Blog 6 – An Answer to the Fermi Paradox from Science Fiction

There are several possible explanations to the Fermi paradox. One of them is that the aliens are hiding from us. For this blog, I would like to share a fictional theory in the novel “The Three-Body Problem.” In this book, the author expands the idea that aliens are hiding to form a dramatic explanation to the ultimate answer of the Fermi paradox.

The name of the theory is “The Dark Forest.” For human beings, the universe is vast, but quiet, without the solid evidence of life. This is not because that aliens do not exist. For all civilizations, the entire universe is similar to a dark forest. Each civilization can be seen as a hunter with a gun. They move cautiously, for that they must ensure their existences are not revealed, and they must prepare for the encounter with another hunter.

The Three-Body Problem

When a civilization locates life on other worlds, its only option is to aim at them, and eliminate its counterparts. There is no such thing called friendly stellar communications. Based on this thought, the behavior of human beings sending signals into the deep space is same as committing suicide.

This theory is of course unverified, and it may sound too pessimistic in the first impression of many people. Nevertheless, it is not absurd. The author indeed offers further analysis that make this theory more reasonable. The absolute hostility is determined to occur when civilizations collide with each other, for mainly two reasons.

First, it is difficult for any one of them to figure out the incentive of the other. This results in an infinite chain of suspicion. Thus, the safest way is to always be the first one to shoot the gun. Second, and most importantly, civilizations experience “technological explosions” from time to time. An example of this is the development of our modern society in then recent two centuries. After a critical stimulation, the industrial revolution, we humans made progress much greater than our former generations did in the last thousands of years. Hence, it is dangerous to ignore a civilization which seems harmless in the first place, as it is unpredictable whether the harmless worm will experience a technological explosion to suddenly become a beast with fangs.

After reading those two reasons, how do you feel about the thought of “The Dark Forest”? At least for me personally, I do not consider it as nonsensical. Probably in the close future, the new discoveries about the signals of life may overthrow this theory completely, or they may increase the possibility for the theory to be close to the truth.

2 responses to “Blog 6 – An Answer to the Fermi Paradox from Science Fiction”

  1. It’s interesting to think about the risk/reward involved in deciding whether to make contact with an alien civilization. On one hand, it could potentially propel humankind forward if they are peaceful and benefit us through exchange of knowledge/trade etc. However, it should be noted that any civilization that could travel to us with technology could likely wipe us out. I think a game theory calculation needs to come into play to determine if we really want to make contact. Communication with them would be key if there was the threat of attack.


  2. (*Spoilers for Dark Forest*) I’m so glad someone wrote about this! Reading the Dark Forest has me fully convinced about the theory behind it, and I honestly think it’s something that should be more widely considered by institutions that are throwing information about us out every which way into space. It may be too late, but maybe throw a spoiler alert at the top of your post: I remember this being an incredible and shocking reveal when I first read the novel and I’m betting a lot of this crowd want to read it too.


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