Saturday, July 31, 2010

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Are you a Harry Potter fan? And a skeptic? I command you to go bookmark this fanfiction and read it immediately (well, immediately after blogathon is over). It's called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. It's set in an alternate universe where Harry's adoptive father is an Oxford professor, and thus Harry is extremely well trained as a skeptical thinker.

I know what you're thinking. "Come on, fanfiction, Jen? Didn't you graduate middle school years ago?" But trust me - if you're one of those people who liked to over analyze the Harry Potter universe, you have to read this fic. I've spent many geeky hours pondering the possible genetic inheritance pattern of magical ability. Or how horrible the English and critical thinking skills of wizards and witches must be if they stopped their traditional education at age 11. If you haven't thought these things, you will now. For example, here's a snippet of Harry pondering about the economy of the Wizarding World:

So not only is the wizarding economy almost completely decoupled from the Muggle economy, no one here has ever heard of arbitrage. The larger Muggle economy had a fluctuating trading range of gold to silver, so every time the Muggle gold-to-silver ratio got more than 5% away from the weight of seventeen Sickles to one Galleon, either gold or silver should have drained from the wizarding economy until it became impossible to maintain the exchange rate. Bring in a ton of silver, change to Sickles (and pay 5%), change the Sickles for Galleons, take the gold to the Muggle world, exchange it for more silver than you started with, and repeat.

Wasn't the Muggle gold to silver ratio somewhere around fifty to one? Harry didn't think it was seventeen, anyway. And it looked like the silver coins were actually smaller than the gold coins.

Then again, Harry was standing in a bank that literally stored your money in vaults full of gold coins guarded by dragons, where you had to go in and take out coins out of your vault whenever you wanted to spend money. The finer points of arbitraging away market inefficiencies might well be lost on them. He'd been tempted to make some sort of snide remark about the crudity of their financial system...

But the sad thing is, their way is probably better.

On the other hand, one competent hedge fundie could probably own the whole wizarding world within a week. Harry filed away this notion in case he ever ran out of money, or had a week free.

Not only is it hilarious, but it's also full of such good information that it works as a primer to skeptical thinking. Read until Chapter 5 to give it a chance, and if you don't like it by 10, give up. It's a quick read, but dangerously addictive.

Thanks to Jesse Galef for showing me this right before Blogathon, thus ruining many hours of productivity for me.

This is post3 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

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