Monthly Archives: March 2015

Time Is Running Out

Humpday, 6 Priming 2015

Lately I have been reading a series of fan fiction essays that are a slightly different take on the magical world of Hogwarts called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. It’s based on a couple of tweaks to the Harry Potter origin story, and takes a logical path through the world of magic as much as possible. There have been one hundred and twenty chapters mentioned, but as of this writing there are one hundred and thirteen completed and posted to the internets, and apparently there might only be one very short chapter if things don’t work out by midnight tonight (Pacific Standard Time):

This is your final exam.

You have 60 hours.

Your solution must at least allow Harry to evade immediate death, despite being naked, holding only his wand, facing 36 Death Eaters plus the fully resurrected Lord Voldemort.

If a viable solution is posted before *12:01AM Pacific Time* (8:01AM UTC) on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015, the story will continue to Ch. 121.

Otherwise you will get a shorter and sadder ending.

Keep in mind the following:

1. Harry must succeed via his own efforts. The cavalry is not coming. Everyone who might want to help Harry thinks he is at a Quidditch game.

2. Harry may only use capabilities the story has already shown him to have; he cannot develop wordless wandless Legilimency in the next 60 seconds.

3. Voldemort is evil and cannot be persuaded to be good; the Dark Lord’s utility function cannot be changed by talking to him.

4. If Harry raises his wand or speaks in anything except Parseltongue, the Death Eaters will fire on him immediately.

5. If the simplest timeline is otherwise one where Harry dies – if Harry cannot reach his Time-Turner without Time-Turned help – then the Time-Turner will not come into play.

6. It is impossible to tell lies in Parseltongue.

Within these constraints, Harry is allowed to attain his full potential as a rationalist, now in this moment or never, regardless of his previous flaws.

Of course ‘the rational solution’, if you are using the word ‘rational’ correctly, is just a needlessly fancy way of saying ‘the best solution’ or ‘the solution I like’ or ‘the solution I think we should use’, and you should usually say one of the latter instead. (We only need the word ‘rational’ to talk about ways of thinking, considered apart from any particular solutions.)

And by Vinge’s Principle, if you know exactly what a smart mind would do, you must be at least that smart yourself. Asking someone “What would an optimal player think is the best move?” should produce answers no better than “What do you think is best?”

So what I mean in practice, when I say Harry is allowed to attain his full potential as a rationalist, is that Harry is allowed to solve this problem the way YOU would solve it. If you can tell me exactly how to do something, Harry is allowed to think of it.

But it does not serve as a solution to say, for example, “Harry should persuade Voldemort to let him out of the box” if you can’t yourself figure out how.

The rules on Fanfiction dot Net allow at most one review per chapter. Please submit *ONLY ONE* review of Ch. 113, to submit one suggested solution.

For the best experience, if you have not already been following Internet conversations about recent chapters, I suggest not doing so, trying to complete this exam on your own, not looking at other reviews, and waiting for Ch. 114 to see how you did.

I wish you all the best of luck, or rather the best of skill.

Ch. 114 will post at 10AM Pacific (6PM UTC) on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015.


If you have pending exams, then even though the bystander effect is a thing, I expect that the collective effect of ‘everyone with more urgent life issues stays out of the effort’ shifts the probabilities very little (because diminishing marginal returns on more eyes and an already-huge population that is participating).

So if you can’t take the time, then please don’t. Like any author, I enjoy the delicious taste of my readers’ suffering, finer than any chocolate; but I don’t want to *hurt* you.

Likewise, if you hate hate hate this sort of thing, then don’t participate! Other people ARE enjoying it. Just come back in a few days. I shouldn’t even need to point this out.

I remind you again that you have hours to think. Use the Hold Off On Proposing Solutions, Luke.

And really truly, I do mean it, Harry cannot develop any new magical powers or transcend previously stated constraints on them in the next sixty seconds.

I don’t really want to give out any spoilers, but Harry is just about to be disposed of by the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters and he has nothing but his wand. And the author wants to see if you can figure out a way for Harry to get out of the mess he is currently in.

I have absolutely no clue where this is going to go. I’m just glad to have been on the ride so far. I sincerely hope that we get to see all of the rest of the story, whether or not someone in the studio audience is tuned in to the author’s methods of rationality sufficiently to suss out the answer that has been set up within the story as the best way forward. Time will tell.

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