Other Books

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Yudkowsky, Eliezer - Finished Aug 22, 2016

Run-on Sentence Summary

A Harry Potter fan fiction that explores an alternate reality where instead of being a bumbling idiot, Harry Potter is a young rationalist boy genius who wants to discover the inner workings of magic using science: basically, Ender Wiggin goes to Hogwarts.

Impressions

I was excited by the premise of this “book,” but it didn’t live up to the hype. It is funny and charming at first, poking fun at the original canon. For instance, instead of becoming a star seeker, Harry scoffs at Quittich, thinking that since the snitch is worth such a massive number of points, the game is completely flawed and dumb. The strong start, riding on nostalgia, doesn’t last.

The main ideas behind Harry’s logos come from the blog Less Wrong, which advocates understanding statistical reasoning, the scientific method, and the danger of various cognitive biases in order to make more rational and thus better decisions. Consistently though, Harry comes off as a condescending, smug douche with more intelligence than sense. The tone would be more acceptable if properly backed up, but the science in the book feels more like cheap popular sociology than some new superior way of thinking. The writing is repetitive, clumsy and cringeworthy, and quickly veers from the promise of applying science to magic. Instead, the book focuses on Machiavellian intrigue and constant “he thinks that I think" intuitions. It would be more fun if any of the characters were believable.

The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. It seems like there are some genuine good ideas in the rationalist view that the story advocates, but it is lost through the sheer weight of bad storytelling. I made it to chapter 33 before giving up.

Final Thoughts

Seems that I’m the kind of person that blogs scathing reviews of obscure Harry Potter fan fiction. When did that happen? What went wrong?

Favorite Quote

“That was when Father had told Draco about the Rule of Three, which was that any plot which required more than three different things to happen would never work in real life."