Sirwin
Sirwin

The Dark Forest Solution - An Answer to Why the Universe Appears Empty

By Zacharias | BrainBlock | 18 Jan 2022


what is the dark forest theory? 

18 January 2022: One of the fundamental questions that continues to puzzle humanity is whether we are alone in the universe or not. While our planet is home to a wide abundance of life, humanity has yet to discover life outside of Earth. From our perspective, it appears that the universe is seemingly empty with no other life to be detected. This concept is known as the Fermi Paradox.

The Drake Equation

The problem becomes even more puzzling when considering the implications of the Drake Equation. By current estimates, there are 300 million stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Through a study in The Astronomical Journal, NASA has stated that at a minimum, conservative estimates suggest that approximately 7% of stars in the galaxy host habitable planets. The average value suggests that 50% of these stars host Earth-like planets.

Using the most conservative estimates, there are 21 million planets capable of hosting life in our galaxy. The upper bound puts this number at 150 million. With just 0.01% of potential life-hosting planets also hosting intelligent life, we suddenly find there could be over 20 thousand intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way at our lowest estimates.

Keep in mind this is just the Milky Way - there are potentially trillions upon trillions of habitable planets in the observable universe. So, if this is the case, where is everyone?


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The Basic Principles of Life - Creating the Dark Forest

A potential answer to the Fermi Paradox is found in a concept known as the Dark Forest Solution. To understand it, let's start at the basics. At a fundamental level, all life on Earth follows basic principles of existence. Through these principles, we not only find parallels to humanity but to all life we know of in the universe at this time.

Life wants three basic things:

  • To survive
  • To secure resources
  • To multiply

The competition between life for survival on Earth can be brutal. Everyone is familiar with the food chain. Early human beings managed to leverage their ability to creatively & critically think, allowing humanity to become the dominant species on Earth. In only a few million years, humans managed to not only take over the planet but leave it. 

While humans no longer quarrel with other species for dominance on the planet, similiar competition & conflict has emerged between differing human cultures and ideas, seemingly mirroring the competition at life's most basic level. With Earth being our only data point so far, it is reasonable to assume that other intelligent life could have followed the same fundamental principles.

There would be a range to consider. This means some civilizations may have been able to grow and expand through more peaceful methods while other civilizations are naturally malevolent & militaristic.

Knowing that potentially thousands of other civilizations could be out there (some of which could be hundreds of millions years older than humanity) and acknowledging the competition between life, it could stand as an immediate threat should a civilization detect another in the galaxy.


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The Existential Threat of Other Civilizations - Traversing the Dark Forest

What would really make detecting another civilization, or they detecting us, such a dangerous threat?

Because of the vast distance in space and rapid pace of technological progress, direct or drawn out conflict seems less than ideal. It would be impossible to gauge the technological prowess of a rival civilization, let alone travel potentially thousands of years across space without the technology powering the journey becoming obsolete.

For example, two civilizations detect one another and perceive each other as a threat. The first civilization launches an invasion force which will take 5,000 years to arrive. In that time, the other civilization has developed technology so fast that it just wipes out the invasion force with ease when it finally arrives.

Obviously this scenariod doesn't dictate every possible interaction. What it does do however is create the incentive that it would be more ideal for civilizations of sufficient energy usage to harbor long range planetary weapons for defense and combat instead of fighting the technology & time game.

An example of this would be like the theoretical relativistic kill vehicle (RKV). This would give that civilization the ability to strike anyone in the galaxy. The RKV is basically a missile that can travel at a significant fraction of the speed of light. When shot at a planet with a rival civilization, it would be nearly impossible to detect or stop and would only take a single hit on the planet to destroy it.

Considering any of the thousands of civilizations out there could already have such a weapon, every detected civilization could pose an existential threat.

Therefore, each civilization has an incentive to strike first to avoid this existential threat. In nuclear strategy, this logic leads to a concept called the strike first policy. To strike first means to pre-emptively target and destroy a rival's ability to utilize their own weapons. In the case of RKVs, shooting first could be that civilization survives.


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The Dark Forest Solution - Why the Universe is Quiet

There are many different factors at play here that could determine why or why not a civilization would attack another. However, in a game of massive numbers, statistics paints a darker picture. If even one or two civilizations acted maliciously or felt it was in their best survival interest to destroy detected civilizations first, any civilization that makes themselves known would be destroyed.

Thus, to survive in this environment, the only way to ensure safety is to remain quiet and undetectable. This is the fundamental thinking of the Dark Forest Solution to the Fermi Paradox - the universe is not empty but in hiding. Revealing yourself means nearly certain destruction.


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Summary

The implications of the Dark Forest Solution are captivating to think on. As a relatively young species that is sending signals out, planning to travel to Mars, and, with enough time, even colonize space, it is absolutely vital to consider problems like the Fermi Paradox and the implications of theories like that of the Dark Forest.

At this moment in time, though the statistics overwhelmingly favor the abundance of life in the universe, it is still a fundamental question of humanity. Are we alone in the universe? And if we are not - where is everyone?

The Dark Forest Solution is offered in the very popular book series called The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin. It is a highly recommended read.


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Zacharias
Zacharias

I like DeFi, philosophy, and economics | Founder of RekTimes


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