Although the Sermons are far from finished, I have shared the finished parts with various people and groups in order to get feedback and improve the text – and also to learn how they affect readers and listeners. Here is what I have learned about that so far.
First of all, the usual (median and modal) result is pretty much the same as with any other poem: almost everyone says they liked it, and moves on.
The few who don’t like it are usually people who dislike poetry in general, or aren’t proficient enough in the language to actually get it.
Listeners who love poetry seemingly always love the Sermons.
A few who heard them under the influence of Marijuana or psychedelics also all loved them.
The short-term reactions can be quite dramatic for some listeners. Some cry with happiness. Some go away to be alone and process it all for a while. I fondly remember one who went fully ecstatic and raved about “the amounts of awesomeness you put into this!” But I’m more interested in how for a different significant minority, there are long-lasting effects that feel permanent.
- Several times I was spontaneously told months, and in one case years, later that “the night sky looks different now”, or of a feeling of being “more at home” in the universe.
A single similar feedback was that “all plants feel different” more than a year after the meditation on the vast complexities going on within all plants.
This is universally described as pleasant.
- Several other people have reported that doing the meditation just once gave them permanent access to a peaceful, zoomed-out perspective that they can use to get out of stressful states of mind.
This is universally described as helpful.
- One listener said it permanently changed her Christianity. She stopped believing God had created each species individually, and reduced the act of divine creation to the origin of life itself, because she could now bear the idea that most of reality arises from chance, an idea that she said was previously “abhorrent” to her.
- Some listeners who were previously unfamiliar with scientific concepts described in the Sermons, such as stellar nucleosynthesis and us therefore being stardust, have reported that after first hearing about them in the Sermons, they immediately internalized them.
One specifically mentioned
Two thirds of atoms in us are
still hydrogen which sprang
into existence not in stars
but back in the Big Bang.
…which contained only things this listener already knew (of course we’re made mostly of water, of course water is two thirds hydrogen, of course hydrogen was the first element) but with this conclusion from those facts, everything still feels different from before.
- The Sermons are clearly much more impactful when heard rather than read, because the more dramatic of these effects were always experienced by people who had heard rather than read them.
- People who are close to me personally strongly tend to report being more affected. I don’t know if personal proximity affects the actual experience, or only biases the feedback to me in a more positive and grandiose direction. Either way it’s unfortunate, since I don’t want the Sermons to be a personal thing. And this is probably some kind of observer-expectancy effect. But the data is the data and there’s no point denying it.
- Similarly, hearing them in person is clearly more impactful than hearing them from a recording. Hearing them one on one, or in a small group of two or three listeners, seems more impactful than hearing them in a larger group with dozens of people.
- I’m unsure about the drugs thing. I want to believe the Sermons are succeeding at making sense of ecstatic states. But maybe these drugs just increase appreciation for poetry, or maybe they just make people more impressionable in general.
- Hearing several Sermons in sequence is clearly more impactful than hearing just one. This is promising, because the full extent of this (all seven Sermons together) isn’t even explored yet, so the upper limit is currently unknown.
I emphasize again that only a minority report really drastic effects. But at least to these few, I clearly have significant responsibility. I attempt to respond mostly by continuing to make sure the Sermons don’t contain even a single lie or fiction, in contrast to the religious poetry that they are to compete with.