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The Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by LucyInTheSkye, Sep 3, 2020.

  1. Sin

    Sin First Year

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    Transfiguration requires you to hold a mental image of what you want to achieve. Surely Slughorn did not at any point have to worry about imagining himself as a sofa that retained his identity? How would he even picture this? The notion that Slughorn would have attempted to transfigure himself if there were even the slightest possiblity of screwing up and erasing himself from existence seems absurd. Furthermore, all human transfiguration would have this problem. Self transfiguration would be a near suicidal enterprise, because any practice would be potentially fatal.

    Here we also get the testing issue. Canon never establishes the degree to which creatures conjured from non-living matter are actually alive. We know from canon that steam breathing tortoises with spouts for tails are a possible outcome of a poorly executed transfiguration exercise. If you want to claim that the tortoise poorly transfigured from a teapot (I beleive) is fully a tortoise or alive, we're up for a very difficult conversation about what those terms mean, and where their limits are. From my point of view, it's just matter (un)convincingly pretending to be a tortoise, which I think makes a lot more sense.

    So death comes from the fact that, if it did work that way, nobody would try to transfigure people except with nefarious purposes, and life comes from the fact that first, there are edge cases which make the proposition fairly absurd, second, wizards generally act like life is precious, which would be a strange position for people who can create life ex nihilo, and third, a vague sense of balance with regard to the death constraint: if you can't "erase" the identity of a creature, perhaps this is just "read only space" for transfiguration purposes.

    The problem is that Hermione, presumably aware of this fact, would have to see no issue with indiscriminately murdering animals. This strikes me as being wildly out of character. Cedric's Labrador retriever would aslo have been an impressively callous stunt. Taking the point even further, why should this reasoning not be extended to Muggles? Can Muggles be transfigured? If not, why not?

    The fact that wizards in HP act like nonmagical lives are, to some degree, precious would be entirely absurd if they could transfigure a nonmagical creature into being at will.

    This would make more sense if you claimed owls are just magical creatures.

    Human transfiguration is complicated, but not so complicated that Hagrid can't manage to partially transfigure Dudley using his broken wand, or complicated enough to stop a student from accdentally transfiguring his friend into a badger.

    Transfiguration may well change the nature of the object, but evidently, some information about its nature is retained, since untransfiguration is a thing.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2020
  2. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    @Sin I think your post is rather wrong-headed.

    Firstly, just as a couple of preliminary points:

    1. Transfiguration in canon does not involve visualisation/mental images. It is always presented as a highly technical "hard" subject where success comes from your knowledge/understanding of the theory of transfiguration. Visualisation isn't mentioned once.

    2. I don't think we know whether Slughorn was transfigured at all. It could equally be a Charm designed to disguise you as an object without actually physically altering your form/substance.

    But those don't really have a bearing on the topic at hand - life.

    I think basing your conception of transfiguration on failed transformations is not the right starting point. What happens when transfiguration goes wrong is not a good basis for telling us what transfiguration does when it is done correctly.

    The starting point must be:

    1. We know transfigurations are permanent unless untransfigured.

    2. We know that a successful transfiguration is physically identical to a naturally occurring version of that object.

    3. We know that transfiguration can create pigs and dogs.

    On this basis, the starting point is that transfiguration can, prima facie, create life. You can create dogs and pigs, those dogs and pigs will remain dogs and pigs for the rest of their lives, and they will physically resemble "natural" dogs and pigs - which presumably also includes the ability to reproduce.

    The question is then: is there any good reason to believe that this position should be qualified in some way?

    As I understand it, your argument are:

    1. If transfigured animals are alive, then wizards are unusually callous towards life.

    2. Untransfiguration is possible.

    I don't think either of these are nearly enough to displace the prima facie evidence that creation of life is possible in transfiguration.

    Callousness:

    Firstly, wizards know that the soul exists and it is this which they value most, far above the mind or the body. I would not be surprised at all if wizards didn't value life all that much, just as they don't value the mind all that much (see: casual approach to obliviation, love potions). We see repeatedly that wizards treat living and even intelligent things without souls as objects: the sorting hat, chess pieces, etc. Being happy to send animals into danger/using them as test subjects for transfiguration is entirely consistent with this. I think it is also supposed to be reminiscent of dissections you do at school.

    So for me, the conclusion when seeing send a dog against a dragon is not "that dog must be a fake dog" but "wizards don't value life all that much, unless it has a soul".

    As for Hermione, she largely embraces wizarding morality (see: obliviates her parents, considers technology a "replacement for magic", and generally displays paternalism towards Muggles). So her lack of objection does not surprise me, especially as the difference between Muggle and wizarding morality is explained by different levels of understanding of the world (Muggles are ignorant of souls).

    Untransfiguration:

    Yes, there is some form of magical object memory by which you can undo a transfiguration. I don't see how this really alters matters, however. Until untransfiguration is performed, the object is what it is and will remain that way. The "object memory" doesn't have any physical effect, it's like a magical echo.
     
  3. LucyInTheSkye

    LucyInTheSkye First Year

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    I happened to be going through JKR's pottermore writings just earlier, and she seems to confirm that Slughorn does transfigure himself into an arm chair in her essay about him:

    "Slughorn reacted with a speed that would have astounded those who had watched him grow slower and fatter through the years of his retirement. Transfiguring himself into an armchair, he successfully evaded Yaxley’s detection. Once the Death Eater had left, Slughorn packed a few necessities into a bag, locked up his house behind him, and went on the run."
     
  4. Sin

    Sin First Year

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    https://pottermore.fandom.com/wiki/A_Beginner's_Guide_to_Transfiguration

    cfr. supra.

    I don't see why one should not assume failed transfigurations follow roughly the same process as succesful ones, up until something goes wrong. Indeed, I don't see why one should get partial marks for botched transfiguration attempts unless this was the case.

    I don't recall this being established anywhere in canon. The films suggest Lily Potter's death broke a transfiguration she cast on Francis, Slughorn's fish.

    The fact that this is also not established in canon was part of the argument in my first post.

    On this basis, the starting point is that transfiguration can, prima facie, create life. You can create dogs and pigs, those dogs and pigs will remain dogs and pigs for the rest of their lives, and they will physically resemble "natural" dogs and pigs - which presumably also includes the ability to reproduce.

    The question is then: is there any good reason to believe that this position should be qualified in some way?[/QUOTE]

    We know it can create things that resemble pigs and dogs. Why does Hagrid bother growing pumpkins instead of transfiguring as many as he needs? Probably because transfiguration doesn't quite deliver the results he's looking for. The same almost certainly applies to pigs and dogs. Anything that stops you from transfiguring bacon would presumably apply to the pig, and if it didn't, wouldn't the wizarding world be full of Muggleborns with fortunes built on meat farming and dog breeding?

    In my view, transfiguration can, as the etymology suggests, change the form of things, and that is it.

    It seems to me like you are here creating a class of creatures with a soul to which my rule applies, and creatures without a soul to which it doesn't, and providing no means of distinguishing between them, which strikes me as being rather convenient. Also, wizards keep soulless pets, and worry about their wellbeing. Why didn't Hermione just offer to transfigure a new Scrabbers in PoA? I don't see what, in your conception, would have stopped her from doing so, or Ron from finding this perfectly acceptable.

    It matters when you consider what happens to the soul when you transfigure (a wizard, per your assumptions) into, say, a rock. This magical memory now has the very real effect of distinguishing rocks you can't transform into wizards from rocks you can. I'd argue this constitutes a rather serious difference in the object's properties.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2020
  5. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    Back to basics, then. I had assumed we were all up to speed on transfiguration 101.

    Transfiguration is the branch of magic concerned with altering a thing’s physical composition and form - what JK Rowling refers to as an object’s “fundamental nature”:

    Although JK Rowling phrases this as the difference between “Charms” and “Spells”, from the example of “turning a teacup into a rat” she’s clearly talking about Transfiguration. A Charm, unlike a Transfiguration, is stated to “not fundamentally alter the properties of the subject”, which means that the reverse holds: Transfiguration does fundamentally alter the properties of the subject.

    JK Rowling has been consistent on this. As early as 1998 she stated:

    The change that Transfiguration makes is a permanent one. We know this from two sources. The first is the pig’s tail that Hagrid gave Dudley, which did not go away on its own and had to be surgically removed:

    Incidentally, Hagrid’s transfiguration was not even a particularly successful one - he had intended to transform Dudley into a pig in his entirety. So the permanence of a Transfiguration does not depend on its success.

    The second source is from the legend of Quintapeds in the companion book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:

    Now, no one knows if the legend of the Quintapeds’ origin is true or not. But the key part is that wizards, including the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, consider the story credible enough that they have attempted Untransfiguration. That means that the story—including the permanence of the Transfiguration performed—is within the realm of Transfiguration possibility.

    So Transfiguration is not some kind of tactile illusion. It is not that the original object lurks “beneath” a layer of Transfiguration magic. Rather, the object is fundamentally, physically changed into a different object.

    The permanence of Transfiguration also makes sense. Since Transfiguration is a physical change, there’s no reason for the object to revert to its previous state. Physical objects do not spontaneously turn into other objects in the absence of magic. You would need some new magical intervention to make a further change.
     
  6. JuniorAL

    JuniorAL First Year

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    Transfiguring glass into bulletproof glass is transfiguration. Charming it with an Unbreakable Charm is a charm.

    The Charm might wear off after some time, but the transfiguration will never revert itself.

    Transfiguration would turn a thin piece of glass into a thicker one capable of withstanding bullets, the charm would make it magically unbreakable despite its thin nature.

    Transfiguration is permanent and also very difficult.
     
  7. Sin

    Sin First Year

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    This gets you nowhere, unless we have recently found a difference, on a molecular level, between a recently deceased creature and its living form. We've also already established that there are limits to this altering of the molecular structure, since you can't transfigure anything into gold or a number of other structures (some of them organic).

    It was surgically removed. Vernon Dursley couldn't very well let his son attend Smeltings with a pig's tail, and could avail himself of no other means to get rid of it. This does not prove that transfigurations last longer than 31 days (the time between Harry's birthday and the first of September, when Dudley was institutionalised at Smeltings, sans tail).

    Banking on the MoM's competence is generally risky, and in any event, if they had been transfigured, it would be a precedent for someone transfiguring something into a (spell resistant) magical creature.

    As noted, this is contradicted by the films and the fact that nobody ever seems to transfigure anything they want to keep around. I'm reasonably certain there are no confirmed long-lived transfigured items in canon. There are animated items, but those would, per JKR's definition, be charms. We also know that conjuration, at least, is time limited, per madame Rowling.

    http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2000/0700-swns-alfie.htm

    It is perfectly possible that transfiguration is a change which needs to be held in place, and untransfiguration implies lifting the magical pressure which maintains that change. There is also a clear precedent in canon for spells disappearing upon the death of their caster, namely the Dark Mark.
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2020
  8. RandyRanderson

    RandyRanderson Second Year

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    @Sin McGonagall transfigured chessmen that were alive. The mechanism of such a transfiguration may be up for debate but the permanence of the transfiguration is not.

    One cannot rely on a limited duration of human transfiguration to return back. The caster is not holding the change because they do not know of magic. One has to be transfigured back by another.
     
  9. Sin

    Sin First Year

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    Which is why I made a distinction between animating (a charm, per Rowling's distinction) and transfiguring. Every statue in Hogwarts, as well as the Sorting Hat would have been a better example than McGonagall's chessmen on this count, since they are all older and their creators are presumably dead. Again, conjuration, a branch of transfiguration, is explicitly impermanent.

    The best I have yet been offered for transfiguration's permanence is that Muggles have a hard time undoing it, which one might have suspected, and that there is a poorly sustantiated legend about someone transfiguring magical creatures.

    You might want to argue that charms seem to hold up quite well, since, unlike transfigured items, there are quite a few enchanted items which retain their enchantments after the enchanter's death, but charms also wear out with age (broomsticks are observed to deteriorate, as are invisibility cloaks), and I don't think it's a stretch to assume charms might just be easier to sustain than transfigurations.

    I tend to imagine both like compacts: a magical agreement is made with nature, which unravels over time unless maintained. The maintainance cost is exacted by nature as a sort of automatic transaction as long as you are alive to pay it, but once you no longer are, you get behind. Renewing an enchantment is simply a reiteration of this agreement, essentially transferring maintainance duties to someone else. Lifting an enchantment or untransfiguring ends the agreement.

    This would be a point if I had suggested you need to consciously hold a transfiguration in place. If that were the case, falling asleep in a conjured sofa would rudely wake you up. Here again, the fact that we have no word (I think) on the possibility of transfiguring oneself or others into an actual sofa (or any other inanimate object), as opposed to a conscious one seems to rather strengthen my case.

    Not knowing of magic has been amply shown to not be an impediment to performing it.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
  10. RandyRanderson

    RandyRanderson Second Year

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    (PS)

    So no, this was not a charm. The idea that charms and transfiguration as a branch overlap in some areas of function is not unusual. Aguamenti is a conjuration and yet is a charm (and yes I also have the appropriate quotes for this).

    Conjuration is different from entity-to-entity transfiguration. Following this line of logic, the permanence of vanishment would support the idea that transfiguration is permanent. Both conjuration and vanishment may be taught in the class of transfiguration, but this does not mean that they follow the same rules as entity to new entity transfiguration.

    Disregarding the point about holding a change in place, one still remains in an animal state unless someone else transfigures you back. Permanence.

    Crouch transfigures his father into a bone to hide in Hagrid's freshly dug earth. Would probably be a poor technique if the transfiguration reverted back.

    And, of course, you have Taure's evidence.

    Edits for clarity were made.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
  11. Sin

    Sin First Year

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    All you've said here is that JKR is inconsistent in this distinction, which we already knew.

    It also doesn't mean they don't. On the topic of vanishment, this can be easily explained if vanishing something reduces it to a maximum entropy state. If that is the case, it would be immediately clear why you need no energy to maintain it.

    "Disregarding your suggestion to the contrary, my claim was correct. I will provide no evidence, or admit further questions on this point."

    Crouch is working on the assumption that Voldemort will be back by the end of the year, at which point he will join him. His transfiguration doesn't have to hold forever. There are only 28 days between Crouch Sr's death and Voldemort's resurrection.

    See previous posts. I have addressed Taure's observations already.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
  12. RandyRanderson

    RandyRanderson Second Year

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    @Sin
    A better method of translating my quote would be:
    "Disregarding an irrelevant point of contention since I can't be bothered to argue with you over this, here's a reminder of an example that still demonstrates the permanence of transfiguration. I'm tired of arguing with someone who performs incredible feats of mental gymnastics to denounce sound evidence."

    Let me walk you through the logic since it seems so difficult for you to interpret a simple quote.

    "one would become the animal entirely" One is transfigured into an animal in totality.

    "would need somebody else to Transfigure one back to one’s original form" You need someone to transfigure you back.

    What does this imply? It implies permanence. Why? Because you need someone to return back to your original form. You will not spontaneously revert back to your form.

    What if transfiguration wasn't permanent? Then one could revert back to their original form without the aid of someone else.

    Oh look, here's yet another example of the permanence of transfiguration. A gerbil's transfiguration was so permanent that he gave it away as a pet.
     
  13. Sin

    Sin First Year

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    Ironically, given your little tirade, my proposed mechanism deals wtih both of these hurdles. Also, even if they might spontaneously revert to their own forms before they died, most people would probably (want to) be untransfigured before then. Some people's spouses, parents, children or friends might even want them back.

    I think the best counterargument to my mechanism would be that, if it were known, the Ministry could have deduced from there that the Quintaped origin story is false, given that they killed the people who transfigured them, and would have thus lifted the spell. Therefore, there would never have been any attempts to untransfigure the Quintapeds. This of course relies on the assumption that the Ministry is competent, which we know to be risky.

    As pointed out in my first post, impermanent transfiguration is appealing because it explains so much else in the wizarding world (Goblins forging weapons, Madame Malkin's business model, the Weasleys' shabby clothes and hand-me-downs, etc.) which would be absolutely mystifying otherwise, unless you go with something like Taure's list, which puts wizards in a position where they can magically create life, but a decent cloak is beyond them.

    Note, by the way, that if transfiguration is permanent, Crouch Sr. could have transfigured his son into a pet and been much safer than using an Unforgivable Curse. A similar approach would work for Azkaban, though here it could be argued that the dementors just have to be kept busy and fed.

    "Distraught muggles are a good source for insights on transfiguration" seems like an overall odd claim, and didn't you say mental gymnastics bothered you? Perhaps your hermeneutical skills just leave a lot to be desired.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020
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