The Dark Forest and Fermi Paradox

I recently finished “The Dark Forest” by Cixin Liu, the second book in the “The Three-body problem” trilogy.
It is one of the best hard sci-fi I have read in a long time and is very different from the common plotlines. But what got me thinking was the explanation Liu gives for Fermi Paradox. If you do not know what Fermi Paradox is, please watch this video.
I was opposed to Stephen Hawking’s view that we should never initiate “first contact “as finding intelligent life will most surely be the end of our world, but now I share his opinion. Liu's explanation below is what convinced me.

To start with, these are the axioms for a cosmic civilization:
  1. Survival is the primary need of a civilization
  2. Civilization continues to grow and expand but the total matter in the universe remains constant
  3. Time at a universal scale has a different meaning. A million years are a blink of an eye for something that is existing for 13.5 billion years. So, we can never be sure how many civilizations are already out there, there might be millions (ref. Drake Equation).
  4. If a civilization is intelligent and curious (both are interlinked) it will eventually develop science and technology and once it crosses a certain threshold of scientific development, there will be a technological explosion that will lead to an exponential rise in its capability to expand, create and destruct.

 Concept 1- Cosmic Intentions 
A cosmic civilization can have one of the following two intentions with respect to "contact": 
  1. Benevolence – is defined (here) as indifference to existence / not taking the initiative to attack 
  2. Malice – is the initiative to attack

Assume that there are 2 civilizations and they are separated by a great distance. C1 can detect C2 but C2 is completely ignorant of C1. If C1 decides to communicate with C2 it will inadvertently expose its existence to C2. This exposure can be in 3 degrees:
  •  Strongest – where precise interstellar coordinates are shared, something we might have already done with Voyager
  • Medium – when only a general spatial direction is shared 
  • Weakest – when only the knowledge of existence is shared (SETI)

Irrespective of the degree of exposure, as soon as C2 receives the communication it is only a matter of time before it figures out from where it was sent. Even if C2 is technologically incapable of responding at the time, due to the technological explosion (axiom 4) it will eventually evolve (axiom 3 - 1 million years is a blink of an eye at cosmic scale) to respond to the communication.

Concept 2 – Chain of suspicion
It is not possible to pre-determine the intention of the civilization just through communication (it is safe to assume that lying or masking the real intention is a reasonable outcome). So even if C2 is technologically backward it will eventually evolve to C1 levels if it continues to exist and then reveal its real intention. The same is true if C1 has only developed earth like technology that is one-way communication (Kardashev 0.73 level). 
Eventually, it will also experience technological explosion and due to the chain of suspicion we can never be sure of the intention or the evolution of intention as the civilization progresses (technologically as well as sociologically).
So, all form of communication will eventually be risky. Whether it is by an advanced civilization to a primitive one or the other way round.

The universe is a dark forest, every civilization is like an armed hunter stalking through trees silently waiting for a sign of another civilization that has developed intelligent life, as soon as they get a sign they destroy the new one because they can never be sure of their long-term intentions for them irrespective of the true nature of the civilization when it initiated the communication. As civilizations evolve they understand the dark forest nature of the universe and start developing technology to keep themselves hidden from view, at the same time they keep listening intently for others, some of them preparing to annihilate the ones that are exposing themselves. 

This is the explanation for “The Fermi Paradox”.

The issue is that we might be the only “fools” shouting out our coordinates, naive enough to expect benevolence in a universe of “cosmic predators”.

More on current projects on first contact 


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