Harry Potter And The Methods Of Rationality
from Less Wrong
Look in chapter two of the first book of the Richard 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.
"When you walk past a Book Store you haven't visited before, you have to go in and look around. That's the family rule."
So not only is the wizarding economy almost completely decoupled from the Muggle economy, no one here has ever heard of arbitrage.
Harry glumly considered the Dartmouth Conference on Artificial Intelligence in 1956. It had been the first conference ever on the topic, the one that had coined the phrase "Artificial Intelligence". They had identified key problems such as making computers understand language, learn, and improve themselves. They had suggested, in perfect seriousness, that significant advances on these problems might be made by ten scientists working together for two months.
Possibility two: He'd be taking over the world. Eventually. Perhaps not right away.
There were probably like a thousand people as intelligent as Einstein for every actual Einstein in history. Because they hadn't gotten their hands on the one thing you absolutely needed to achieve greatness. They'd never found an important problem.
"The Dark Lord is alive. Of course he's alive. It was an act of utter optimism for me to have even dreamed otherwise. I must have taken leave of my senses, I can't imagine what I was thinking. Just because someone said that his body was found burned to a crisp, I can't imagine why I would have thought he was dead. Clearly I have much left to learn about the art of proper pessimism."
"WorldDomination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimization."
Do you know the difference between someone worth talking to and a mere obstacle, Professor Mc Gonagall? From my perspective, that is? If an adult thinks that being superior to me, above me, getting obedience from me, is the most important thing to them, then they will be an obstacle. A potential collaborator is someone who thinks that getting the job done is more important than making sure I know my place.
"You can never have enough books," he recited the Verres family motto, and his father knelt down and gave him a quick, firm embrace. "But you certainly tried," Harry said, and felt himself choking up again. "It was a really, really, really good try."
Harry eyed Draco calculatingly, sensing the presence of another master. "You've gotten lessons on how to manipulate people?" "For as far back as I can remember," Draco said proudly. "Father bought me tutors." "Wow," Harry said. Reading Robert Cialdini's Influence: Science and Practice probably didn't stack up very high compared to that (though it was still one heck of a book). "Your dad is almost as awesome as my dad."
"Hey, Draco, you know what I bet is even better for becoming friends than exchanging secrets? Committing murder." "I have a tutor who says that," Draco allowed. He reached inside his robes and scratched himself with an easy, natural motion. "Who've you got in mind?"
Note to self: Overthrow government of magical Britain at earliest convenience... I am going to tear apart your pathetic little magical remnant of the Dark Ages into pieces smaller than its constituent atoms.
I wonder how difficult it would be to just make a list of all the top blood purists and kill them. They'd tried exactly that during the French Revolution, more or less - make a list of all the enemies of Progress and remove everything above the neck - and it hadn't worked out too well from what Harry recalled. Maybe he needed to dust off some of those history books his father had bought him, and see if what had gone wrong with the French Revolution was something easy to fix.
Science doesn't work by waving wands and chanting spells, it works by knowing how the universe works on such a deep level that you know exactly what to do in order to make the universe do what you want.
"Trying to figure out how something works on that deep level, the first ninety-nine explanations you come up with are wrong. The hundredth is right. So you have to learn how to admit you're wrong, over and over and over again. It doesn't sound like much, but it's so hard that most people can't do true science."
But when you find someone's ultimate lever it doesn't matter if they know you know.
She had an odd feeling that this was the hardest she'd ever been asked to think on a test or maybe even the first time she'd ever been asked to think on a test.
Hermione's brain kept hiccuping in confusion every time she tried to get properly angry. "Is your life always this peculiar?" she said at last. Harry Potter's face gleamed with pride. "I make it that peculiar. You're looking at the product of a lot of Hard Work and elbow grease."
"I make it that peculiar. You're looking at the product of a lot of hard work and elbow grease."
"exactly? I can do calculus and I know some Bayesian probability theory and Decision Theory and a lot of Cognitive Science, and I've read The Feynman Lectures (or volume 1 anyway) and Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases and Language in Thought and Action and Influence: Science and Practice and Rational Choice in an Uncertain World and Godel Escher Bach and A Step Farther Out and..."
"have you heard of a mysterious game where you can only play once, and they won't tell you the rules?"
"Life," said the lady at once. "That's one of the most obvious riddles I've ever heard." (Real Life)
"Star Wars was the only universe in which the answer actually was that you were supposed to cut yourself off completely from negative emotions, and something about Yoda had always made Harry hate the little green moron."
"The problem was that he didn't feel out of control when he was angry. The cold rage made him feel like he was in control. It was only when he looked back that events as a whole seemed to have... blown up out of control, somehow."
"You're giving me a time machine to treat my sleep disorder."
"You have minions!" Harry repeated. "Where do I get minions?"
"The title of this class is not Defense Against Minor Pests. You are here to learn how to defend yourselves against the Dark Arts. Which means, let us be very clear on this, defending yourselves against Dark Wizards. "
"Could Miss Granger's intelligence make her the most dangerous student in the classroom? Well? What do you think?"
" In short, Mr. Malfoy is dangerous because he knows who to strike and who not to strike, how to make allies and avoid making enemies"
"But Mr. Potter has now demonstrated why he is the most dangerous student in the classroom. I asked for unaccustomed uses of items in this room for combat. Mr. Potter could have suggested using a desk to block a curse, or using a chair to trip an oncoming enemy, or wrapping cloth around his arm to create an improvised shield. Instead, every single use that Mr. Potter named was offensive rather than defensive, and either fatal or potentially fatal."
". This reflects a quality that we might call intent to kill. I have it. Harry Potter has it, which is how he could stare down five older Slytherins. Draco Malfoy does not have it, not y"
" "I'm not a psychopath, I'm just very creative" a"
"It's a plot hole," said Harry. "I made myself weird enough to distract the universe for a moment and it forgot that Goyle had already picked up the Remembrall."
"Intent to win. That was what had gotten him."
"Oh, Draco Malfoy!" Harry said, feeling rather relieved that it wasn't Hermione or something. "Oh no, no no no, you've got it all wrong, he's not turning me, I'm turning him."
"I think, Professor Mc Gonagall, that you considerably overestimate the importance of what you call school discipline, as compared to having History taught by a live teacher or not torturing your students. Maintaining the current status hierarchy and enforcing its rules seems ever so much more wise and moral and important when you are on the top and doing the enforcing than when you are on the"
"said Professor Quirrell finally. "What is your ambition?"
"Oh," said Harry. "Um.." He organized his thoughts. "To understand everything important there is to know about the universe, apply that knowledge to become omnipotent, and use that power to rewrite reality because I have some objections to the way it works now."
"there are secrets you do not share with anyone who lacks the intelligence and the discipline to discover them for themselves! Every powerful wizard knows that! Even the most terrible Dark Wizards know that! And those idiot Muggles can't seem to figure it out! The eager little fools who discovered the secret of nuclear weapons didn't keep it to themselves, they told their fool politicians and now we must live under the constant threat of annihilation"
" "You decided that if you had to follow the whole list all the time, there wouldn't be much point in becoming a Dark Lord in the first place," Harry said"
") She'd gotten real House points almost every day of their first week, not for weird heroic things, but smart things like learning spells quickly and helping other students."
"The first scientists, being Muggles, lacked your traditions. In the beginning they simply did not comprehend the notion of dangerous knowledge, and thought that all things known should be spoken freely. When their searches turned dangerous, they told their politicians of things that should have stayed secre"
"This day shall "
"By now someone had certainly reported to Father that he was courting Harry Potter, and Father would also know that Draco hadn't written home about it, and Father would understand that Draco didn't think he could actually keep it a secret, which sent a clear message that Draco was practicing his own game now but still on Father's side, since if Draco had been tempted away, he would have been sending false reports."
"So when you add it all up, it looks like knowledge is being lost."
"I guess because I just couldn't get angry at you. I knew I'd hurt you first. I won't even call it fair, because what I did to you was worse than what you did to me."
" The thought came to Draco that Harry Potter had been raised in a place so strange that he was now effectively a magical creature rather than a wizard. Draco simply couldn't guess what Harry would say or do next."
"plays like this were always unrealistic, because if the playwright had known what someone actually as smart as Light would actually do, the playwright would have tried to take over the world himself instead of just writing plays about it."
"Rule of Three, which was that any plot which required more than three different things to happen would never work in real life."
"arry had been trying to be friendly, he was just insane"
"In the beginning, before people had quite understood how evolution worked, they'd gone around thinking crazy ideas like human intelligence evolved so that we could invent better tools."
"But human beings had four times the brain size of a chimpanzee. 20% of a human's metabolic energy went into feeding the brain. Humans were ridiculously smarter than any other species. That sort of thing didn't happen because the environment stepped up the difficulty of its problems a little. Then the organisms would just get a little smarter to solve them. Ending up with that gigantic outsized brain must have taken some sort of runaway evolutionary process, something that would push and push without limits."
"It really made you appreciate what millions of years of hominids trying to outwit each other - an evolutionary arms race without limit - had led to in the way of increased mental capacity."
"There were only two known causes of purposeful complexity. Natural selection, which produced things like butterflies. And intelligent engineering, which produced things like cars."
"So the words and wand movements were just triggers, levers pulled on some hidden and more complex machine. Buttons, not blueprints."
"Harry stared at them.
And then Harry began to explain how you went about thinking of things.
It had been known to take longer than two seconds, said Harry."
"You never called any question impossible, said Harry, until you had taken an actual clock and thought about it for five minutes, by the motion of the minute hand. Not five minutes metaphorically, five minutes by a physical clock.
And furthermore, Harry said, his voice emphatic and his right hand thumping hard on the floor, you did not start out immediately looking for solutions. "
"Harry also quoted someone named Robyn Dawes as saying that the harder a problem was, the more likely people were to try to solve it immediately.)"
"Mr. Potter, one of the requisites for becoming a powerful wizard is an excellent memory. The key to a puzzle is often something you read twenty years ago in an old scroll, or a peculiar ring you saw on the finger of a man you met only once. I mention this to explain how I managed to remember this item, and the placard attached to it, after meeting you a good deal later"
" But then human beings only understood each other in the first place by pretendin"
"Harry was finding himself very disturbed by how reproducible human thoughts were when you reset people back to the same initial conditions and exposed them to the same stimuli. It was dispelling illusions that a good reductionist wasn't supposed to have in the first place."
" It seemed that Quidditch scores added directly onto the House points total.
In other words, catching a golden mosquito was worth 150 House points."
"? If Quidditch scores did not count toward the House Cup then none of them would care about House points at all. It would merely be an obscure contest for students like you and Miss Granger."
"Harry noticed that he was confused.
And his threat estimate of the Head of House Slytherin shot up astronomically."
"Yeah," said the Boy-Who-Lived, "that pretty much nails it. Every time someone cries out in prayer and I can't answer, I feel guilty about not being God."
"And unless the wizarding justice system was as perfect as their prisons - and that sounded rather improbable, all things considered - somewhere in Azkaban was a person who was entirely innocent, and probably more than one."
" Earlier, Harry had very secretly - he hadn't even told Hermione - tried to Transfigure nanotechnology a la Eric Drexler. (He'd tried to produce a desktop nanofactory, of course, not tiny self-replicating assemblers, Harry wasn't insane.) It would have been godhood in a single shot i"
" Harry wanted to kill his eraser."
". If he wanted power, he had to abandon his humanity, and force his thoughts to conform to the true math of quantum mechanics.
There were no particles, there were just clouds of amplitude in a multiparticle configuration space and what his brain fondly imagined to be an eraser was nothing except a gigantic factor in a wavefunction that happened to factorize, it didn't have a separate existence any more than there was a particular solid factor of 3 hidden inside the number 6, if his wand was capable of altering factors in an approximately factorizable wavefunction then it should damn well be able to alter the slightly smaller factor that Harry's brain visualized as a patch of material on the eraser -"
" "Quantum mechanics wasn't enough," Harry said. "I had to go all the way down to timeless physics before it took. "
"Must everything I do be some sort of plot?" said Professor Quirrell. "Can't I ever create chaos just for the sake of chaos?"
"My troops, I'm not going to lie to you, our situation today is very grim. Dragon Army has never lost a single battle. And Hermione Granger... has a very good memory. The truth is, most of you are probably going to die. And the survivors will envy the dead. But we have to win this. We have to win this so that someday, our children can enjoy the taste of chocolate again. E"
"timeless decision theory" "
"Our war is a zero-sum game, and it doesn't matter whether it's easy or hard in an absolute sense, only who does better or worse." "The awesome thing was how fast he'd been able to escalate the chaos once he started doing it deliberately."
"Harry had nodded and said that was one way to resolve the Prisoner's Dilemma - and in fact both Death Eaters would want there to be a Dark Lord for exactly that reason.
(Draco had asked Harry to stop and let him to think about this for a while before they continued. It had explained a lot about why Father and his friends had agreed to serve under a Dark Lord who often wasn't nice to them..."
"The stupidity of Quidditch is transparent to you because you did not grow up revering the game. If you had never heard of elections, Mr. Potter, and you simply saw what is there, what you saw would not please you. "
"And becoming a lot more appreciative of the fact that his own father had always done everything he could to support Harry's development as a prodigy and always encouraged him to reach higher and never belittled a single one of his accomplishments, even if a child prodigy was still just a child. Was this the sort of household he could have ended up in, if Mum had married Vernon Dursley?"
"What would you do with eternity, Harry?"
"You seek the secret of the Dark Lord's immortality in order to use it for yourself!"
"Wrong! I want the secret of the Dark Lord's immortality in order to use it for everyone!"
"I think," Professor Quirrell said finally, staring at Harry with narrowed eyes, "that if we do not allow him to do this under supervision, he may, at some point or another, sneak off and look for a Dementor on his own. Do I accuse you falsely, Mr. Potter?"
"So, faced with a Dementor, it wouldn't exactly be comforting to ask: 'What if the fear is just a side effect rather than the main problem"
"A figure with two arms, two legs, and a head, standing upright; the animal Homo sapiens, the shape of a human being."
"Harry said, "I thought of my absolute rejection of death as the natural order."
"After the first six times Draco had tried calling Harry's bluff, on six successively more ridiculous occasions, he'd realized that Harry just didn't lie about what was written in books."
"But the Enlightenment is something that you and I belong to now, both of us."
"My father knew, his friends knew. They knew the Dark Lord was evil. But he was the only chance anyone had against Dumbledore!"
"We won't talk about whether or not it was necessary, whether it was justified. I'll just ask you to say that it was sad that it happened..."
"SNAKES ARE SENTIENT?"
"Just eat the students, said Hufflepuff. There's no doubt about whether they're sentient."
"I held my hand out over the floor and said, 'You see how high I'm holding my hand? Your intelligence has to be at least this high to talk to me.'"
"You choose your side by the way you live your life, what you do to other people and what you do to yourself. Will you illuminate others' lives, or darken them? That is the choice between Light and Dark,"
"Harry had finally worked out that the way to make amazing deductions from scanty evidence was to know the answer in advance."
"government to be defied, a maiden in distress to be rescued. Harry should have been more frightened, more reluctant, but instead he felt only that it was time and past time to start becoming the people he had read about in his books; to begin his journey toward what he had always known he was meant to be, a hero. "
"As for what they inflict on others... I suppose you were once told that people care about that sort of thing? It is a lie, Mr. Potter, people don't care in the slightest, and if you had not led a vastly sheltered childhood you would have noticed that long ago. "
"You know, said the part of him that refined his skills, didn't you sort of ponder, once, how every different profession has a different way to be excellent, how an excellent teacher isn't like an excellent plumber; but they all have in common certain methods of not being stupid; and that one of the most important such techniques is to face up to your little mistakes before they turn into BIG mistakes?"
"He'd thought, somewhere deep inside him, that if your mysterious teacher offered you the first mission, the first chance, the call to adventure, and you said no, then your mysterious teacher walked away from you in disgust, and you never got another chance to be a hero..."
"If you wanted to be a rationalist you had to read an awful lot of papers on flaws in human nature, and some of those flaws were innocent logical failures, and some of them looked a lot darker."
"A playwright must contain his characters, he must be larger than them in order to enact them within his mind. To an actor or spy or politician, the limit of his own diameter is the limit of who he can pretend to be, the limit of which face he may wear as a mask. But for such as you and I, anyone we can imagine, we can be, in reality and not pretense." *