HP and the Methods of Rationality

Well, people have been recommending this fanfic to me for quite a while. I read part of it, got sick from rolling my eyes, and went back to it this week.

The good news is that it’s a nice long alternate world Harry Potter fanfic with lots going on and some interesting comments on the series, as well as a few bits of original worldbuilding.

The bad news? Pretty much everything else.

The idea behind this fic was to introduce Harry Potter as he might have been, if his Aunt Petunia had married a nice Oxford science professor instead of a jerk businessman. So the good part is that Harry is interested in experiments to reveal magic theory and the why behind various magical things. Harry is also interested in exploiting these things in the same way a gamer would. This is all fairly entertaining. The author decides to stick Harry and Hermione in Ravenclaw accordingly, and jettisons Ron Weasley almost entirely, in favor of an uneasy friendship with Draco. Obviously this is all writer’s choice. Weirder is his decision to cram most of the major plot points of the entire HP series into the first year of Hogwarts, and to use D&D spells as wizarding world spells.

However, the author is also attempting to make the fic a grand tutorial on “the methods of rationality,” which is to say, a tiny bit about the scientific method, a tiny bit about general science (without clearly pointing out the differences between observational and experimental sciences), a huge amount about psychology experiments (most of them experiments from the Sixties that were big on drama, but not exactly models of double-blind experimental design), and a huge honking lot about atheism. Mystical atheism. Yeah. And Atlantis, because that’s sciencefictiony and rational. Also, the guy apparently knows nothing about the history of science, which he thinks started in the Enlightenment period.

The author bias turns this rational Harry Potter into a bigger Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, in this case) that Rowling’s Potter ever was. Rowling’s Harry does stupid stuff. This guy’s Harry does stupid stuff because he’s just so good and logical that it doesn’t occur to him. (This is also the most American Harry Potter I’ve ever encountered.) Also, this is the sort of book where the hero ends up with a utility belt full of stuff that totally doesn’t encumber him, because suddenly you can have bags of holding and chests of holding with no restrictions on their use. Yeah. More seriously, it’s the kind of fic where people can be politically astute one minute and total idiots the next. He’s not able to make the wizarding world drolly daft and eccentric enough to explain this, so he pretty much makes everybody who’s not Harry into an idiot. Draco is a teachable idiot. Hermione is also an idiot, except one who occasionally has good ideas and good grades. No other kids from the Muggle world are allowed to exploit this ignorance of science thing, even though Harry does it all the time.

The biggest consequence of author bias is that there’s a whole lot of redesign of Rowling’s worldbuilding. Then, when the world itself changes, the non-main characters are berated for still behaving as though Rowling’s world design is still in force. The biggest example of this is the fanfic’s use of dementors. Rowling was pretty darned clear that they and their soulsucking powers were symbols of depression (which is why chocolate combats their effects). But the fanfic author has apparently never fought depression or mental illness (lucky for him), and thus decides that they should be represent death and the fear of death. The fear of death makes you active. Depression makes you passive (except for suicidal impulses, of course). His choice makes noooooo sense. But it does apparently fit his issues, which is how fanfic usually is determined.

This is where the mystical atheism comes in. It’s apparently wrong to be mystical about God, angels, or an afterlife, but it’s perfectly okay to be mystical about physical immortality, space travel, and science. Oh, and it’s foolish to study philosophy or logic. So yeah, somewhere about Chapter 20, you have the beautiful experience of reading this guy attempt to disprove the existence of the soul, while actually “proving” that we can’t possibly have speech centers in our brains. Yeah. And Dumbledore totally can’t defend his views, because he’s the one who’s so stupid, and because somebody who lived through Victorian times has never run into atheism before.

This argument, however, is one of the few parts of the story I can totally believe. Because it’s exactly the kind of stupid argument that an eleven year old kid would think was a crushing argument for atheism. Unfortunately, college age and older people apparently can’t see the Mack truck holes in the argument or come up with better atheist arguments themselves. It’s embarrassing.

Anyhoo, the dementor death thing has now led the fanfic author to kill off Hermione and give Harry an obsession with bringing her back to life. So no, this isn’t the stoic moderation sort of atheism. Noopers. And since this is a fanfic, no doubt we will see Harry achieve his goal through SCIENCE!

Oh, well. I wasted several hours on this thing. It’s fun and entertaining, but it’s a mess. It proclaims rationality, but really it’s all about emotional thinking and wish fulfilment. If you want to savor the irony, go at it.

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