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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

How do magic wands work?

The plot holes we create in our movies and our lives would be impossible for a computer to simulate

I 'm constantly hearing people put down that movie where three teenagers run around in the UK trying to figure out how to break things. It's a task at which teenagers excel, and one for which they are well suited by evolution.

Harry Potter might not be profound literature, but the movie version is a good way to get practice identifying all the different UK dialects. In the movie, even people within the same family have different accents. I finally got around to watching it, and discovered that Neville, a boy the other characters look down on, has a Yorkshire accent instead of a Manchester one as I originally thought. Another character has an implausibly posh RP accent. Two of 'em have strong western accents, which I guess means Cornwall. And the Chinese girl is clearly Scottish.

Just to make sure, I watched the whole thing all over again, all eighteen bloody hours of it. The CGI and the photography in these movies are spectacular. It's clear that within a few years, movies will be created entirely by computer and the next generation of actors will be relegated to motion capture roles or eliminated altogether. Hollywood as we know it will no longer exist within a decade.

The HP movies are apolitical: there are no puritanical lectures about global warming, no whining about which pronouns the other characters are allowed to use, and nobody ever uses that annoying affectation of saying “y'all.” And the way the characters grow intellectually makes watching it a lot like reading Flowers for Algernon. But to be honest, mostly I watched it because it was the only thing on TV while I was eating my cereal besides Lou Dobbs.

But a few things still puzzle me about the plot.

If the snake killed Severus, and magic wands belong to whoever kills the previous owner, why doesn't the magic wand belong to the snake? If, as the movie says, disarming an opponent means even a wand that was never in their possession belongs to you, then either He-Who-Was-Not-Supposed-To-Be-Named-Or- Else-Bad-Things-Would-Happen was unfamiliar with how that works, or it was a gigantic plot hole. By the eighth movie the snake would have had a sizable collection of magic wands, though perhaps it would be unable to flourish them properly.

Then there's that other burning question: what kind of a nut is this Aberforth fella if he spends so much of his time watching the inside of Harry's sock?

One possibility presents itself: maybe the author, the creator of their world, just didn't think these things through. Just as you can never know (it is said) when you're inside a dream, the characters would be unable to know that their world held a contradiction. When bad things happen, if you're living in a universe with internal contradictions it's impossible ever to discover the reason for them.

The same is true for our world. Physicists tell us that, due to a flaw in space-time, it's entirely possible that the Earth could disappear in the length of time it takes for a photon to cross its diameter. And anyone can imagine features of our collective psychology that we might profitably do without.

But after having watched it a full 1½ times, it seems to me that the main reason it's so popular is that the characters are so unrealistic. I haven't been around kids in a while, but I have a sneaking suspicion that children in the real world are not nearly as cute, nor as well behaved or as resourceful as the kids in that movie.

There's a reason for that: the kids in the movie have to be polite because they're all armed with ordnance that emits high energy charged particle beams that are so powerful that an impolitic imprecation can send a classmate flying out through a window or even vaporize them. It's proof of the saying: a magical world is a polite world.

But at the risk of putting too much thought into a silly children's movie, what's most interesting is that the entire plot is driven by the fact that all the characters are missing vital pieces of information about their own world. The evil designs of the bad guy against the one-whom-he-must-never-kill- if-he-wants-to-stay-alive, and thus the entire basis of the conflict in the story, depend entirely on the former's lack of knowledge about the workings of the magical items that he uses. And nobody in the movie has a clear idea about how or when magic wands choose their master.

This is why computers will not be able to replace writers for the foreseeable future. People are kidding themselves if they think what those goofballs in Silicon Valley like to call artificial intelligence is even remotely able to create a plot this jury-rigged. It's one area where the human mind will always have the advantage over a computer, because only a human really knows what it's like to be a human.

If a computer tried to simulate that, it would start shaking violently, gray smoke would start coming out, and it would be Star Trek: The Original Series with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy all over again. I'm not sure I could handle that.

But for those who, like me, are naturally a tad paranoid, there's an even better explanation: you create a world of your own, then deliberately fill it with contradictions and inconsistencies. Then you can sit back and watch people fill their heads with wrackspurts trying to extract logical sense out of it, and the muggles, in their rightful place, do all the work for you.

No computer could ever be that devious. And that may be why, even with our most powerful computers, we may never know everything about our own world.

Also, I thought poor old Lavender deserved better. Eaten by Greyback!

nov 06 2019, 4:48 am

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