Friday, June 4, 2010

One More Brick in the Wall

I briefly considered doing a 'Who is Eliezer Yudkowsky?' feature prior to starting the actual reviews, but I decided against it. I fear that might degenerate into personal viciousness, and I am trying to avoid that. I'm trying to do a critique on the merits here, not on the personal virtues or lack thereof of the author.

All this having been said, we can begin.

Chapter 1: A Day of Very Low Probability

Even before the story proper starts, we are treated to some short notes on 'Why Eliezer Yudlowski is better than you', or the author notes, as some may call it.

We start with an "unnecessary disclaimer", which apparently isn't so unnecessary that it can't be used to tell us that "no one owns the methods of rationality". At first I thought this was just a plug to open source software, but then I noticed that "methods of rationality" was not capitalized at all, and figured he might have been referring to the so called "methods of rationality" themselves, ie, what he thinks is proper reasoning.

Either way, this was indeed completely unnecessary. Yes, we know how evil software companies are and how geek freedom fighters oppose their tyranny through open source software. No, we do not need to hear about it in a Harry Potter fanfiction.

If he means the fact that no one knows the methods, I am 99.9% sure that no one thought Mr. Yudlowski actually owned these. Under the machine-or-transformation test, he wouldn't even be able to patent them! I'm sure he likes to think people might thing that, though.

He then proceeds to inform us that the fic is widely considered to have hit its stride by chapter 5, which is fair as far as it goes. In fact, when I read this for the first time my eyes pretty much glanced over almost everything in these first chapters, so I'm really reading them with proper attention for the first time. However, that immediately segues into an announcement that all the science presented is real science.

This may even be true. I'm an Economics major, and so I've got very little natural sciences under my belt to be able to tell. However, the real warning, which you will not see Mr. Yudlowski give, is that there is actually very little science in this story. What we have a lot of is philosophy masquerading as science to gain instant credibility among Mr. Yudlowski's primary associates, who think stamping the label of science on something gives it instant credibility.

We are then treated to an announcement so bizarre that should really be reproduced here in full, lest its full force be lost.

"See profile (click on where it says "Less Wrong" above) for: Fan art, TV Tropes page, how to learn everything the main character knows, and trigger warnings page (warnings about possible traumatic associations for some readers)."

Where to start...

i) I'm pretty sure people who know what TV Tropes is can just type the story title into the search engine, and the people who don't will not be much motivated to do so by reading the bare mention of it;

ii) How to learn everything the main character knows? What this really means is how to absorb Yudlowski's worldview of course. This seems mostly superfluous, because most people who will see the need to 'learn' this probably already agree with it anyway, and they'll probably know where to find it;

iii) I'd mock the trigger warnings thing (and I do think they could go in the start of each chapter), but considering at least one thing that happens later, they're needed, so I'll refrain from mocking.

After these delightful introit, the story proper starts.

Or at least, so it seems at first glance. In reality, what we're treated to resembles the opening scene from The Beast of Yucca Flats.

Apparently, blood is spilling from someone (whom we don't see), and someone (it's not clear whether it's the same person or not) screams something. Now this brief scene, rendered all in italics for some reason, like the scene from The Beast of Yucca Flats I mentioned earlier, is remarkable in that it could have been inserted into any place in the story and it would have appeared to be just as germane as it does here, which is, not at all. At least in Beast, the scene was there so that the audience could get a glimpse of a woman's breast. Sadly, there is no such consideration for the reader in Methods.

We then jump to what appears to be an office. This office appears to be thoroughly populated with books of various types. As later events make clear, most of these are science books of one sort or another. There is, however, an exception, as "[o]ther shelves have two layers of paperback science fiction." Because, of course, this is the only form of literature that might not infect you with humanities cooties.

But then, wha-oosh. It turns out this is not, actually, an office, but a living room. Oh, I wonder who are the zany occupants of this house. They must really love knowledge to clutter every square inch of their house with books!

It turns out the owner-occupants of the house are "the eminent Professor Michael Verres-Evans, and his wife, Mrs. Petunia Evans-Verres, and their adopted son, Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres."

Now this stretches credibility right here. Are we supposed to believe that the Petunia we know from the Harry Potter books managed to sustain a marriage with a university professor we'll later learn is quite eccentric, despite her aversion of the 'abnormal'? And are we supposed to believe such a personality-less woman managed to attract someone who would presumably be used to sophistication and other quirky personalities?

I suppose maybe he tires from such things and wants at least something to be normal, and an attempt at explaining Petunia's heel face turn will be offered down the road, but I do not think it really works, which is why I'm noting it here.

The august professor apparently not only took his wife's last name, but appended it after his own. How enlightened and progressive! Let's not mince words. Professor Michael, and later Harry, are in this story to act as mouthpieces for the author. That's right guys. Yudkowsky, like Randal Munroe, is a White Knight. Thank God women have such thoughtful men around, showing how considerate they are on the internet!

Also, Harry Potter-Evans-Verres? I hope he never has any grandchildren, because by then they'll probably be down to sextuple-barreled names by that time.

So, apparently, they just received Harry's Hogwarts letter. It's addressed to H. Potter, because the magic quill is aware of the birth of every magical children in Great Britain, but cannot divine family court registers, I guess.

Also, about at this time the narration shifts gears into past tense, abandoning the present tense that had been briefly employed to give it a faux artistic feel.

Anyway, apparently Petunia had never told her husband about her magical sister and in-laws, so the letter came as a bit of a shock to the good professor. Despite having meeting them at a few family events - before their untimely demise, that is - it seems he had no clue James and Lily were, in fact, a wizard and witch.

He seems to equate their wizardry with spoon-benders and the like, telling Petunia she should read "the skeptical literature".

Petunia, however, protests that isn't the case - they really are wizards, and pretty soon breaks down and tells her husband, between tears, about how magic destroyed her relationship with her now deceased sister.

She apparently used to be fat, if you can believe that, and no matter how much she begged her sister, you see, she wouldn't use magic on her to make her thin.

Apparently, in this universe, she forsook marriage with Vernon, with whom she was going out in high school, because he told her he wanted to name his firstborn "Dudley Dursley".

Hey, fat people with alliterative names can be successful. Just ask Chris Christie!

And now we come to one of those parts I must have skipped when I was reading this for the first time. It turns out Lily did give in, and gave her a potion that made her lose appetite and weight, cleared up her skin and, we can infer, made her generally hotter. After recovering from the effects of the makeover potion, people started being nice to her, and she couldn't hate her sister anymore. So she loves her based on her giving her a makeover. Alright then.

The professor attempts to blame it on the placebo effect, but we can tell he's losing some of the wind in his sails. Before we go on, I have to expound on something.

I mentioned this was one of the parts I didn't read, which explains why I was so puzzled about how the hell Petunia could snag a university prof. Now, the potion didn't alter her personality, so that aspect remains; that just makes the message more disturbing, however. Yudkowsky's sexism is shining through. Be pretty, and people will be nice to you and you'll marry someone much better than a fat drill salesman. I find it a bit hard to believe that women became nicer toward her after she got prettier, but there you go.

Anyway, the professor stubbornly insists Petunia can't be right. This brings her close to tears again, as she just "can't win arguments with [him]", but he just has to trust her here.

To be fair to Yudkowsky, it's possible this is just plain old elitism instead of sexism. It's kind of hard to tell.

Anyway, here, Harry enters the conversation. The narrator mentions how the two bickering lovebirds had forgotten he was there. In this, they have the advantage of the reader, who simply was never told.

Harry intervenes to inquire just how was the existence of magic proven to Petunia and Lily's parents.

Apparently, a teacher from Hogwarts had come and performed some magic for them. To this, Harry suggests all they have to do is write back asking for a demonstration. This will settle the argument, with one of them having to admit they're wrong. Harry says this is the experimental method, "so that we don't have to resolve things just by arguing." More on this later.

Harry's intervention displeases the Professor, who acts disappointed that his son would take the notion of magic seriously, despite saying "rationality" is his favorite thing.

Harry experiences bitter sadness that his adopted father never takes him seriously, despite giving him everything he could ask for, including, when regular primary school "didn't work out", private tutors.

We also discover Professor Verres-Evans teaches biochemistry at Oxford. Hmm, an Oxford biologist who dismissively disdains everything that doesn't fit into his narrow worldview? I'm gonna start referring to him as Professor Dawkins from now on.

Anyway, Harry proceeds to tell Petunia what she thinks she should do in order to win her argument, and this is another one of those things that I must quote in full, because any summary I might do just doesn't do it justice.

'"Mum," Harry said. "If you want to win this argument with Dad, look in chapter two of the first book of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. There's a quote there about how philosophers say a great deal about what science absolutely requires, and it is all wrong, because the only rule in science is that the final arbiter is observation - that you just have to look at the world and report what you see. Um... I can't think offhand of where to find something about how it's an ideal of science to settle things by experiment instead of violence or violent arguments -"'

Word of Feynman says this is right! It's moments like this when I wonder if Yudkowsky isn't just yanking our collective chains, and writing a great satire of geek pseudo-intellectualism. But then, I remember he has an active persona outside of fanfiction, and realize he's either a very dedicated troll or serious.

For someone who can write 100k+ words extolling the scientific method, he sure is very quick to resort to appeals to authority. And it's not even a very good authority to begin with. Being a professor of physics, no matter how brilliant, does not make you an expert at everything else. Not even humanities!

I wonder, did Dr. Feynman determine that "the final arbiter is observation" through observation? I will not say anything else on this subject, but if you are interested, just start here. And then point and laugh at people who are so infatuated with their own brilliance they refuse to recognize they stand on the shoulders of giants.

Either way, Petunia proceeds to try to make her husband feel guilty, and Harry despairs. Apparently, this is a common pattern of discussions, where Dawkins will try to browbeat Petunia with his alleged intelligence, and she will try to guilt trip him in return. Sounds like a healthy marriage to me.

Harry leaves in disgust, his "voice trembl[ing] a little." His parents continue to fight while he leaves, and we're treated to Harry's internal conflict. He instinctively feels he should trust his dad. The notion that there is a whole magical world out there sounds very far fetched. Which is a very fair point.

He goes on to say that, despite that, Dawkins is just expressing instinctual aversion to the notion of magic, rather than reasoned questioning. His father "seeme[s] to know very little about rationality", despite his bluster.

However, apparently a small part of Harry believes in magic, even if his 'rationality' tells him not to.

So, he will try to apply 'the scientific method' to the situation. Too bad he has a sample of one, I guess.

Still, he will follow his own advice and write to Hogwarts. He pens a letter addressed to Professor McGonagall, who is, of course, the letter's sender, explaining his name change, and his father's skepticism. He requests a visit by an Hogwarts representative to perform a demonstration to his family.

He then stuffs the letter in an addressed envelope, and, using candlewax (!), seals it, carving his initials onto the seal. Apparently he wants to do it with "style". I have to wonder why he would have wax candles in his house. I highly doubt they're some devout Catholics there.

Harry goes back to his parents to show them the finished letter. Might have thought to do that before you sealed the envelope there, kid.

Anyway, Dawkins is reading a math book, to demonstrate his superior intelligence, while his mother is making his father's favorite dish for dinner. This is supposedly to prove how loving she is. Hm, I really have to find some shorthand way of pointing out all the sexist moments in this fic, otherwise I won't be able to get anything else done!

He announces to the silence his plans to send the letter. However, he doesn't know how to send an owl to Hogwarts. Turns out Petunia doesn't either. She supposes you just have to own a magical owl.

Apparently this sounds suspicious, as it would make the theory untestable. Wait, I thought all that was needed was observation. What's this about 'theories', and 'testability'? You speak in riddles, sahib!

So, Harry decides to go outside and shout "Letter to Hogwarts", in hopes that an owl will come down and pick it. You know, it would be funny if he just happened to wake up a random owl and he grabbed it in revenge.

This could actually have been turned into an actual good lesson on the scientific method, to highlight the problems with inductive reasoning, why we use it anyway, and the dangers of small samples. None of that would make for very effective pamphleteering though.

Harry asks Dawkins if he'd like to come watch, but he pretends he isn't listening. Real mature there. No wonder his marriage is in the rocks. Harry goes anyway, expressing some doubts about what would happen if his 'theory' happened to be right. As he raises the envelope to the air, he realizes how embarrassing running around shouting "Letter to Hogwarts" would be, but that doesn't deter him. He's "better than [Dawkins]", and will use the scientific method even if it makes him feel stupid.

After a false start, he starts yelling in earnest. However, he's stopped by one of his neighbors, much to his embarrassment. Red with shame, he tries to get out of the situation by saying he was just "testing a silly theory." However, his worries are for naught, for the considerate neighbor only asks him if his yelling means he's already received his letter from Hogwarts.

You guessed it, the neighbor turns out to be Mrs. Figg. I would ask, if they had her watching Harry and his family, why didn't they know he didn't, in fact, own an owl, but this is consistent with canon, so I'll have to give Yudkowsky some credit here. It's Rowling's hackery, not his. This hasn't stopped him from trying to "fix" countless other canon bloopers, though, so why he didn't do this one is beyond me.

Harry wonders if this a conspiracy, and Figg is in on it too, to make him believe in magic, but another part of him just thinks she was put there to watch him. Note that, at this time, Harry hasn't been appraised of his Boy-Who-Lived status - not that we have seen, anyway. So why would he think 'they' would want to watch him is left hanging.

Harry explains his owl-less situation, and Figg is appalled that they just sent him the standard letter. Well, if you had told them he didn't have an owl, they might have done something else, bitch.

After she holds out her hand, Harry hands her the letter, and she leaves, promising to bring someone over "in a jiffy or two".

God, does anyone actually speak like this?

Harry stands there dumbfounded, but the skeptical part of him tells him he hadn't seen any "laws of the universe" violated yet. A conspiracy still seems more plausible, but he tells himself that doesn't make the events any more expected.

He laughs, thinking to himself that this is the moss improbable day of his life. With that, the chapter ends.

I guess we're supposed to think that is some deep insight.

Anyway, like Mike Smith does in his Harry Potter reviews, I'll be rating chapters on a pass or fail basis:

Rating: Bad

You might have noticed I didn't say anything on Harry's personality transplant. Suffice it to say, I'll be saving that for the next chapters, where it will be even more evident. Until then. *tips hat*


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wow. Just wow. I think you have to be a bit more carful and not read so much into everything.

    Just one example: How is, indeed how can the characterization of Petunia be sexist? It’s just a characterization. She is obviously not as intelligent as her husband and does stereotypical housewife stuff. That’s it. I don’t see the author or any character ever saying that that is how it should be or that every woman is like that. That would be sexist. This isn’t.

  3. @m.ka: It's also amusingly ironic when you consider how Mr. Mordac casually cast that accusation of white-knightery.

  4. > "Well, if you had told them he didn't have an owl, they might have done something else, bitch."

    Pot, kettle...

    > "After she holds out her hand, Harry hands her the letter, and she leaves, promising to bring someone over "in a jiffy or two". God, does anyone actually speak like this?"

    I and my entire family stand insulted.

  5. It seems to me that you aren't actually reading for comprehension. The Professor is very certainly not supposed to be a mouthpiece for Eliezer. Indeed, in both this chapter and the next chapter Harry explains in detail what is wrong with his adopted father's attitude towards science.

    There are other problems with what you've wrote above. For example, the comment about Feynman isn't a fallacious appeal to authority. It would be such an appeal if he said "Feynman says X, therefore X." But Harry is in fact referring to longer works where Feynman discusses in detail his reasoning for his attitude towards science. I'm someone who thinks that Eliezer's views on phil sci are off-base and don't find your critique at all useful.

    You also seem to be confused about sexism. Someone acting sexist or a family having some degree of sexism in their daily arrangements isn't *sexist* in the sense that the author or work is sexist. If for example, someone wrote a novel a set in say the US in the 1950s that depicted the female characters are primarily housewives, that doesn't mean the author is being sexist.

    I'm not going to bother discussing in detail your remarks about "Dawkins" except to note that it seems like the sort of standard caricature by people who haven't actually read much of Dawkins.

    Let's see if you do a better job with chapter 2....

  6. You seem to be annoyed by a (perceived?) lack of respect for the humanities in the story.

    What would a humanities-based reaction be to possibly sound claims of magic?

  7. Joshua said:

    "There are other problems with what you've wrote above. For example, the comment about Feynman isn't a fallacious appeal to authority. It would be such an appeal if he said "Feynman says X, therefore X." But Harry is in fact referring to longer works where Feynman discusses in detail his reasoning for his attitude towards science. I'm someone who thinks that Eliezer's views on phil sci are off-base and don't find your critique at all useful. "

    That is because a review of an Harry Potter fanfiction is not the adequate venue for a philosophical critique, and my post does not attempt to be such.

    Let me, however, clarify your confusion in regards to my labeling it the reference to Feynman as an appeal to authority.

    It may be the case that, when Harry says it, it is not an appeal to authority. However, considering the didacticism that is rampant in this work, Petunia is being addressed only as a proxy for the reader, it is an appeal to authority because it is being delivered by someone whom, in course of the reading experience, the reader defers to - the main character - and that it is being rendered completely context free, it is obvious that the author is name dropping. The appeal to authority is subtextual; I'm not necessarily claiming there is one within the story.

    Sure, the reference is given, which could prompt readers to double check. But the deliverance is not consistent with the author intending for people to take it as anything other than gospel - the dismissive tone towards "philosophers" is suggestive.

    There are very important issues here, and I an glad you don't agree with Yudkowsky, but to reiterate what I've said before, this is not the forum to resolve them, which is why I directed readers to the Wikipedia article on philosophy of science: to give people who might be interested in the subject a reasonably balanced presentation of the subject and resources for further study, instead of dismissing centuries of debate with a throwaway reference in a couple of lines to something someone outside the field said.

    My claims, as you can see, are far more modest than you imagine them to be.

  8. On the contrary, you are doing the exact same thing that Harry is by directing people to the Wikipedia summary on phil sci. Readers can just as easily get out any of Feynman's works. They are common and easily accessible.

  9. There are two problems with your suggestion, my obtuse friend.

    i) The marginal cost of clicking on a Wikipedia link that is available as they are reading is much smaller than that of either buying a book or checking it out of a library. People are much more likely to do the former;

    ii) The article I linked to presents - or attempts to present - various sides of the argument, while Feynman's work obviously won't; which is fine for Feynman, but in the context of the story in only underscores the author's agenda; what is more, people might be deceived into thinking Feynman was some sort of authoritative voice on this subject. But like I said, having a PhD in one field does not automatically make you an expert on everything else.

    1. Well, you wouldn't actually need to buy the book, you could also click on the link

    2. Ironically, it is worthy of note that, what you said in ii is actually mentioned on Less Wrong. I can't find the article out of hand, but he discusses the same thing, that intelligence in one area or zone is not intelligence in another. (Not that I'm saying he isn't a viable source, but that it's amusing.) Furthermore, your discussion about 'appeal to authority' is ironic considering once again he Yudkowsky directly and completely disagrees with that in several places. He talks about... I'm going too far. I just recommend you do SOME reading on to get some context on what he's saying. Because HPMOR in isolation as a source on him or his philosophies is... canted.

  10. The degree of marginal cost is utterly irrelevant to whether or not a fallacious appeal to authority is going on. So (i) fails. As for (ii)- you seem to be conflating two different issues, whether Feynman is an authority on phil sci. First, You seem to be under the impression that he isn't. That's wrong (and as a point Feynman was familiar with a lot of the standard phil sci literature). Second, you seem to be complaining that this only gave a single viewpoint rather than all viewpoints. That's not an appeal to authority either. If you think the author was wrong to do that, that's a completely separate issue. But nothing you've described is an appeal to authority.

  11. Just to butt in here a bit on that specific question:
    I thought that scene was to show us Harrys immaturity, that he still is a child who is proud of what he recently read and now wants to show off.
    Because that's totally what I would've done at that age - just parrot an intelligent answer I recently read.
    Now the question is of course if I was wrong assuming that and the author actually did want the reader to adopt that exact point made in this book, or you are blowing it a bit out of proportion.

    I wasn't taking the story as seriously as you are in general. The basic concepts all exist of course and the biases all show up in actual studies, but taking what different characters say at face value as real life lessons?
    Shouldn't you give the reader a bit more credit?
    And the author? It seemed obvious to me, that this wasn't supposed to be a perfect, model family, but you are treating it as such. The same applies to some of the other criticisms you made.

    But maybe it's me who got a false impression of the story.

  12. Wow. Your passionate disdain for the story and its author are well represented by the length of this post and the effort behind this blog. Did Yudkowsky and his acolytes drown your puppy, or something?

    While I am a working scientist, it's my work as a HP fanfic author that guides my attitude towards this fanfic. I've given up on "MoR" because it's a bad bit of storytelling. The author is clearly more worried about proselytizing and proving to his readers just how smarter/superior he is then he is interested in telling a good story.

    I will quibble with one of the minor critiques that you've laid out...Petunia's characterization. Agreed...MoR Petunia is not at all like "the Petunia we know from the Harry Potter books." But fanfic authors should have the right/option of developing alternative universes where HP characters don't always follow JKR's characterizations in lockstep. To argue otherwise would put you in the same boat as the slavish sycophants who trash any fanfic that doesn't ship Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione.

    It could be that canon!Vernon was instrumental in shaping his wife's attitudes and prejudices. But then the author failed to let the butterfly effect fly. While canon!Petunia fits in well with the stereotypical suburbia of Privet Drive, there is no reason why Petunia Evans-Verres and her Oxford prof husband would live in Little Whinging, Surrey. They'd hate it there. Would have made more sense to have them actually living in Oxford. That would have also sent a clearer signal to the reader that the Petunia in this story is not Rowling's.

  13. I'm interested in these people who think that the author's intent here is to "show the audience how much more intelligent he is". What, do you think, would the story look like if he was, instead, trying to introduce the audience to the ideas of rationality and avoiding cognitive biases through the medium of an entertaining Harry Potter fanfic? What would be different about the story, were that the case?

  14. Don, your criticisms seem much more accurate than our hosts. The point about Little Whinging is a very good one. Maybe our host can have you write a few guest posts?

  15. It's all well and good to tell a message in a story, and I think we're all agreed that changing characters and the situations they find themselves in are what make a good fanfiction, a good fanfiction.

    However, the more a character devolves from their canon counterpart, the more must be done to lay the groundwork for how they ended up this way. For a story that prides itself on rationality, I see very little in it. Harry and Dr. Science McDarwin know all, and their foils always come across as naive or else completely stupid. Every point the author wishes to make - be it about 'science', methods of reasoning in general, or the travesty of chapter 4 that is the question of the bimetallic standard (like Mordac, I'm an econ major)... it's not a story, and it's not even a meaningful treatise wrapped around a story. It's just full throttle preaching - the closest thing I've ever read to this in terms of style is the last third of Sinclair's "The Jungle". You know, the bit where he's in the speaking hall and everything becomes wonderful as dogma punches the reader in the face for page after page until we're as glossy-eyed as poor old Jurgis himself.

    I disagree to an extent about what Mordac has said about sexism, but more because of the way he approached it. The first thing we get in this story is the hyphenated names nonsense, which adds nothing to the story (and detracts from HP much in the same way HP having dyed blue hair and contacts do), *except* to bash the reader over the head that this is one ridiculously progressive family that might as well be the product of a white-walled science lab. And yet here we have Petunia acting like a 1950s housewife, constantly being belittled both by McDarwin and Harry. While yes, having one character that acts in a certain way might not be indicative of the author's overall opinion, as this whole story is simply a desperate cry for attention at the bully pulpit, I think you have to at least consider the point.

  16. @Maelin

    I'm not sure what a story would look like if its goal was to "introduce the audience to the ideas of rationality and avoiding cognitive biases through the medium of an entertaining Harry Potter fanfic. I do know that it wouldn't look like this story, though. This isn't an "introduction" to the ideas of's a full-scale deluge of ideas, dumped into the readers lap. And this data dump is part of why MoR isn't "entertaining."

    And why do I think the author is lording his brilliance over his audience? His Harry Potter is he, himself...a classic annoying author insert, like Wes Crusher in Star Trek TNG. So if Harry is speaking for the author, the way Harry treats those (like Hermione or Draco) who aren't blessed with rationality is telling. He's dismissive and arrogant, and that hasn't stopped now that he has "learned to lose" (and boy that was a horrid chappie, wasn't it?).

  17. Alexander and Don, I think you may want to read a bit more. His Harry starts making a lot of mistakes, and once Hermione gets off the ground she wipes the floor with him.

  18. @ Joshua

    I've read the whole thing. Harry does make mistakes, and doesn't always get what he wants, so he isn't omnipotent. But when Hermione bests him, is it because she presents Harry with a superior philosophical argument? Are any of Harry's mistakes directly attributable to a flawed belief system?

    And isn't it the case that Hermione doesn't start floor wiping until she is born again in rationality (thanks to Harry's evangelism aboard the Hogwarts Express)? Now there is some heavy handed proselytizing from the author....once she was blind, but now she can see, all thanks to the author's good news(as delivered through his Harry's lips).

  19. Don, yeah that's completely valid. I guess my point was in regards to remarks like Alexander's that "Harry and Dr. Science McDarwin know all, and their foils always come across as naive or else completely stupid" which didn't seem accurate (neither Snape nor Quirrel seem to fit in that category).

    Also, I think that Harry's dismissive and arrogant attitude isn't supposed to be meant as a good thing. That's connected to Harry under the sorting hat. At the end of the day, he is still an immature, obnoxious boy. Indeed, I suspect that to some extent he's supposed to be modeled after Eliezer when he was young (the section with the Sorting Hat seems almost to be older Eliezer telling young Eliezer that he was a brat).

  20. Being a fan of xkcd, xkcdsucks, and MoR, I had high hopes for this blog. I am very disappointed.

  21. @ don dba ccso (June 10, 2010 7:52 AM)

    It's valid to complain that Hermione doesn't beats Harry with superior philosophical arguments. It's not valid to complain that Hermione doesn't start floor wiping until she is born again in rationality; that's post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. Hermione would have beaten Harry at practical magic, reading, and not overplanning with or without Harry's evangelism. The first two items in particular are simply her strengths.

  22. Oh, that's perfect. And funny.

    We're discussing whether the MoR author is a bit arrogant and condescending to his readers, and you decide to reply to my comment with Latin? Obviously cut from the same cloth.

    But to the point, I wasn't complaining, I was observing. The author did not give his readers the opportunity to learn whether Hermione would have done well without Harry's evangelism.

    So is there a character in this story who is intelligent, but resistant to rationality? Someone who can demonstrate that not all mackerels are fish?

  23. Um, sorry...other way around. Is there a character that proves that not all fish are mackerels?

  24. "Intelligence" is such a vague word. Could you provide an example from real life, or from other fiction, of a character who is 'intelligent but resistant to rationality'?

  25. @Nihil

    Well, if I'm going to do that, I'd also have to define resistance to's not a tendency towards irrationality, but rather the living of one's life without questioning or testing every single thing that they experience. And not feeling the need to proselytize to the incurious.

    Given what we're talking about, I'd argue that JKR's Hermione is an intelligent person who fits that description.

    Real life? Hmmm....Bill Clinton? Spike Lee? C.S. Lewis?

  26. Nihil, that's pretty easy. Bobbie Fisher, one of the best chess players ever, clearly not rational. And if we mean the specific type of Bayesian rationality that Eliezer is espousing, then one would give the example of Robert Aumann, the mathematician who who discovered Aumann's Agreement Theorem. This is a major aspect of the Bayesian approach and Aumann is a very smart mathematician. But Aumann is an Orthoox Jews and so would by Eliezer's standards be highly irrational. Indeed, Eliezer actually has used Aumann as an example in the past of someone who can be very smart and not rational.

    don, using a very common Latin phrase that has no short English analog is hardly pretentious. That's especially the case given that many major fallacies have Latin names simply for historical reasons. And engaging in ad hominem attacks doesn't help matters.

  27. @Joshua

    That was "a very common Latin phrase"?

    Huh. I'd never heard it before. Guess that I'm more parochial than I thought.

  28. Thanks for both of those examples. I think there's a difference between what Joshua brought up: rational people with a blind spot in their rationality, such as Aumann (and, in my opinion, MoR Harry and probably Yudkowsky himself, but this is not the place); and what DDC brought up and described.

    Going with DDC's definition (since he's the one who asked the question), Dumbledore seems to me to be a good example in MoR. He listens to Harry explaining rational methodology, and understands it, but he definitely doesn't 'join the fold'; nevertheless, he is clearly smart, capable of self-reflection, and in fact is highly likely to have already successfully manipulated and outwitted Harry ("your Father's rock", plus whatever the point was of that Fawkes trick).

    Lucius Malfoy is also a strong candidate for this category, but we've seen little of him outside of Draco's stories so it's early to say.

    (Also, the vast majority of the heroic JKR characters (mainly the OotP people) have yet to appear in this fiction, and I don't see MoR turning all of them either into socially retarded rationalists or into just plain dumb people. I'm personally looking forward to reading about Moody...)

  29. @ don dba ccso

    In the age of Google, everyone has instant access to Latin expressions. But being told that I'm cut from the same cloth as EY is the nicest thing anyone's said to me all day, so thank you for that.

    The fic's Hermione is close enough to canon!Hermione that the author didn't need to give the readers the opportunity to learn whether Hermione would have done well without Harry's evangelism.

  30. I find this blog pretty funny, but I'm not sure me laughing at you thinking the disclamer was about open source software was what you intended.

  31. I agree with the other posts; I am surprised that you found this fanfic so distasteful as to criticize it virtually line-by-line. You put so much effort into this criticism that you could have actually created something original with the same time investment. Seems like a waste of time to me.

  32. Blog Rating: Whiny

  33. The comment section surprised me positively with actual insight to the flaws of MoR.

  34. Why would they have to be Catholic to possess wax candles?

  35. "Blog Rating: Whiny"

    I disagree, Blog Rating: Shit

  36. "I have to wonder why he would have wax candles in his house."

    Really? I'd assume that most houses have wax candles squirrelled away in case of a powercut. Have you really never thought of that? Heck, I'm an atheist and I have a wax candle in my room just for decoration…

    1. Heh. You are taking the words out of my mouth. I remember all of my friends households having candles available when I was a kid. Both in Berlin and in the greek village I lived later on in my life.

  37. Blog Rating: Bitchy.

  38. Now this stretches credibility right here. Are we supposed to believe that the Petunia we know from the Harry Potter books managed to sustain a marriage with a university professor we'll later learn is quite eccentric, despite her aversion of the 'abnormal'?

    This is an alternate universe fic. Many of the characters have slightly or radically altered personalities. Look at Dumbledore, or Quirrel or literally anybody.

  39. If Petunia is averse to the "abnormal" in the form of magic, spiritualism, nonstandard class identity, willingness to question authority, or a sense of humor - in those terms there's nothing "abnormal" about Evans-Verre.

    As has been said, it is not necessarily sexist for a story to include a character who acts according to sexist stereotypes. Petunia tries pathetically to appease an angry husband, by cooking for him; this is portrayed not as What Wives Should Do, but as an unsuccessful ploy. I would not be surprised to see canon Petunia trying the same method to appease Vernon Dursely.

    " It's addressed to H. Potter, because the magic quill is aware of the birth of every magical children in Great Britain, but cannot divine family court registers, I guess."
    That's an unintelligent guess. The authorities of the Wizarding World are consistently ignorant or disdainful of Muggle customs in canon HP. The magical quill wrote his name as given by his genetic parents, and didn't change its writing just because some Muggles registered a different name later on.

  40. Despite all the bitching here, I found your critique solid, and wish you had continued. The concept behind MoR is certainly an interesting one, but I too felt the author was at many points just beating you over the head with what he perceives as his far more advanced mind over petty, ignorant, not-unlike-cavemen non-rationals. Now, of course the author is going to have some coloration toward his own thoughts and worldviews, it's nearly unthinkable he wouldn't. But trying to read the story, I got very sick of QUESTION ALL THINGS AND USE NOTHING BUT ESTABLISHED RATIONALITY AS DEFINED BY (insert relevant namedrop here) AND UNDERSTAND IT TO BE THE GLORIOUS LIGHT OR YOUR FOOLISHNESS SHALL KNOW NO BOUNDS AND YOU SHALL BE UNABLE TO SO MUCH AS REMEMBER NOT TO CHOKE ON YOUR OWN SPIT FOR WANT OF RATIONAL THINKING! Now the camps of rationality and all the online lessons, I think it's too much. If I wanted to learn to be an annoying, pretentious windbag, I would. I wanted some entertainment, and maybe to learn something or challenge a worldview or two, not the rationalist equivalent of a Jack Chick tract.

  41. I like how it's okay to dislike something like Twilight and it's great that several dozen websites crop up about how terrible it is...

    ...and yet this guy picks apart a popular fanfic and suddenly it's not okay to do any of that stuff. Because nobody should have a dissenting opinion! NOBODY!!!

    1. I can't see anyone saying that what Mordac is doing here is "not okay". Most of us are just saying that he is doing a terrible job and failing in his chosen task.

  42. Nobody on this website or in any of these comments has claimed, or suggested, or even implied that it's not okay to dislike something.

    Just because someone disagrees with your dissenting opinion doesn't mean they are denying that you have a right to hold it.

  43. To be honest, I disagree with the basic premise. That is to say I enjoy the story, ignore the science because Harry is quite annoying, and just focus on what is happening. Try it. It makes life more fun.

  44. "I find it a bit hard to believe that women became nicer toward her after she got prettier..."

    Hmm. I definitely agree that MoR embodies some very sexist tropes but this right here is pretty bad as well. I assure you, women are not generally catty biotches who scratch out the eyes of their pretty rivals and Studies have Shown that people tend to be nicer to conventionally attractive people (that's assuming that Thin = Conventionally Attractive, a problematic assumption in itself).

    But I like the cut of your jib. I enjoyed MoR at first and then it just got...tiresome. I especially couldn't stand it when Harry started lecturing about how Lily was shallow because she couldn't forgive Snape for turning into a racist POS--classic Nice Guyism and really, really obnoxious.

  45. Somebody really needs to critique that chapter where Harry "learns to lose", some of the most uncomfortable awful storytelling ever put down goes on in that chapter.

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  61. Shiiiit, way too many comments here, you'll probably never see my comment. Anyway, Petunia's exact words were:
    "I drank this potion and I was sick for weeks, but when I got better my skin cleared up and I finally filled out and... I was beautiful."

    This was what you wrote in your review:
    "It turns out Lily did give in, and gave her a potion that made her lose appetite and weight, cleared up her skin and, we can infer, made her generally hotter."

    There is no possible way to interpret "I filled out," as "I lost weight."