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Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality
April 6, 2010 5:55 PM   Subscribe

"You turned into a cat! A SMALL cat! You violated Conservation of Energy! That's not just an arbitrary rule, it's implied by the form of the quantum Hamiltonian! Rejecting it destroys unitarity and then you get FTL signaling! And cats are COMPLICATED! A human mind can't just visualize a whole cat's anatomy and, and all the cat biochemistry, and what about the neurology? How can you go on thinking using a cat-sized brain?" McGonagall's lips were twitching harder now. "Magic."

Eliezer Yudkowsky — rationalist, AI pontificator and singularitarian — writes Harry Potter fan fiction. (previously)
posted by teraflop (67 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cue the singularity bashing in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 5:58 PM on April 6, 2010


Though I am exactly the person who would find this sort of thing amusing, I think 10 chapters is a bit much for the joke to drag on.

I am still amused, however, that such a thing exists.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:12 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, my theory is that this is exactly what the best-case Singularity will look like. Which is to say, not the story Eli wrote, but the world in which a person like Eli spends the time necessary to (a) absorb the source material and (b) re-emit it in this form.
posted by localroger at 6:21 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man, I'm as pro-science as anyone, but sometimes you have to stop sucking the fun out of the room.
posted by stevis23 at 6:22 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am going to ask, because I want to make sure of something: Are you "outing" this Yudkowsky fellow as a writer of fan fiction? Or is he doing as some kind of extended joke, to which you are directing us?

Because if it is the former, then I have a few things to say. Fan fiction is a hobby like any other, and not a source of shame. Are we supposed to make fun of him now? Ha ha, this guy purports to be an intellectual but look—he writes fan fiction! Obviously this means he is a nerd of a much lower sort! Here, let me consult the Geek Hierarchy... yup! LOWER-ORDER NERD. Let's all point and laugh!

Yeah, I don't hold with that.

On the other hand, this stuff looks pretty amusing. I've seen worse ideas played out in fanfic, that's for sure. I wish it were clearer how earnestly he means it.
posted by pts at 6:23 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cool now I want to see him do the books of Genesis and Exodus. Then I want to put him on a panel in front of first year uni students with Chris Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. And give them a couple of bottles of Johnny Walker and about a hundred bucks' worth of hash. That would be some fucking magic right there.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:27 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I used to merely snark about people like Yudkowsky, but then I discovered this, (scroll to bottom) and my snark collapsed in sympathy and pity. He's not an ordinary rationalist, he's a broken man consumed by fear and hatred of death so intense, that he flings himself at whatever remains to avoid the prospect of going gentle into that good night.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:31 PM on April 6, 2010 [18 favorites]


I am going to ask, because I want to make sure of something: Are you "outing" this Yudkowsky fellow as a writer of fan fiction? Or is he doing as some kind of extended joke, to which you are directing us?

I posted this because I found it immensely entertaining, not to make fun of anybody. I get the impression it's intended partly as an honest thought experiment (Yudkowsky's used fiction to make rhetorical points in the past) and partly as self-parody. And I don't think I'm "outing" him, since he's mentioned it at least once on his blog.
posted by teraflop at 6:33 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ugh -- would it be irrational of me to wonder if someone could somehow go in there and close the damn html center tag?
posted by Some1 at 6:45 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sir, you need a pseudonym.
posted by nola at 6:45 PM on April 6, 2010


StrikeTheViol - /I/'m not planning on "going gentle into that good night", I'm going to live forever or die trying, and whenever the dark specter glances in my direction and beckons, I'm going to kick and scream and do anything I can to ignore his summons.

Fighting death is a /good/ thing.

And, for the next few minutes of my life, I'm going to go read some Harry Potter fanfiction...
posted by DataPacRat at 6:49 PM on April 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


He's not an ordinary rationalist, he's a broken man consumed by fear and hatred of death so intense, that he flings himself at whatever remains to avoid the prospect of going gentle into that good night.

Good. More power to him.
posted by orthogonality at 6:52 PM on April 6, 2010 [20 favorites]


Thanks for the link, StrikeTheViol. I have never really understood the appeal of transhumanism, and it's useful to get a glimpse of the passion that underlies the vision (at least partially, at least in this case).

As a non-transhumanist atheist (one of those people whose "strength" Yudkowsky wonders at), though I find the passion very moving, I also can't help but call it irrational and, frankly, pathological. We are animals that die. That's fine. Death is not evil or the enemy.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 7:05 PM on April 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's like people who use the phrase haven't even read the fucking poem.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

posted by signalnine at 7:08 PM on April 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


His "AI pontification" sounds like it was written 20 years ago.
posted by delmoi at 7:11 PM on April 6, 2010


It's like people who use the phrase haven't even read the fucking poem.

Of course I have: I alluded to it purposefully. I'm not arguing wanting to live is bad, either: I've probably had more close calls than the average MeFite. What I do firmly believe is that it is not always such a great evil to accept death, particularly in the face of great suffering. The idea that my perspective is a perversion created by superstition is the reason I'm not a transhumanist, although I look forward to a brighter future as much as anyone else.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:23 PM on April 6, 2010


Transhuman, ha. I'd settle for being *fully human*. Which I see as a Good Thing.

how Noble in Reason? how infinite in faculty? in forme and mouing how expresse and admirable? in Action, how like an Angel? in apprehension, how like a God? the beauty of the world, the Parragon of Animals; and yet to me, what is this Quintessence of Dust?

It's just that fully-human people are so hard to find (except here at MF of course) because there's so much pressure to hide the real you. (See: dialogue in Wikileaks video.)

Blinded to our own reality, we look beyond ourselves for answers. She says, "But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss."


To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour. Blake was talking about something -real- there.Nor all thy Piety nor Wit/Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line.
posted by Twang at 7:25 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


You made a plate of beans! A HUGE plate of beans! You violated Conservation of Overthought! That's not just an arbitrary internet meme, it's implied by the form of the quantum blog! Rejecting it destroys deliciousness and you get FTL bullshit! And beans are COMPLICATED! A human mind can't just visualize a whole plate of them and, and all the seasonings, and what about the plate itself? How can you go on overthinking a plate of beans?
posted by hippybear at 7:25 PM on April 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's like people who use the phrase haven't even read the fucking poem.

You beat me to that punch. The misquoted phrase starts with a DO NOT, which changes the meaning a little.
posted by Alex404 at 7:27 PM on April 6, 2010


Before we talk too much more about transhumanism, let's read through the last thread about it, in which some wonderful things were said!

Then we can get back to enjoying Yudkowsky's attempt to change the world through fanfiction.
posted by shii at 7:29 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


How can you go on overthinking a plate of beans?

Couple hundred comments, at last watch.
posted by The Whelk at 7:40 PM on April 6, 2010


OH MY GOD, PEOPLE

Relax! This is simply truly glorious parodic mashup, absolutely Best Of The Web. A major aspect of the entire Harry Potter universe is that it is embedded -- secretly -- within our own, a twisted and hilarious version of ours.

So what does this do? It says, OK, you want into our universe? How would our universe react? And you know, the reaction really would be WHAT THE S***.

If nothing else, I have friends who, when I read this, I imagine their voices saying these exact words. And it is good.
posted by effugas at 7:46 PM on April 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen the future! And it is ... fan fiction.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:47 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like some parts of this better than the original story. Here's a bit from chapter three.

The Death Eaters had followed in the Dark Lord's wake and in his vanguard, carrion vultures to pick at wounds, or snakes to bite and weaken. The Death Eaters were not as terrible as the Dark Lord, but they were terrible, and they were many. And the Death Eaters wielded more than wands; there was wealth within those masked ranks, and political power, and secrets held in blackmail, to paralyze a society trying to protect itself.

An old and respected journalist, Yermy Wibble, called for increased taxes and a draft. He shouted that it was absurd for the many to cower in fear of the few. His skin, only his skin, had been found nailed to the newsroom wall that next morning, next to the skins of his wife and two daughters. Everyone wished for something more to be done, and no one dared take the lead to propose it. Whoever stood out the most became the next example.

posted by Pseudology at 7:47 PM on April 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


Hahahaha. I love singularitarians, and I love Harry Potter, and I love this. I was in just the mood for this very sort of thing.

My favorite line so far is when he outs Harry as the kind of kid who doesn't play D&D but loves reading the rulebooks. Brilliant!
posted by little light-giver at 7:55 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Death is not humanity's greatest enemy. Our mortality is our greatest asset. Death is to be embraced, not feared.

Hell, anyone who's read Tolkien could tell you that. Weren't the long-lived elves ever jealous of the Temporality of Man?

It makes sense that Transhumanists are afraid of death. It really jives with their whole philosophy. What's their point? "We could do so much if only we had more time!" Well, you've got about 70 years. Show us what you've got with that time, and we'll see if you deserve an extension.
posted by Eideteker at 8:03 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: All science mentioned is real science.
posted by Eideteker at 8:05 PM on April 6, 2010


"Ugh -- would it be irrational of me to wonder if someone could somehow go in there and close the damn html center tag?"

In Firefox: View → Page Style → No Style.
posted by Eideteker at 8:07 PM on April 6, 2010


If I were immortal I'd get stuck in a rut after a while. So I'd have to reinvent myself, in much the same way that certain middle-aged people change their careers for no very logical reason.

Even to change careers, you have to give up a lot of who you once were. An immortal being would eventually want to change a great deal more than that. Sooner or later, they'd get bored of even those aspects of themself that they previously thought were fundamental. And they'd change those. Probably this would involve deleting memories.

So it would really just be a high-tech drawn-out way of achieving what death already does for us.

There are plenty of problems with death; it doesn't wait for you to finish what you're working on, for one thing, and if there's anything left of you that you want to pass on to others, you'll have to do it indirectly, through art or writing or whatever other medium of expression suits you. It kind of sucks, and to whatever degree SCIENCE! can improve this state of affairs, it should. And hey, that might in fact mean substantially extending human lifetimes.

But I don't think it would be a good idea to get rid of death. Improve it, don't fix it.

Life depreciates over time. Death keeps it valuable.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:35 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


There is a lots of feeling and genuine emotion in this one.

Also, the trick the Sorting Hat plays got ME too.
posted by ShawnStruck at 8:37 PM on April 6, 2010


Eideteker the elves were jealous of the immortality of man's soul, AFAIK.

Surely the point about embracing mortality is that it means seeing value in things that you don't get personally to enjoy. Those who cling to the hope of eternal temporal life are as superstitious as those who cling to the dream of an eternal afterlife, the superstition being that they are special, that the universe derives its value from being shaped for and experienced by them. Healthy acceptance of mortality is the understanding that there are experiences and values beyond your own, without falling into the trap of thinking this renders your life and values meaningless.
posted by howfar at 8:38 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


The point, as I see it, is less a longer life versus death and more having the choice.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:38 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is the reappearance of the Transhumanism thread every so often the metronome that parcels out time in the Metafilter universe, or what? I don't think that last thread was too wonderful. It contained some awfully ugly and hurtful remarks.

As to the subject of this particular thread, I didn't read the whole thing, but I was attracted by the FPP blurb, because that's exactly what I think every time something like this happens in a piece of fiction. It's not deliberate. It's not "oh, let me see how I can overthink this." It's just that I can't think about a subject like that and not be aware of its consequences. For me, an awareness of the connections between things is ever-present and not voluntary. Of course, in my mind, those thoughts all appear at once, thousands of loud, flashing, violated conceptual rules overlapping hopelessly, and I have no chance of serializing all those issues into a train of words. It's satisfying to learn that there exists someone who can, and does.
posted by Xezlec at 9:08 PM on April 6, 2010


I like Mrs. Dalloway.
posted by clockzero at 9:12 PM on April 6, 2010


Actually, it's quite possible that the mental din of all the loud, unsubtle rule-violating is the reason I generally dislike the arts. I never realized that before.
posted by Xezlec at 9:14 PM on April 6, 2010


Does it help if you think of the rules-violating as less of a violation, and more of a speculation about what things would be like if the rules were different?
posted by harriet vane at 9:27 PM on April 6, 2010


superstition being that they are special, that the universe derives its value from being shaped for and experienced by them

What? No. I just don't want to die. It's pretty simple. My consciousness won't accept that it has to end, and I'm fine with that. Obviously I will die someday, but I'm sure as hell not going to accept it or think it's a good thing, and if I had a magic wand I'd make it not so. But not because I think the universe would be a better place if I live forever, the universe doesn't care. I'm the one who cares.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:45 PM on April 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


My favorite line so far is when he outs Harry as the kind of kid who doesn't play D&D but loves reading the rulebooks. Brilliant!

*hangs head in shame*
posted by orthogonality at 9:45 PM on April 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


oes it help if you think of the rules-violating as less of a violation, and more of a speculation about what things would be like if the rules were different?

Those are equivalent. That's what I'm (inadvertently) doing, and I end up with lots of contradictions. It's really, really hard to construct a self-consistent set of rules that allows anything interesting. That's actually kind of what the author is trying to explain above. Like he says, conservation of energy isn't just an arbitrary rule that you can simply imagine being different with no other consequences, it's fundamental for things to even make sense.
posted by Xezlec at 10:04 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I loved every word of it. This is awesome. Better than the original, but without the original it could not possibly exist.

Here's another really good Harry Potter fanfic, a John Constantine crossover. Warning: unfinished, and unlikely to ever be finished.

(Full disclosure: these are the only two Harry Potter fanfics that I have ever read. I am OK with that.)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:08 PM on April 6, 2010


When you picked up the phrase "gentle into that good night," you must have missed that part right before, "do not go." It's not even fear of death. I don't care for liver. I would not like to see it on my plate. I'm not afraid of liver, I'd just rather not experience it if I can help it.

I think the transhumanists would be okay with dying if y'all wanted to die. Honest, folks. Nobody will be shoving immortality down your throat. It's not like someone will flip a switch and whammo, death will be gone, then we'll be stuck having to, oh, iterate through every potential game of Go because we're all so dreadfully bored. You want to die, please, go right ahead. Shuffle off this mortal coil and tell your friends about the nobility of it, via a DVD played at your funeral, if you like. We'll still have plenty of accidents at hand and won't lack for ways to kill ourselves. Or you could age naturally. Heck, get started now. Skip your yearly physical and cut up your insurance cards. Go out for a tan and have a smoke.

As for myself, if I thought I could swing it, I could come up with some ideas for a thousand years or so. With the scant handful we have right now, by the time we're trained for some kind of career, we're busy saving for the big wedding, for our kids, and for retirement. The current setup isn't exactly conducive to taking a lot of big risks, physically or financially.

Or consider the alternative — imagine what kind of stewards we might be if we had to face the consequences of our decisions some three hundred years hence. Right now, we do what we please and figure the grandkids will just have to deal. We might take better care of the world and one another.

You can keep your death-embracing values for yourself. If there were an door #2, you might be surprised how many people opt to stave off death.
posted by adipocere at 10:13 PM on April 6, 2010 [14 favorites]


I think the transhumanism thing really only comes up here because the Harry Potter saga is so deeply entrenched in it. I'm over halfway through this fanfic and we're still in Diagon Alley, so I have my doubts about it showing up here yet, but the main conflict in HP is that of a villain who is so afraid of death that he is willing to commit horrible atrocities in order to prevent it, versus those who are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to prevent those further atrocities.

Transhumanism doesn't fit well into that.

The Flamels may be the best example of those in the books who seek immortality, but not at the expense of anyone else. But even they give it up after living long, long lives because of the danger of evil uses of immortality. In the HP universe, death is, over and over again, the most mysterious thing of all, but not something to be feared.

Again, it doesn't fit quite right.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:51 PM on April 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


You can keep your death-embracing values for yourself. If there were an door #2, you might be surprised how many people opt to stave off death.

Yes, the human capacity for selfishness is pretty much unlimited.
posted by shii at 11:21 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I were immortal I'd get stuck in a rut after a while.

I hear this a lot, and used to repeat it myself, but I don't believe it anymore. Rachmaninoff is supposed to have said "“Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music”. That guy knew music better than most humans ever will and he knew that he couldn't live long enough to get where he'd want to be. And that's a fraction of the field of human endeavors. I think I'd need a dozen lifetimes to digest the breadth and depth of currently known Mathematics. I don't know how long it would take me to see an appreciable portion of the planet we live on, get an idea of what's really out there. And if we ever get off this planet....

I suppose I don't know for certain how I'd feel about life after 1000 or 10,000 years, much less the Eons. I think life could get particularly long without people you enjoyed to share it with. But there are many enjoyable people in the world, and I've found that what I know right now is I can think of enough things I find engaging and worthwhile enough me now to keep dozens of lifetimes interesting and vital. If I could choose to live forever in good health, I think I would.

I can't say I think transhumanism represents an opportunity for that, though. I don't understand how it would preserve me. If dualism is false, the best it can do is make some kind of copy of me, maybe even a really good one, but still just a copy rather than a continuation. If dualism is true, then a conventional post-mortal life seems like a better bet than figuring out how to get whatever is actually me into a new matrix. I guess there's the possibility of reality looking like an odd hybrid between dualism and singular materialism... where my body temporarily gives rise to something else unique that can truly be transfered and not copied. I wouldn't rule it out, but stumbling on truly regenerative medicine in my lifetime seems more likely.
posted by weston at 11:58 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chapter six and loving it. I'm glad it's not finished, or I wouldn't get anything done today.

StrikeTheViol: "I used to merely snark about people like Yudkowsky, but then I discovered this, (scroll to bottom)"

I don't know enough about the guy to know why you would snark at him, but I thought that was so beautiful and so sad, and really quite similar to the way I think about death. Thank you for the link.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:09 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


shii Yes, the human capacity for selfishness is pretty much unlimited.
It's no more selfish for you or I to breathe in a thousand years' time than it is to breathe ten more minutes from now.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:27 AM on April 7, 2010


this is the best thing I have EVER read ever! It is perfect! I don't want it to EVER END EVER!
posted by rebent at 1:29 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like he says, conservation of energy isn't just an arbitrary rule that you can simply imagine being different with no other consequences, it's fundamental for things to even make sense.

OK, I see your point. I guess that's why they call it fantasy and not science-fiction, I suppose. It's about not wanting to abide by those rules, in spite of the impossibility of escaping them.
posted by harriet vane at 3:33 AM on April 7, 2010


Potter's character is grating, and a Mary Sue in many ways (He always wins. Always.). I don't read much fanfiction, so that may have been an exaggeration in those terms. That he thinks he can conquer the magical world by the sheer force of his rationality is the most frustrating thing, although I suppose it is a reaction to the irrational world that J. K. Rowling wrote (he really could, in that universe). I keep reading because, like the quote in the FPP, it is all too often both hilarious and sublime. Also: the scene with the sorting hat is amazing.
posted by Bobicus at 4:17 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also my opinion on the whole transhumanism thing is that life, really and truly, is defined by death; that even if I achieve a transhuman form, what I perceive as myself will die shortly after, willingly and piece by piece, in order to become part of something greater. I am content with merely perceiving my role in the creation of a form of life more alive than myself. I feel, though I am destined to die even if I could upload my consciousness tomorrow, it would be nice to think that something born of me or my ideas would live on unto the end of time.
posted by Bobicus at 4:27 AM on April 7, 2010


I loved what's there so far, thanks for posting it! The Harry in this book is a smarter, funnier version of how I'd be if thrust into that world. Quite often when reading the books I'd get frustrated by systems described in the world that simply can't work, or how spells and potions don't seem to have any underlying rules or algorithms behind their discovery, creation or use. I don't think it spoiled the books for me, I just found it quite jarring that these obvious flaws existed and that none of the wise and clever wizards had ever thought to ask what are, to me, obvious questions.

It's not because I'm deliberately trying to pick holes, and I still greatly enjoyed the books. It's just that I was raised and, later, trained to think like a scientist. It's a fundamental part of how I look at the world. Some people see a piece of art, see beauty in it and can't help but start to discern and wonder about its meanings and motivations. I see systems, see elegance or power in them, and can't help but start to discern and wonder about their mechanisms, their consequences and how they could be broken or improved. So this fanfic isn't spoiling the fun of HP, it's a smarter, funnier and more arrogant version of me asking all the questions and doing all the tests in-world that I wish I could. Awesome stuff!

bobicus - That he thinks he can conquer the magical world by the sheer force of his rationality is the most frustrating thing, although I suppose it is a reaction to the irrational world that J. K. Rowling wrote
Wheras I find it frustrating that none of Rowling's characters try to apply rationality to the world. The underlying assumption that the world is a rational place bound by consistent laws (albeit non-obvious laws that are hard to test) is such a fundamental part of my worldview that I struggle to let go of it when reading a teen fantasy book. This probably says much more about me and the sorry state of my mind than it does about the books, of course!

(The two sides of this really remind me of grumblebee's comment in the Derren Brown thread about the very different ways that different people enjoy magic shows and mystery books.)
posted by metaBugs at 4:33 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chapter 5, "The Fundamental Attribution Error", is hilarious! Also, I'm a fan of the title concept.
posted by amtho at 6:13 AM on April 7, 2010


I celebrated the life and death of my grandfather on Saturday. He was a great man, a generally kind man, and a man of patient and plodding brilliance. Those of us who embrace the fact that he was tired and now he's gone didn't really think about transhumanists. They are about as numerous as enthusiasts of Loglan and Klingon, and about as relevant in the political and cultural debates as the post-Nadar Greens.

We call his death good because among the many alternatives was a slow slide into the pit of social, technical, religious, and political vipers that dominate medical ethics in regards to end-of-life issues. As transhumanists prefer to dwell on the fantasies of nanotech and gene therapy rather than the pragmatics of hospice, pain management, dealing with cognitive disabilities at the end of life, medical and legal powers of attorney, living wills, and DNR orders, they offer very little hope or guidance to those of us who look at facing these issues now, or in the coming decades.

Regretting or getting angry at the fact of his death would be like getting angry over his homelessness in the Great Depression, how his education was cut short, and his joining the U.S. Army as a result. In death, as in life, he made the best of what was available to him.

When the magic technology comes down the pipe that fundamentally changes the ethical concerns involved, then we can change our conversations about the technological extension of life. Then transhumanism will be worthy of consideration beyond a pseudoscientific curiosity. Until then they have no business showering scorn on people who look soberly at the diminishing returns offered by existing medical technology and celebrating those who make the best of what's available.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:30 AM on April 7, 2010 [12 favorites]


You can keep your death-embracing values for yourself.

A lot of people, particularly the religious, seem to have misunderstood the nature of making a virtue of necessity. It's not a good thing.

It isn't just death. It's also, for instance, work (for someone else). We have to get a job to be able to buy food and shelter. Then along comes the "work ethic". Pah.
posted by DU at 6:34 AM on April 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


And for the record, I'm still an atheist who has a fairly strong emotional attachment to the absence of the afterlife on top of finding it irrational. I cannot imagine my crazy and prickly grandmother in a state of grace, and I don't find the possibility of her damnation in various flavors comforting.

DU: If something is necessary then we need to consider how we can approach it in the most ethical and virtuous way possible.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:48 AM on April 7, 2010


oh sweet kali this is the funniest fanfic I have ever read. I mean, it helps that I can identify with Harry the too sharp for his own good bookworm a lot more than the kid in the books who just kinda lets everyone's expectations shape him. It dissects itself and its form just as mercilessly as it dissects its source material.

also I am firmly in the "you death-lovers can go die if you wanna, that's awesome for you, have a good time with your planned obsolescence while my thousands of robot duplicates go off to the stars" camp. rip/mix/burn is not just for music.
posted by egypturnash at 8:32 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Thank you, teraflop - I haven't literally LOL'd at something online in quite a while. I don't normally care much for fan fiction (hell, I won't even read Christopher Tolkien or Brian Herbert on principle), but expected a cute sort of short essay applying hard rationalism to the sillyness of Harry Potter.

And you (well, Yudkowsky, but I never would have found this gem on my own) gave me somethimg so much more than that. Truly a work of art for its own merits, I found myself disappointed at the lack of a "next page" link at the bottom of chapter 10.

I think the biggest problem Yudkowsky will have with this will involve Hermione - A rational and knowledgeable Harry makes her basically redundant. Well, that, and the fact that a good 90% of each book consisted of "Harry screws up repeatedly because he forgot from the last book that he should just always go to Dumbledore first with any new problem"... I don't see this Harry having that same problem.


aeschenkarnos : Here's another really good Harry Potter fanfic, a John Constantine crossover.

Here, try the Gaiman version, which inconveniently predates Harry Potter. Funny, a lot of disconcertingly similar material seems to predate Harry Potter.


/ not a Rowling hater, she did an excellent job of taking that which came before and getting kids to read.
// do get someone bristly every time I hear about her suing someone else for doing the same

posted by pla at 8:33 AM on April 7, 2010


pla: Here, try the Gaiman version, which inconveniently predates Harry Potter. Funny, a lot of disconcertingly similar material seems to predate Harry Potter.

It's actually not very similar at all. Gaiman's Tim Hunter was primarily a MacGuffin to give the reader a four-issue tour of the DC magical universe. The following series established Hunter's family life as an echo of John Constantine's, and firmly situated him in working-class London. This is in contrast to Rowling who pulls Potter out of his family life as soon as possible to put him in what is practically a parallel universe. The most obvious parallels have nothing to do with Gaiman or Rowling at all, but can be blamed on the illustrators.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:50 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


That

was

AWESOME!
posted by tdismukes at 8:57 AM on April 7, 2010


Potter's character is grating, and a Mary Sue in many ways (He always wins. Always.).

vs.

I mean, it helps that I can identify with Harry the too sharp for his own good bookworm a lot more than the kid in the books who just kinda lets everyone's expectations shape him.

There's an entire chapter about how it's insane that people think he's still a bad ass, just because he did something when he was one.

He doesn't always win. In fact, his defeat (and it was a defeat) at the hands of the Sorting Hat was glorious.
posted by effugas at 9:16 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the biggest problem Yudkowsky will have with this will involve Hermione - A rational and knowledgeable Harry makes her basically redundant.

He's having a lot of fun playing with the rule changes -- for example, this Draco is much more interesting than the "real" one.

This Hermione could be anything from an excellent foil (she knows lots about magic and a little about science, to Harry's exact opposite) to Harry's most serious rival. She's smart, she'll find a place.

Who's in trouble is the entire Weasley family.
posted by effugas at 10:19 AM on April 7, 2010


I'm really enjoying reading this piece. The part where Draco and Harry meet is just hilarious. And later, when Ron comes into the picture, I love the chaotic progression.
posted by misha at 10:32 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, this was more entertaining than I expected it to be. Good find, teraflop!
posted by Harald74 at 5:03 AM on April 8, 2010


I like it.
posted by asok at 2:20 PM on April 8, 2010


I absolutely loved this. pla wrote yesterday that he was disappointed that there wasn't anything after chapter 10, but there are two more. Chapter 11 is alternate endings. I really liked this scenario, It would have made the series much shorter but it's compellingly logical.

Again, this is an alternate version and therefore NOT the end of the story.

Dumbledore peered over his desk at young Harry, twinkling in a kindly sort of way. The boy had come to him with a terribly intense look on his childish face - Dumbledore hoped that whatever this matter was, it wasn't too serious. Harry was far too young for his life trials to be starting already. "What was it you wished to speak to me about, Harry?"

Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres leaned forward in his chair, smiling grimly. "Headmaster, I got a sharp pain in my scar during the Sorting Feast. Considering how and where I got this scar, it didn't seem like the sort of thing I should just ignore. I thought at first it was because of Professor Snape, but I followed the Baconian experimental method which is to find the conditions for both the presence and the absence of the phenomenon, and I've determined that my scar hurts if and only if I'm facing the back of Professor Quirrell's head, whatever's under his turban. While it could be something more innocuous, I think we should provisionally assume the worst, that it's You-Know-Who - wait, don't look so horrified, this is actually a priceless opportunity -"


I also loved how he eviscerated Quidditch the first time Ron explained it to him, particularly the 150 point snitch rule. I remember the first time I read the book and having exactly the same reaction. Clearly JKR never played sports.
posted by Bonzai at 7:19 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bonzai : pla wrote yesterday that he was disappointed that there wasn't anything after chapter 10, but there are two more.

Just a bump for anyone still reading this, the next two have gone up.

And I think he's completely abandoned any pretense of following the overall plot progression from the books, at this point.
posted by pla at 9:23 PM on April 11, 2010


I'm waiting for the point when Yudkowsky follows the advice on his FF user page: "The First Law of Fanfiction states that every change which strengthens the protagonists requires a corresponding worsening of their challenges. Or in plainer language: You can't make Frodo a Jedi without giving Sauron the Death Star."

Harry Potter has been given the strength of rationality... so what is You-Know-Who going to get to make him a sufficient challenge? (Chapter 16 does offer some hints...)
posted by DataPacRat at 6:12 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


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