Just finished reading the second book of Liu Cixin’s trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past. The Dark Forest is very impressionable strong science fiction, a well-thought out exploration and experimentation in the politics and society facing a looming crisis (in this case, a technologically superior alien invasion). Note, it is not an immediate crisis, but a looming crisis. Perhaps the author wrote this with climate change with the back of his mind.
The title, Dark Forest refers to a solution to the Fermi Paradox1. Kurzgesagt recently released a video about the concept of dark forest here. However, Liu’s book has been popularising the concept since its 2008 publication. I might talk about dark forest in a separate post (the thing about social science is that problems are very open to discussions: unlike natural sciences (physics) which can only have definite answers most of the time. But how can we humans on a rocky planet hypothesise about the political climate of a galactic society? Like tribal chimps thinking about human structure, would they ever dream up democracy or communism? Would we ever dream up a possible galactic societal structure in our current state?). In the book, Liu proposes the two principles of galactic sociology.
- The basis of civilisation is survival/self-preservation, and hence to expand.
- The Universe has finite resources.
Note that how the second principle echoes that of modern economics (aka. the study of finite resources against unlimited wants). The theme of finite resources echoes throughout the book, and not just in galactic sense. The finite resources for rivalling wartime research directions. The technological limit when foundational physics cannot be pushed further. The trans-generational count down to the invasion: the scarcity of time.
Liu explores the society in wartime, desperation, salvation, and utopia. He experiments with ideologies and beliefs in such eras: triumphalism, defeatism, fugitiveism. In real life, these beliefs and societies possibly manifest themselves if (when) we realise we are on a path to climate extinction with very little chance to win, but with a count-down spanning several centuries.
But the Universe is not eternal, and so does us. Does it mean humans are short-sighted after all? Life will extinguish in the death of the Universe, we know this very clearly, so why do we fight for ideals to transcend generations? It seems the only answer to our bestowed gifts of living, whether by God or for some of you just a simulation, is to live and make the most out of it. Thankfully, maybe this solves the conundrum. We are not short-sighted by fighting for trans-generational ideals, as although they could never be eternalised, they will be rejoiced and practiced by the generations later who use them to live and make the most out of their lives.
I will spend some time to digest before reading the third and final book.
1. The absence of signs of extraterrestrial intelligence in spite of astronomically many planetary systems and astronomically long time scale since the Milky Way enters its current state, especially since life on Earth takes such a (very very) minuscule fraction of this timeline to go from primordial microbes to the nuclear age.