Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Hard Science

Rather than properly enjoying the first snows of spring, I’ve been spending too much time reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and so far it’s a good thing.

The first major divergence from J.K. Rowling’s original work is that Harry Potter has a reasonably normal happy childhood raised by step-parents who love him, treat him decently and strive to give him a good education, rather than a nasty aunt and uncle that lock him in a cupboard under the stairs and subject him to a surreal hell of psychological abuse.

This doesn’t mean Harry is a normal, well-adjusted boy. He is actually more than a little extraordinary and has some interesting cognitive issues, not all of them altogether good.

So far(I’ve only read up to the 51st chapter/page/whatever), this is an excellent bit of hard science fiction as Harry engages in well-described and well-reasoned scientific experimentation to try to learn the nature of magic in the world he’s been thrust into.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is both entertaining and enlightening. This is definitely an idea-rich story. Many principles of scientific reasoning and cognitive theory are covered in an engaging and informative manner.

If you think about it too much, the Wizarding world is kind of a cruel hell of brutality and injustice. Unlike the original, somewhat gormless and overwhelmed, Harry, this one is all about thinking too much. It helps that he chooses early to befriend the Machiavellian Draco Malfoy, a boy he describes as a nice kid who grew up with Darth Vader as his loving daddy. Malfoy gives him some valuable lessons in Wizard-world politics, both by describing the power of Wizard noble families and sometimes by off-handed remarks. Eliezer Yudkowsky doesn’t even have to change J.K Rowling’s Wizarding world in any significant way to paint it as a pretty ugly dystopia, just change the viewpoint character from a boy raised to expect abuse and cruelty to one raised in kindness and enlightenment. And Enlightenment.

Oh yeah, and Voldemort’s a whole lot more interesting…

This thing can readily eat a lot of your time, but I think it’s definitely a thing that folks should read.

The Astrographer

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One Response to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Hard Science

  1. You are nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award!

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