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Long-term view best option for humanity

China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-23 08:15
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Last month, Chengdu Worldcon, the 81st World Science Fiction Convention, was held in the titular city. The event featured homegrown science fiction luminary Liu Cixin as an honored guest, and for good reason. His Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy — often known for the title of the first book, The Three-Body Problem — is one of modern sci-fi's highest achievements.

In the series, Liu pits themes of chaos versus order and the will to survive up against game theory and the dark forest hypothesis, resulting in grim outcomes. The plot of the story unfolds as a reactionary response to the physical and logical systems that govern the universe. What lengths will we go to control the destiny imposed on us by an unforgiving and uninterested cosmos?

The dark forest hypothesis supposes that civilizations exist throughout the galaxies, but that they are hostile. Given this first supposition, the civilizations remain cosmically silent to ensure their detection won't destroy them. It is this supposition that leads humanity down a path of self-destruction, as the book's characters make contextually moral decisions that become foolish and shortsighted when viewed from a cosmic scope. Beautiful choices lead to dreadful outcomes. Perhaps that is the fate of humanity, to toil within the confines of our trap. No matter how much we bravely writhe toward harmony, the lights always go out in the end.

Still, the characters and civilizations in the series are seen to make choices, to employ agency through the lens of their respective versions of right, wrong, and the heroic act of carrying on in the face of doom. Liu has his characters engage in game theory in order to best their opponents. Here there are more inescapable outcomes, driven by the greed and arrogance required to avoid either a literal or metaphorical death. The universal systems are the player, the currency is survival, and the chips are us. What then are we to do when, as Liu writes, "in the cosmos, no matter how fast you are, someone will be faster; no matter how slow you are, someone will be slower"?

Those who are inclined to think about the systemic forces that prevail around us may be familiar with the Mario Savio speech in which he decries, "you've got to indicate to the people who run it … that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!" When the chips are down, obstruct.

The laws of the universe don't want the different civilizations within the Remembrance of Earth's Past series to coexist and cooperate, to choose empathy and compassion over fear and isolation. They don't anticipate the construction of bridges instead of walls, the exchange of ideas instead of force. Should humanity decide to look toward long-term consequences, extending beyond short term gain, we can ensure that we will escape the grip of the dark forest. All we need to do is choose not to play the game.

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Haydn James Fogel


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