Annotated Bibliography of Idealism

In which I collect various writings and miscellanea that make it easier for me to love the humanity.

It always makes me proud to love the world somehow – hate’s so easy compared.

Big Sur, Jack Kerouac

Some of our successors might live lives and create worlds that, though failing to justify past suffering, would give us all, including some of those who have suffered, reasons to be glad that the Universe exists.

On What Matters, Derek Parfit

It is tough to stay positive in this life. It is tougher yet to stay motivated to improve the world despite its stubborn disinclination for change. We are continually faced with cruelty, inequality, blatant injustice — but perhaps even more strikingly, we are faced with our own indifference. The pains of the world cannot hurt us as much as they should. We are unable to react appropriately, the tally of Earth’s horrors not outweighing our immediate need for comfort.

What are we to do? It is all too easy to resolve this dissonance in favor of the apathy, but there are other ways. You could, instead, recognize that you are member of a species woefully limited. You could recognize that your wish to make the world better is just as true and valid, despite your consciousness having been implemented on hardware which cannot modulate its own moods, with very limited control over its momentary wants and motivations, plagued with systematic errors in judgment — unable even to multiply!

And then, after you’ve allowed yourself to wish for better things even though you don’t always act like they’re your top priority, you can allow yourself to kindle and grow that wish. If you want to do that, that is why this page is here. It is a collection of people’s visions and wishes. A repository of challenges to the dark.

These pieces have mostly been selected following my personal taste; but as a rationalization of my tastes I might offer the explanation that I tried to primarily include those which, even if just slightly and very vaguely, try to sketch some part of the road ahead; on the difficult path of actually making this world better. A recurring motif, it bears mentioning, is the use of science and technology for the said betterment.

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.”

The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us – there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

Cosmos, Carl Sagan

We live on a tiny speck in a vast universe of which we are intimately acquainted with but the tiniest part. We have, in spite of that, found and comprehended universal laws which seem to govern even the remotest parts of the strange world we inhabit. We can’t see much, but as far as we see, we seem to be alone amid this vastness. We are made by atoms forged in the hearts and explosions of stars; we are, quite literally, star stuff, “a way for the cosmos to know itself.” We are outcomes of millions of years of evolution of star stuff which resulted in, among other wonders, biological machinery with self-reflective minds which can start to wonder how to improve their own thought processes. I do not wish to impress upon you what is the correct emotional response to these facts, but my response is much the same as Carl Sagan’s – awe and wonder, and also: We are responsible for not squandering this immense opportunity.

Sagan explored these ideas and epitomized this awe throughout his work, though perhaps most prominently in his TV mini-series Cosmos, which is chock-full of inspiring and beautiful and inspiring moments. Cosmos gave me something when I watched it more than 10 years ago, in my teenage years, and though what that was is hard to put into precise words, yet I’m still drawing upon some of its power and richness.

But before you settle in to watch 13 hours Alternatively, here are some nice clips from Cosmos, though the clips really fail to capture the awe of the whole thing: of Sagan discovering the Cosmos in his spaceship of the imagination — that really is a thing! — we need to talk about a picture. The farthest picture of the Earth ever taken:

Pale Blue Dot picture

This picture was taken, after Sagan’s suggestion, by Voyager 1 probe, some 6 billion kilometers away from Earth. I’ll let Sagan do his commentary on it; my favorite form is his speech in this video Some people have a problem with loud music in the background of that video; you might consider listening to this one instead.. The speech goes, though I recommend listening to it rather than reading:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan

There is one more thing which I feel necessary to mention in order to understand both Sagan and the rest of this bibliography. Sagan was among the first scientists to explore and popularize the concept of nuclear winter, the hypothesized outcome of a global nuclear war in which massive amounts of soot rise into the stratosphere and block a good deal of sunlight — leading to widespread famine in some scenarios, and to likely breakdown of civilization in others. That is a recurring motif among the people whose works shine the kind of light that I’m inspired by — that they take threats to humanity’s survival very, very seriously.

What is Guilt in Utopia? Guilt is our knowledge that we could have created Utopia sooner.”

The blush of health on a convalescent’s cheek. The twinkling of the eye in a moment of wit. The smile of a loving thought… Utopia is the hope that the scattered fragments of good that we come across from time to time in our lives can be put together, one day, to reveal the shape of a new kind of life. The kind of life that yours should have been.

Letter from Utopia, Nick Bostrom

This Oxford philosopher, who is perhaps best known for his Superintelligence, Or maybe for the simulation argument, though that idea of his is so widely misunderstood that I hesitate to bring it up (without this disclaimer, that is). in which he outlines the danger that impending advancements in AI pose to humanity, is also a beacon of tenderness for humanity. I don’t think it a mere coincidence that this worry of Bostrom’s coincides with his (as we’ll see) great tenderness for humanity, but I’ll leave my glaring and massive bias at the door.

Bostrom’s idealistic writings are not manifold, but the two pieces he has written are strikingly beautiful. In one, The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, he aims at a specific malady of our cultural constitution: our acceptance of death and ageing as a part of the natural order of things. There is a very nice animated version by CGP Grey. It is a rally, through an incredibly clear allegory, for the sentient beings of Earth to come forth and end the horror of over 160 thousand human lives being extinguished every day. Bostrom urges us:

It matters if we get the cure in 25 years rather than in 24 years: a population greater than that of Canada would die as a result. In this matter, time equals life, at a rate of approximately 70 lives per minute. With the meter ticking at such a furious rate, we should stop faffing about.

In the second one, more ambitious though yet more vague, Bostrom writes a Letter from Utopia itself. Written as a letter from a future you, it tries to paint an outline of an inconceivably brighter future. Bostrom is ardently honest about what he sees as the way towards utopia, “[W]hat I urge on you is a reconfigured phyiscal situation through technology” — and yet he is not blindly optimistic about mere technological progress bringing the light. What he does, however, is try to summon everything good and tender inside of us towards the goal that it does.

I can pass you no blueprint for Utopia, no timetable or roadmap. All I can give you is my assurance that there is something here, the potential for a much better life. […] Please, join us! Whether this surpassing possibility becomes a reality is something you can influence. If your empathy can perceive at least the outlines of the vision I am describing, then I believe you ingenuity will find a way to make it real.

Interlude I

At the age 89, Bertrand Russell was jailed for seven days in Brixton Prison for taking part in a demonstration calling for nuclear disarmament. That fact alone might suffice to provide boundless hope that our idealism might, if we’re so fortunate as Russell was, survive the onslaught of the long years that face us. But I’d like to share two more things from Russell’s life. First is an anecdote that Littlewood retold of Russell:

I felt the theory [of relativity] was about the greatest intellectual advance and illumination that had ever happened. I explained it to Russell, who at that time knew no physics. He was similarly staggered. Suddenly he burst out (to Dora’s consternation): ‘To think I have spent my life on absolute muck.’

This anecdote always struck me so forcefully because of two things: because Russell was so quickly and so eagerly ready to embrace the importance of this new idea — he would later go on to write a pop-sci book on relativity! — and also because I feel that this is about the right kind of reaction one might have to relativity, and more generally, to learning about what kind of a weird and rich universe we live in.

Second thing I was to share is Russell’s prologue to his autobiography. I reproduce it here without commentary, for no commentary feels necessary.

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

Much could be said about the rest of David Foster Wallace’s life, but I’m just going to mention one dry and lovely morning in which addressed the 2005 Kenyon college graduates. It is not much about future like most of the rest of writings on this page, but it is about looking at ourselves more honestly than most of are used it. I recommend listening to the original speech. Here’s a tiny sample, just to see whether it might be the sort of thing you might be interested in:

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.

Everything is Fertile by Nick Cammarata is a beautiful essay on seeing the richness all around us.

‘We are flawed.’ We’re learning.”

Next time someone says that you’re only human, forget the “only”! You are one of THE humans! The truth-seekers, the peacemakers, the atom-splitters, the moon-walkers, the artists, the dreamers, the lovers and protectors – The rebels who defy the world they were made for, who never stop dreaming and working for a better tomorrow.

Only Human, Jai Dhyani

I don’t actually know much about Jai, but I do know he writes beautifully and with ample love. The quoted piece Only Human is an incredibly inspirational answer to the common refrain of “but you’re only human.”

In Stories (if you are a Croatian speaker, see here for the translated version), he recounts some of the stories that were never told, and yet were lived. It has been a constant source of sorrow for me to think of all the innumberable miserable human destinies that have been completely forgotten, of all that suffering for which it is completely and utterly too late, and Jai takes all this — and holds his head high through it:

[O]ur great-grandchildren, should we be so lucky, will tell their own stories, and as best we can we should make them good ones. We are not so different from the heroes or the villains of the stories I just told. To the litany of now-obvious historical mistakes, of slavery and cruelty and bigotry, we must discover our own, so that the next generation can do better. I want our descendants to tell stories of Old Earth, how their ancestors faced the horrors of malaria and war and cancer and animal slaughter, of a humanity whose survival rested on a single fragile planet, of a time when extinction was a very real possibility. I want them to tell the story of how the world was saved, and to turn to the stars in search of the next tale.

In the last piece of his I want to highlight, Jai recounts one of our greatest victories in 500 Million, But Not a Single One More. As Jai repeatedly stresses in his writing, there are still many more battles to be fought, many victories which seem as unreachable as the stars above; but we are not yet defeated, and while there are those of us to fight, there is hope.

“[I]f the chance that one person can save the world is one in a million, then there had better be a million people trying.”

When all is said and done, and Nature passes her final judgement, you will not be measured by the number of moments in which you worked as hard as you could. You will not be judged by someone rooting around in your mind to see whether or not you were good. You will not be awarded extra points for the persuasiveness of the reasons that there was nothing more you could have done.

You will be measured only by what actually happens, as will we all.

How We Will Be Measured, Nate Soares

Another AI risk person, Nate has written a beautiful series of posts, Replacing Guilt, in which he outlines what he sees as a path towards true intrinsic motivation. I shudder to condense Nate’s worldview and thoughts in just a couple pithy quotes and links, but you will have my selection regardless.

Early in the series Nate takes at stab at the act of caring itself, writing the beautiful Caring about something larger than yourself, in which he gives the most cogent explanation that I know of for how one could come to care intensely for all of humanity:

We humans are reflective creatures: we get to examine what we feel and what we care about, and choose to change ourselves. As it happens, when I reflect upon myself and my desires, I find many that I approve of, and some that I don’t.

I, like many, spend a large chunk of time frustrated by other human beings (especially when they fail to read my mind). I have unconscious biases against people who don’t look sufficiently similar to the people I grew up near. I automatically bristle at members of my outgroup. I’m uncomfortable around vast segments of the population. And yet, at the same time, I care about all people, about all of Earth’s children, about all sentient life.

Why? In large part, by choice. My default settings, roughly speaking, make it easy for me to feel for my friends and hate at my competitors. But my default settings also come with a sense of aesthetics that prefers fairness, that prefers compassion. My default feelings are strong for those who are close to me, and my default sensibilities are annoyed that it’s not possible to feel strongly for people who could have been close to me. My default feelings are negative towards people antagonizing me, and my default sensibilities are sad that we didn’t meet in a different context, sad that it’s so hard for humans to communicate their point of view.


So I look upon myself, and I see that I am constructed to both (a) care more about the people close to me, that I have deeper feelings for, and (b) care about fairness, impartiality, and aesthetics. I look upon myself and I see that I both care more about close friends, and disapprove of any state of affairs in which I care more for some people due to a trivial coincidence of time and space.

And I am constructed such that when I look upon myself and find inconsistencies, I care about resolving them.

So, why do I care about humanity? Because, for me, resolving this inconsistency is easy. My strong feelings are in conflict with my quiet aesthetics, but when push comes to shove, the quiet aesthetics win hands-down. To me, the feelings look like they are arbitrary remnants of the tribal days, while the aesthetics look like they are echoes of my deeper values. I know which one I’m more loyal to.

And also:

Our brains are hard-wired to see human-like agents everywhere. … When we look at humans, we see them as plotters or schemers or competition. But when we look at puppies, or kittens, or other animals, none of that social machinery kicks in. We’re able to see them as just creatures, pure and innocent things, exploring an environment they will never fully understand, just following the flow of their lives.

If you back a puppy into a corner and frighten it, and it snaps at you, it’s easy to feel a wave of compassion rather than hatred.

But when a human snaps at you, the social machinery engages. It’s easy to get stuck inside the interaction. When a human is backed into a corner and lashes out, we tend to lash back.

Which is why, every so often, I take a mental step back and try to see the other humans around me, not as humans, but as innocent animals full of wonder, exploring an environment they can never fully understand, following the flows of their lives.

I try to see people in the same way I would see a puppy, reacting to pains and pleasures, snapping only when afraid or threatened. I try to see the tragedies in humans who have been conditioned by time and circumstance to be suspicious and harmful, and feel the same compassion for them that I would feel for an abused child.

I look at my fellow humans and strive to remember that they, too, are innocent creatures.

Another thing I found immensely valuable is his explication of the act of seeing the dark world:

There’s a certain type of darkness in the world that most people simply cannot to see. It’s not the abstract darkness: people will readily acknowledge that the world is broken, and explain how and why the hated out-group is responsible. And that’s exactly what I’m pointing at: upon seeing that the world is broken, people experience an impulse to explain the brokenness in a way that relieves the tension. When seeing that the world is broken, people reflexively feel a need to explain. Carol can acknowledge that there is suffering abroad, but this acknowledgement comes part and parcel with an explanation about why she bears no responsibility. Dave can acknowledge that he failed to pass the interview, but his mind automatically generates reasons why this is an acceptable state of affairs.

This is the type of darkness in the world that most people cannot see: they cannot see a world that is unacceptable. Upon noticing that the world is broken, they reflexively list reasons why it is still tolerable. Even cynicism, I think, can fill this role: I often read cynicism as an attempt to explain a world full of callous neglect and casual cruelty, in a framework that makes neglect and cruelty seem natural and expected (and therefore tolerable).

I call this reflexive response “tolerification,” and if you watch for it, you can see it everywhere.”

But he rallies us:

I say, if you want the intrinsic drive, drop the illusion. Refuse to tolerify. Face the facts that you feared you would not be able to handle. You are likely correct that they will be hard to bear, and you are likely correct that attempting to bear them will change you. But that change doesn’t need to break you. It can also make you stronger, and fuel your resolve.

So see the dark world. See everything intolerable. Let the urge to tolerify it build, but don’t relent. Just live there in the intolerable world, refusing to tolerate it. See whether you feel that growing, burning desire to make the world be different.”

There are so many other posts in that sequence that I also love, such as Have no excuses and Not yet gods, On Caring, A Torch in Darkness (this one is a wedding speech!), The Value of a Life.

But most of all, I would like to echo his words from Altruistic motivations:

[I]f you ever realize that serving only yourself has a hollowness to it; or if you ever realize that part of what you care about is your fellow people; or if you ever learn to see the darkness in this world and discover that you really need the world to be different than it is; if you ever find something on this pale blue dot worth fighting for, worth defending, worth carrying with us to the stars:

then know that there are those of us who fight,

and that we’d be honored to have you at our side.

Interlude II

Derek Parfit, the philosopher quoted at the beginning of this post, was reportedly able to burst into tears just by thinking about the idea of suffering. One of Parfit’s self-described moments of awakening came when he, to a certain degree, let go of the idea of personal identity:

When I believed [that personal identity is what matters], I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.

The whole of Scott Alexander’s ouevre is much worth reading, but I’d like to especially single out two pieces: one, Dead children should be used as a unit of currency is a great piece on really “getting” the consequentialism, which is not quite a part of idealism, but it does seem instrumentally necessary to me. Note that nowadays the estimates for the cost of saving a life trends more towards ~4000$ than the one thousand quoted in that post; the post was written about 15 years ago.

The second piece, sometimes considered Scott’s magnum opus, is Meditations on Moloch. A giant essay centered around the question “What does it? Earth could be fair, and all men glad and wise. Instead we have prisons, smokestacks, asylusm. What sphinx of cement and aluminum breaks open their skulls and eats up their imagionation?_“, while certainly unconcise at parts, it is a beautiful interweaving of economics and game theory and AI and poetry – all to answer that question,”what does it”, and to shine way ahead to answering the question “What it is that might break this cycle?”

Larissa MacFarquhar’s book Strangers drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help contains many gems; of which I quote but one:

An extreme sense of duty seems to many people to be a kind of disease – a masochistic need for self-punishment, perhaps, or a kind of depression that makes its sufferer feel unworthy of pleasure…In fact, some do-gooders are happy, some are not. The happy ones are happy for the same reasons anyone is happy – love, work, purpose. It is do-gooders’ unhappiness that is different – a reaction not only to humiliation and lack of love and the other usual stuff, but also to knowing that the world is filled with misery, and that most people do not really notice or care, and that, try as they might, they cannot do much about either of those things. What do-gooders lack is not happiness but innocence. They lack that happy blindness that allows most people, most of the time, to shut their minds to what is unbearable. Do-gooders have forced themselves to know, and keep on knowing, that everything they do affects other people, and that sometimes (though not always) their joy is purchased with other people’s joy. And, remembering that, they open themselves to a sense of unlimited, crushing responsibility.

In line with people actually doing things, Michelle Hutchinson post What gives me hope is a nice collection of short snippets of people going against the grain to do good.

Here is a beautiful quote of Sir Terry Pratchet, from Unseen Academicals:

One day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.

Though Pratchett’s mention of “supreme being” might fall a little short in 2022, since God seems to finally be dead and cold, I think the quote stays just as powerful if you interpret that line to be pointing at whatever forces are keeping the world in this state, full of suffering. If this idea is relatively new to you, you might be thinking: is the implicit suggestion really to banish suffering from the animal kingdom? Why, yes it is

“Many have stood their ground and faced the darkness when it comes for them. Fewer come for the darkness and force it to face them.”

But I know, now, that there’s nothing wrong with feeling strongly. Ever since I adopted the rule of “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be,” I’ve also come to realize “That which the truth nourishes should thrive.” When something good happens, I am happy, and there is no confusion in my mind about whether it is rational for me to be happy. When something terrible happens, I do not flee my sadness by searching for fake consolations and false silver linings. I visualize the past and future of humankind, the tens of billions of deaths over our history, the misery and fear, the search for answers, the trembling hands reaching upward out of so much blood, what we could become someday when we make the stars our cities, all that darkness and all that light—I know that I can never truly understand it, and I haven’t the words to say. Despite all my philosophy I am still embarrassed to confess strong emotions, and you’re probably uncomfortable hearing them. But I know, now, that it is rational to feel.

Feeling Rational, Eliezer Yudkowsky

Eliezer Yudkowsky has a certain way of expressing himself which I guess some construe as arrogant, or perhaps too self-assured, or something. All that I understand, and which makes me terribly sad, that there is some kind of person who seems to get a kick out of hating people like Yudkowsky. It makes me terribly sad, because ‘despite’ his confident conversational style, Yudkowsky seems one of the shining lights of this world, one of the few examples of how much a person can give of himself to the effort of doing the best possible things. He is, perhaps, the person of our age who has most forcefully forced the darkness to face him.

Perhaps the most important part of Yudkowsky’s story is his Rationality: From AI to Zombies, a (2000-page) series of posts on the art of human rationality, which kickstarted LessWrong, which is in turn (in my view) the greater part of the reason effective altruism managed to get off the ground so fast. E.g. in the early years of EA, more than 30% of the people associated with it heard of it through LW.

Rationality. From AI to Zombies, also know as “The Sequences”, is a treasure trove of so many things, so many worthwhile ideas, but restricting our attention to the more idealistic-adjacent content, there is Something to protect, where Eliezer talks about having the reason for doing good; The Gift We Give to Tomorrow which presents I might even prefer the “spoken word” version of it.a very naturalistic framing of human values, and yet remains beautiful throughout; Beyond the Reach of God, where we’re asked to actually try to confront the kind of universe we inhabit.

There is, also, a whole sequence on Challenging the Difficult. That is Eliezer’s forte; and he has written what I found to be the most beautiful account of actually trying to fight for what one considers to be good; and it is only apt that it is a Harry Potter fanfiction. That might sound silly to you; and it kinda did to me too, and yet I nowadays consider waiting so many years to read Harry Potter and Methods of Rationality as one of the greatest mistakes of my life. Perhaps you can be wiser than I had been.

There is so much that I love about HPMoR, that I deeply love–again, in the way I hadn’t imagined loving any fanfiction. You can take a look at our Croatian translation of some early parts of it at So, as hard it is to select just one thing, since HPMoR differs from the original on so many points, but—

In Harry Potter universe there is a magical prison called Azkaban, in which prisoners are tortured every second of every day by the feelings of despair and the worst imaginable depression. And everyone just read that, nodded and went along, not noticing the horror they were reading about. I just nodded and went along. But HPMoR has a writer and a protagonist who are not people who would nod and go along; and, indeed, I hope that this page, and perhaps the things it motivates you to read, make you, like they have for me, less of the person who just nods and goes along.

And Harry remembered what Professor Quirrell had said beneath the starlight: Sometimes, when this flawed world seems unusually hateful, wonder whether there might be some other place, far away, where I should have been… But the stars are so very, very far away… And I wonder what I would dream about, if I slept for a long, long time.

Right now this flawed world seemed unusually hateful. And Harry couldn’t understand Professor Quirrell’s words, it might have been an alien that had spoken, or an Artificial Intelligence, something built along such different lines from Harry that his brain couldn’t be forced to operate in that mode.

You couldn’t leave your home planet while it still contained a place like Azkaban.

You had to stay and fight.