The synthesis stage

Work on the third Sermon – now almost certainly titled One of Us – is progressing, approximately on schedule for completion this summer. I have a lot of stanzas, some of them strung together into sequences, a pretty good idea of what goes where, and am now working on synthesizing them into a prototype Secular Sermon that I can read to volunteers and ask for their impressions. This is a familiar part of the process. It involves puzzling pieces together, streamlining them into a narrative, and getting frequently distracted with the finer details of particular lines.

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A Thousand Stars

In the German Democratic Republic, where I was born, one of the most popular Christmas songs was Tausend Sterne sind ein Dom. It was written in the aftermath of World War 2, by the music student Siegfried Köhler.  I heard and sang it from when I was about seven, and I vividly remember being impressed with the match between its remarkably poetic lyrics and its tender and serene music. Here’s a recording you might enjoy:

I sang it again, for the first time in many years, with a large group of friends at the Secular Solstice 2013. But Secular Solstices, even in Germany, are generally held in English. So for the 2014 Solstice, I wrote a translation of the lyrics into English, and it goes like this. Continue reading

Titus Lucretius Carus, my paragon and archetype

You might think that a very long poem that describes the natural laws of the universe to demonstrate how supernaturalism is unnecessary is a novel idea. It’s not.

Around 2070 years ago, probably in or near Rome, a poet and philosopher named Titus Lucretius Carus spent years writing a truly spectacular poem: De rerum natura. The title is commonly translated as On the Nature of Things. This epic poem describes a naturalistic worldview and explains how all sorts of physical, biological, social and mental phenomena are made of atoms – 18 centuries before this was widely accepted. It makes a vague but correct guess at natural selection 19 centuries before Darwin. Before Christianity was even invented, this poem said that if gods exist, they’re made out of atoms and don’t care about us. It is classic epic poetry in dactylic hexameter and about half as long as the Iliad. Its rediscovery is credited with ending the Middle Ages.

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Gratitude and song

The premiere of the second Sermon went very well and I’m very grateful to have found such an attentive and appreciative audience in the astonishing Less Wrong community. This group is truly a collection of remarkable minds, and I’m sure much will become of it. There were about 30 of us, and we went through both existing Sermons non-stop. I was pleased to learn nobody could tell where the first one ended and the second began – after all, the whole thing is a single poem, though in seven parts, and I hope to one day present it as a single, huge, roughly 100 minutes experience.
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Progress May 2015

The Games of Entropy are nearing completion, which feels great. I’m now filling small gaps, sandpapering over rough bits and worrying about how to cut it all down to size. For reasons that will be explained eventually, every sermon has exactly 80 stanzas. I completed about 120 anyway, as for the previous one, because I really liked how when finishing up the first one, trimming and compressing it improved it quite a bit. Trimming is painful, but it is a good kind of pain. (Of course I’m throwing out a much larger number of uncompleted stanzas when I realize I can’t get them to fulfill all the criteria, but I’m much less attached to those.)
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Progress report

Work on the second Sermon – now named The Games of Entropy – is progressing, slow but steady. Its subject is more challenging than that of the first one, where I was really just paraphrasing Carl Sagan. But I’ve become more proficient at the craft of assembling the lines into rhymes and the rhymes into stanzas, leaving me with more capacity for the task of abstracting science into poetic language. So I’m confident I’ll finish the second Sermon in spring 2015.
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