Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky
001. Not everything the protagonist does is a lesson in wisdom, and advice offered my darker characters may be untrustworthy or dangerously doubled edged.
002. [Harry:] ‘If you want to win this argument with Dad, look in chapter two of the first book of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. There’s a quote there about hos 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.
003. Magic was a disgraceful thing that only stupid people believed in; if his father went to far as to test the hypothesis, or even watch it being tested, that would feel like associating himself with that…
. Harry opened his eyes and stumbled to a halt, feeling vaguely dirtied by having made a deliberate effort to believe something.
. Okay, so either (a) I just teleported somewhere else entirely (b) they can fold space like no one’s business or (c) they are simply ignoring the rules.
. [Regarding Quidditch] It’s like someone took a real game and grafted on this pointless extra position just so that you could be the Most Important Player without needing to really get involved or learn the rest of it.
. ‘If you try to be nice to them, it just means that you end up spending the most pushy ones. Decide who you want to spend time with and tell everyone else to go away. People will judge you by who they see you with.
. ‘I’m so completely going to be in Ravenclaw, thank you very much. I only want power so I can get books.’
. Harry glanced away uncomfortably, then, with an effort, forced himself to look back at Draco. ‘Why are you telling me that? It seems sort of…private.’
Draco gave Harry a serious look. ‘One of my tutors once said that people form close friendships by knowing private things about each other, and the reason most people don’t make close friends is because they’re too embarrassed to share anything really important about themselves. Draco turned his palms out invitingly. ‘Your turn?’
. The same could be said of Draco’s clever use of reciprocating pressure for an unsolicited gift, a technique which Harry had read about in his social psychology books (one experiment had shown that an unconditional gift of $5 was twice as effective as a conditional offer of $50 in getting people to fill out surveys.) Draco had made an unsolicited gift of a confidence, and now invited Harry to offer a confidence in return…and the thing was, Harry did feel pressured.
. A pause to reflect could go a long way in defusing the power of a lot of compliance techniques, once you learned to recognize them for what they were.
. ‘Not that I wish my Dad was a flawless instrument of death like Lucius, I only mean taking me seriously.’
. All right, if this guy just took advantage of a natural accident to sell me twenty-four cans of green soda pop, I’m going to applaud his creative entrepreneurial spirit and then kill him.
.He was feeling a deep-seated desire to run away screaming at the top of his lungs until he dropped from lack of oxygen, and the only thing stopping him was that he had once read that outright panic was the sign of a *truly* important scientific problem.
. ‘Hey, Draco, you know what I bet is even better for becoming friends that 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?’
. ‘Are you kidding me? That’s even worse that Muggle journalism, which I would have thought was physically impossible.’
. When the conversation can’t go forward and can’t go back, zig it sideways.
. ‘Are you nuts?’
‘Quite the opposite, I’m so sane it burns like ice.’
. Charming, happy, generous with his favours to his friends, Draco wasn’t a psychopath. That was the sad and awful part, knowing human psychology well enough to *know* that Draco *wasn’t* a monster. There had been ten thousand societies over the history of the world where this conversation could have happened. No, the world would have been a very different place indeed, if it took an *evil mutant* to say what Draco had said. It was very simple, very human, it was the default if nothing else intervened. To Draco, his enemies weren’t people.
. So the world is broken and flawed and insane, and cruel and bloody and dark. This is news? You always knew that, anyway…
–‘Well, like Father says, there may be four houses, but in the end everyone belongs to either Slytherin or Hufflepuff. And frankly, you’re not on the Hufflepuff end. If you decide to side with the Malfoys under the table…our power and your reputation…you could get away with things even *I* can’t do. What to *try* it for a while? See what it’s like?’
— [Harry] ‘I don’t want to rule the universe. I just think it could be more sensibly organised.’
— [Hermione] Aside from helping people with their homework, or anything else they needed, she really didn’t know how to meet people. She didn’t *feel* like she was a shy person. She thought of herself as a take-charge sort of girl. And yet, somehow, if there wasn’t some request along the lines of ‘I can’t remember how to do long division’ then it was just too *awkward* to go up to someone and say…what? She’d never been able to figure out what. And there didn’t seem to be a standard information sheet, which was ridiculous. The whole business of meeting people had never seemed sensible to her. Why did *she* have to take all of the responsibility herself when there were two people involved? Why didn’t adults ever help? She wished some other girl would just walk up to *her* and say, ‘Hermione, the teacher told me to be friends with you.’
–‘Not unless you can name the six quarks of tell me where to find a first-year girl named Hermione Granger.’
‘Up, down, strange, charm, truth, beauty, and why are you looking for a first-year girl named Hermione Granger?’
It was hard to tell from this distance, but she thought she saw the boy grin widely under his scarf. ‘Ah, so *you’re* a first-year girl named Hermione Grange,’ said that young, muffled voice. ‘On the train to Hogwarts, no less.’ The boy started to walk toward her and her cabin, and his trunk slithered along after him. ‘Technically, all I needed to do was *look* for you, but it seems likely that I’m meant to talk to you or invite you to join my party or get a key magical item from you or find out that Hogwarts was built over the ruins of an ancient temple or something.
–That’s called *consequentialism*, by the way, it means that whether an act is right or wrong isn’t determined by whether it *looks* bad, or mean, or anything like that, the only question is how it will turn out in the end–what are the consequences.
–Smart kids in Ravenclaw, evil kids in Slytherin, wannabe heroes in Gryffindor, and everyone who does the actual work in Hugglepuff.