Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

This is an absolutely marvelous work of fan fiction written in the Harry Potter universe.  But what distinguishes it from other first rate fan fiction is the underlying approach of the author Eliezer Yudkowsky of the Less Wrong blog.  Yudkowsky is a rationalist.  He hopes to make people more rational by getting them to avoid mistakes caused by cognitive biases and to rely on more reliable methods of reaching correct results.

Yudkowsky is well versed in this literature of cognitive biases and rational methods.  While I find this literature interesting,  Yudkowsky makes it enormous fun by working it into his retelling of Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts.  Yudkowsky has changed the story so that Petunia married a brilliant biochemist rather than Vernon Dursley, and Harry grew up reading science and science fiction to become an incredible prodigy.  Harry decides that he will use the methods of science to study magic.

I don’t read all that much fiction, but I made it through 87 chapters and more than 1000 pages of the novel – so that is saying something.  Unfortunately, the novel is not yet finished, but is still being written, and so I am in the unexpected situation of waiting impatiently with the many other fans for the next batch of chapters.  Its like a 19th century serialization of a novel. 

If you like the Harry Potter books or are interested in the cognitive bias literature – and especially if you fall into both categories like me – this book might be just the ticket for you.

The only complaint I have is that neither Harry nor the other first years behave like 11 year olds.  But I fear that this adjustment had to be made to allow the story to illustrate the cognitive biases and methods of rationality that are its core.  This problem does not interfere with the story much, so long as you can assume in your own mind that the kids are a bit older.


grindelwald two (3)

Not Too Fantastic

The second "Fantastic Beasts" movie takes us to that familiar J.K. Rowling realm, where moral conformism goes hand in hand with a desire for distinction.