you could FEEL the aggression and hostility building and building, with every sentence. The seething need to defend a man he'll never meet (my pall Eliezer) from the dastardly crime I committed, of actually answering Eliezer's idea-challenge with - eeek -- a friendly and content rich answer of my own!

How horrible! Call up the testosterone! Damp DOWN those neurons!

There are many levels on which I could answer... e.g. if Eliezer knew exactly how it would end, from day one, what was the purpose of this "challenge" and why isn't the poster angry at THAT?

Or the fact that an intellectual exercise should be cause for CURIOSITY... our greatest human gift. Yet, amid his rage to defend Eliezer -- (who needs no defense by a putz) -- our visitor shows ZERO interest in even one of the solid intellectual points raised in my version of 114. A man of intellect would have weighed them And shown how they are answered, elsewhere.

Or the stunning hyprocrisy of an anonymous coward who began every nastiness in this exchange actually lecturing me about courtesy... because his own widdle feewings got hurt when I fired back...

Why am I not ignoring the twit? Because he so perfectly illustrates the syndrome. The rest of you might be edified by a careful dissection of his emotional arc, here.

It reveals the problem we face with fragile beta-minuses whose easily bruised egos combine with the supposed (delusionary) anonymity of Net-boards to give them a very fragile sense of preening equality.

David Brin said...

Oh, speaking of beta-minuses, I just received a pdf version of a "book" by a major dope who I used to know and put up with at singularity gatherings, whose tome is one long screed in favor of "neo-feudalism." a denunciation of democracy and every other enlightenment process. How does he answer the fact that 99% of human progress, science, technology, and fun has happened under the enlightenment?

"That's just a coincidence."

The core trip is that democracy etc are based upon ENFORCED COOPERATION and flattening of differences in ability among humans, creating the effect that Kurt Vonnegut well-satirized in his great story "Harrison Bergeron" and Ayn Rand, less well, in "Anthem."

This is what amazes me most about human nature. That bright fools... people who can read and who went to college etc... are capable of achieving the miracle of OPPOSITE DELUSION. That they can declare a premise and then pile acres of anecdotal "evidence" and twisted misquotations to show that black is actually white and day is actually night. What an amazing species we are!

In this case, the fellow pushed the lie that enlightenment systems are about enforced sameness and cooperation... despite the fact that they are all about MAXIMIZED EFFECTIVE COMPETITION.

Yes flattening happens... in order to eliminate the inherited-wealth CHEATING that was the main feature of all feudal societies, in which the chief aim of lords and priests was to eliminate any possibility of competition ever rising from the lower orders.

By flattening things just enough so that the sons and daughters of the elites still have to work for a living... and spending to uplift the daughters and sons of the poor so they are not trapped by nutrient poor brains and lack of educations... we MAXIMIZE THE NUMBER OF SKILLED AND COMPETENT AND READY AND CONFIDENT COMPETITORS.

This is exactly what Adam Smith called for... and the economist supposedly loved by the right, F. Hayek called for it, too!.

The world decried by Vonnegut and Rand is possible! Socialism is a possible failure mode in which leveling goes too far and the state equalizes OUTCOMES, rather than OPPORTUNITIES. We need to be wary vs the lefty flakes who want that, and who denounce the very word "competition."

But far more dangerous are those on the other side, who pretend to love the cornucopia that competition produces, while ignoring the vast amount of regulation that keeps our competitive markets, democracy, science, courts and sports flat-open and FAIR.

No, I will not mention this fellow's name. It is enough that you have the syndrome in mind. Somethimes the "Opposite Delusion" is purposely spread by "think tanks" like AEI and Heritage and the communist party. But far more often it is the product of insipid beta-minus twits.

Ingrates who have lived their lives wallowing in comforts provided by a gentle enlightenment they despise and would tear down, on the assumption they would then be Top Dogs!

More likely someone's bitch. Even more likely. Kibble.

Anonymous said...

If you were wondering why I didn't address any of your, "solid intellectual points", it would be due to the fact that your version was no more intelligent than the solution the proposed that Harry was in a book and has now become self aware.

Honestly, if there's hostility building and building, it seems to come from your end.

In your acerbic style of replying, you made no attempts to do anything other than unleash a massive amount of ad hominem at my criticism (and the criticism of others).

If this wasn't posted to reddit, know one would have bothered reading it, much like anything you wrote after The Postman.

But hey, have fun being a 64 yr old who calls people cowards over the internet.

David Brin said...

Good lord. What a person. Learn from this, guys. An anonymous coward enters someone else's space, launches personal attacks, then whimpers and whines, when treated with deserved contempt...

What a baby.


David Brin said...

PS fellah. The utter delusion that you did not start the ad hominem - or that an anonymous drive-by shooter can call someone else a "coward" deeply worries me. You... you're serious? Really? You are that warped?

That means there are no limits to your... oh...

Please accept my humble apologies. I retract everything. Please turn your attention elsewhere now. Nothing to keep it turned here.

Please. Sir.

Paul451 said...

"As EY put it, if the glasses had been the key to H's success, you'd be saying, "Why didn't he take the glasses from him?""

Well that's just stupid.

The villain in the movie leaves the hero his handgun. Everyone complains it's unrealistic, director responds: "Well if he'd used his watch you'd be complaining about that." Uh, no. That would be a clever unexpected solution.

Jiro said...

If you're properly taking precautions, "I know he won't be able to harm me with X" does not mean you should let him have X. Whether you should let him have X depends on how wrong you have to be before X becomes dangerous. If X is a weapon that you think he can't use, the mistake you have to make for him to be dangerous is a lot smaller than the mistake you have to make than if X is a non-weapon that you think he can't use as a weapon.

Quintopia said...

I agree with others that the intended solution was foreshadowed... So well that it was the first thing most of us came up with. Hence, it could have been much better.

However, I don't think anyone here has tried to address the problem of the prophecy. EY strongly hinted on the subreddit that the prophecy was not about Voldie at all. "born to those that have thrice defied him" fits with DEATH much better than with Voldemort. Namely, he was born of the Peverell lineage, of the brothers who created three magical artifacts to oppose and defy death. Thus, Harry will one day destroy all but a remnant of DEATH! And he has already begun, with the construction of the Peverell Family Hospital.