HPMOR Q&A by Eliezer at Wrap Party in Berkeley [Transcription]
Transcribed from maxikov’s posted videos.
Verbal filler removed for clarity.
Audience Laughter denoted with [L], Applause with [A]
Eliezer: So, any questions? Do we have a microphone for the audience?
Guy Offscreen: We don’t have a microphone for the audience, have we?
Some Other Guy: We have this furry thing, wait, no that’s not hooked up. Never mind.
Eliezer: Alright, come on over to the microphone.
Guy with ‘Berkeley Lab’ shirt: So, this question is sort of on behalf of the HPMOR subreddit. You say you don’t give red herrings, but like… He’s making faces at me like… [L] You say you don’t give red herrings, but while he’s sitting during in the Quidditch game thinking of who he can bring along, he stares at Cedric Diggory, and he’s like, “He would be useful to have at my side!”, and then he never shows up. Why was there not a Cedric Diggory?
Eliezer: The true Cedrics Diggory are inside all of our hearts. [L] And in the mirror. [L] And in Harry’s glasses. [L] And, well, I mean the notion is, you’re going to look at that and think, “Hey, he’s going to bring along Cedric Diggory as a spare wand, and he’s gonna die! Right?” And then, Lestath Lestrange shows up and it’s supposed to be humorous, or something. I guess I can’t do humor. [L]
Guy Dressed as a Witch: Does Quirrell’s attitude towards reckless muggle scientists have anything to do with your attitude towards AI researchers that aren’t you? [L]
Eliezer: That is unfair. There are at least a dozen safety conscious AI researchers on the face of the earth. [L] At least one of them is respected. [L] With that said, I mean if you have a version of Voldemort who is smart and seems to be going around killing muggleborns, and sort of pretty generally down on muggles… Like, why would anyone go around killing muggleborns? I mean, there’s more than one rationalization you could apply to this situation, but the sort of obvious one is that you disapprove of their conduct with nuclear weapons. From Tom Riddle’s perspective that is.
I do think I sort of try to never have leakage from that thing I spend all day talking about into a place it really didn’t belong, and there’s a saying that goes ‘A fanatic is someone who cannot change his mind, and will not change the subject.’ And I’m like ok, so if I’m not going to change my mind, I’ll at least endeavor to be able to change the subject. [L] Like, towards the very end of the story we are getting into the realm where sort of the convergent attitude that any sort of carefully reasoning person will take towards global catastrophic risks, and the realization that you are in fact a complete crap rationalist, and you’re going to have to start over and actually try this time. These things are sort of reflective of the story outside the story, but apart from ‘there is only one king upon a chessboard’, and ‘I need to raise the level of my game or fail’, and perhaps, one little thing that was said about the mirror of VEC, as some people called it.
Aside from those things I would say that I was treating it more as convergent evolution rather than any sort of attempted parable or Professor Quirrell speaking form me. He usually doesn’t… [L] I wish more people would realize that… [L] I mean, you know the… How can I put this exactly. There are these people who are sort of to the right side of the political spectrum and occasionally they tell me that they wish I’d just let Professor Quirrell take over my brain and run my body. And they are literally Republicans for You Know Who. And there you have it basically. Next Question! … No more questions, ok. [L] I see that no one has any questions left; Oh, there you are.
Fidgety Guy: One of the chapters you posted was the final exam chapter where you had everybody brainstorm solutions to the predicament that Harry was in. Did you have any favorite alternate solution besides the one that made it into the book.
Eliezer: So, not to give away the intended solution for anyone who hasn’t reached that chapter yet, though really you’re just going to have the living daylight spoiled out of you, there’s no way to avoid that really. So, the most brilliant solution I had not thought of at all, was for Harry to precommit to transfigure something that would cause a large explosion visible from the Quidditch stands which had observed no such explosion, thereby unless help sent via Time-Turner showed up at that point, thereby insuring that the simplest timeline was not the one where he never reached the Time-Turner. And assuring that some self-consistent set of events would occur which caused him not to carry through on his precommitment. I, you know, I suspect that I might have ruled that that wouldn’t work because of the Unbreakable Vow preventing Harry from actually doing that because it might, in effect, count as trying to destroy that timeline, or filter it, and thereby have that count as trying to destroy the world, or just risk destroying it, or something along those lines, but it was brilliant! [L] I was staring at the computer screen going, “I can’t believe how brilliant these people are!” “That’s not something I usually hear you say,” Brienne said. “I’m not usually watching hundreds of peoples’ collective intelligence coming up with solutions way better than anything I thought of!” I replied to her.
And the sort of most fun lateral thinking solution was to call ‘Up!’ to, or pull Quirinus Quirrell’s body over using transfigured carbon nanotubes and some padding, and call ‘Up!’ and ride away on his broomstick bones. [L] That is definitely going in ‘Omake files #5: Collective Intelligence’! Next question!
Guy Wearing Black: So in the chapter with the mirror, there was a point at which Dumbledore had said something like, “I am on this side of the mirror and I always have been.” That was never explained that I could tell. I’m wondering if you could clarify that.
Eliezer: It is a reference to the fanfic ‘Seventh Horcrux’ that *totally* ripped off HPMOR despite being written slightly earlier than it… [L] I was slapping my forehead pretty hard when that happened. Which contains the line “Perhaps Albus Dumbledore really was inside the mirror all along.” Sort of arc words as it were. And I also figured that there was simply some by-location effect using one of the advanced settings of the mirror that Dumbledore was using so that the trap would always be springable as opposed to him having to know at what time Tom Riddle would appear before the mirror and be trapped. Next!
Black Guy: So, how did Moody and the rest of them retrieve the items Dumbledore threw in the mirror of VEC?
Eliezer: Dumbledore threw them outside the mirrors range, thereby causing those not to be sealed in the corresponding real world when the duplicate mode of Dumbledore inside the mirror was sealed. So wherever Dumbledore was at the time, probably investigating Nicolas Flamel’s house, he suddenly popped away and the line of Merlin Unbroken and the Elder Wand just fell to the floor from where he was.
Asian Guy: In the ‘Something to Protect: Severus Snape’, you wrote that he laughed. And I was really curious, what exactly does Severus Snape sound like when he laughs. [L]
Person in Audience: Perform for us!
Eliezer: He He He. [L]
Girl in Audience: Do it again now, everybody together!
Audience: He He He. [L]
Guy in Blue Shirt: So I was curious about the motivation between making Sirius re-evil again and having Peter be a good guy again, their relationship. What was the motivation?
Eliezer: In character or out character?
Guy in Blue Shirt: Well, yes. [L]
Eliezer: All right, well, in character Peter can be pretty attractive when he wants to be, and Sirius was a teenager. Or, you were asking about the alignment shift part?
Guy in Blue Shirt: Yeah, the alignment and their relationship.
Eliezer: So, in the alignment, I’m just ruling it always was that way. The whole Sirius Black thing is a puzzle, is the way I’m looking at it. And the canon solution to that puzzle is perfectly fine for a children’s book, which I say once again requires a higher level of skill than a grown-up book, but just did not make sense in context. So I was just looking at the puzzle and being like, ok, so what can be the actual solution to this puzzle? And also, a further important factor, this had to happen. There’s a whole lot of fanfictions out there of Harry Potter. More than half a million, and that was years ago. And ‘Methods of Rationality’ is fundamentally set in the universe of Harry Potter fanfiction, more than canon. And in many many of these fanfictions someone goes back in time to redo the seven years, and they know that Scabbers is secretly Peter Pettigrew, and there’s a scene where they stun Scabbers the rat and take him over to Dumbledore, and Head Auror, and the Minister of Magic and get them to check out this rat over here, and uncover Peter Pettigrew. And in all the times I had read that scene, at least a dozen times literally, it was never once played out the way it would in real life, where that is just a rat, and you’re crazy. [L] And that was the sort of basic seed of, “Ok, we’re going to play this straight, the sort of loonier conspiracies are false, but there is still a grain of conspiracy truth to it.” And then I introduced the whole accounting of what happened with Sirius Black in the same chapter where Hermione just happens to mention that there’s a Metamorphmagus in Hufflepuff, and exactly one person posted to the reviews in chapter 28, based on the clue that the Metamorphmagus had been mentioned in the same chapter, “Aha! I present you the tale of Peter Pettigrew, the unfortunate Metamorphmagus.” [L] See! You could’ve solved it, you could’ve solved it, but you didn’t! Someone solved it, you did not solve that. Next Question!
Guy in White: First, [pulls out wand] Avada Kedavra. How do you feel about your security? [L] Second, have you considered the next time you need a large group of very smart people to really work on a hard problem, presenting it to them in fiction?
Eliezer: So, of course I always keep my Patronus Charm going inside of me. [Aww/L] And if that fails, I do have my amulet that triggers my emergency kitten shield. [L] And indeed one of the higher, more attractive things I’m considering to potentially do for the next major project is ‘Precisely Bound Djinn and their Behavior’. The theme of which is you have these people who can summon djinn, or command the djinn effect, and you can sort of negotiate with them in the language of djinn and they will always interpret your wish in the worst way possible, or you can give them mathematically precise orders; Which they can apparently carry out using unlimited computing power, which obviously ends the world in fairly short order, causing our protagonist to be caught in a groundhog day loop as they try over and over again to both maybe arrange for conditions outside to be such that they can get some research done for longer than a few months before the world ends again, and also try to figure out what to tell their djinn. And, you know, I figure that if anyone can give me an unboundedly computable specification of a value aligned advanced agent, the story ends, the characters win, hopefully that person gets a large monetary prize if I can swing it, the world is safer, and I can go onto my next fiction writing project, which will be the one with the boundedly specified [L] value aligned advanced agents. [A]
Guy with Purple Tie: So, what is the source of magic?
Eliezer: Alright, so, there was a bit of literary miscommunication in HPMOR. I tried as hard as I could to signal that unraveling the true nature of magic and everything that adheres in it is actually this kind of this large project that they were not going to complete during Harry’s first year of Hogwarts. [L] You know, 35 years, even if someone is helping you is a reasonable amount of time for a project like that to take. And if it’s something really difficult, like AIs, you might need more that two people even. [L] At least if you want the value aligned version. Anyway, where was I?
So the only way I think that fundamentally to come up with a non-nitwit explanation of magic, you need to get started from the non-nitwit explanation, and then generate the laws of magic, so that when you reveal the answer behind the mystery, everything actually fits with it. You may have noticed this kind of philosophy showing up elsewhere in the literary theory of HPMOR at various points where it turns out that things fit with things you have already seen. But with magic, ultimately the source material was not designed as a hard science fiction story. The magic that we start with as a phenomenon is not designed to be solvable, and what did happen was that the characters thought of experiments, and I in my role of the universe thought of the answer to it, and if they had ever reached the point where there was only one explanation left, then the magic would have had rules, and they would have been arrived at in a fairly organic way that I could have felt good about; Not as a sudden, “Aha! I gotcha! I revealed this thing that you had no way of guessing.”
Now I could speculate. And I even tried to write a little section where Harry runs into Dumbledore’s writings that Dumbledore left behind, where Dumbledore writes some of his own speculation, but there was no good place to put that into the final chapter. But maybe I’ll later be able… The final edits were kind of rushed honestly, sleep deprivation, 3am. But maybe in the second edit or something I’ll be able to put that paragraph, that set of paragraphs in there. In Dumbledore’s office, Dumbledore has speculated. He’s mostly just taking the best of some of the other writers that he’s read. That, look at the size of the universe, that seems to be mundane. Dumbledore was around during World War 2, he does know that muggles have telescopes. He has talked with muggle scientists a bit and those muggle scientists seem very confident that all the universe they can see looks like it’s mundane. And Dumbledore wondered, why is there this sort of small magical section, and this much larger mundane section, or this much larger muggle section? And that seemed to Dumbledore to suggest that as a certain other magical philosopher had written, If you consider the question, what is the underlying nature of reality, is it that it was mundane to begin with, and then magic arises from mundanity, or is the universe magic to begin with, and then mundanity has been imposed above it? Now mundanity by itself will clearly never give rise to magic, yet magic permits mundanity to be imposed, and so, this other magical philosopher wrote, therefore he thinks that the universe is magical to begin with and the mundane sections are imposed above the magic. And Dumbledore himself had speculated, having been antiquated with the line of Merlin for much of his life, that just as the Interdict of Merlin was imposed to restrict the spread an the number of people who had sufficiently powerful magic, perhaps the mundane world itself, is an attempt to bring order to something that was on the verge of falling apart in Atlantis, or in whatever came before Atlantis. Perhaps the thing that happened with the Interdict of Merlin has happened over and over again. People trying to impose law upon reality, and that law having flaws, and the flaws being more and more exploited until they reach a point of power that recons to destroy the world, and the most adapt wielders of that power try to once again impose mundanity.
And I will also observe, although Dumbledore had no way of figuring this out, and I think Harry might not have figured it out yet because he dosen’t yet know about chromosomal crossover, That if there is no wizard gene, but rather a muggle gene, and the muggle gene sometimes gets hit by cosmic rays and ceases to function thereby producing a non-muggle allele, then some of the muggle vs. wizard alleles in the wizard population that got there from muggleborns will be repairable via chromosomal crossover, thus sometimes causing two wizards to give birth to a squib. Furthermore this will happen more frequently in wizards who have recent muggleborn ancestry. I wonder if Lucius told Draco that when Draco told him about Harry’s theory of genetics. Anyway, this concludes my strictly personal speculations. It’s not in the text, so it’s not real unless it’s in the text somewhere. ‘Opinion of God’, Not ‘Word of God’. But this concludes my personal speculations on the origin of magic, and the nature of the “wizard gene”. [A]