All posts by daniel

A very good Friday

Over the last two days, my wife and daughter went on an Easter holiday. So I was away from both of them for more than a day for the first time since the third Sermon premiered in November 2016.

This has allowed be to put a big chunk of work into the fourth Sermon. I’m getting near the end of the synthesis stage now and I’m mostly done with the complicated parts that need a couple of highly focused uninterrupted hours at a time. So I think I can finish the fourth Sermon with mostly just little bits and pieces of work that I can squeeze in between other things.

And there will be lots of other things! We’re expecting our second child in July 🙂 while our first is keeping us fairly busy already and work is quite hectic at the moment as well. I’d love to be done with the fourth Sermon before July, but that seems unlikely right now. I’ll certainly try, though.

I have also added an extra page about the poetic format of the Sermons, the common metre. I might update it occasionally, as I improve my understanding of what I seem to be doing.

I’ve been noticing for a while that I find it increasingly hard to write poetry in any format that is not the common metre. Every time I try, it feels wrong and difficult and I always tend to be attracted back to the common metre. My unconscious processes have clearly been trained to better help my conscious processes write in this format. This is great because it relieves some of the cognitive burden and reduces the time and effort needed. Last night, I produced 15 stanzas in 5 hours – that’s three times as fast as I was writing the second Sermon and about six times as fast as I started out. Clearly I have sacrificed some mental flexibility to gain this speedup. I’m fine with this. In fact, it seems quite delightful to be able to observe my own mind crystallizing in this fashion.

Doubt theory

Among my many theories,
there’s one of which I’m proud
that sorts the mind’s pathologies
by what one fails to doubt.

If you can’t doubt the things you think,
you will at first feel great,
then grow confused until the brink
of madness is your fate.

If you can’t doubt the things you feel,
you’ll grow depressed and cross,
because their quarrels will reveal
the strongest one is loss.

If you can’t doubt the things you want,
you’ll follow where they lead,
until you’re like a symbiont
with what you’ve come to need.

And if you fail to doubt your doubt,
you’ll lose your basic sense
of what your life should be about
and make no difference.

And the prediction that falls out
of that is in the main
that someone who is good at doubt
is likely to be sane.

This is a quick one that just came to me recently. Written in less than half an hour.

Receiving uploads

I live a life of duty now,
but I’ve been fierce and free.
The proof is stored behind my brow
as neon memory.

It has been a while since I posted a progress report, and much has happened in the meantime.

It isn’t that I have a lot of time or focus to do writing, really. I’d like to do one or several of these high intensity writing days where I work myself into a writing frenzy and do nothing but compose stanzas for like ten hours straight. (Usually about ten to twenty stanzas come out of that and about half of those survive editing.) I haven’t been able to do one of those for over a year now. But fortunately there is another process that produces stanzas, which I call receiving uploads.

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The Bayesian Choir is awesome

That song my dad and I wrote? I emailed it to the wonderful Bayesian Choir, a group of excellent people in the Bay Area who have performed beautifully  at the Bay Area Secular Solstices and who produced the spectacular HaMephorash (which you need to read Unsong to not be confused by (and I firmly recommend that)).

What utterly amazed me was their response! One of them is James Cook, who is not just a software developer and a composer of music, but actually develops software to help compose music. How cool is that! He took a liking to this little tune and produced a hymn-style arrangement for four voices which… I’m frankly unqualified to judge, but my dad as a classically trained composer assures me it is quite good. Here’s what it looks like: Continue reading

Between sermons and diapers

You’ve clearly grown tonight, my child.
You watch more knowingly.
Your movements are a touch more mild
as you examine me.

Whenever I’m not working, I continue to be mostly busy being a dad. It is amazing! My writing has slowed down considerably for now and I’m fine with that.

Still, there is a little progress to report. The fourth Sermon has a rough outline, a couple of finished stanzas that mark important waypoints in the storyline, and a working title: The Heartbeat of Humanity. At the current leisurely pace, I expect to finish it next summer, two years after the last one. Continue reading

Towards the heart

The first two Sermons in this tale
have just been to prepare
this third one here, where we unveil
the gift of life we share…

The third Sermon is finished, giving me a complex mix of feelings of elation, relief and yearning for more. I am indebted to the friends who gave me critical feedback for it, especially Laila, Kami, Nikki, Viva and Raymond. Thank you a lot! Overall, this Sermon was much easier to write than the second one, as expected, because it tells a more relatable part of the story… but the extra challenge of finishing it in a single year compensated nicely for the reduced difficulty.

Now everything is changing: In a few weeks, my daughter will be born! How amazing is that! Looking forward to it, in this calm before the storm, my anticipation and excitement naturally inspire the process of starting on the fourth Sermon. Of course during the next few months, I will find very little (if any) time to write poetry. But the topic of the fourth Sermon lends itself quite nicely to description by someone very busy with loving care. Continue reading

The polishing stage

Work on the third Sermon is progressing well. A week ago I first presented a preliminary (“beta”) version to a select group of friends and they confirmed, as I hoped they would, that the series of the first three Sermons is considerably more intense than the series of just the first two. But there is still work to be done, and I have just one month until the premiere of the final text at the Less Wrong Community Weekend 2016.

I’m in the polishing stage now, where the narrative doesn’t change much anymore and I can focus on nice turns of phrase, fluency, aesthetics and figurativeness. I solicit feedback from friends and siblings to help me write the best text I can.

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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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