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Speculations about Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

It’s really very good, especially if you’ve read the originals, but even I think if you haven’t. Here

Now, my speculations: which are mostly not about the characters themselves, but about the world.

1. That whole business about magic draining out of the world just isn’t true. Instead it’s waiting to be revealed as an example of how bad we all are at assessing noisy systems (like, for instance, ecological change). I think this because: Harry accepted the idea from Malfoy as an a priori assumption; the total dataset for assessing loss of magic is nugatory; the argument in favour of loss of magic is “we can’t do what Merlin did and we can’t do stuff the founders of Hogwarts did,” which commits the fallacy of equating the high points of all time in a noisy system with the current moment, and/or discounting teamwork.

2. Harry’s idea, that magic came originally from Atlantis or similar, and that there’s some antediluvian technological source for it, will be shown to be false. Partly because it’s built on his false assumption above, partly because sinking status* systems suck, but are useful for maintaining rigid hierarchies based on lineage (note that the Malfoys are devotees of this worldview) and partly because it is established early on that people are still making up new magics. But mostly because magic phrases are mostly dog Latin, which suggests they were dreamed up some time after the fall of Rome, which would be a really cool moment for the fall of Atlantis but would likely break suspension of disbelief, unless some equally cool conspiracy theory could be concocted for how it might not have leaked into all our ancient literature.

3. At some stage there will be a vindication of Dumbledore, and some sort of idea of wisdom will creep into the narrative that is not merely a sophisticated modeling of probable outcomes. I have no real evidence to support this, except that every other author ever seems to have pulled this move at some point, and Dumbledore as a character cries out for it: if there is nothing non-computable to wisdom, there is no need for this enjoyable character.

4. If the political debate of the last couple of chapters is resolved in the narrative in any way (if harry becomes powerful in the wizarding world or makes some rational decision to eschew political power, for instance) the resolution will be anti-paternalistic, and probably either anarchistic or libertarian – at least superficially. Non-violent political action aimed at reform will be valorized (I’m not sure if that non-violence will extend to dementors and/or Death Eaters, BTW). The extreme difficulty of pulling this off after so many homilies on human nature makes me sceptical of any such resolution happening, however. Azkaban will probably be demolished, if only because it’s a wish that I don’t think our author can leave unfulfilled.

5. OK fine, character time: Bellatrix was rescued at least partly for the reason Dumbledore fears. Quirrell is not Voldemort, neither does he channel/carry Voldemort in any supernatural sense, but Voldemort is somehow working through him, perhaps simply by persuasion or manipulation. Malfoy will at some point prove a more rigourous scientist than Harry and will reject Voldemortism, possibly to his doom in classic antiheroic fashion. Unless it is revealed that the image we have all received of Voldemort has been a massive distortion all along and he’s either being evil to battle some further evil or merely a scapegoat for other, better-entrenched political players. Somehow the ways in which the canon HP series is haunted by WW2 will be explicitly explored.

* I am frankly astounded that a pervasive anthropological concept like “sinking status system” does not have its own Wikipedia page. How can this be? Oliver Wolters likewise languishes in wiki-obscurity, and is rather misleadingly identified as a historian. At least John Furnivall is not entirely missing, although I’d call his article a “stub.” For the curious, sinking status systems are common among “traditional” societies across SE Asia. Under them, a polity is imagined to have declined from some past, better state. This decline is measured in generations or similar of removal from that better time (often these generations are imagined as lineages – people on the direct line of succession are said to have declined less than people removed from that line). Very often, the origin of the polity is said to be elsewhere: decline began when the polity split off from the progenitor group and has continued without hope of improvement ever since. Where there is hope of a restoration of grandeur, it lies with those closest to the least-declined lineage or, even more typically, with some secret scion of the least-declined line, unsuspected by the powerful, who holds the true kernel of prowess.

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