Beyond IQ


Upcoming events

    • 27 Aug 2018
    • 12 Nov 2018
    • 12 sessions
    • On Line
    • 13

    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 thinkng.  Thus the 2000 page fanfiction 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 moreso.  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 alernative 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, Baye’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 pedastel, an examination of Dumbledore and Quirrel 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, antrhopic 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 enryption, 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.

    • 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

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