Sometimes I encounter a concept and it immediately embeds itself in my culture, such that it feels like I always knew it. This is a short description of such a concept; it was a near-perfect match for a way I already thought about things, and has since become a useful handle that I find myself explaining to others (so that I can subsequently reference it) roughly once a month.
There is a certain story, which I will not name here in order to reduce the spoiler-y nature of the following description.
In that story, there is a monastery, and the monastery is divided into tiers, or levels.
(I may not be precisely representing the story, here, but rather how the thing in the story ended up being recorded by my brain.)
Some monks are 1-day monks. They come out from their seclusion once a day, and mingle with the regular people, and share their insights, and make new observations, and then retreat back to their private spaces to muse and meditate.
Some monks are 10-day monks. They are much like the 1-day monks, except they come out only every 10 days.
The 10-day monks tend to think longer thoughts, and wrestle with subtler or more complex problems, than the 1-day monks. This is treated by the culture of the monastery as natural and correct. Of course the 10-day monks address a different set of problems; if 10-day monks and 1-day monks were good for the same purposes, the two different Orders wouldn't need to exist.
There are also 100-day monks, who come out only a few times per year.
There are also 1,000-day monks, who come out only every few years.
There are also 10,000-day monks, who come out only every thirty years or so.
There are also 100,000-day monks (the structure of this society has led them to be better at solving problems overall, which has allowed for some advances in longevity tech).
"Come out" may be a bit of a misnomer; in fact, it is the case that the most valuable insights of a given Order tend to be fully comprehensible only to monks of one, mmmmaaaaybe two Orders below them. So the 100,000-day monks, when they report in, mostly speak only to the 10,000-day monks, who are responsible for distilling and transferring relevant insights to the 1,000-day monks, who are responsible for distilling and transferring relevant insights to the 100-day monks, etc.
(It's also the case, as some readers have pointed out in the comments below, that certain problems cannot be solved by isolated thought alone, and require feedback loops or regular contact with the territory. For monks working on such problems, it is less that they sequester themselves completely for thousands of days at a time and more that, during those thousands of days, none can make demands of them.)
Duncan-culture works this way.
(By "Duncan-culture," I mean a culture composed entirely of Duncans; a culture made up of people who, whatever their other differences, take for granted everything that I, Duncan Sabien, find intuitively obvious and believe I could convey to a ten-year-old version of me in a few hours' time. This society lives on a large island a few hours' sailing off the coast of dath ilan.)
If there were indeed 1,000 literal Duncan-copies available, to found a monastery or any other endeavor, they would immediately stratify themselves into 1, 10, 100, and 1,000-day groups at the very least, and probably there would be nonzero 10,000-day Duncans as well.
The key here is that each of these strata focuses on a set of largely non-overlapping issues, with largely non-overlapping assumptions.
To a 1-day or 10-day monk, questions like "maybe this is all a simulation, though" are almost entirely meaningless. They are fun to ponder at parties, but they aren't relevant to the actual working-out-of-how-things-work. 1-day and 10-day monks take reality as it seems to exist as a given, and are working within it to optimize for what seems good and useful.
But (of course!) we want some people working on 1,000 and 10,000-day problems! We don't want to miss the fact that this is all just a simulation, if it is in fact a simulation. And we don't want to be blind to the implications and ramifications of that fact, and fail to take appropriate action.
So some Duncans are off in the ivory tower, questioning the very fabric of reality itself, because what if?
And other Duncans are in between, taking different subsets of things for granted, while questioning others.
And it's fairly important that the 1,000 and 10,000-day monks not be distracted by such trivial concerns and questions like "how do we navigate continued cooperation within small groups after people have messy romantic breakups?"
(Or, well, most of them, anyway. Some small number of 10,000-day monks may in fact pay very close attention to exactly those dynamics, because those dynamics might contain Secret Subtle Clues As To How Things Really Work. There is no restriction, aesthetic or social or otherwise, on a higher-Order monk playing around with lower-order concepts to the extent that they find them useful or intriguing or refreshing or what-have-you.)
But for the most part, the 1,000 and 10,000-day monks are simply ... given what they claim to need. Their food and lodging is provided for; requests for companionship or certain odd materials are simply granted. The assumption is that most 1,000 and 10,000-day monks will produce nothing of measurable material value (especially not value comprehensible to a 1-day monk); the society as a whole has decided that it is nevertheless Extremely Well Worth It to fund all such monks, in perpetuity, for the once-in-several-lifetimes breakthroughs that only come from people who are willing to dive deeply into the terrifying Unknown.
Meanwhile, the 1, 10, and 100-day monks are busy improving the functioning of society, exploiting the current paradigm (rather than exploring in search of the next one). It is their labors which produce surplus and bounty and which, in a sense, "fund" the rest of the Orders.
(These distinctions are not clear-cut. The boundaries are fuzzy. This is fine; the monastery is sensible. Overall, though, the higher your Order, the less accountable you are to the bean-counters. Our current culture does something similar, though more clumsily, via e.g. tenured positions at universities.)
The reason Duncan-culture works this way is that it seems to be healthy, and sane. A culture with such a monastery, whose insights had repeatedly proven to revolutionize society, resulting in inventions like consistent judicial policy and microwave ovens and international peace treaties and the general theory of relativity, is one that has practiced taking seriously ideas it does not fully comprehend. It's a culture that expects to sometimes be told "you do not understand why this is important, but it is." It's a culture that handles delegation via a chain of trust, and which e.g. "believes the science" in a way that does not devolve into mere tribal signaling whereby n95 face masks become a two-way shibboleth.
It's the kind of culture that e.g. would not fail to see global warming or existential risk from artificial intelligence coming, and would not fail to send the message to its elementary schools and universities "hey, we should start moving promising people into place to solve these problems" years or decades in advance of the deadline.
(There are other kinds of cultures that also avoid these failure modes, but they have other drawbacks.)
It's also the kind of culture that ... effortlessly navigates disagreement about what's important? You don't get criticisms of "ivory-tower nonsense" or "tunnel-visioned mundanity." People in such a culture understand, on a deep and intuitive level, that some problems are 1000-day problems, and other problems are 1-day problems, and both are important, and both are important in very different ways.
(Just kidding, but in fact I don't have much of a tying-this-up-in-a-neat-narrative-bow conclusion. I think the concept is useful, and I think at this point you get it. My only parting recommendations are these: first, try categorizing the problems that catch your attention, and see if you tend to feel more-at-home in a particular Order. Second, try looking at various LW posts, and various prolific LW authors, and asking the question "if LW were such a monastery, which Order would this person belong to?" It makes the sometimes-disorienting diversity of LW content suddenly make a lot more sense, at least to me.)
(EDIT: Oh, a third one: "Are we mistakenly judging a 1,000-day monk by standards that only make sense for 10-day monks, or vice-versa?")