All posts by daniel

Another docket space and the scary part

Lots of progress in the last two months. I did the docket space again and began to sort out the various bits and pieces that I had, over the last decades, pushed ahead into the last two sermons. Again this method worked beautifully. The key question was where to draw the line between the sixth and seventh sermons – this is answered. On that basis, I wrote some more. Now the sixth sermon has a pretty detailed structure and 41 completed stanzas – as usual, I expect not all of those will be among the 80 stanzas of the finished sermon. The title is changed again, to “Our Maps and Territory”. The seventh has a rough structure and 15 complete stanzas; it remains named “The Universe Machine”. Many of these stanzas are old, some over ten years, but most are new.

The scary part is the seventh sermon will open with a novel theory of consciousness that I have been incubating since before I started the sermons in 2012. This theory has always been intended to turn up somewhere near the end. I have the insanely bold, possibly megalomaniacal, idea that this theory might actually solve the hard problem of consciousness. This is extremely unlikely to succeed. But it’ll at least be a serious attempt. To make that attempt, I need to finally put the vague exciting ideas in my head down into language structured enough to see whether they’re actually coherent… let alone right. Before I do this in poetry, I’m doing it in prose, and talking with friends who know more about philosophy than I do. If the ideas turn out to be crap, which is very likely because so far all explanations of consciousness have, I do have a plan B. But plan A is the utterly mad one.

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Welcome, fellow Astral Codex Ten readers!

You all must know how grief besets
us at the memory
of bygone times of happiness.
The Marble Cliffs call thee.

My review of Ernst Jünger’s On the Marble Cliffs became a finalist in the Astral Codex Ten 2023 book review contest, and now that the anonymous vote is closed, I can say that. So I got the opportunity to give Scott a link he’d post. This is to introduce my Big Writing Project, and explain why it may be especially interesting to ACX readers in particular.

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Five Secular Sermons

A new video, with all five audio recordings and 403 illustrations, mostly by Midjourney. The illustrations were a suggestion by my wonderful sister (who also gave me lots of practical help!) that in retrospect makes perfect sense. Only a minority of people who might be interested will want to close their eyes and “properly” meditate for 80 minutes, so visuals should be available as an option. So now they are.

The home stretch

For once, I can report a large amount of progress. The last few days have been the most productive of the entire project so far. I now have a complete draft of the fifth Secular Sermon, now titled “The Words our Voices Raise”. I’m now nervously showing this draft to a very few very select friends, in order to get their feedback and to find those mistakes that only become apparent when I read the text out loud, rather than just see it written.

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Adventures in docket space

Over the last few days I have experimented with a method of writing that was new to me. It is very well described in professor Edward Slingerland’s blog post There is Only One Way to Write a Book. In my (new) experience, this method works quite well! So if you plan to do a big complicated piece of writing, it is worth a thorough read.

If not, basically the idea is to put all the notes and ideas you have onto little pieces of paper (I say “dockets” for short), lay them out in a big room, and arrange and re-arrange them into groups and sequences that eventually produce an outline, which you then “only” need to fill out when writing.

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For a secret reason, this site may receive its first publicity in late summer. So I have refurbished the site design a bit, especially to make it more friendly to mobile devices.

Very small improvements on some older parts of the text. Minor progress on the fifth sermon.

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Making the most of it

The translation of One of Us that I was working on was basically finished after only 3 months. This surprised and delighted me a lot, because it is only half of the 6 months that I previously thought was an ambitious schedule! But I’m not publishing it yet, because as I said it is for my grandmother’s birthday, so it’ll premiere in July. Again the translation led to some very minor improvements in the original English text.

If I can translate Sermons at such speed, that implies I should be able to have a translation of The Love that guides Humanity ready in July as well. But instead I have broken ground on the fifth Sermon, working title “The Signal and the Voice”.

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Working hard on “Unsereins”

As I said, I have been working on translating the third Sermon into German. This has gone pretty well so far: out of 80 stanzas, 40 now have decent translations, after less than two months.

Despite 40/80 I’m not half done, since I tend to do the easier stanzas first. Right now I have the first 22 stanzas, but 23 and 24 are really tricky to translate so they’re not done. Then I have 25 to 28, but 29 is hard again. 30 to 76 only have a sprinkling of completed easy ones here and there, and 77 to 80 are done. But “done” is relative – from experience I know I’ll be tinkering with most of the completed stanzas at some point, in order to get them from decent to good or very good.

But still, I remain on track to get it done by summer. I’m pretty proud of that, because it’s a very tight tempo compared to my baseline, and because I’m doing it in the middle of a divorce, while doing a lot of parenting and while kicking ass at work. I can’t be sure the current pace won’t be disrupted at some point, so I better keep it up as long as I can.

From the swamp

Like a lotus flower blossoming from a swamp, the fourth Sermon was published from amid the horrific chaos that currently is my personal life. So I failed to do the usual quarterly progress reports for Q2 and Q3.

There is progress to report, though.

  • The fifth Sermon, working title The Signal and the Voice, exists in the earliest of draft forms, and at some point I’ll manage to scrape together a full day to start serious work on it.
  • I have recorded The Love that Guides Humanity, Children of the Milky Way and Kinder dieser Galaxie, and re-recorded the first three Sermons, on better recording equipment than last time. A dear friend is currently working on postprocessing the recordings so I can put them online.
  • The translation of the second Sermon into German now stands at 50 out of 80 stanzas translated satisfactorily. This has led to some (very minor) improvements in the original English text.
  • I have fun trying to rap the Sermons. This is very different from the sedate pace at which I usually deliver them, and I’ll need to practice the skill of rapping a lot until I can do it convincingly. I hope this alternative style can make the text interesting to some of those who don’t like long slow guided meditations (i.e. almost everybody). Practicing this also helps me notice and improve lines in the text that previously were too difficult to pronounce quickly.
  • Yesterday I published on LessWrong the central insight about love that I got out of writing The Love that Guides Humanity. This is the polar opposite of the poetry version: detailed, nerdy, dry, difficult, and hopefully a pretty watertight argument.

On the personal side, there’s a long and arduous road ahead, and it seems unlikely I will make much progress on the fifth Sermon anytime soon. But I wouldn’t rule it out.

Beta version of the fourth Sermon

After six years of much-interrupted work, I have completed a preliminary version of Sermon number four, which ended up being named “The Love that guides Humanity”. It still needs polishing, and I’m hoping to collect feedback which parts need the most improvement from some friends.

This has been by far the hardest Sermon to write, because while the first three dealt with settled facts and only offered a particular perspective on them, the fourth is an answer to questions that aren’t as clearly settled. What is the central difference between humans and other animals? How is it to be understood? How shall we move forward as a species? What is love? I started out without sufficient answers to any of these questions, with only a vague notion that they have to hang together. It took a lot of research, meditation and thinking, squeezed between my many other duties. Writing this felt much like writing a thesis, a statement how I think these questions should be answered truthfully. While I shun being personal, I have to accept this cannot be more than my answer. I am curious to find out if others find it convincing.

The last year in particular has in many ways been the hardest year of my life so far, perhaps excepting the very first years when I was so ill I might have died, but I barely remember those. It is tempting to feel a romantic notion where this is kind of a sacrifice that I had to make in order to be able to give the answer in this Sermon. In sober terms, it clearly held me back and impeded the work.

Otherwise, I have made small bits of progress on the translation of the second Sermon into German. And I made a poem on the war in Ukraine that I haven’t published yet. But mostly I’ve been tending to my roots rather than growing new leaves into the light of truth.