Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Methods Two: Electric Bugaloo

Aand, we're back.

Chapter 2: Everything I Believe Is False

Including that belief?

Anyway, we start with "#include "stddisclaimer.h"". Because Yudkowsky can write code, and we've got to know it!

We start for real with another unrelated tidbit. Wait, are these supposed to be quotes? If so, they're really random, because at least the one from last chapter didn't have anything to do with the chapter's events, or indeed, anything that's ever happened in the fic.

After this bit of pointlessness, we cut to Harry adjudicating between his parents on the conditions of the experiment. It's not said at first, but in order to make my recap of the scene more consistent I'll give away that McGonagall is there. She has agreed to levitate Prof. Dawkins, to prove to him magic is real. Harry is trying to set up the conditions of the experiment, so that there will be no loopholes the losing advocate can claim to preserve his position. So, Dawkins cannot claim that he was being raised by invisible wires, while Petunia cannot claim that magic does not work on 'unbelievers'.

This... is actually pretty good, though once again, it goes against what he stated earlier, that "the only rule is that the final arbiter is observation." Clearly, that is not the case, otherwise we wouldn't need these sorts of pre-experience condition setting. I reiterate: what is being taught here is an important lesson, it's only too bad the author undermines it at every turn. I would have placed a greater emphasis on falsifiability, to show how the experience is directed at, and by, the theoretical constructs that it seeks to test - it doesn't exist in a vacuum of unbiased, neutral observation.

McGonagall watches the proceedings indulgently, before finally asking whether Harry is quite finished. He replies that nothing he does will probably be enough, but he's given it due diligence, and gives her the go signal.

She complies, performing the charm that lifts Dawkins two feet into the air.

Everyone seems rather nonplussed when this works, including Dawkins, who quickly tells her to put him down.

Harry voices the feelings of readers everywhere by noting that was rather anticlimatic. Of course, there was no reason for it to be; Harry thinks that the reason he felt to nonchalant about the whole thing was because in his heart of hearts, he already believed magic to be true, but I find this a little implausible. There is a difference between intellectually believing something to be possible and actually experiencing it; I bet the Wright brothers were still pretty damn amazed when their plane actually flew, regardless of the fact that they knew it probably would.

He then says one of those lines that really must be repeated:

"You'd think there'd be some kind of more dramatic mental event associated with executing a Bayesian update on an observation of infinitesimal probability[.]"

First, what does this have to do with what happened? For those not in the know, Bayesian updating is taking the initial probabilities of an event, throw in another one, and calculate the probabilities of the former knowing given that we know the latter happens. Yudkowsky makes this sound really arcane, despite the fact that I learned how to do it in 12th grade; some of you readers may have done it earlier.

But the point is, what update is he doing. He is not considering the probability of another event - the only event that was being talked about was his dad floating. He's already seen it, so what is this "observation of infinitesimal probability" he's talking about? It may be that it's implied somewhere and I'm just too dumb to see it, but I don't think the text makes it clear at all. Maybe there is some sort of use of Bayesian updating I'm not familiar with, but that just makes the following point more relevant.

Second, there is no point in couching this in deliberately arcane language to make it sound impressive to the hoi polloi, except to showcase how brilliant Yudkowsky thinks he is. This is made all the more clear when everyone looks at Harry with, and I quote, "that look". He cuts off his impromptu lecture and sums it up for the uninitiated, "I mean, with finding out that everything I believe is false[,]" which is not only not true (I'd wager at least a majority of the things he believes, such as that he lives in... wherever the hell it is he lives anyway, he has no reason to doubt), but has nothing to do with the jargon used earlier.

The feeling of anticlimax becomes more understandable, though, when Harry thinks that he expected his brain to be discarding the hypotheses it had about the universe, which of course conflicted with the possibility of magic levitation. If that was what he was expecting, then I don't blame him for finding it anticlimactic - I think it would take time for a person's worldview to perform such a tectonic shift, and to be honest I have no idea why he would expect it to be otherwise.

He's starting to wonder what to do next when McGonagall finally segues into asking him if he needs any further demonstration. Harry protests he doesn't need it, since they already did one experiment (replication? what's that?). However, his curiosity wins out over his notions of rigueur, and he prods McG to show them another trick.

Of course, she turns into a cat, and this is described by writing just that. It's seriously unbelievable, the deadpan way in which this is described, just like he had written - 'she took out the trash'. Even the pureblood kids, who had been surrounded by magic all their lives, were impressed by this when she did it in her class in PoA. And to his credit, Harry does stumble backward and performs some slapstick routine, but there is no description of what he's experiencing, so the whole thing feels out of place. Indeed, one of the biggest problems through the entirety of this fic is how bipolar it seems, especially because the moods it conveys seem so inappropriate at times considering what is happening. But I am getting ahead of myself here. We'll see a lot of this later on anyway, much more flagrantly.

McGonagall apologizes for startling him, though in her way, she seems smugly satisfied at doing so.

Then, we are informed that Harry was "Harry was breathing in short pants.". I have to admit, I spend a bit trying to figure out why he was breathing a piece of clothing, before I realized this meant to convey he was panting. The phrasing seems awkward to me, but perhaps it's just because I'm not a native speaker, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt here.

Harry goes from emotional detachment to sounding like someone suffering from a panic attack, protesting at McG, in a choked voice, that she just can't do that. Now this seems more plausible, but just leaves us wondering why it didn't happen before. What's so different about now?

McGonagall says it's all child's play for her, but Harry just blazes ahead with a lecture about how it violates conservation of energy, and by implication quantum mechanics and general relativity, since it allows for FTL (written like this, presumably 'spoken' like this also) signaling. Like I said, I haven't had physics since the 9th grade, so I'll take Yudkowsky's word for all this. Harry also expresses puzzlement at being able to replicate all of a cat's [biological] complexity, and going on thinking with the brain of a cat.

Now, doesn't floating unaided also break tons of laws of physics? Granted, the wider implications may be smaller, but still, it's a difference of degree, not kind, so why didn't all this come out earlier? And why wasn't there a description of Harry feeling the enormity of this, rather than the deadpan "[she] turned into a cat[?]"

McGonagall, getting even smugger, says it's just magic, to which Harry protests that magic isn't enough for that - she'd have to be a god. This doesn't make a lot of sense to me. God appears with a small g, so I take it Harry is referring to the limited gods of, say, Greek religion. But if he is, once again, it's kind of hard to draw a line. Transfiguration, even self transfiguration, is one of the most prevalent abilities of wizards in folklore, and believers in those religions could tell them apart from the gods well enough. One might perhaps say that, once again, gods are just more powerful than humans, even human wizards, in this type of theology, and that does seem to be a difference of degree like what Harry has in mind here, but it wasn't really thought that transfiguration was this type of divine ability (I welcome readers to prove me wrong with the ancient religion of the natives of some obscure pacific island), so why draw the line here? Gods were also probably distinguished more by the positions of responsibility they held, in governing the universe, but that seems inapposite here. Also, gods were still held to some sort of external higher law - if that is what Harry has in mind here, when he says wizards shouldn't be able to do it because of all those physics related things, then being gods would not necessarily get them out of the pickle.

If, on the other hand, he has in mind the all-powerful, transcendent God of Abrahamic religions, then this seems a really inappropriate comparison. Having created the universe and established its laws to begin with, and having the perfect knowledge of everything that ever was, is or will be, is completely above creation and different in kind, and obviously free to work above the laws He created, but by definition He's only One, so He wouldn't be proposing to teach Harry how to turn into a cat, and wouldn't be performing tricks like that in the first place, for no discernible purpose.

Either way, McG does some faux modesty act, and Harry goes through some sort of weird rhapsodic flashback through the history of western civilization, at least as it pertains to scientific discoveries, which he sees as being thrown out because a woman turned into a cat. I really don't see how this is so - most of the physics still apply, in the specific circumstances where magic is not involved, kind of like how classical mechanics still apply at high dimensions and low speeds. All you'd need is a general theory for where magic is involved. Sure, this is easier said than done, but my point is that you wouldn't need to trash everything else. Not to mention, social sciences would go on more or less undisturbed, but I guess he does not consider them sciences, so that's that.

There's also an hilarious attempt to tack on identity theory, which is a specific philosophy of mind, a subtype of physicalism, to be more precise, and pass it off as one of the scientific theories magic discards. I'll quote:

"[T]he mind was the brain and the brain was made of neurons and if you damaged the brain the mind lost the corresponding ability, destroy the hippocampus and the person lost the ability to form new memories, a brain was what a person was[.]"

The level of gamesmanship present here would be impressive if it wasn't so disgusting. The subtlety of inserting this at the end of a string of bona fide scientific theories, to give the impression that this philosophical position is science, and therefore completely objective and true, unlike philosophy, is incredible. It's because of these things that I write this blog. This may seem just like an inoffensive fic, but it's plainly an indoctrination tool, sending these subliminal messages to drag uninformed people, who don't know any better, into the author's worldview.

There is nothing wrong with doing philosophy of mind - it's a subject I happen to enjoy - but there is something wrong about dressing a particular position as science and using the moniker as a battering ram against the opposition.

Besides, I thought Yudkowsky's crew were all functionalists, anyway.

Harry randomly segues into the incantation for the levitation charm, which he finds childish. McGonagall tartly replies that if he wants to find out more, he must sign up for Hogwarts.

Harry rhapsodizes some more about ancient Greek philosophers who knew nothing, but started questioning things (oh, the irony), and fancies himself some "rationalist" Saint George, ready to "face the dragon Unknown and slay it." I kid you not, that's what he says. This drives him to finally steeling himself and asking how to get to Hogwarts.

McGonagall laughs at his abrupt change of demeanor, but Dawkins intervenes. He questions if Harry should really be attending a boarding school, magic notwithstanding, given his "medical condition."

This is of course him having a 26 hour sleep cycle, but I prefer to call it Plot's Disease, since it is only there to move the plot along, as we'll see later.

Harry explains to McG that this is the reason why he's not attending a normal school, but his mother interjects, saying that's only one of the reasons.

McGonagall basically tells them she'll get back to them on the sleep issue, before inquiring about those other reasons.

Harry then delivers a lecture about how he objects to compulsory education and public schooling. I would harp on this, but I really agree with it, even if not with the sanctimonious way it is presented. The one size fits all public education system is really a huge disaster that fails children who for some reason don't conform to the norm and rewards mediocrity. For a primer on this, check out David Friedman's essay, The Weak Case for Public Schooling. This is just my opinion, of course, and I really doubt a lot of people who aren't already libertarians/economic conservatives will agree with me, or change their minds after reading that essay. The only reason I'm mentioning this is to explain why I'm not harping more on the substance of this. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, but let's try to keep political discussions out of the comments, please.

That said, given that Harry's father teaches at Oxford, which is a state university, I don't see why he should be so merry when he notes that that explains why Harry bit his third grade teacher, for not knowing what a logarithm was. Now leaving aside the sheer implausibility of this - I learned about logarithms in high school, there is no reason a school teacher, even primary school, would not know about them. The blasé way everybody - at least Harry's family - acts about this, suggests a rather disturbing attitude towards people who happen to know less. Sure, they pay lip service to the idea that it was wrong - well, actually, all they really say was that it was immature, not even wrong - to do it, but they don't seem very concerned about these random acts of violence.

After they tease him a bit, Harry turns to McG and commiserates with her, which is so hilarious it makes Petunia run out the door into the front porch, screaming with laughter[!]. This is really beyond belief, and I have to wonder if Yudkowsky is ever around real people; if he is, and they behave this way, well, let's just say the genesis of this story becomes a lot more understandable.

McGonnagal apparently also has trouble controlling her mirth, but manages to let out that he won't be doing any biting in Hogwarts, if knows what's good for him.

Harry agrees, but reserves the right to bite anyone who doesn't bite him first, after which Dawkins also runs out of the room, laughing like a maniac! I have to wonder, do they think something will happen to them if they laugh inside the house? In front of a witch? What? Why are they behaving like this? Does Yudkowsky really think this is normal human behavior? EXPLAIN FIC! EXPLAIN!

Anyway, McG tells Harry that she will delay taking him to buy his school supplies until a couple of days before the departure to Hogwarts. He protests, but she just tells him she basically thinks he's too curious and questioning to be let alone with his magic textbooks and a wand for two months. Even his defects are qualities. What do you usually call a character like this?

Apparently, his parents have returned (it was
mentioned Dawkins had only left the room briefly, but nothing was said about Petunia), and they nod in agreement. Harry protests in what I guess is supposed to be an endearing manner, and with this our chapter comes to an end.

This one is almost perfect microcosm of what is wrong with this fic. We have characters acting sanctimonious and browbeating the reader with their superior wisdom, attempts at brainwashing the reader with propaganda disguised as neutral exposition, characters acting in ways no sane human being would act, and "humor" that is not funny at all. The little good bit about setting conditions prior to experiments really is too little to be able to redeem it.

Rating: BAD


  1. I'm curious now, did you imply you are opposed to the idea that mind is what brain is/does? If so, you really shouldn't blame Yudkowsky for advocating less magical and more scientific view, even if you happen to disagree with it.

    Also, you should note that science as personal search for the truth and as a social institution are quite different things. The fic doesn't explicitly distinguish the two, but if you bother noting the altered mindset, you should also note the difference in the goals and circumstances.

    Bayesian updating taking place was Harry updating his posterior probability estimates based on observation/evidence "My dad is floating with no obvious physical cause". Prior probability of observing something like this should be infinitesimal, and this observation is much entangled with underlying structure of reality.

  2. "I'm curious now, did you imply you are opposed to the idea that mind is what brain is/does? If so, you really shouldn't blame Yudkowsky for advocating less magical and more scientific view, even if you happen to disagree with it."

    It really is amazing, how I specifically went out of my way not to say anything about my substantive position on philosophy of min, or the merits of the identity theory itself, and someone still manages to construe this as an argument against it, and for whatever belief it is they attribute me.

    All I said was that that was not properly science. Science is not the only source of knowledge, so my saying it is not a scientific theory, which was all I said, is not making an argument either way as to identity theory's veracity.

    However, I have to note that this is the result of this subcultural belief that knowledge can only come from science, which really stems from the disdain for philosophy and other non-hard-science fields. That is what leads to this sort of perverse miscomunication.

    You cannot derive the belief that the external world exists from science, or that there are other minds, or that the world wasn't created five minutes ago with an appearance of age. And yet, these are all not only perfectly reasonable (indeed, rational) propositions to believe, but are actually things science must presuppose in order to begin to be coherent.

    So do not frame what I say on the basis of this bogus epistemology. I'll plead the fifth on the question regarding by own philosophy of mind position, but my argument was solely about the form, not the substance, of this. I'll just note that you're presenting a false dillema. There are many more options in philosophy of mind than identity theory and cartesian dualism.

    Also, while some people in DLP feel that any science related theme in Harry Potter is a no-no because it destroys the fantasy element, I'm not one of them, and that has never been my complaint about this fic.

    Also, you should note that science as personal search for the truth and as a social institution are quite different things. The fic doesn't explicitly distinguish the two, but if you bother noting the altered mindset, you should also note the difference in the goals and circumstances.

    Even allowing that you can legitimately call a "personal search for the truth" science and still have that word retain any meaning, the problem is that the fic does way more than "[not] explicitly distinguish the two[.]" It actively misinforms and obfuscates so as to conflate them, in order to propagandize the reader into adhering to a dubious epistemology without even realizing it or consider the arguments in a full and fair manner.

    Bayesian updating taking place was Harry updating his posterior probability estimates based on observation/evidence "My dad is floating with no obvious physical cause". Prior probability of observing something like this should be infinitesimal, and this observation is much entangled with underlying structure of reality.

    So he updates the probability of someone being able to float with no physical cause by observing someone floating with no physical cause. I guess the probability was updated to one then.

  3. This seems like a much more reasonable critique than your previous chapter. However it suffers from a number of flaws.

    Your criticism of Harry's remark about a Bayesian update didn't sound at all arcane to me, and I don't see at all why you think that Eliezer meant it to sound that way. Maybe he wanted it to sound interesting to people who don't know what he's talking about and so would go and look it up (after all, part of Eliezer's point is that the methods of science and rationality aren't arcane but rather quite accessible). The relevant data point in this context that was of very low probability is seeing his father float. The updated hypothesis is the probability that magic is real. At least, that seemed clear when I read it. I'm not sure why this seemed unclear.

    Moving on, your criticism of the claims Harry makes about the nature of the mind are without much basis. While there may be a a blurry boundary between cogsci and philosophy of mind, it is quite clear that a) destroying sections of the brain does result in corresponding damage to sections of the mind b) the example Harry gives with the hippocampus is a very well established one. Given that, most forms of mental dualism fail completely. Whether HJPEV is a functionalist or not (or for that matter whether Eliezer or "Yudkowsky's crew" are functionalists) doesn't directly impact what Harry is saying. This is aside from the issue

    Now leaving aside the sheer implausibility of this - I learned about logarithms in high school, there is no reason a school teacher, even primary school, would not know about them.

    Ok. If we lived in a good world this would be true. Let me be very clear: This may seem implausible to you but it is very much the state of affairs. I work during the summers in a program that teaches number theory to highschool and middle school teachers, and every year we have a handful of teachers who don't know how to use logs. And yes, sometimes they don't even know what they are. That an elemntary school teacher wouldn't know about it is unfortunately plausible and indeed probably common.

    This one is almost perfect microcosm of what is wrong with this fic. We have characters acting sanctimonious and browbeating the reader with their superior wisdom, attempts at brainwashing the reader with propaganda disguised as neutral exposition,

    The narration is from Harry's perspective so I don't see what the issue is here. I have to wonder if when you read books by say Brandon Sanderson who has chapters told from the perspectives of many different characters, you think that the author's moral system is coming through when the villainous chapters take for granted that might makes right or the like.

    characters acting in ways no sane human being would act

    This seems like your best criticism. Characters don't act this way. People don't leave a room like that. More focus on this issue would make sense.

  4. > "You cannot derive the belief that the external world exists from science, or that there are other minds, or that the world wasn't created five minutes ago with an appearance of age. And yet, these are all not only perfectly reasonable (indeed, rational) propositions to believe, but are actually things science must presuppose in order to begin to be coherent. "

    Huh? Jaynes did fine with deriving those from 3 basic desirata to probabilities in his book "Probability theory - the logic of science". Yudkowsky seems to acknowledge that science can be something larger than just people hanging in labs with labcoats. It's probably something very much like "figuring out what the world is really like", not a totally alien way to interpret the word "science". Mentally replace the word "science" with "systematic approach to understand what the world is really like", if that helps?

    > "So he updates the probability of someone being able to float with no physical cause by observing someone floating with no physical cause. I guess the probability was updated to one then."

    Nope. He updates posterior probability of statements like "world is in accordance to special relativity in low speeds", "elves don't exist" and such, based on the observation "man was lifted with no physical cause". If you happen to know Bayesian probabilities, you'd understand that very very few theories actually predict something this weird happening, and most of those are quite lunatic-sounding, thus making the updating process no doubt quite weird and counter-intuitive experience.

    Of course, prior probability of these statements that predict someone rising in the air spontaneously is very very low, much lower than, say, "i'm hallucinating", but luckily Bayes takes this into account.

  5. You know, writing a hate blog can't be that hard. Surely, there are valid reasons to criticise MoR and if you sticked to those and were careful you could probably pull it off without sounding like an utterly contemptible git.

    But you're trying too hard. You set your mind to criticize the story and of course all sorts of complaints come to your head. And instead of sifting through them, picking those most germane and building your case around them, you can't resist including every single one. After all, the object of your railings is pure evil so anything bad you say about it will sound convincing, right? Right?

    So, let's see, you start the review of chapter one by ranting about the disclaimer. The bloody disclaimer. It's not written according to the Holy Rules of Disclaimer Composition. Apparently it is a piece of obnoxious open-source propaganda. And also, ironically, a claim by Yudkowsky that he considers methods of rationality to be patentable. Which you gloriously disprove by invoking the machine-or-transformation test. Wow, you showed him, for sure. Now, some people might think that the disclaimer was just a harmless joke, the sort of thing people say just to be fanciful, but you know better with your unparalleled skill at unraveling insidious subliminal mind-control messages of arrogant open-source nerds. You told the sheeple to wake up and it was glorious.

    So, with the disclaimer out of the way, we can get to reading the review of the actual story, right? Well, no, first we are treated to a incisive, scathing review of an author note. I'm sure Yudkowsky is considering moving to Latin America and spending the rest of his life in hiding after living through the embarassment of having both his disclaimer and his author note completely demolished.

    And finally we get to the story proper. There are some criticisms of the story. Valid as they might be, this is not about criticisms. This is about complete insanity masquerading itself as sophistication. So, we get to learn that describing your characters means that you're trying to show off how considerate you are to women, on the Internet. And then we learn that describing the reality of those characters means you are sexist. So far, so good. We are told that by referencing Feynman you annoint him as the ultimate authority on everything. There is a lot of inane nitpicking and not a whole lot of rejoicing. And finally the horror ends but we're told that it is a mere beginning of a wonderful journey through the land of the pretentious.

    And the comes the review of the second chapter. Surely, Mordac must have warmed up with the previous one and is ready to deliver some serious critical ass-kicking. So, let's see, the title of the second chapter is "Everything I Believe Is False". The first sentence of the review is "Including that belief?". Wow. Slow down Mordac, my eyes are burned by your brilliance. I thereby crown you King of Kindergarten Debating Society.

    Moving on, the only reason one could make a programming joke is to show off. Once you say that observation is the ultimate arbiter, you can never speak of theories or experimental protocols because Mordac thinks there's a contradiction. Mordac also learned about Bayesian updating in 12th grade but he doesn't see how it applies in the story. Which means that the story must be wrong because Our Lord Mordac is infallible. With the exception of hyperbole, he's quite fallible about that. When someone says "everything I believe is false", he takes it literally. But he quickly makes up for it by warning us about yet another attempt at subliminal mind-control. We are also told that the mind/body problem shall never be settled and will forever remain within the mysterious magisterium of philosophy. Only a sacrilegious monster like Yudkowsky could deny that.

  6. You see, any valid criticism of the literary qualities of MoR will be lost in a sea of crazy. Any criticism of Yudkowsky's views based on overinterpreting his Harry Potter fanfiction will BE crazy. And criticism of using a story to spread those views... well, that could actually be good. If you wrote your arguments once and were done with it, that is. Once you think the a story is fundamentally flawed, then going through it chapter by chapter and repeating the same stuff over and over again is bound to get a little tedious. You could use your time better to go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Or, it that's unacceptable, maybe learn some more philosophy of science on Wikipedia to impress the hoi polloi. That could work. But when it comes to hate-blogging I regret to inform you that your hate-blog is bad and you should feel bad.

    -- Summer Glau

    PS. I can kill you with my brain.

  7. You are all either being willfully ignorant or else incapable of understanding Mordac's point.

    The central issue here isn't that Yudkowsky believes what he does or that he uses Harry as a mouthpiece for his own opinions - even if those opinions are utterly at odds at what Harry Potter, the story, is supposed to be about. I'd say it makes for boring reading, but certainly not worth making a dedicated flame towards.

    What is being attacked here is the constant blurring between philosophy and science, the deliberate appeal to a faux authority by presenting Harry's beliefs as correct due to how he interacts towards everyone else, and the attitude - Harry's and Yudowsky's - that is expressed towards other characters (and by extension, the populace at large, as in the case of the logarithmic-lacking teacher).

    Further more, the argument that "it's just a story" falls totally flat in this case. If a teenage girl wants to write about Harry in a regular highschool, then she is entitled to do this and deserves (mostly) not to be flamed for it, regardless of how objectively the story fails. However, Yudowsky is not writing a fanfiction - he is a published author and recognized individual within his field. His parody is nothing less than a deliberate attempt to mislead others into supporting his own beliefs through scientific 'proof', bundled into a more presentable and appetizing form for the average man by making it a parody of a children's story.

    - Alexander

  8. What I hoped to see was a fic that would have characters being rational and use science to their advantage is a systematic way, told in an entertaining fashion. That's what I got, plus some more, so I'm basically a fan.

    What puzzles me is, what's going on with Alexander here. Even if you disagreed with what Yudkowsky thought to be a rational way of thinking, that sort of reaction would still be unexpected. Mindset that more closely matches that sort of fierce response is something along the lines "how does he dare to advocate such a way of thinking". Taking introductory material as "delibrate attempt to mislead" and interpreting character casual interaction and thoughts as "scientific proof"(the whole concept is absurd. 'evidence' would be a common one, but it doesn't fit the context there, so I'm at loss)...

  9. Alexander, so what do you mean by a blurring between the line between science and philosophy? And may I ask where you got a perfect demarcation criterion to decide that there was a firm line and the two never informed each other at all?

    As to the matter with logarithms, I don't think that Yudkowsky thinks that math teachers who don't know logs should be bitten. This seems precisely to be one of the primary problems Mordac is having also, the inability to see a major character as not being an author-insert. Harry is a little kid. He was even younger when that incident occurred. The fact that Harry did that says very little about the author's attitude.

    Can you expand on your claim that he's being misleading? I don't see that at all and your claim doesn't seem to support it in any way that I can get from parsing your sentence.

  10. I find it funny that the DarkLordPotter grognards keep hammering at how MoR is Yudkowsky's instrument for spreading his (implied: bad) beliefs, when as far as I can remember the fanfic has never *once* mentioned cryonics or the Singularity (capital S!), the main subjects that make EY shift into creepy pseudo-religious preacher mode.

    I can't see basic probability theory or well-known social psychology results being treated as 'beliefs' subject to battles of ideas and requiring propaganda to be accepted. Except, that is, under the same harmful paradigm that considers homeopathy a legitimate counterpart to double-blind-tested medicine and Idealism as big a contribution to common society as antibiotics.

  11. Hmm...
    I think it's obvious now that Mordac is one of Yudkowsky's sock puppets designed to make all his detractors look like fools.

  12. Yudkowsky wouldn't make such an elementary mistake. There is strong cognitive bias against being the first one to make a stand at any given issue. After first one arrives, it's much easier. So say, before Mordac, most wouldn't dare giving tMoR harsh treatment, maybe just "don't like it", but now that there is even one person vocally against it, criticizing almost every single part of it, it's lot easier for anyone who happens to hear this to say "You know, this and that had a lot of truth in them, this really is quite awful fanfic".

  13. "What's so different about [McG turning into cat vs. McG levitating Professor Scienceman]?"

    Lifting an object is a non-complicated thing to do to it -- just apply force. The relationships between the parts of the thing don't change. Changing a person into a cat (reversibly, too) is orders of magnitude more complicated.

    (I have an analogy with Kolmogorov complexity in mind, but trying to make it more precise would be an exercise in bullshit, so I'll just give the link.)

  14. I agree with some of your criticisms here, such as the unbelievable reactions that happen from time to time. People leaving the room to laugh, or collapsing in choked-back laughter in Madame Malkin's shop, or not hating Harry en masse for being a showboating asshat after the Ghostbusters dance. However, I think you're trying too hard to find faults, and it tends to undermine your legitimate criticisms by inflation. For example:

    "Of course, she turns into a cat, and this is described by writing just that. It's seriously unbelievable, the deadpan way in which this is described, just like he had written - 'she took out the trash'."

    As one of the DLP commentators said in another context, "In Soviet Russia, sometimes the point misses you!" The humor here, and the shock-value for rationalist!Harry is precisely the fact that McG just does it, lacking even the amount of ceremony and visible work required for Wingardiam Leviosa.

    Compared to turning into a cat, levitation is conceptually simple. A hot-air balloon would be just as impressive as Wingardiam Leviosa, to an ancient Egyptian. Harry and "Dawkins" can invoke Clarke's Third Law, and think to themselves, "Well, OK, there's probably a perfectly good set of equations for this, even though I don't know what they might be." BTW, I think their reactions to the levitation ("Huh.") are probably a Firefly reference, to the scene where Mal discovers that the suspicious crate aboard his ship contains a naked young woman in suspended animation. If this is the case, then they are shocked.

    So, while the levitation is astonishing, it's not quite world-view shattering.

    McG's transformation into a cat is much more complex. She has to shed most of her mass. Where does it go? How does she put it all back together again in the right place when she turns human? How does she not die while her brain and internal organs are partly turned into cat-organs? And not only does she shape-shift her body, she morphs her clothes as well, and when she shifts back, they reappear. What if somebody knocked off her hat while she was in the middle of a transformation? Etc..

    So, this is basically blowing apart Harry's entire understanding of biology, physics, and chemistry. Harry had every reason to think the workings of the realm of everyday experience had been pretty much fully and uncontroversially explained by science.

    Then she turned into a cat.

    A thorough, detailed description of the morph would have ruined the effect. For one thing, as portrayed in the movie, it's fast. There's no slow, painful, difficult transition like we see in werewolf movies (which at least implies a souped-up version of ordinary biological metamorphosis). Harry wouldn't have had time to carefully note the process by which which McG's hat merges with her cat-skull.

    The point here is that turning into a cat is "like taking out the trash" for McG. There's no complex ritual, no long prelude of sparklyglowy special effects to offer Harry the reassurance that overturning everything we think we know about physics, chemistry, and biology at least isn't easy. So I think the deadpan delivery, and Harry's apoplectic, gasping reaction works, and works better than a thorough, detailed description would have.

    Also, I think it's unfair to bash Harry and his parents for being flawed characters. Had he portrayed them all as shining icons of perfection, you likely would have criticized him for that. "Maaaaaaarrrrry SUE!" Setting up a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario for the target of our criticism doesn't help your case.

  15. Are you ever going to cover the next chapter?

  16. To be completely honest, I'm 19 and I do not know what a Logarithm IS, I do know the laws behind it, and use it almost everyday, but ask me what the definition what log means, I can't tell you. When I read the chapter, I thought Harry bit his teacher because she didn't know the definition of logarithm. So if you ask me, I'd say it isn't that impossible for a teacher to not remember the definition of a logarithm.

    1. A logarithm is the inverse of an exponent, in much the same way that dividing is the inverse of multiplication. so y=a^x could be written Log base a of x=y. At least that is my memory of it.

  17. "Now, doesn't floating unaided also break tons of laws of physics?"

    In short, no. All that's needed is that some force is applied that counters gravity. If it's a new force, if currently known physics don't account for it, then it's a major discovery, but it doesn't necessarily violate existing physics, it just means existing physics is missing something important.

    Suppose for a moment that you know about gravity but not about magnetism. Then you witness magnetic levitation. See what I mean? Gravity didn't get violated, it was still working, it was just being countered with something you didn't know about.

    Now, turning into a cat may have an explanation in the story that doesn't require trashing existing laws of physics, and in fact almost certainly does. Like you notice yourself, Harry does not actually end up giving up on his scientific knowledge, and later he starts building theories about the Source of Magic and how it all works that actually make sense. But the point is, that explanation is going to be vastly more complex than explaining levitation, and Harry's freaking out when he was completely surprised is perfectly fine. It was funny, too.

    That's just an example. I can't be really bothered to go through the rest of your blog in detail, but a lot of your hating of MoR is of that kind, where as soon as you can find a negative interpretation of what you're reading, you're satisfied, you've done all the mental work you needed. If your purpose is to just bash MoR, this might work on those who are interested in MoR-bashing, but if you want to make actual intelligent criticisms you'd need to try a bit harder.

  18. That's it for reviews? A pity, I was looking forward to reading criticism that is sometimes on track, sometimes reaching too far to deride the fanfic, and the resultant bickering in the comments.

    Also this is exceptionally lackluster to just do these two chapters after going to the trouble of setting up this blog, it's just half-assed. At LEAST go for five chapters or something, come on.

  19. I should also point out, Yudkowsky himself has conceded that the first five chapters or so are kind of heavy slogging. Took him a while to get the hang of it, I guess.

  20. I'm also disappointed with the half-assery of the blog.

    Maybe the author realized the error of their ways. :P

  21. It's not so much likely that a teacher wouldn't learn about logarithms as that they wouldn't remember.

  22. I wonder who is retarded enough to actually write this shit. If you don't like it, don't read it. Don't think you're the expert critic of every single literature published in the universe, and don't impose your fucking opinions on every else and bitch about it.

    Also, you're nitpicking. It's one of the most retarded ways to critic someone, especially if you're pathetic enough to dedicate an entire fucking paragraph to ad hominid attacks. Again, if you don't like it, have a coke and shut the fuck up.

    Because guess what? No one gives a shit.

    1. Mordak never claimed he's an expert critic and never imposed his views on anybody.

      There can be no culture without criticism. Fuck you and your views.

    2. Yeah, so that justifies the masses of stupid views that cloud the things that should be important? If he isn't an expert critic, and by extension, not someone backed by any certification, then he should shut the fuck up at let the smarter people talk, shouldn't they?
      Criticism doesn't equal culture idiot, culture can exist with the particularly stupid and pointless opinions being silenced. So fuck you, and your existence.

  23. trollols. this blog fails.
    my 5 cents.

  24. Again, well done. I don't agree with every single point you made, or understand every one of your explanations, but the comments here do show the original point that drove you to this blog- that damn near everyone treats MoR like it's better than Lord of the Rings, Star Wars IV-VI, and the real Harry Potter put together. I don't mind a fan, but it seems you can't even point out the stilted dialogue acting as a commercial for the author's outlook on life without a dozen people shouting you down about how brilliant and plot-advancing it was.

  25. Here is an idea. If you don't like it, don't read it. So some of Yudkowsky's "brilliance" is hyped up and used to exploit lesser minds on the ways of science. But... Who cares? I like it because it's an interesting story and for the reasoning, the rational. I'm only 13 so I don't understand a lot of the science but it's still a good story. A lot of the stories in the Bible are outrageous but I don't see you making "The New Testament Sucks" blog. Maybe you should do that instead since you seem to have a lot of time. On the other hand, I do think your blog is interesting as well. It makes some very good key points that are right on the money. Your other comments, such as why you can't fathom why Harry's parents ran out of the room laughing... how about the fact that it's rude? Rolling on the ground laughing at something only YOU think is funny in front of someone you just met is not polite. It's called manners. I'm in middle school and even I know that..

  26. ...you really need to filter your accusations more. Weak points in your criticisms just give your opponents a point to target, rather than confronting a significant, valid accusation.

    That aside, I'm glad to see someone's doing this. MoR is entertaining, to a point, but is fairly blatant in its preaching. If you do continue, I look forward to seeing your take on later chapters. Mostly notably, the rather disgusting 'debate' about death and the afterlife between Harry and Dumbledore. Using a partially insane, traumatized eccentric as a strawman in order to speak against religion is taking it too far, in this reader's opinion.

    Next chapter, however, I'd recommend you stick to significant flaws. An egocentric author's note or disclaimer isn't worth anyone's time. Bad writing and blatant, heavy-handed, one-side preaching are both serious flaws that should be addressed.

    Also, other reader's might consider a simple fact of this story: Various characters (Harry, Dumbledore, Quirrel, etc...) are being used to represent different belief systems and world views. This is acceptable. This writer, however, has made the established 'truth' a foregone conclusion, because Harry (Who is the Hero, who represents what is 'Right' and 'Good' in whatever universe The Hero exists in.) will inevitably emerge victorious in the end. His success serves as nigh-absolute proof of his correctness within the story's universe. This can lead an unprepared reader into taking this in-universe proof as some sort of evidence for reality.

    If the writer wished to be less blatantly biased, Harry would be a more neutral party. He would have been 'programmed' to believe what his father does (supposed 'rationality'), but would struggle to hold to that idea as other worldviews were shown to him (Dumbledore's optimism regarding death, for example, might appear more appealing than the idea of an existence that ended with the physical body. Draco or Ron's dogmatic mindset might seem appealing, if simply for the opportunity to live life without the constant second-guessing and distrust of his MoR mindset.). This method would let Yudkowsky offer a clearer, less biased view of each mindset...if he wanted to be, in any way, unbiased.

    Unfortunately, Yudkowsky just doesn't. Enjoy MoR-it's an entertaining read. Don't let his unsubtle preaching get under your skin though...it doesn't hold up any better than any other argument in an actual discussion.

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  71. I love this, although I think the first three or four chapters were decent compared to the shit storm that is the rest of the story. I love your in depth analysis of this.

  72. Until the writer of this blog creates a fanfiction more widely acclaimed than MoR, anything he says has no credibility, regardless of how edgy or smart he thinks he is.

    tl;dr- Don't like, don't read.

  73. This is absolutely great - exactly why I hated the series. I wish my friend hadn't so devoutly pushed them to me to read. I can't wait until you get to the parts where they start conjuring FRIGGING LIGHTSABERS for NO REASON, the TOTALLY UNNECESSARY harry/draco homosexual undertones (seriously, it seems every girl in that school "ships" them together - has he ever spoken to a girl not from tumblr?), and the fact that Quirrel seems to be some sort of god who can do whatever the fuck the plot demands. Also the whole issue with them being "generals" and the other children treating them like military officers and using that terminology just stinks of wish fulfillment.

  74. I do have this question for you: Why is it that his 'prosetylizing' is only worthy of a passing note when he agrees with you and whensoever his comments do not mesh with yours they are evil and to be completely and utterly reviled? I mean- I get it, you know, it's a natural way of doing things, but you're claiming to be taking a good, literary position on all of this you should be ranting about his 'preaching' a position that agrees with you as much as you do for the ones you disagree with.

  75. I've always hoped to see this continued, to be honest! I've always disliked Methods of Rationality and you've pretty much put all my thoughts into really coherent sentences.