Quote of the Day – HPMOR Edition

I’ve been reading the fanfic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by author Less Wrong since about the time chapter 77 went up.  Less is the nom de plume of Eliezer Yudkowsky:

a resident of Berkeley, California, has no formal education in computer science or artificial intelligence. A former child prodigy, he scored a 1410 on the SATs at age 11 and a perfect 1600 four years later. He co-founded the nonprofit Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (currently the Machine Intelligence Research Institute) in 2000 and continues to be employed there as a full-time Research Fellow.

He is also heavily involved in the Center for Applied Rationality.

In my previous post Faith in Government, I referred to the collection of essays on the left sidebar of this blog under the heading “The ‘Rights’ Discussions,” in response to a Facebook post on a whole list of proposed new individual rights. A good chunk of those essays were a back-and-forth between myself and a math professor, Dr. Danny Cline, partly on whether rights were something human beings understood instinctively. He said yes, I said no.

In the TSM tradition of using someone else’s words when they say it better than I can, an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality – Chapter 87, Hedonic Awareness:

“Is there some amazing rational thing you do when your mind’s running in all different directions?” she managed.

“My own approach is usually to identify the different desires, give them names, conceive of them as separate individuals, and let them argue it out inside my head. So far the main persistent ones are my Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin sides, my Inner Critic, and my simulated copies of you, Neville, Draco, Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick, Professor Quirrell, Dad, Mum, Richard Feynman, and Douglas Hofstadter.”

Hermione considered trying this before her Common Sense warned that it might be a dangerous sort of thing to pretend. “There’s a copy of me inside your head?”

“Of course there is!” Harry said. The boy suddenly looked a bit more vulnerable. “You mean there isn’t a copy of me living in your head?”

There was, she realized; and not only that, it talked in Harry’s exact voice.

“It’s rather unnerving now that I think about it,” said Hermione. “I do have a copy of you living in my head. It’s talking to me right now using your voice, arguing how this is perfectly normal.”

“Good,” Harry said seriously. “I mean, I don’t see how people could be friends without that.”

She continued reading her book, then, Harry seeming content to watch the pages over her shoulder.

She’d gotten all the way to number seventy, Katherine Scott, who’d apparently invented a way to turn small animals into lemon tarts, when she finally worked up the courage to speak.

“Harry?” she said. (She was leaning a bit away from him now, though she didn’t realize it.) “If there’s a copy of Draco Malfoy in your head, does that mean you’re friends with Draco Malfoy?”

“Well…” Harry said. He sighed. “Yeah, I’d been meaning to talk with you about this anyway. I kind of wish I’d talked to you sooner. Anyway, how can I put this… I was corrupting him?”

“What do you mean corrupting? ”

“Tempting him to the Light Side of the Force.”

Her mouth just stayed open.

“You know, like the Emperor and Darth Vader, only in reverse.”

Draco Malfoy,” she said. “Harry, do you have any idea –


“- the sort of things Malfoy has been saying about me? What he said he’d do to me, as soon as he got the chance? I don’t know what he told to you, but Daphne Greengrass told me what Malfoy says when he’s in Slytherin. It’s unspeakable, Harry! It’s unspeakable in the completely literal sense that I can’t say it out loud!”

“When was this?” Harry said. “At the start of the year? Did Daphne say when this was?”

“No,” Hermione said. “Because it doesn’t matter when, Harry. Anyone who said things – like Malfoy said – they can’t be a good person. It doesn’t matter what you tempted him to, he’s still a rotten person, because no matter what a good person would never -“

“You’re wrong.” Harry said, looking her straight in the eyes. “I can guess what Draco threatened to do to you, because the second time I met him, he talked about doing it to a ten-year-old girl. But don’t you see, on the day Draco Malfoy arrived in Hogwarts, he’d spent his whole previous life being raised by Death Eaters. It would’ve required a supernatural intervention for him to have your morality given his environment -“

Hermione was shaking her head violently. “No, Harry. Nobody has to tell you that hurting people is wrong, it’s not something you don’t do because the teacher says it’s not allowed, it’s something you don’t do because – because you can see when people are hurting, don’t you know that, Harry?” Her voice was shaking now. “That’s not – that’s not a rule people follow like the rules for algebra! If you can’t see it, if you can’t feel it here,” her hand slapped down over the center of her chest, not quite where her heart was located, but that didn’t matter because it was all really in the brain anyway, “then you just don’t have it!”

The thought came to her, then, that Harry might not have it.

“There’s history books you haven’t read,” Harry said quietly. “There’s books you haven’t read yet, Hermione, and they might give you a sense of perspective. A few centuries earlier – I think it was definitely still around in the seventeenth century – it was a popular village entertainment to take a wicker basket, or a bundle, with a dozen live cats in it, and -“

“Stop,” she said.

“- roast it over a bonfire. Just a regular celebration. Good clean fun. And I’ll give them this, it was cleaner fun than burning women they thought were witches. Because the way people are built, Hermione, the way people are built to feel inside -” Harry put a hand over his own heart, in the anatomically correct position, then paused and moved his hand up to point toward his head at around the ear level, “- is that they hurt when they see their friends hurting. Someone inside their circle of concern, a member of their own tribe. That feeling has an off-switch, an off-switch labeled ‘enemy’ or ‘foreigner’ or sometimes just ‘stranger’. That’s how people are, if they don’t learn otherwise. So, no, it does not indicate that Draco Malfoy was inhuman or even unusually evil, if he grew up believing that it was fun to hurt his enemies -“

“If you believe that,” she said with her voice unsteady, “if you can believe that, then you’re evil. People are always responsible for what they do. It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you to do, you’re the one who does it. Everyone knows that -“

No they don’t! You grew up in a post-World-War-Two society where ‘I vas only followink orders’ is something everyone knows the bad guys said. In the fifteenth century they would’ve called it honourable fealty.” Harry’s voice was rising. “Do you think you’re, you’re just genetically better than everyone who lived back then? Like if you’d been transported back to fifteenth-century London as a baby, you’d realize all on your own that burning cats was wrong, witch-burning was wrong, slavery was wrong, that every sentient being ought to be in your circle of concern? Do you think you’d finish realizing all that by the first day you got to Hogwarts? Nobody ever told Draco he was personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society he grew up in. And despite that, it only took him four months to get to the point where he’d grab a Muggleborn falling off a building.” Harry’s eyes were as fierce as she’d ever seen him. “I’m not finished corrupting Draco Malfoy, but I think he’s done pretty well so far.

The problem with having such a good memory was that she did remember.

She remembered Draco Malfoy grabbing her wrist, so hard she’d had a bruise afterward, while she was falling off the roof of Hogwarts.

I’ve never read the original Harry Potter novels, but five chapters into HPMOR I was hooked. If you’ve not read it, I give it my strongest recommendation. Then you, like me, can wait for each new chapter to be published.

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