We Want MoR – Chapter 8

WWMoR-SquareHow to make science

Join Steven and Brian as we dive into the world of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality! Steven will play the role of the tour guide while doing his best to not spoil any of the surprises and Brian will play the seasoned adventurer who is new to this particular work.

In this episode, we cover chapter 8! Harry meets Hermione Jean Granger, the nicest person ever, who’s even smarter and kinder than the canon version. And Harry keeps acting like a pretentious prick! Are we supposed to learn to like this version of Harry Potter or are we supposed to hate him?

Original chapters, written by Eliezer Yudkowsky, can be read here and the audiobook chapters, recorded by Eneasz Brodski, can be found earlier in this podcast feed and on the website.

In next week’s episode, we will be covering chapters 9 and 10.

Discord Link

Album art courtesy of Lorec from The Bayesian Conspiracy podcast’s Discord. Thank you!

Coy on the same Discord manages an RSS feed that compiles the relevant audiobook chapters with the WW MoR counterparts. Just copy and paste that link into your favorite podcast app in the “add by url” option. Thanks, Coy!

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  1. > Brian: …where the author’s like “I just want to let you know about this really cool idea” and I think maybe the enthusiasm for this kinda seeps through, and so it makes these other things kinda matter not as much. Where this weird secret sauce to telling a story in willing suspension of disbelief is, it’s not necessarily the amount of disbelief you’re asking me to suspend, it’s the amount you’re making me willing to suspend it.
    > Steven: That’s a really good way of putting it.

    So, I’m more or less leaving this here since it took me writing this down to properly parse it correctly as the difference between the author being entitled to some amount of suspension in contrast to having earned it.

    • I’m in college (for computer science), and we actually did 2 4 6 (it’s not like it’s something Eliezer made up; it’s relatively well-known).
      Nobody in the class got it first or even second try (I had already read HPMOR, so I didn’t answer: that would be cheating).
      I think you’re giving people too much credit: most people will do significantly worse than Hermione did on Harry’s test.

  2. Hello!

    Quark “flavors” are just the different kinds of quarks. Their names are just what they named that kind of particle (think “electron”, or “proton”, or “Bob”). They do not refer to any physical property of the particles themselves.

    The two lightest are called “up” and “down”. The third quark is called “strange”. It was named after the “strangely” long lifetime of the K particle, the first composite particle found to contain this quark. The fourth quark type, the “charm” quark, was named on a whim. The fifth and sixth quarks were sometimes called “truth” and “beauty” in the past, but even physicists thought that was too cute. They are now called “bottom” and “top”, as is mentioned in the notes in chapter 9.


  3. None of the experiments in the book are made up, and neither are the results. Here’s what happens if you ask adults the same question that Harry posed to Hermione: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKA4w2O61Xo

    As you can see, her response is not untypical or dumbed down. And as you can also see, completely normal people are willing to participate in that type of game. It probably isn’t a common occurrence for them to be approached by a stranger and asked to solve a riddle, but it doesn’t seem to be that extraordinary either. So the chapter isn’t as unrealistic as Brian is making it out to be.

    Actually I get the feeling that his main problem wasn’t the puzzle itself, or how realistic the situation or the responses were. It sounded more like he was offended by the idea of being taught how to think rationally by a Harry Potter fanfic and specifically by a character like Harry. He even described the entire scene as “condescending”. I’m curious to see if his attitude will change when a) his concerns about the morality of Harry’s behavior are addressed or b) he actually learns something new from the fic. Generally research shows that we take advise better if it comes from a source we like, so I think that a) will have to happen before he notices (and takes seriously) some of the rationality methods presented in the book.

    It’s slightly ironic that in the process of explaining how there isn’t really a valuable lesson to be learned in this chapter (since most people find the scientific method very intuitive and would naturally apply it correctly and all that), he demonstrated how useful the lesson from another chapter is. When asked to actually test his belief that most people don’t need guidance to get the scientific method right (the test proposed was to ask his own 11-year-old kid), he immediately answered that Harry and Hermione are supposed to be smarter than 11-year-olds. He already knew exactly what result he’ll have to explain away. It’s hard not to think of Draco in a few chapters.

    That said, he seems like a very thoughtful person (in both senses of the word) and I’m really enjoying this podcast. I’m very happy that he notices the warmth and love for the original characters, as well as the generally playful mood of the fic – these things can be easily (dis)missed if you’re too busy being annoyed by Harry. I think when he relaxes about where the story is going, this is going to become a very enjoyable read for him, and I can’t wait for it.

    To get there however, first he’ll have to realize something that many people miss due to how protagonists are usually written in literature. Harry will never think that he’s stupid. Not because of arrogance (though he *is* arrogant, almost to a comical level – remembering your thoughts so that future historians can get them right is hilariously over the top, and while Harry may intellectually know this, on an emotional level he’s still convinced that the world revolves around him. That’s why he was so thrown off when Hermione calmly asked “And?” after his little speech, instead of being in awe of him. Yes, Harry, most people don’t think about you as much as you do, usually they just want to know what you want from *them* ;))

    Harry will never think that he’s stupid because nobody ever thinks that about themselves. In reality, everyone has that bias. Our own actions always seem logical and rational. This applies to every single idiot in the world, including the younger version of yourself that did whatever stupid stuff you did when you were 12 (or last year, or yesterday). But despite that, everyone thinks that *right now*, they are a smart and rational person. So Harry is going to spend the book doing both smart and stupid things, and throughout it all he’ll never stop having the self-image of a rational person. Even while he’s acting completely crazy and is threatening the reasonable and well meaning McGonagall, who is five times his age and magical power. He’ll still see himself as sensible, even then.

    It doesn’t mean that the reader isn’t supposed to notice and condemn his behavior, because the reader doesn’t need to have the same biases and flaws as Harry. But trusting Harry’s self-image without reservation?! I can’t imagine the author intended that, especially considering how disturbed other characters are by Harry. Hell, even Harry eventually admits his mistakes, though usually after the consequences have hit him like a ton of bricks. But then, that is how reality works – nobody thinks “I’m stupid” on a daily bases, even though we are. But if we had the ability to realize it, we wouldn’t be doing the stupid thing in the first place. So any mistakes will always be made while under the impression that they are reasonable courses of action. Harry will be no different in that regard, and that’s something I love about the book – it’s written with a lot of respect for its characters. They are never forced to behave like they’re idiots. Whenever they behave like idiots, it’s always their own logical choice :P

    My paragraphs seem to be getting progressively longer, so I think I’ll stop here. Thank you to both Brian and Steven for creating this podcast, thanks to you I’m looking forward to Mondays now :D

  4. Fun note about hating Sherlock – Doyle (the author) also hated Sherlock. He wrote the first couple stories as a way to mock the trendy detective stories of his time. He made Sherlock as a caricature of those detectives, with the absurd and unjustified leaps from trivial facts which don’t actually follow, yet happen to be true by author fiat.

    But Sherlock ended up being so awesome and popular that he kept writing these. Eventually he got so disgusted with the whole thing he killed Sherlock off, only to have his readers become so incensed that he felt he had to bring him back again. So yeah, I guess these types of characters have a history of being divisive. :)

    And yes, “Trust but verify” was Reagan’s politically-polite way of saying “We’d like proof that you really are holding up your end of the nuclear-disarmament treaty”

    • Adding to that: There are Knox’s tens commandments for mystery writers:

      — The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.
      –All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
      –Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
      –No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
      –No Chinaman must figure in the story.[Note 1]
      –No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
      –The detective himself must not commit the crime.
      –The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.
      –The “sidekick” of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
      –Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

      Doyle violated many of those. In fairness, they were formulated only in 1929 by Ronald Knox, later one of the members of the “Detection Club”.

      The Detection Club, formed in 1932 with many famous mystery writers, has the following oath:

      Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?

      wikipedia is my Special Sauce for both.

      Quick Plug: Read the Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries by Sayers. They are brilliant.

  5. I’m liking this podcast and it’s a good opportunity to revisit hpmor.
    It’s been years and I don’t feel as strongly as I used to be about it(even if it did afect my thoughts a lot longterm,and have been reading lots of ratfics ever since and even made some abandoned attempts to write one) , but it’s nice to see someone’s first impression of it.

    This chapter I enjoyed it less.
    I’m not sure why, maybe because I feel like the need to avoid spoilers causes a lack of discussion of some things we’re there might be interesting disagreement. Which is a probably an inevitable problem whith Brian being now at this.

    Or that the whole Brian being on the fence about Harry is becoming repetitive.
    Or that there’s less predictions about what will happen.

    And that I feel like there was a missed opportunity to present Brian whith the 246 task before reading the chapter, the dice thing being worse at showing positive bias and less fun.

    Although I guess there’s a long way towards the end and you will keep getting better at this.

    I also disagreed whith Brian in some things, although that’s not a bad thing but a good one, it is interesting to see other takes on the book, it gives me stuff to think about and is what ultimately motivated this comment.

    More especificaly the whole harry being condescending thing.

    The part about doing experiments to figure out stuff while not obious (or science would have been invented sooner) is really not that complex to understand, that I agree.
    Maybe not for a 11 year old, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian’s daughter has trouble whith that but it also wouldn’t be surprising if she doesn’t.
    Thing is Hermione doesn’t have a problem whith this either, she remembers those things from books and does the steps correctly whithout much imput from Harry , and that’s not what Harry is testing/ trying to explain.

    He doesn’t walk her through the experimental method, he pretty much just waits for her to reach an answer while trying to keep his face neutral and asking if that’s her answer.

    He expects her to do the whole scientific method thing correctly and she does (although another 11yo kid might not have been able to, and Harry does smile when she gets it right).

    Hermione did the experiment and everything and it led her to a reasonable but wrong answer, that the clothes are enchanted.
    I can imagine myself reaching that kind of conclusion too.

    This was plausible and a good guess and we only know it’s not the case because we already know the comed tea is what’s enchanted.

    Noticing positive bias and not falling to it is difficult even if you know about positive bias.

    And positive bias is not something obious or that most people know about.

    This is not me being like “I get this but everyone else is dumber”, I myself fell for the 246 task and so did almost all my friends
    (side note, I was a teenager when I read this story and totally proceded to inflict the 246 task in my unsuspecting friends followed by a small explanation of positive bias
    Which wile it paints a not necesarily favorable picture of my younger self it makes me feel like it’s not unrealistic that Harry does something like that to Hermione, even if it is weird to do so the first time they met)

    I obiously knew what science was and that you had to test stuff but the idea that just trying to confirm your hypotesis is not enough was not something that would have occurred to me.

    And testing stuff itself would not have occurred to me whithout prompting back then , if I had to guess something and it wasn’t explicitly put in terms of science.

    And Hermione gets the concept of what positive bias is immediately after Harry explains it.

    So like I’m not sure what’s the part that Brian feels like it’s weird that she doesn’t already know, or that isn’t obious?.

    I do get that Harry is in lecture mode and that can rub you off the wrong way (especially given Harry’s usual overconfidence and arrogance)
    But to me it doesn’t seem like he’s doing anything wrong in this chapter?.

    It is a weird way to make friends
    And Hermione could have taked the whole thing badly and decided Harry was annoying or something but Hermione does like being tested and it ends well so it’s fine.

    Also it’s a minor thing but I’m not sure why Harry wanting to take over the universe makes him a Mary Sue.

    I see reasons for people to call him that(although the term is pretty vague, and would probably be better for analisis of fanfic everywhere if it ceased to exist)
    Here however it just seemed to come from nowhere.

    But I guess those things are subjective and I can’t tell Brian how to feel about the story (I can however be puzzled by it).

  6. Liking the podcast so far :).
    A thought for podcast format. Perhaps include a segment of “What Brian thinks will…” & “What Brian wants to…” happen next in the story.

    It could be at the end of each episode.

    This should satisfy both those reading along and the veterans.

  7. An Addition to “Petals Around the Rose”

    There is a nice variant of the riddle where you have the dice as iceholes and icebears sitting around them, fishing. I.e a 1 is one empty icehole, a three is an icehole and two icebears etc.
    And the even numbers: they have an odd number on the other side. So since icebears live in the arctic, there are iceholes and pinguins in the antarctis at the same time. Even people knowing “petals around the rose” go nuts with that.

  8. I’ve done the 2-4-6 test with my 8 year old daughter (she loves numbers and math, FWIW).

    She failed, and didn’t get a “no” answer before her first two guesses. She did surprise me by writing down the sequences and the answers, I didn’t expect her to be this methodical.

    Funny enough, immediately afterwards, she turn the tables, thought of a rule and had me guess it :-)

    A few days later we were discussing it with my parents (both have University degrees) and my wife, and kinda stumbled into taking the test as well. Collectively, the three of them also failed, and didn’t get a “no” answer before their first guesses.

    So, even fairly educated and intelligent people fail the test.

  9. I just need to say: Harry leans against the fourth wall, he doesn’t break it. He likes to imagine he’s in a video game, but that doesn’t mean he knows he’s in a story. That would be breaking the fourth wall, and Harry’s shown no sign of that.

  10. I kind of disagree about the test to Hermione. Hermione is school smart and book smart, but school doesn’t teach critical thinking I think and she probably hasn’t read critical thinking books.

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