Harry Yudkowsky and the Methods of Postrationality: Chapter One: Em Dashes Colons and Ellipses, Littérateurs Go Wild

post by Will_Newsome · 2014-07-06T09:34:12.730Z · score: -13 (70 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 35 comments

Contents

  Harry: 1
None
35 comments

 

"If you give George Lukács any taste at all, immediately become the Deathstar." — Old Klingon Proverb

 

There was no nice way to put it: Harry James Potter-Yudkowsky was half Potter, half Yudkowsky. Harry just didn’t fit in. It wasn't that he lacked humanity. It was just that no one else knew (P)Many_Worlds, (P)singularity, or (P)their_special_insight_into_the_true_beautiful_Bayesian_fractally_recursive_nature_of_reality. Other people were rolesand how shall an actor, an agent, relate to those who are merely what they are, merely their roles? Merely their roles, without pretext or irony? How shall the PC fuck with the NPCs? Harry James Potter-Yudkowsky oft asked himself this question, but his 11-year-old mind lacked the g to grasp the answer. For if you are to draw any moral from this tale, godforsaken readers, the moral you must draw is this: P!=NP.

 

One night Harry Potter-Yudkowsky was outside, pretending to be Keats, staring at the stars and the incomprehensibly vast distances between them, pondering his own infinite significance in the face of such an overwhelming sea of stupidity, when an owl dropped a letter directly on his head, winking slyly. “You’re a wizard,” said the letter, while the owl watched, increasingly gloatingly, “and we strongly suggest you attend our school, which goes by the name Hogwarts. 'Because we’re sexy and you know it.’”

 

Harry pondered this for five seconds. “Curse the stars!, literally curse them!, Abra Kadabra!, for I must admit what I always knew in my heart to be true,” lamented Harry. “This is fanfic.”

 

“Meh.”

 

And so, as they'd been furiously engaged in for months, the divers models of Harry Potter-Yudkowsky gathered dust. In layman’s terms...

 

Harry didn’t update at all.

 

Harry: 1

Author:  0

 

 

(To be fair, the author was drunk.)

 

Next chapter: "Analyzing the Fuck out of an Owl"

...

Criticism appreciated.

35 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by eggman · 2014-07-09T08:54:14.555Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I figure I would do my due diligence for the sake of the community, or whatever, so I downvoted this post. Note that I'm a newer user of Less Wrong who isn't very familiar with Mr. Newsome's history of shenanigans on this website. So, I didn't have an automatic reaction to cringe, or something, when I encountered this piece. I downvoted this post based upon its own, singular lack of merit.

Mr. Newsome, here is some criticism I hope you appreciate.

Nothing about this first chapter here is enticing me to care about 'post-rationality', whatever that is. Eliezer Yudkowsky took a premise everyone was familiar with, and turned it on its head during the first chapter. He used a narrative format that was familiar, and actually wrote well. While the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality didn't immediately begin with a introduction of what the "methods of rationality" as applied to magic would be, per se, there was enough of that in the first chapter to keep others reading.

In hindsight, Mr. Yudkowsky couldn't have expected his fan fiction to become so popular, or so widely read. The fact that it has might be biasing me into thinking that his first crack at writing the fan fiction was better than it really is.

Anyway, it seems you're trying too much with this piece. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is the premise everyone here is familiar with, but you've done more than just turn it on its head. You've turned the very idea of one having a deep familiarity with the tropes on Less Wrong on its head. The first paragraph is just a blast of memes; I'm familiar with all of them, but I don't understand what all of them mean. The first part is incoherent, and is signaling that you have the knowledge to mock (in jest) the Less Wrong community. That in itself isn't clever, and the rest of the piece isn't clever enough as a parody to keep us, the readers, engaged.

I perceive the second part of this chapter to be a bit funny, but it doesn't build upon anything to get me to care. I don't believe it will be sustainable to have Potter-Yudkowsky be aware that he is in a meta-fan-fiction. If the protagonist confronts you, the author, as the controller of the world he is simulated within, he can at best only engage with a caricature of yourself as you've written it. It's difficult for me to think of how you would handle that without it becoming boring, lest you're very talented, and creative. If Potter-Yudkowsky realizes he can use his awareness to gain superpowers, that destroys the suspension of disbelief in the fantasy world the reader immerses themselves in quickly, which would also be boring. Finally, based upon how this chapter has played out, it would be difficult to maintain great continuity into the next chapter, which I would personally find frustrating, and challenging, as a reader.

This reads as the first part of some absurdist fiction. Still, it contains little foresight. The fact that you were drunk at the time this chapter was written, and posted, leads me to suspect that such an aspect made you want to post something which would be entertaining to yourself, but wasn't crafted with much thought to how it would be received by whatever readership you were hoping for.

In short, this doesn't strike me as a direct parody of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, but a parody of the rationalist community itself(?). That's such an odd thing to do that I find it off-putting, and I consider it this piece's undoing.

If you think I'm being unfair, note that HPMOR isn't posted here, just referenced to it. If you actually want to work on writing as you've claimed, rather than trolling, maybe fanfic.net is the better place.

It seems to me you're aware of your own writing, compared to the body of fiction you're already familiar with, such that you know how to write in the typical style, or cadence, of long-form narratives. That is, you can, or could, write good fiction. I don't even know that you need to work on your style. Maybe what you need to hone is the broader strokes of planning a piece with a consistent theme, or structure, that would be appealing to the readership you're hoping for. Obviously, from among the rationalist community is the readership you're aiming for. Presumably, you have the knowledge to produce funny content that would be better appreciated. Starting on FanFiction.net might be the place to start.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2014-07-09T10:01:25.840Z · score: 10 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the criticism, you're the first person to give me useful advice. Honestly you probably put more effort into writing this comment than I put into writing my chapter. I really appreciate it. I'll keep a tab open for this comment next time I attempt to write some fiction.

comment by eggman · 2014-07-09T10:11:18.099Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're welcome.

comment by Halfwitz · 2014-11-19T20:38:11.648Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think "P!=NPC" would have been better.

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-07-06T12:33:14.610Z · score: 12 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Need a Worm crossover here.

(Seriously. Drop an EY avatar into Worm. Shards of vastly greater applied intelligence than humans, but with questionable self-awareness. What does this do to the AI goal? Edit: and, of course, the nicest character in the whole saga being an actually friendly AI.)

comment by somervta · 2014-07-11T02:11:41.070Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This comments' parenthetical was at least 10x more valuable to me as the OP

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-07-06T10:35:44.251Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the laugh. The idea of self-aware characters is an interesting one. If you take your main characters seriously, it shouldn't be long until they're convinced they're either insane or in a simulation centered on them. Especially given smart characters, there's a suspension of disbelief in them not noticing that the world is only a quest-backdrop for them to interact with. Once the protagonists were aware of their plot-powers / plot-armor (which they may interpret as having some reality-altering powers of unknown origin), the author would have little choice but to bend the plot. Not unlike the Hunger-games stand-off threatening suicide. The alternative, effectively lobotomizing the main characters' agency, would be worse than just compromising your story, it would compromise your characters.

In effect, the model of a character you create isn't unlike a tulpa, a voice in your head. If you make them sufficiently smart, a necessary consequence would be some kind of self-awareness, or the very suspension of disbelief you wanted to avoid in the first place ("smart" characters acting dumb).

comment by shminux · 2014-07-06T16:53:38.180Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you take your main characters seriously, it shouldn't be long until they're convinced they're either insane or in a simulation centered on them.

I wish my author took me seriously.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-07-06T17:44:46.350Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry, I'll try to do better.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-07-06T18:57:59.839Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed the joke. It was a bit on the obvious side, but that's in line with the James_Miller character as established. Thanks for reading, and sorry for breaking the fourth wall.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-06T20:14:07.795Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately I just don't have the processing power to run any of you lot very quickly. You're also simply not as fun as the next several fictional universes I write: you run on strict physics and don't Munchkin things very hard.

comment by shminux · 2014-07-06T18:34:01.376Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That depends on how seriously your author takes you.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-07-11T02:41:37.298Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oops! I had been mindlessly assuming that I lived in the basement.

comment by mwengler · 2014-07-09T19:27:42.792Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wish my author took me seriously.

It is precisely dialog like that that keeps you a minor role.

comment by shminux · 2014-07-09T23:19:41.616Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You seem to confuse cause and effect. Oh wait... I must precommit to talk like a major character... But I cannot precommit unless the author writes me that way...

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2014-07-09T23:52:53.412Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The author can choose to avoid characters with your state of mind, but they can't choose the decisions implied by your state of mind. You can precommit to act like a major character, in which case you won't be a minor character, but you may fail to get in the actual story.

comment by mwengler · 2014-07-10T06:14:41.504Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You seem to confuse cause and effect. Oh wait... I must precommit to talk like a major character... But I cannot precommit unless the author writes me that way...

Seriously dude, who writes stuff like that? Maybe your agent can get you something else.

comment by Cyan · 2014-07-06T14:31:22.182Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Redshirts)

comment by shminux · 2014-07-09T15:55:12.374Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the recommendation.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2014-07-06T10:46:06.522Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really appreciate authors who find ways to avoid this problem without making any sacrifices, e.g. condescending to trite self-awareness, which is the sacrifice I make here in weakness. James Joyce is my favorite example. Your works can't harbor too many delusions if you stick to experiences as they are experienced. Even if those experiences are themselves delusions.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-07-06T14:26:08.506Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then again, maybe art imitates life more than it seems, at first.

Finding yourself born in what probably amounts to the fulcrum century of human civilization -- check.

Being amongst a ridiculously small portion of humanity whose behavior may directly shape the future of the cosmos -- check.

Being involved -- however peripherally -- with the advent or the delay of self-improving AI -- check.

Noticing that the sky is empty, as if no interference of other civilizations was sought, for the purposes of a simulation -- check. (Non-simulation status would predict a full sky, the easiest explanation of the Fermi paradox being "one of your assumptions (non-simulation status) is wrong".)

(Secretly possessing supernatural abilities wink wink -- can't publicly say.)


Believe that you are in fact in a simulation of a focal point of civilization -- ???.

See what I mean, Will/Harry?

ETA: Imagine Harry realizing that the story he's starring in is actually called "Hairy Potty and the Chamber Pot of Secretions".

comment by Will_Newsome · 2014-07-06T11:10:07.517Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, my advice for those who are wondering whether they're in a simulation or just insane: interpret the world as a subtle joke. Einstein's greatest conclusion: "God is subtle but not perverse."

comment by Gav · 2014-07-08T22:45:28.108Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This doesn't really seem useful here. I didn't come to LW isn't to read drunk fanfic (or fanfic-fic), and I doubt most people do either.

If you think I'm being unfair, note that HPMOR isn't posted here, just referenced to it. If you actually want to work on writing as you've claimed, rather than trolling, maybe fanfic.net is the better place.

comment by mwengler · 2014-07-06T11:34:45.776Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I KNEW it! I KNEW I was a wizard!

(This fanfic is really about me, right?)

But I digress, you asked for criticism. Here it is: what good is a Talmudic approach to everything if you are an atheist and this is a simulation? The whole point of even living in a simulation is there isn't enough processing power to support a fooming uAI.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2014-07-06T11:38:42.778Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're an atheist and this is a simulation then what the fuck kinda decision theoretic state do you even occupy brah

comment by mwengler · 2014-07-06T11:42:31.742Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Will edited his comment to change "...kinda epistemic state..." to "...kinda decision theoretic state..." I mention this because I think my response makes epsilon more sense w.r.t. his original comment -mw)

THe unexamined life may not be worth living. It is bad logic to infer from this that the examined life is any different.

Similarly, my not liking the fact that I don't know is hardly evidence that I really do know.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2014-07-06T11:46:02.465Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough. I share that perspective. I guess mostly I'm imagining that it becomes hard to criticize those who do jump off the bridge.

comment by mwengler · 2014-07-06T12:32:46.069Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hard to criticise, perhaps, but worth the effort. The best criticisms are the hard criticisms done well. That we do not get an A for effort alone does not suggest that we get an A without effort.

comment by atorm · 2014-07-06T18:46:18.934Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dafuq did I just read.

comment by TheMajor · 2014-07-06T19:37:47.202Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I'm being honest (and I do hope that that is what you asked for) then I'd like to mention that personally I didn't really enjoy the story above. The idea of self-aware characters sounds awesome, but I was a bit disturbed by the fact that the main character was named after Eliezer Yudkowsky. Making brilliant characters with nigh-impossible rationality skills is fine (and lots of fun to read!), but this seems to cross that subtle border between interesting fanfic and uncomfortable devotion. My did-I-just-join-a-cult-sensor is going off. I think changing the name of Harry Potter-Yudkowsky would be a good idea.

The above is a bit exaggerated, I'd still read the story and enjoy it if you kept the name. But the initial flinch was real.

comment by CronoDAS · 2014-07-09T02:13:48.918Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The idea of self-aware characters sounds awesome

Try this.

comment by TheMajor · 2014-07-12T13:19:31.291Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow, I loved it!

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-07-09T09:44:02.587Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or this.

comment by WilliamJames · 2014-08-01T10:15:59.860Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow.

comment by WilliamJames · 2014-08-01T10:16:05.622Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just wow.