Thinking back on books that have made a big effect on me, I think they were things which spoke to something already in me, maybe something genetic, to a large extent. It’s like I was programmed from birth to have certain life movements, and so I could immediately recognize what I read as the truth when it came to me—“that’s what I was always wanting to say, but didn’t know how!” I think that probably explains HP:MOR to a large extent (but I haven’t read HP:MOR).
My guess is that a large part of Yudkowsky’s motivation in writing the inspiring texts of the rationalist community was his big huge personality—him expressing himself. It happens that by doing that, he expressed a lot of other people’s personalities. I’m reminded of quotes (which unfortunately I can’t source at the moment) that I remember from David Bowie and John Lennon. David Bowie was accused of being powerful but he said “I’m not powerful. I’m an observer.” (which is actually a really powerful role). John Lennon said something like “Our power was in mainly just talking about our own lives” (vis a vis psychedelics, them getting into Eastern thinking, maybe other things) “and that’s a powerful thing.” Maybe Yudkowsky was really just talking about his life being mad at how the world isn’t an actually good place and how he personally was going to do something about it, and just seeing things that he personally found stupid about how other people thought about things (OK, that’s maybe a strawman of him ;-) ). I think whatever art you do will be potentially more powerful (if you’re lucky enough to get an audience) the deeper it comes from who you are, the more you take it personally.
Here’s a related quote from Eccentrics by David Weeks and Jamie James (pp. 67 − 68) (I think it’s Weeks speaking in the following quote:)
My own concept of creativity is that it is effective, empathic problem-solving. The part that empathy plays in this formulation is that it represents a transaction between the individual and the problem. (I am using the word “problem” loosely, as did Ghiselin: for an artist, the problem might be how to depict an apple.) The creative person displaces his point of view into the problem, investing it with something of his own intellect and personality, and even draws insights from it. He identifies himself with all the depths of the problem. Georges Braque expounded a version of this concept succinctly: “One must not just depict the objects, one must penetrate into them, and one must oneself become the object.”
This total immersion in the problem means that there is a great commitment to understand it at all costs, a deep commitment that recognizes no limits. In some cases the behavior that results can appear extreme by everyday standards. For example, when the brilliant architect Kiyo Izumi was designing a hospital for schizophrenics, he took LSD, which mimics some of the effects of schizophrenia, in order to understand the perceptual distortions of the people who would be living in the building. This phenomenon of total immersion is typical of eccentricity: overboard is the only way most eccentrics know how to go.
This makes me think: “You become the problem, and then at high stakes are forced to solve yourself, because now it’s a life or death situation for you.”