Reader help: The argument from the disprovability of non-existence

The last paragraph of this page, clearly from a Harry Potter book, was quoted by Christopher Hitchen’s in his essay collection Arguably.  I’d like to use it, but I need the name of the Harry Potter book and the page number for the quote.  Full reference, please. There are no prizes except the blessing of Ceiling Cat.

What this shows is that even Hermione can refute that argument.

From LOLtheists:

hermione-she-gets-it1

86 Comments

  1. Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    It’s in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pg334 (in my hardback edition)

  2. Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    It’s from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, but I’m not home at the moment so I can’t get you a page number.

  3. Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    It’s the last one “Harry Potter and the Deatly hollows” page 334 of the adultt 2007 hardcpver edition, Bloomsburry London.

  4. Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Ninja’d by a laughing bear!

  5. Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    That’s on page 334 if the British first edition.

    Love that quote! Yay, blessings from ceiling cat!!!

  6. Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Deathly Hallows. Chapter 21. I dont have the book handy to give you a page number.

  7. Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on π's blog and commented:
    What a great quote – no wonder, religions were not amused by that book …

    • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      And despite that Rowling herself is an active member of the Church of Scotland.

      • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        She is? Well – I haven’t thought it through completely, but I guess the Harry Potter character certainly could also be interpreted as a Messiah figure … what with resurrection and all that …

        • Posted November 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

          No – he isn’t resurrected — he has a Near Death experience when Voldemort tries to kill him. Voldemort’s attack is not successful, but he does succeed in stunning Harry, which produces a near death experience — very different from being resurrected.

      • Richard Olson
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Dissonance effect, perhaps? Maybe Rowling subscribes to this notblog and will explain all shortly.

      • gluonspring
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        But Hermione comes off the worse in the story because in the stone really does exist. She’s applying her “book learning” and “logic”, which are acknowledged to be useful in many cases, but ultimately it’s those with “faith” that turn out to perceive the ultimate truth.

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          “in the story the stone really does exist. ”

          There is a god, and he randomly garbles what I type after I hit “post”.

        • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          I know, but still Lovegood only believes on hearsay, not because of solid evidence.

          • gluonspring
            Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

            Well, yes. WE know that Hermione was right and that Luna had no reason for her belief, that Luna may as well have believed that Voldemort was her father, or any other random unfounded proposition. But my sense of the story overall, or at least my recollection, is that Hermione’s “book learning” is regarded as a mixed blessing in the books. On the one hand her book learning enables her to do many things others can’t, enables her to be highly skilled, but on the other hand it is portrayed as also limiting her perspective. She is the skeptic who is sometimes right in her skepticism, but often wrong as well, with those using “other ways of knowing” arriving at the real truth. But it’s been awhile, so maybe I am misremembering some of it. I seem to recall Hermione herself denigrating “mere book learning and cleverness”, or something like that, in one of the early books.

            • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

              Xenophilius here, not Luna.

              /@

              • gluonspring
                Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

                Oh, yeah. Accuracy always!

            • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

              Your understanding of the HP books on the subject is good. There’s indeed some tension about Hermione’s scepticism, and that she becomes somewhat dogmatic at certain points. I guess Rowling wanted to create characters with realistic personalities rather than perfect superhumans.

            • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

              I think that was in the Half Blood Prince when Harry couldn’t work out an antidote because he was used to following instructions blindly without understanding the underlying subject (my daughter’s favorite books)

              • Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                Yes, that was indeed in the half bloo prince, and so he cheated on the exercise.

              • gluonspring
                Posted October 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

                Here’s another example. Hermione, quite reasonably, dismisses Trelawney as a fraud. Of course she can’t make prophecies, it’s ridiculous! Except, of course, that in the story she really can, just not when she is trying to. So here again, reasonable skepticism leads Hermione, and most everyone else, to miss the deeper reality at hand.

                (I really enjoyed the books, BTW. I’m not here to criticize them as books, but only to highlight that there is some reservation in the celebration of reason embodied in the Hermione character).

            • Brian
              Posted October 14, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

              Hermione always had this view of over-arching rationality in a world where sticks violated every law of physics ever, so I’m not sure why a Resurrection Stone would be so far-fetched.

              • JBlilie
                Posted October 15, 2013 at 5:24 am | Permalink

                Special sticks and mumbled words: These are the things that violate the laws of physics. Especially the mumbled words. Sticks are only for the specially elect with the very large hats.

  8. Tien Song Chuan
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Note Harry Potter itself is pseudo-science.

    • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      At least HP does not pretend to be anything else than fiction.

      • Tien Song Chuan
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        You never know. Centuries down the road, it may become Bible to a new religion.

        • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

          That might happen to almost every piece of fiction, but with the current state of affairs, we know it’s fiction.

          • Tien Song Chuan
            Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

            It has already happened to Ramayana, Journey to the West, Romance of the Three Kingdoms etc Visit any temple in Asia, and you can see those characters being worshiped, serious.

            • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

              No doubt about it, but it’s really sad that our fellow human beings have such need to worship their own or others imaginations.

              • Tien Song Chuan
                Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

                Perhaps, Harry Potter is in another parallel multiverse, where the same scientific methods can also be used, just that the laws of physics are different.

            • jimroberts
              Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

              “Perhaps, Harry Potter is in another parallel multiverse, where the same scientific methods can also be used, just that the laws of physics are different.”

              You might like Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, http://hpmor.com/

              • jimroberts
                Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

                Apologies for lack of acknowledgement to wonderer at #14, who posted this link before me.

            • Matt D
              Posted October 14, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

              Hm, I knew my obsession and purchase of almost every “Dynasty Warriors” video game was spiritual!

        • darrelle
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

          Are you saying we shouldn’t indulge in fiction, even with full awareness, because it might turn us, or lead some ignorant bystanders, to religion?

          • Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

            Just put a big warning on the cover: “This book is fiction, and NOT accepted fact”.

            • darrelle
              Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              I am not sure that would help. It might even make things worse.

              “It’s really real, but “they” made them put that disclaimer on the cover to try and keep it secret!”

              • Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

                The classic argument made by our good ol’ friends, the conspiracy theorists.

      • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        Only two books feature talking snakes, one is fictional and the other was written by J K Rowling.

        • Brian
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          Kipling had a talking snake. Jungle Book.

          • JBlilie
            Posted October 15, 2013 at 5:27 am | Permalink

            And don’t forget Verdi.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      No, it is fiction entertainment.

      Pseudo-science is an erroneous method of verifying or supporting claims that are believed to be real and accurate by the people employing the pseudo-science, or that the people employing the pseudo-science hope to convince others are real and accurate.

  9. Eric
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    As other comments have said, Deathly Hallows, but I guess we have different editions. The USA Scholastic hardcover has it on page 411.

  10. Bill
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Hi, before someone says “You can’t prove a negative!”
    Read Stephen Law’s Blog entry on that:

    http://stephenlaw.blogspot.de/search/label/%22Can%27t%20Prove%20A%20Negative%22

    • Dick Veldkamp
      Posted October 15, 2013 at 12:03 am | Permalink

      Quite right. Absence of evidence often is evidence of absence.

      And there’s Russell’s teapot.

      • Posted November 14, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        on the contrary: absence of evidence is not proof of anything except the absence of evidence. That position is a well known logical fallacy. Aristotle maintained that there were no black swans because no one had ever seen one – and then, centuries later, they were discovered in Australia. Too late for Aristotle, who would have been chagrined. Animals thought to be extinct keep showing up. Animals not previously known (like the carnivorous caterpillar found on the Big Island in Hawaii) keep appearing and then, suddenly, similar critters are found other places as well. Absence of evidence is often merely overlooking evidence which has been present all along, but not noticed because it didn’t fit the paradigm — Check out Thomas Kuhn’s works.

        • rwilsker
          Posted November 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          We understand the logical fallacy just fine.

          The point is that when a phenomenon should leave *lots* of evidence, and there is none, then, in fact, that lack of evidence *is* evidence of absence. When a phenomenon has to do with something rare, such as a black swan, then lack of evidence is less compelling.

          As with many real world issues, this becomes not an issue of logical tautologies, but of what has been spoken of on this blog as “practical” truth.

          • jimroberts
            Posted November 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

            A couple of days ago, someone with a small child visited me, and the subject of evidence came up. When they set off home, the parent, as one does to teach a child, commented on his activities and observations: “Is there a car coming this way? No. Is there a car coming that way? No, then we can cross the road”. And I said, “Absence of evidence.”

    • Chris
      Posted October 15, 2013 at 3:18 am | Permalink

      Yeah, if an entity leaves specific evidence of it’s presence then the absence of which is pretty good proof of it’s absence. Criminal investigations would be sodded if this is not the case.

      The lack of broken furniture and large piles of poop pretty much demonstrates that I don’t have an angry elephant living in my apartment (although there is nothing in the physical rules of the universe that would prevent this from being true).

      • Posted November 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        or a clumsy Snuffleupagus? Does it poop? or is its poop invisible?

  11. D. Taylor
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
    Chapter twenty-one, Page 411
    J. K. Rowling
    Arthur A. Levine Books
    First Edition, July 2007

    • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      That’s probably the edition in the photo, as it’s a right-hand page.

      It’s on the left hand page in the Bloomsbury hc.

      I guess the UK edition is the primary source… ;-)

      /@

  12. eric
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Since people have answered the primary question, here’s a related juicy tidbit: Christopher Hitchens’ 2007 review of Deathly Hallows (complete with the Hermione quote):
    Link.

    • Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      What a wonderful review. I’ve long said that Rowling was in desperate need of an editor; he shows why I would think that.

      • RFW
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        I’ve only read four of the HP books, and I’m not overly impressed with Rowling’s plots. She gets her plot into a complete tangle, then has to cut the Gordian Knot she’s created by parachuting some unanticipated deus ex machina into the plot to sort it all out.

        She’s not a writer who first outlines the entire plot. Instead she seems to just wing it.

        A good murder mystery concludes with “the butler did it”, leading the reader to say “why didn’t I see that? It’s obvious by the end of the first chapter”. It’s not good writing to suddenly bring in significant plot elements that were not foreshadowed in some manner.

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

          Though she always relies on the deus ex machina, in the last few books there are at least more foreshadowed plot elements to reward the reading.

        • Brian
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          The first few books as solo entities, maybe. But it is clear that the series as a whole was plotted well in advance. Everything tied together quite well in the end.

  13. TonyR
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
    JK Rowling Bloomsbury Publishing, London

    Chapter 21, p.334
    The Tale of the Three Brothers

    Hope this helps!

    • Dominic
      Posted October 15, 2013 at 2:30 am | Permalink

      Ah! Finally a full ref! ;)

    • Posted November 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, I quite agree that Hermione is the smartest of the three searchers, and the most systematic. In any case, it is page 290 of the Kindle edition, Chapter 21, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” which is the last book, volume #7, of the series.

  14. Greg Esres
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Even if she got all the pebbles in the world and tested them, it still wouldn’t prove anything, because you’d have to establish that she really had all the pebbles in the world.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 15, 2013 at 2:30 am | Permalink

      new pebbles are constantly being made – & what is a pebble anyway?

  15. gluonspring
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I know what my religious friends would say to this already. Ah ha!, but the stone in question really DID exist! Hermione was wrong! (It did exist in the story, if you haven’t read it).

    Of course, she was right that the lack of a non-existence proof was no kind of argument for the stone’s existence, but the logic-addled will merely latch upon the fact that the stone turned out to exist in the end, so there.

  16. wonderer
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Some here might also like the fanfic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, in which Harry goes to Hogwarts with a scientific perspective.

    • Aaron S.
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I’m a huge fan of HPMOR. I was scrolling down just to write a post like this and saw that you beat me to it. :)

      • wonderer
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        I just found out about it recently, and just got to the last available chapter last night.

        Arrgh! I didn’t know it was unfinished. How long must I wait?

        • Aaron S.
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          No one can say, though I’d not expect it to be completed within the next year based on what I’ve seen over the past one. I discovered it about a year ago when 85 chapters had been written. I was actually working through the 7 Rowling books at the time, and I almost didn’t feel like finishing them because HPMOR was so much better.

        • Aaron S.
          Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          In the mean time, you could read The Quantum Physics Sequence by the same author. Brilliant series of articles explaining quantum mechanics in a way that causes it to make sense rather than seeming counter-intuitive. It explains the “timeless physics” stuff Harry needed to understand in order to do partial transfiguration in HPMOR.

          • wonderer
            Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

            Thanks, I’ll check it out.

  17. Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Hermione is proven wrong in the book, but that’s why they call it fiction.

  18. Gareth Price
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I am reminded of a story, slightly off topic but tangentially related to the problem of proving a negative. Professor Geoff Burnstock, an eminent anatomist/ pharmacologist tells of when he started his PhD. He turned up, enthusiastic to start research and was dismayed when his supervisor told him to go away for 6 months and find the gaps in the literature. He points out how crazy this was, as you can’t find the gaps in the literature without reading everything!

    • Posted November 14, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Clearly that is precisely what his dissertation supervisor wanted him to do — READ THE LITERATURE !! It can be a sobering task for the young PhD candidates who think they have all the questions — and answers as well — and want only to prove their brilliance.

  19. AdamK
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Hermione is also an ailurophile.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Aren’t we all?

      • AdamK
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        Well I should certainly hope so!

  20. Posted October 14, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    “EVEN Hermione can refute that argument”?
    She’s the smartest character in the series!

  21. Paul S
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I’ll admit it, I’ve read them all with my son and nieces, and enjoyed them.
    Minor point, although Hermione was proven wrong about the existence of the resurrection stone, it turns out that the stone doesn’t resurrect people. It was mentioned many times throughout the series, you can’t bring people back from the dead.

  22. rwilsker
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Given the various editions, the safest citation might be “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, chapter twenty one: “The Tale of the Three Brothers”.

  23. Posted October 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Unlike god, etc., it turns out that there was evidence that the Hallows did exist, so Hermione was right in her argument, but just lacking in knowledge. We keep asking for evidence, and the religious keep failing to provide it.

  24. Posted October 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on DownHouseSoftware and commented:
    Hermione really does get it. Don’t waste your time trying to prove a negative, it simply can’t happen. But as she states, it clearly makes more sense to go with the probable until you have reason not to. (William of Ockham speaking through Hermione)

  25. Posted October 14, 2013 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Hermione our Heroine.

  26. Diane G.
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    sub

  27. Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on aperi mentis.


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