Beyond IQ


Upcoming events

    • 29 Aug 2018
    • 12 Dec 2018
    • 16 sessions
    • Online
    • 12
    Registration is closed

    So, you want a description of what SRT:HPMOR Part 3 is going to be about?

    It’s going to be about so much awesomeness.

    It’s going to be about getting through 800+ pages of the material.

    It’s going to be about the answers to all the questions that have been bothering you – and also seeing how much we can answer ourselves, not just by our pattern completion abilities, not just because we can pretend to be wise, but because we can think rationally and therefore see what Harry will do, what the author will craft, and why.

    We will continue to explore the role of Hermione and the role of women in general, trying to decide whether this work is feminist or failing at that goal. 

    We will continue to delve deeply into the characters of Harry, Quirrell, Dumbledore, Malfoy, and others.

    And we’ll keep attacking the science, the rationality, and work on growing as rationalists ourselves.

    Once all has been answered, we’ll piece the puzzle together and see how it all fits.

    Class will meet for 16 sessions.

    All times are U.S. East Coast. 

    Students will have access to class recordings the day after each class.

    Science is not just discovery, it is self-discovery.


    Day 1: Hesitation is always easy

    Book 4, chapters 1-5 (65-69)

    Introduction to Part 3, introduction to book 4, concept of hero, self-actualization, observation in quantum mechanics, spatial visualization, cost/benefit of fame, plenty of character and plot analysis.

    Day 2: Nobody’s Sidekick

    Book 4, chapters 6-9 (70-73)

    Analysis – Quirrell’s opinion of SPHEW, women, and heroes; more analysis of heroism and its cost; role and power of protest; the void between the galaxies; moral development and dilemmas, psychology of bullying and groups, character analysis of Daphne and Tracey (as well as the usual), divination and time travel and paradoxes, parallels to current events, seeing cultures from the outside.

    Day 3: Hidden Mastermind

    Book 4, chapters 10-13 (74-77)

    Orbital calculations for Uranus and the role of Neptune; applying Bayesian probability to the situation with Hermione; experimental results of a gratitude journal; how to “cure” bullies; moral questions around evil; the painfully bad representation of girls; Harry’s definition of heroic responsibility; analysis of bullying at Hogwarts; Gandhi, Churchill, and Nazis; criminal justice revisited, analysis of the lady.

    Day 4: Bursting Fragments of Comprehension

    Book 4, chapters 14-15 (78-79)

    Archimedes and Eureka, conservation laws, supernovas and Earth’s core, radioactivity, thermodynamics, compare and contrasting our court system to the Wizengamot, crime and systems that deter crime, studies on memory (revisited), analysis of the crime, analysis of Marauder’s Map, analysis of conversation with Professor Quirrell.

    Day 5: Human Beings Can’t Live Like That

    Book 4, chapters 16-18 (80-82)

    Analysis – evil vs. emptiness, continuation of comparisons of law and court systems, Horns Effect, value of human life and moral decisions, analysis – what are the thinkers thinking about Harry?, Philip Tetlock, Utilitarian Ethicists, Consequentialism, expected utility maximization and Vladimir Lenin/French Revolution.

    Day 6: Luxury to Question

    Book 4, chapters 19-21 (end of book 4) (83-85)

    Analysis – why did Lucius do what he did?, debate on evil/”ill-doers” and intent in evil, analysis of heroism, sound and it’s effect on mental status, analysis of Quirrell’s back story, research on PTSD, Asch revisited, analysis of Quirrell and Hermione’s crime, Leo Szilard and the fission chain reaction/Fermi and graphite as a neutron moderator vs. deuterium, Knut Kaukelid, light from the moon and Polaris, molecular nanotechnology, Penrose process for extracting energy from black holes, analyzing aguamenti.

    Day 7: Supersaturated with Ways to Cheat

    Book 5, chapters 1 (86) (it's really long)

    Headline analysis, analysis of prophecy, compare and contrast Voldemorts, Information Theory, Raymond Smullyan, analysis of Voldemort’s motives, Harry’s ethics, hindsight bias, emotions and the brain, uncertain predicate referent, frustums, bias towards inaction.

    Day 8: Foundations of Reality

    Book 5, chapters 2-5 (87-90)

    Hedonics (but not Critch’s theories), training your inner pigeon, analysis of the Philosopher’s Stone creation story, psychology of flawed ideas, Douglas Hofstadter, Hermione’s ethics, evolutionary psychology and monogamy, ELIZA and AI, ecker Cube, fear of embarrassment schema, 0.3% of the speed of light, sulfuric acid, fault analysis, and my apologies about the plot development in these chapters

    Day 9: The Enemy is Smart

    Book 5, chapters 6-10 (91-95)

    Normalcy bias, Tenerife airport disaster, comparing Harry to his adoptive father, diabolus ex machina, egocentric bias, Law of the Excluded Middle, rhodospin complexes of the retina, neural spikes, photos, magic and belief analysis, main-sequence g-type stars, origin of story in culture, origins of life on earth

    Day 10: Note of Grace

    Book 5, chapters 11-14 (end of book 5) (96-99)

    Five stages of grief, hypothesis forming regarding Hermione, polonium, freezing points of acids, grace notes, lots of plot discussion and catching up on topics that may bleed over from previous days.

    Day 11: Continuing to Fight (or Throw Away the Cheese)

    Book 6, chapters 1-4 (100-103) DO NOT READ AHEAD

    Probability and directionality, ethics – animals and medicine, scope insensitivity reviewed, horcrux analysis, analysis of Philosopher’s Stones potential powers, opposite of happiness, comparing Avada Kedavra to Expecto Patronum, test and critiques of them

    Day 12: Silence Stretched

    Book 6, chapter 5-9 (104-108)

    An analysis of what we learn, truncated tetrahedron, Schelling point, prophecy analysis again, tomb of Amon-Set, ethic of Batman, arc-welders, Az-reth, Tsiolkovsky rocket equation, ad hominem tu quoque, Mao’s little red book, in-depth character analysis

    Day 13: Prophesied Instrument of Destruction

    Book 6, chapters 10-14 (109-113) DO NOT READ AHEAD

    The inscription, possible ideas about uses of the mirror, analysis about Dumbledore’s future, motive analysis, more analysis of evil, analysis of the vow, Final Exam analysis

    Day 14: Their Own Image

    Book 6, chapters 15-20 (114-119)

    Fence post security, final analysis of evil, examination of alternatives, analysis of effects of spell, oxycetelene and weather balloons, types of knowledge, speed of sound vs broomstick speed, mylar and its uses, analysis of Dumbledore’s story, negatively charged strangelets

    Day 15: Own Decisions

    Book 6, chapters 21-23 (end of book 6), 120-122 (end of book)

    Analysis of Narcissa’s story – is Dumbledore good or evil?   Motivated cognition, Daniel Kahneman, catching up on any content we’ve not finished yet.

    Day 16: Practicing the Techniques you have Learned

    Looking back, sharing work, next steps

    • 28 Jan 2019
    • 13 May 2019
    • 15 sessions
    • Online
    • 13

    In Part 2, we’ll continue our study of the science and literature of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. We’ll work on improving our own abilities as rationalists, and exploring the ideas behind humanism as well. We will move a little more quickly through the chapters than we did in part 1, as the science isn’t quite as dense, so be prepared to read more each week.

    Because the science isn’t as dense, the storyline gets richer, and departs more from the original books. We will spend less time doing direct comparisons to the original text, though topics will crop up from time to time, and more time focused on how these characters grow, what puzzles they are presented with, and where it all might be leading. Also, we’ll start seeing some comparisons to other works as well.

    Major themes in this section include geek references, friendship and trust, definitions of evil and morality, beliefs about death, and "the game."

    We will complete “books” 2 and 3 of HPMOR, or Chapters 23-64 of the entire book.

    As before, science is more than a set of facts. We will work to expand our scientific thinking.

    Total class time is 15 sessions.  Please note, class will not meet on April 22nd.

    All times are U.S. East Coast. 

    Students will have access to class recordings the day after each class.


    Chapters are indicated first by individual book chapter number, then by complete text chapter number. 

    Day 1 – Purposeful Complexity

    Introduction to main themes of the course, Punnet Squares and heritability, DNA, natural selection vs intelligent engineering, chromosonal crossover, belief in belief,  evolutionary origins of human intelligence, The Tragedy of Light, the relationship between rationality and science, chimpanzee politics, Norman Maier and problems vs solutions, Robyn Dawes and hard problems, brainstorming, Harry testing his hypotheses, and why is that third chapter written in that order anyway?

    Book 2, chapters 2 (23), 3 (24), and 4 (25)

    Day 2 – Dissociative Talent

    Physics of heat transfer, the power of prophecy, diversification, Douglas Adams on impossible and improbable, the concept of noticing confusion, The Massacre of Albania in the 15th Century, Roger Bacon, understanding others/empathy, the puzzle of what the Weasley twins did, levels of deception

    Book 2, chapters 5 (26) and 6 (27)

    Day 3 – Logically Impossible

    Reverse engineering, nanotechnology, carbon nanotubes (buckytubes), geosynchronous orbit, covalent bonds, societal expectations at different ages, quantum mechanics and timeless physics, parietal cortex, veil of Maya, seven point alchemal diagram, conspiracy theories and Lee Harvey Oswald, in-depth character contrasts

    Book 2, chapters 7 (28) and 8 (29)

    Day 4 – The Enemy’s Gate is Sideways

    So many geek references that it gets listed here as a topic, Robbers Cave experiment, analysis of the leaders’ speeches, analysis of the leaders themselves, using experimentation to prepare for battle, role of women, role of confusion in rationalism, knowing your audience

    Book 2, chapters 9 (30), 10 (31), and 11 (32)

    Day 5 – Learning Far too Fast

    Again with the geek references, Procopius and chariot racing, Everto and conservation of mass, Franz Ferdinand and WWI, Prisoner’s Dilemma, morality and governments, Newcomb’s Problem, recursion, autoimmune disorders/clever viruses/the battle, understanding that point system, speech analysis and politics, fasces and fascists, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, democracy and elections,

    Book 2, chapters 12 (33), 13 (34) and 14 (35)

    Day 6 – Toys? I Love Toys!

    International Index Funds/Berkshire Hathaway, code switching, Humean Projectivism, Harry’s thinking on death, parent/child relationships and messages, catching up on anything we’ve fallen behind on at this point.

    Book 2, chapters 15 (36) and 16 (37) – end of book 2.

    Day 7 – The Puzzle that Makes the Scientist

    The Quibbler, Lucius and the Game, evidence to discriminate between possibilities, benefits of note-taking, censorship vs. common sense, definitions of evil, analysis of Voldemort as cunning, the concept of pretending to be wise as pattern completion, inductive proofs, cognitive dissonance, moral development, logical tautologies, death: Harry, Dumbledore, theories in other cultures, near death experiences, brain damage and faith

    Book 3: chapters 1 (38), 2 (39) and 3 (40)

    Day 8 – Look Toward the Painful Thought

    Frontal lobe of the brain, “tiny rump part” of the brain, peregrine falcons, Drago and Hermione, Harry and the dementors, uncontrolled fusion reactors, continuing the conversation about Harry and death

    Book 3, chapters 4 (41), 5 (42), 6 (43), 7 (44), and 8 (45)

    Day 9 –Too Weird for any Normal Plots Confirmation bias – again!, layers of the earth and how we know, Mariana Trench, interpretations of prophecy, angle of incidence/reflection, blue krait, Stalin’s Russia and views on the West, the “I have a dream” speech and white supremacy parallels, language and sentience, analyzing Draco’s story

    Book 3, chapters 9 (46), 10 (47)

    Day 10 – I  Told You to be Nicer!

    Parrot protolanguage – Irene Pepperburg, evolution of language in humans, exponential progressions, scope insensitivity, estimating total blades of grass in the world, defending one’s self vs. being above social conventions, the power other’s perceptions of us have over us, plausible deniability, justification of actions (again), secure passwords, wiping out smallpox

    Book 3, chapters 11 (48), 12 (49), 13 (50), and 14 (51)

    Day 11 – Precious and Irreplaceable

    The Stanford Prison Experiment, geography and Azkaban, memories changing in retrospect, magic resonating, morality and the Azkaban guards, Harry’s way of overcoming cognitive bias, practicing examining and changing our own thinking

    Book 3, chapters 15 (52), 16 (53), 17 (54), and 18 (55)

    Day 12 – Ways to Hide from Death

    Cooling and reviving people, constrained cognition and our own thinking, risk and mathematics, rocket science, Aristotelian vs Newtonian physics, speed and acceleration analysis, terminal velocity, problem solving

    Book 3, chapters 19 (56), 20 (57), 21 (58), and 22 (59)

    Day 13 – Sensibilities Less Offended by the Dark Lord

    Theories on criminal justice, Quirrell’s politics (again), the paradox in this part, Harry’s questions, Newton’s third law, cryptography, what is a “muggle artifact”?, Dumbledore’s methods, Harry and Quirrell’s similarities and differences, being unlike children your own age, war/dementors/our own weapons

    Book 3, chapters 23 (60), 24 (61), and 25 (62)

    Day 14 – 3 out of 40 Subjects

    The sun’s life expectancy, following all the reasoning here using Bayesian logic, fractal structures, scarcity effects, proton decay, sunk costs vs. moral actions, cost benefit calculation, Milgram revisited and evolutionary psychology, being the 3 out of 40, the person you truly are

    Book 3, chapter 26 (63)

    Day 15 – Understand

    Sharing our assignment work, practicing our rationality, and catching up on anything still needed.


    1: This is a group assignment – work to create an encyclopedia of geek references in HPMOR.  Contribute the ones you know, look things up to help if you suspect something.

    2: Create your own battle, using a scientific/neuroscience/social science topic as a plot device.  (Write, or outline, or whatever works for you).

    3: Cognitive Bias assignment (to be explained later)

    4: Criminal Justice assignment (to be explained later)

    • 28 Jan 2019
    • (PST)
    • 13 May 2019
    • (PDT)
    • 16 sessions
    • Online

    Mathematics courses often teach students how to solve problems, use algorithms, and number crunch.  Mathematical proofs are often taught in Geometry, with a focus on form and exact detail over the elegance and excitement of deep understanding.

    Our Special Topics and Mathematical Explorations courses teach students how to pose problems, develop algorithms, explore ideas, prove (both formally and informally) their methods and ideas work, and propose next steps.  Students can use the skills learned in these classes to stretch their regular math curriculum, challenge their assumptions about mathematics, and truly think like a mathematician.

    This course explores ideas in geometry, where they come from, how to come up with your own, how to apply them in interesting situations, and how to pose problems and think deeper.  It is not based on your typical high school geometry course – the concepts we play with are usually taught prior to high school geometry, or are not part of the standard curriculum at all.  The course is not intended to replace a typical curriculum, but rather to deepen and extend, to introduce new ideas, and to foster mathematical thinking. 

    We’ll look at the reasons behind the formulas and relationships you may already know, and largely derive them ourselves.  We’ll think about shapes and figures deeply, considering how one would have to approach unknown shapes to determine their formulas, working on developing a spatial awareness and geometric reasoning rather than knowing and applying formulas.  We will then explore making changes to the shapes (in two or three dimensions) and how we can change the formulas to deal with our new figures.  We will design nets for the 3-dimensional figures, both to help improve our spatial awareness and to help us figure out the surface area.  We’ll stretch everything as we go into non-euclidean spaces as well.

    Students will do best in this class if they have done basic geometry formulas in the past – area, perimeter, surface area, and volume of the basic shapes.   Variables will be used in this class, but not beyond the pre-Algebra level except for extra extensions and challenge work.

    Syllabus is subject to change based on student interests and abilities.

    One should not look at the syllabus and expect it to be too easy if you’ve encountered these topics before.  The approach and the depth of the problem solving will engage even experienced geometer. 


    All times are in Pacific Time.  There will be one break week.

    SYLLABUS:  subject to change based on student interests and abilities

    Week 1: Introduction – Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry, the concepts of plane and space, what we’ll be doing, concept of axoims, postulates, etc.  Is geometry an invention or a discovery? 

    Week 2: Area and perimeter formulas: deriving the why behind the formulas we have, do those still work in non-euclidean geometries, problem solving with our formulas/understanding. 

    Week 3: Triangle Inequality Theorem – deriving it, using it, applying it to polygons with more sides, considering if it works in non-Euclidean geometries.  

    Week 4: Pythagorean Theorem Proofs and problem solving – deriving it, exploring interesting ways of proving it, using it to help us approach the formulas we already know differently. 

    Week 5:  Exploring shapes without simple formulas, including irregular shapes – pose problems about these. 

    Week 6: Similarity and congruence, and using it to solve problems, pose problems 

    Week 7:  Angles, transversals, deep and extended problem posing and solving, non-Euclidean ideas 

    Week 8:  Exploration of nets: Finding nets in pentominoes, drawing nets of rectangular prisms in many different ways. 

    Week 9 Prisms – right and oblique – nets, surface area, volume – how do we change  a solid and how does that impact the formulas we know? Extended problem solving. 

    Week 10: Pyramids – right and oblique, deriving the formula for volume, pyramidal frustums.  Introduction to using limits. 

    Week 11: Cylinders, cones, and spheres – deriving formulas for surface area and volume,  exploration of nets. Conic frustums, spheric sections.  Further use of limits. 

    Week 12: Platonic and Archimedean solids.  Naming conventions, surface area and volume concepts. 

    Week 13: Surface area and volumes of unusual shapes 

    Week 14: Further explorations – extended problem solving, other ideas that have arisen during class 

    Week 15: Sharing of projects and wrap-up.

    • 28 Jan 2019
    • (PST)
    • 13 May 2019
    • (PDT)
    • 16 sessions
    • Online

    What do you mean by those numbers?  Do they say what you're trying to tell me they say?  Are you hiding something?  Where did they come from anyway? 

    In a world filled with data, one of the most important skills we can develop is thinking critically about that data - finding the inherent bias in all data.  We are going to interrogate data!

    We will look at many example of data in all it stages, mostly real, some crafted to demonstrate the issues that can arise. We will read How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff (available free online). Students will try their hands at the art of data manipulation. Students are not expected to have prior knowledge of statistics – content required to understand manipulation will be taught alongside the actual manipulation, however, the focus of the course is on the bias and manipulation over the content itself, so students who come with no statistics background may find they need to work more outside of class on the material. Students will learn how to collect, analyze, represent, and interpret data, but the focus is on how bias is introduced when we do this, and how to ask questions of data to try to determine what the truth really is.  This class will be heavy in discussion, with accommodations made for students who prefer to take more time to think before responding.  


    All times are in Pacific Time.  There will be one break week.


    Week 1: Introduction to statistics, pre-assessment, discussion of “What is fair?” 

    Week 2: Questionnaires, leading questions, question order, background information 

    Week 3: Sampling methods, why sampling is important, when sampling goes wrong 

    Week 4: Science and data gathering – the importance of the control, changing a single variable, basic experimental design 

    Week 5:  The concept of “average” – mean median, mode, when to use each, when to be sure which one you’re hearing 

    Week 6: Data analysis beyond the average – other methods of crunching the numbers, what they mean, and what they don’t.  Margin of error. 

    Week 7:  Graphs week 1 – ways to display those numbers that trick the eyes! 

    Week 8:  Graphs week 2 – more ways to make those numbers look all out of whack! 

    Week 9 The semi-attached figure – getting people to think what you want by showing them something else. 

    Week 10: Post hoc ergo propter hoc – correlation vs. causation 

    Week 11: Logical fallacies continued – a look at other logical fallacies and how they can impact thinking about data and statistics. 

    Week 12: Statisculation – a review of some of the other nasty things people can do, sometimes without even realizing it! 

    Week 13: Summary of talking back to a statistic, development of steps to ensure you have examined a statistic well. A chance to really tackle some good examples! 

    Week 14: A week built in to go off on tangents that arise, make-up anything we fall behind on, or explore something the students wish to explore. 

    Week 15: Wrap up discussion, sharing of projects.

    • 28 Jan 2019
    • (PST)
    • 13 May 2019
    • (PDT)
    • 16 sessions
    • Online

    Welcome to Fantasy.  This genre of literature tries to explore what the world would be like if there were magic in the world, in one form or another.  Whether fantasythat comes from powers that an individual (magicians, witches, sorcerers, etc.) has; the presence of divergent beings (elves, gnomes, changelings, etc.), strange animals (unicorns, gryphons, rocs, etc.), or some other elements, it is the essence of magic that ties them together, usually. Exploring this field -- which may take the form of novels, short stories, essays, movies, TV shows, games, or websites – carries the reader/participant into impossible worlds, often filled with wonders that stretch the imagination.

    Over the course of the term, we will discuss a broad variety of types of fantasy, while reading (hearing), watching, and looking at examples (good and bad) that illustrate those types. With one exception, all materials will be available on line at no cost for people within the United States. I expect that I can make them available for others if they should not be accessible from other countries.

    We will have a few exercises along the way. Any writing or presentations you do will receive feedback. If you are willing, I would like to share it with the class.

    Regardless, the number one goal is to have fun!


    All times are in Pacific Time.  There will be one break week.


    Week 1: Introduction; Discussion of Syllabus; Sub-genres

    Week 2: Just Add Dragons – Alternate Histories born of fantasy; Exercise One: Explaining Technology

    Week 3: The Major Races of Fantasy

    Week 4: Mixing Animals and Humans

    Week 5: Medieval Europe as a Basis for Fantasy; Exercise Two: The Project

    Week 6: Fairy Tales and Mythology

    Week 7: Religion as a Basis for Fantasy

    Week 8: Magic the Destroyer; Magic the Creatorfantasy

    Week 9: What’s Your Fantasy doing on My Alien World?

    Week 10: The Rise of Romance

    Week 11: Urban Fantasy

    Week 12: The Hero’s Journey, Lord of the Rings, and How They Changed the Field

    Week 13: Harry Potter and How He Changed the Field

    Week 14: “Where Do We Go From Here?”

    Week 15: Presentations; Summation

    • 30 Jan 2019
    • (PST)
    • 17 May 2019
    • (PDT)
    • 32 sessions
    • Online

    Physics First: An Introduction provides a hands-on introduction to classical mechanics and serves as an excellent first experience with physics concepts.

    Expectations: This fun, hands-on course introduces important concepts of physics in a format friendly for younger children.

    eekly assignments and quizzes should take no more than an hour or two, and will reinforce the concepts learned in class. The semester-long project will build forward from assignments in class.

    All times are in Pacific Time.  There will be a one week break.


    Week 1: The Universe and Physics

    Week 2: Laws of Motion, Part 1

    Week 3: Laws of Motion, Part 2

    Week 4: Conservation Laws

    Week 5: Simple Machines

    Week 6: Forces in Equilibrium

    Week 7: Forces, Part 2

    Week 8: Systems in Motion

    Week 9: Energy, Temperature, Heat

    Week 10: Physical Properties of Matter

    Week 11: The Atom

    Week 12: Systems

    Week 13: Changes in Matter

    Week 14: Relativity

    Week 15: Project Presentation

    • 30 Jan 2019
    • (PST)
    • 17 May 2019
    • (PDT)
    • 32 sessions
    • Online

    This high school-level course is designed for gifted students who are ready for a greater challenge. The pace will be fast, however, all material will be readily accessible to students who have not yet encountered physics or its mathematics.

    What is a force? What is gravity? Why is it said that math is the language of science? What are the principles underlying machines?

    Students can benefit from the online sessions alone, but will receive the greatest benefit by deliberate study of concepts and problem-solving. Students who intend to use this course as High School Physics 1 should expect to spend 30 to 60 minutes daily on concepts and problem-solving.

    Weekly assignments will include reading, study, and problem-solving. Instructor will provide individual feedback and guidance.

    End-of-Course Project:
    The end-of-course project is to develop a machine which will be included as a virtual component of our End-to-End Rube Goldberg Machine. Students will have three weeks to design and build their models from household items. The project should need about four hours’ preparation.

    Prerequisites: Some familiarity with fractions is required, and an understanding of variables is recommended. We will develop each concept as we go, and the instructor will be providing self- correcting resources for those who need an introduction or refresher for these math concepts.


    Week 1: 1-D Kinematics – Describing Motion

    Week 2: Graphs – Position v Time and Velocity v Time

    Week 3: Gravity and Freefall

    Week 4: Graphs, Part 2 – Velocity v Time

    Week 5: Gravity and Freefall

    Week 6: Kinematic Equations

    Week 7: Newton’s Laws of Motion

    Week 8: Vectors and Vector Operations

    Week 9: Projectile Motion

    Week 10: Momentum

    Week 11: Work, Energy & Power, Part 1

    Week 12: Work, Energy & Power, Part 2

    Week 13: Circular Motion

    Week 14: Satellite Motion

    Week 15: Project Presentation

    (The term is 16 weeks in length. Spring break for Classical Mechanics 1 is April 8 through 14, 2019.)

    • 30 Jan 2019
    • 17 Apr 2019
    • 12 sessions
    • On Line
    • 12

    Lisa Fontaine-Rainen, instructor

    Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is a fanfic that begins with the premise that Harry’s aunt Petunia marries an Oxford chemistry professor (rather than Vernon Dursley) and Harry is homeschooled – and has a particular talent for scientific thinking.  Thus the 1600 page fan-fiction re-envisions the Harry Potter story through the lens of a child who engages in scientific and rational thinking.  

    And here’s a bit of honesty.  I don’t read fanfic.  I don’t begrudge it for those who love it – I think it’s a great way to get writing or to explore ideas, but I generally don’t read it myself.  I don’t want to see changes to stories I love.  I had to be dragged into reading this one. 

    And I don’t regret it one bit.  Even if you’re like me and not into fanfic, this one’s worth it.  This one makes me think.  It lets me move through the world I love, examine it through a different lens, laugh at its quirks, love it all the more, and become a better scientist.  Not only do I hope to share it with you, I hope to bring you deeper into the thinking, exploring the story and the premise fully to help you also think rationally, like this version of Harry. 

    In this course we will read the first  “book” of the work and explore the various scientific ideas introduced in the text.  We’ll talk about Harry’s approach to the world, and where it might get in his way.  Our course will weave literature and science, as they have been woven in this text.  We’ll also ask the question about the changes made from the original text – which were driven by an intent to steep the main character in scientific thought and which were not.  Thus, having at least some knowledge of the original Harry Potter texts, or at least the movies, is useful for this course. 

    Some of the ideas presented in the text can be quite dark – much like the original books, but sometimes even more so.  Parents are encouraged to read chapter 1 to get a flavor for the text, and chapter 7 (starting around page 85) as it contains some of the most troubling material that we will address in this class.   Alternatively, feel free to e-mail me directly for excerpts to review, and I’m happy to discuss the content as well. 

    Participants will have the opportunity to engage in a number of assignments that explore the ideas in the course.  These will be flexible and tailored to participants’ interests and abilities.  Other work will be primarily reading the book and supplementary material and participating in discussions in and out of class.  The book is available online for e-readers or to print and as podcasts, all at no cost. 

    Science isn’t a set of facts, but instead a way of thinking.  Come explore the science and the magic of this world.

    All times are U.S. East Coast. 

    Students will have access to class recordings the day after each class.


    Day 1: Why do I believe what I believe? 

    Introduction to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (HPMOR), and the basic concept of a controlled experiment.   Discussion – how would the wizarding world yield to science? 

    Ch. 1, in class

    Day 2:  Cats are complicated!  or That’s the most Ravenclaw thing I have ever heard.

    Sufficient Evidence, Conservation of Energy,  Bystander Effect, conscientious objectors, intro to logarithms.

    Ch. 2, 3

    Day 3: It’s a Mathematical Thing or Shaking Hands with a Bad Explanation

                Fermi estimation and money conversion, arbitrage, seigniorage, how to make money by buying and selling money, fiscal prudence, fundamental attribution error, Occam’s Razer, and what is that hilarious thing Draco and Harry are doing anyway?

    Ch 4, 5

    Day 4: Offering an alternative explanation or Trouble Trusting Adults

    Experimentation, the Planning Fallacy, anecdotal evidence, Harry and psychology, scientifically investigating which sentences a human four year old can understand, lift, Bayes’s Theorem, social roles of children and adults.

    Ch 6

    Day 5:  Manipulating Reality or  the Trust, but Verify

    Rules of game design, psychology of reciprocation, manipulation vs. influence, social structures around privilege, politics and the French Revolution, positive or confirmation bias, what does “smart” really mean, experimental design, bystander apathy, desensitisation therapy, consequentialism.

    Ch. 7, 8

    Day 6: Being Aware of my Own Awareness or What Happens if you Fail?

    Reproductive isolation (with a  bit of Star Trek thrown in), sentience (with more Star Trek thrown in), the concept and challenge of sorting people (with a bit of Divergent thrown in), risk and failure, the problem of being placed on a pedestal, an examination of Dumbledore and Quirrell in this version of HP

    Ch 9, 10, 11, Omake File 2

    Day 7: A Metaphor for Human Existence or Ignorant About a Phenomenon

    The Game, Escher (for the uninitiated), doing good things, bullying and psychology, apologizing, antimatter, Gutenberg, anthropic principle, Turing machines, correlation vs causation

    Ch. 12,13

    Day 8: An Unusually Pessimistic Imagination or Most Dangerous Student

    Limits and dividing by zero, competition, safety and transfiguration, comparing coursework between this HP and the other HP, ideas about education and learning, being a creative thinker

    Ch. 14,15

    Day 9: Truly Brilliant Experimental Test or A Fashion Unbecoming a Hogwarts Professor

    Paradoxes, prime numbers and encryption, P and NP, formulating a hypothesis, looking smart, authority, anger as a tool

    Ch. 16,17

    Day 10:Vitally Important Technique or Impulse to Kindness

    How to lose vs. how to fail, representative heuristic, Bayes’s Theorem, Harry’s morality, approaching new ideas, pressure of consistency, Second Law of Thermodynamics, rationalization.

    Ch. 18, 19, 20

    Day 11: A Priceless Opportunity

    Omake file 1 and 3, general discussion, touch on anything we haven’t gotten to yet, discussion of assignments so far.

    Day 12:  Oogely boogely! or Observation

    Looking forward, Chapter 22 (or Book 2, chapter 1), the scientific method, N-Rays, Philip K. Dick, reality, Lake Wobegon effect, Socratic Method, Asch’s Conformity Experiment, heritability, Alfred Tarski, Eugene Gendlin, Sharing our own stuff.

    • 30 Jan 2019
    • 08 May 2019
    • 15 sessions
    • Online
    • 7

    Dark Matter.  The Multiverse.  Milton's Paradise Lost. 

    His Dark Materials, a series by Philip Pullman, ties these themes together, alongside concepts of family and betrayal, experimentation, friendship, magic, innocence, and so much more.

    This class extends on the thinking we built together in Scientific and Rational Thought & Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.  Together we will read through the trilogy: The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass.  We'll explore the ideas, big and small, challenge ourselves to bring rationality to it, but also to see deeper into the literary and theological allusions.

    A syllabus is forthcoming.  I have planned for 15 weeks of class.  If this needs to change drastically for any reason, I will only do so with extensive communication with you.

    Thanks for being a part of this, as we continue to think together.

    • 01 Feb 2019
    • (PST)
    • 17 May 2019
    • (PDT)
    • 16 sessions
    • Online

    You’ve got a project to do. But how long will it take? How do you break it down into parts or can you? How will you balance the time you need to put into doing it with everything else you need to do? What tools are out there that might help you? And where do you start?!

    This is where to start.

    We’ll look at projects for school, but we’ll look at your own goals, too. Want to change the world? Want to clean your room? It turns out that those are less different, conceptually, than you might think!

    One of the critical skills needed for college and life.

    Prerequisites: Having things you want to get done

     All times are in Pacific Time.  There will be one week break.


    Week 1: Introductions

    Week 2: Your project(s)!

    Week 3: Identification of fixed vs. moving parts

    Week 4: Breaking things down into manageable chunks

    Week 5: Does anybody really know what time it is?

    Week 6: What if it’s too hard? (What if it’s too easy!?)

    Week 7: Tools to make your life easier

    Week 8: Project check-in

    Week 9: Everybody needs an editor (or somebody like that)

    Week 10: It’s too big! Narrowing your focus

    Week 11: Group Projects vs. Working Alone

    Week 12: Project check-in

    Week 13: Whose standards are you working toward?

    Week 14: Polishing your project

    Week 15: Presentations of projects

    • 01 Feb 2019
    • (PST)
    • 17 May 2019
    • (PDT)
    • 16 sessions
    • Online

    This course is designed for those who already know the rules of the game, but who are looking to understand how to get pieces to work together, how to build plans, and how to convert a winning position into a won game. We will use a variety of online tools and puzzles, while looking at openings, middle games, and end games. Along the way, we will try to have some fun!

    Prerequisites: Knowledge of the rules of chess, experience playing entire games, being a good sport.


    Week 1: Introduction and Evaluation

    Week 2: The Openings - Part 1

    Week 3: The Openings - Part 2

    Week 4: The Endgames - Part 1

    Week 5: The Endgames - Part 2

    Week 6: The Middle Game - Part 1

    Week 7: The Middle Game - Part 2

    Week 8: The Middle Game - Part 3

    Week 9: Putting It All Together - Part 1

    Week 10: Crafting Puzzles

    Week 11: The Openings - Part 3

    Week 12: The Endgames - Part 3

    Week 13: The Middle Game - Part 4

    Week 14: Evaluation (Putting It All Together - Part 2)

    Week 15: Sharing Puzzles

    (Term is 16 weeks; one of those weeks is a week Break)

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