I have managed to read about four of Cixin Liu’s books. He is undoubtedly a master of science fiction, and no, I’m not saying that to set him up for some type of clever undermining critique. This really is the very best science fiction one could ever read. Its brilliant stuff: deep, clearly written, deeply philosophical. His is the kind of writing that keeps one up at night thinking over what he has to say long after one has closed the book and put it away. So, in me, you have here a fan, probably a lifelong fan. Every time Cixin (Chinese people, I am informed, place their Surnames first – I did not know that) brings out a new book, I will be rushing out to get myself a copy to devour before the day would be out. At the moment I am reading The Three Body Problem. Superb. Not that I agree with him, though. Let me unpack that.
Basically this is the story of a group of scientists in the midst of a cultural revolution, each vying with the other for ideological purity while simultaneously fearing death or punishment for not being radical enough and, wanting to desperately improve the lot of humanity, send signals to space looking for aliens, which goes disastrously wrong and bringing the Trisolarians (three suns) to earth to conquer the planet completely, wipe out humanity, and make a nice home for themselves here on this small blue planet. War of the worlds stuff, but we have a clock on this whole invasion. Its going to take half a millennia for them (Trisolarias) to arrive so they have to work hard at undermining humanity so we don’t advance too much before they get here. But, despite the brilliance of this book, there are issues. (please pick it up and read it. If you are a teacher, I recommend you put it on all reading lists. It will make for fantastic class discussions, especially if you have a debate between students who are pro alien visitors and those who are anti alien visitors) )
Some Problem(s) with Cixin’s Thesis
This premise – that we are looking for aliens or that we would commit valuable scientific resources to look-see – is in itself a little tricky to buy into. Why? Well, we here on Earth for a long time have been contacted by aliens. They are definitely out there. Yes, its pretty undeniable at this stage. We simply have too much accumulated evidence from credible/scientific bodies/astronauts/government sources to dismiss the possibility. I realize (I also hope) there are many skeptics, to keep us honest and rubbish bad evidence and keep our thinking clear and distinct, but it seems we really are not alone. I have witnessed about three unexplained events myself, but I am not adopting the position that aliens exist because I have seen things I don’t understand in the sky. The weight of video evidence, testimony, recordings, sightings, interviews, studies, books, movies, documentaries, testimonies – its overwhelming and its ignored because of the consequences of such evidence. Culture shock is a thing, and should not be taken lightly.
Enrico Fermi’s Clever Paradox (that really doesn’t qualify as a paradox)
I think anyone at this stage who deploys the Fermi Paradox is engaging in a kind of blinkered speculation. In other words “The Fermi paradox is the conflict between the lack of clear, obvious evidence for extraterrestrial life and various high estimates for their existence” is naive. Again, mountains of evidence is now in the public forum supporting the claim that they are here and have been here for a very long time.
The Dark forest of Infinite Space
I have lived in dark forests, for years actually. They are mystifying, scary, enriching, and full of wonderful unknown surprises. Cixin uses this metaphor to describe the immensity of space, hostile space, filled with alien civilizations out to conquer us. The second premise, that the aliens are hostile, is also hard to buy into. We have no evidence they are out to get us. None. If there were, then we have good reason to be very afraid as we are pretty self destructive already, thus we would make easy prey. On the other hand they might not be out to get us but we are out to get us, actually. We have been wrecking each other and the environment for a long time, sadly. So, we don’t need aliens to do that for us. Aliens could have landed during the Napoleonic wars or during WW2, or the Cold War, or right now while the Invasion of Ukraine is happening, or all the other times when we were otherwise engaged, like during the height of the Covid Pandemic and they could have enslaved the planet. But they didn’t. Aliens are deeply curious about our nuclear tech, our moon landings, our experimental craft, our genetics and biology, our animals, and there have been quite a few hundred sightings in or around bases or nuclear reactors. So, thus far, we have not been destroyed, enslaved, or otherwise deeply undermined so much that our brightest or best are killing themselves. Deep space is truly terrifying. The silence of such infinite spaces fills us with a fear of the unknown. But to assume the infinities of space is a dark forest filled with secret deeply competitive vicious militaristic alien races might be the case, but there’s no evidence to support that claim either. It makes for fantastic reading and its based on our own rather violent bloody cruel history of conquest and civilization and empire, but again there’s no basis to assume that aliens or ETs are like us. They might regard us as like children or like unevolved people. again, there’s no evidence either way. We should be prepared, but Cixin’s thesis is depressive in mindset, and it is far more rational to be positive about the future rather than negative.
My deepest desire is you read this fantastic author. Check him out. See what you think. Oh, and Live long and prosper.