[Question] What makes people intellectually active?

What is the differ­ence be­tween a smart per­son who has read the se­quences and con­sid­ers AI x-risk im­por­tant and in­ter­est­ing, but con­tinues to be pri­mar­ily a con­sumer of ideas, and some­one who starts hav­ing ideas? I am not try­ing to set a re­ally high bar here—they don’t have to be good ideas. They can’t be off-the-cuff ei­ther, though. I’m talk­ing about some­one tak­ing their ideas through mul­ti­ple iter­a­tions.

A per­son does not need to re­search full-time to have ideas. Ideas can come dur­ing down­time. Maybe it is some­thing you think about dur­ing your com­mute, and talk about oc­ca­sion­ally at a less­wrong meetup.

There is some­thing in­com­plete about my model of peo­ple do­ing this vs not do­ing this. I ex­pect more peo­ple to have more ideas than they do.

AI al­ign­ment is the ex­am­ple I’m fo­cus­ing on, but the miss­ing piece of my world-model ex­tends much more broadly than that. How do some peo­ple end up de­vel­op­ing sprawl­ing in­tel­lec­tual frame­works, while oth­ers do not?

There could be a sep­a­rate “what could some­one do about it” ques­tion, but I want to avoid nor­ma­tive/​in­stru­men­tal con­no­ta­tions here to fo­cus on the causal chains. Ask­ing some­one “why don’t you do more?” has a ten­dency to so­licit an­swers like “yeah I should do more, I’m bot­tle­necked on willpower”—but I don’t think willpower is the dis­t­in­guish­ing fac­tor be­tween cases I ob­serve. (Maybe there is some­thing re­lated in­volved, but I mostly don’t think of in­tel­lec­tual pro­duc­tivity as driven by a top-down de­sire to be in­tel­lec­tu­ally pro­duc­tive en­forced by willpower.)

I have some can­di­date mod­els, but all my ev­i­dence is anec­do­tal and ev­ery­thing seems quite shaky.

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