The Dark Forest

Notebook for

The Dark Forest (The Three-Body Problem Series Book 2)

Liu, Cixin
Citation (APA): Liu, C. (2015). The Dark Forest (The Three-Body Problem Series Book 2) [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from


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“First: Survival is the primary need of civilization. Second: Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.”
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To derive a basic picture of cosmic sociology from these
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two axioms, you need two other important concepts: chains of suspicion, and the technological explosion.”
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Without the fear of heights, there can be no appreciation for the beauty of high places.
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Nothing risk nothing gained
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As that distant world held its breath to listen, neither ant nor spider was aware that they, out of all life on Earth, were the sole witnesses to the birth of the axioms of cosmic civilization.

Part I: The Wallfacers

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If anyone’s going to flee, it should be the cream of our descendants. Why the hell would you give it to anyone who can pay? What’s the point of that?”
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Miao Fuquan pointed at him and laughed. “Fine, Yang. Let’s get to your real point. What you really want is for your descendants to be the ones to go, right? Look at your son and daughter-in-law: Ph.D. scientists. Elites. So your grandsons and great-grandsons will most likely be elites too.” He lifted his glass and nodded. “But if you think about it, everyone should be equal, right? There’s no reason elites should get a, you know, free lunch, right?”“What do you mean?”“Everything has a cost. It’s a law of nature. I’ll spend to ensure a future for the Miaos. That’s a law of nature, too!”“Why is this something that can be bought? The duty of escaping is to extend human civilization. They’ll naturally want the cream of civilization. Sending a bunch of rich dudes across the cosmos,” he snorted. “What’ll that do? Hmph.” The awkward smile on Miao Fuquan’s face vanished, and he pointed a thick finger at Yang Jinwen. “I’ve always known you look down on me. No matter how rich I get, I’ll just be a vulgar moneybags to you. Isn’t that right?”“Who do you think you are?” asked Yang Jinwen, fueled by the alcohol. Miao Fuquan slapped the table and stood up. “Yang Jinwen, I’m not going to stand for your bile. I’m gonna—” Then Zhang Yuanchao slammed the table with a noise three times louder, knocking over two of the cups and startling a yelp from the Sichuan woman. He pointed his finger at the other two in turn. “Fine. You’re an elite, and you’ve got money. That leaves me. What the hell do I have? I’m just a poor man, so it serves me right that my line will be wiped out?” With obvious effort he restrained himself from kicking over the table, then turned and stormed out. Yang Jinwen followed him.
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“You may be familiar with human history, but you will probably find this hard to comprehend: Who goes and who remains involves basic human values, values which in the past promoted progress in human society, but which, in the face of ultimate disaster, are a trap. Right now, the majority of humanity has not realized how deep this trap is. Lord, please believe my words. No human can escape this trap.”
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This isn’t ordinary inequality. It’s a question of survival, and no matter who gets to leave—elites, the rich, or ordinary people—so long as some people get left behind, it means the collapse of humanity’s fundamental value system and ethical bottom line. Human rights and equality have deep roots. Inequality of survival is the worst sort of inequality, and the people and countries left behind will never just sit and wait for death while others have a way out. There will be increasingly extreme confrontations between the two sides until there’s world chaos, and then no one goes!
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“The source of this defeatism stems primarily from the worship of technology, and the underestimation or complete dismissal of the role of human initiative and the human spirit in war. It is a development and extension of techno-triumphalism and the ‘weapons decide everything’ theory that has cropped up in the armed forces in recent years. The trend is particularly pronounced among highly educated officers.
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the belief that a soldier’s dignity only exists when there is someone to see it, and when a battle ends in defeat and no humans are left in the universe, then this dignity loses its significance
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“Your approach is wrong. You’re writing an essay rather than creating a literary figure. What a literary character does in ten minutes might be a reflection of ten years’ experience. You can’t be limited to the plot of a novel—you’ve got to imagine her entire life, and what actually gets put into words is just the tip of the iceberg.”
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“Now you realize you were wrong. This is the difference between an ordinary scribe and a literary writer. The highest level of literary creation is when the characters in a novel possess life in the mind of the writer. The writer is unable to control them, and might not even be able to predict the next action they will take. We can only follow them in wonder to observe and record the minute details of their lives like a voyeur. That’s how a classic is made.”“So literature, it turns out, is a perverted endeavor.”
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For the majority of people, what they love exists only in the imagination. The object of their love is not the man or woman of reality, but what he or she is like in their imagination. The person in reality is just a template used for the creation of this dream lover. Eventually, they find out the differences between their dream lover and the template. If they can get used to those differences, then they can be together. If not, they split up. It’s as simple as that. You differ from the majority in one respect: You didn’t need a template.”
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It took just an instant for Luo Ji to comprehend the true nature of his status as Wallfacer. Like Say had said, before the mission was handed down, the ones who would undertake it could not have been consulted. And once the Wallfacer mission and identity were granted, they could not be refused or abandoned. This impossibility was not due to any individual’s coercion, but because cold logic, as determined by the project’s very nature, meant that once someone became a Wallfacer, an invisible and impenetrable screen was immediately thrown up between them and ordinary people that made their every action significant. And that was what the smiles directed at Wallfacers meant: How are we supposed to know whether or not you have already started work?
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He now understood that the Wallfacers had a mission far weirder than any in history, its logic cold and twisted, yet unyielding as the chains that bound Prometheus. It was an unliftable curse impossible for the Wallfacers to break under their own strength. No matter how he struggled, the totality of everything would be greeted with the Wallfacer smile and imbued with the significance of the Wallfacer Project: How are we supposed to know whether or not you are working?
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“For instance, have you ever dreamt of living in some perfect place?” Garanin shook his head with a wry smile. “I just flew in from London yesterday. I worked the entire trip, and when I arrived I slept less than two hours before I had to rush to work. When today’s regular PDC meeting finishes, I’ll have to fly overnight to Tokyo.… My whole life is rushing around, and I’m at home no more than three months out of the year. What’s the point of that kind of dream for me?”
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Hoborable surrender to obligation
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A soldier who’s only willing to engage in a winnable war is unqualified to be one.”
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“Setting aside the leadership controversy for the moment, we shall turn to more pressing matters. We all know of the launch of the Wallfacer Project, humanity’s attempt to use closed-off, private strategic thinking to resist sophon surveillance. Since the Lord’s transparent mind cannot possibly thread that labyrinth, humanity has regained its edge through this plan, and the four Wallfacers pose a threat to the Lord. In accordance with the resolution of the previous offline meeting, we must launch the Wallbreaker Project immediately.”
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When the first atom bomb was exploded, Dr. Fermi tossed torn paper into the air, and according to the distance the pieces drifted in the shock wave, he was able to accurately compute the yield of the bomb. Now we do the same thing for every simulation we run.”
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Tyler obtained nothing else from the ensuing conversation but a feeling that the man’s thoughts went deeper than a brief visit could reveal.
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Part II: The Spell

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Tyler saw at a glance that he belonged to one of those mean social classes whose poverty was more spiritual than material, like Gogol’s petty bureaucrats who, despite their lowly social station, still worry about preserving that status and spend their whole lives engaged in uncreative, exhausting random tasks that they carry out exactingly. In everything they do, they fear making mistakes; with everyone they meet, they fear causing displeasure; and they dare not take the slightest glance through the glass ceiling to a higher plane of society. Tyler detested those people. They were utterly dispensable, and when he thought about how they made up the majority of the world that he wanted to save, it left a bad taste in his mouth.
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the principles of the Wallfacer Project dictate that in this war, the safest bet is to take a risk.”
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They don’t care, and that’s the height of contempt.”
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What mattered was the instruction that Ye Wenjie had given him, so that’s where Luo Ji’s mind was stuck. Over and over again he recalled her words: Suppose a vast number of civilizations are distributed throughout the universe, on the order of the number of detectable stars. Lots and lots of them. The mathematical structure of cosmic sociology is far clearer than that of human sociology. The factors of chaos and randomness in the complex makeups of every civilized society in the universe get filtered out by the immense distance, so those civilizations can act as reference points that are relatively easy to manipulate mathematically. First: Survival is the primary need of civilization. Second: Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant. One more thing: To derive a basic picture of cosmic sociology from these two axioms, you need two other important concepts: chains of suspicion and the technological explosion. I’m afraid there won’t be that opportunity.… Well, you might as well just forget I said anything. Either way, I’ve fulfilled my duty.
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Reminsiscent of Seldons psychohistory
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solid, axiom. With this in mind, he looked around him. All that surrounded him was huddled up against the icy cold of winter, but most of the world still teemed with life. It was a living world brimming with a complex profusion of oceans, land, and sky as vast as the foggy sea, but all of it ran according to a rule even simpler than the axioms of cosmic civilization: survival of the fittest. Luo Ji now saw his problem: Where Darwin had taken the boundless living world and made a rule to sum it up, Luo Ji had to use the rules he knew to uncover a picture of cosmic civilization. It was the opposite road to Darwin’s, but a more difficult one. So he began sleeping in the daytime and thinking at night. Whenever the perils of his mental roadway terrified him, he found comfort in the stars overhead. Like Ye Wenjie had said, the distance hid the complex structure of each star, making them just a collection of points in space with a clear mathematical configuration. It was a thinker’s paradise, his paradise. To Luo Ji, at least, it felt like the world in front of him was far clearer and more concise than Darwin’s. But this simple world held a perplexing riddle: The entire galaxy was a vast empty desert, but a highly intelligent civilization had appeared on the star nearest to us. In this mystery, his thoughts found an entry point. Gradually, the two concepts Ye Wenjie had left unexplained came into focus: chains of suspicion and the technology explosion.
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He was, Zhang Beihai noticed immediately, one of those fortunate people who inhabited a beloved world of his own. No matter what changes befell the larger world, he could always immerse himself in his own and find contentment. In the old-fashioned atmosphere unique to old houses, Zhang Beihai was reminded that he and his comrades were fighting for the survival of the human race, while the majority of people were still clinging to their existing lives. This gave him a sense of warmth and peace of mind.
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“He is indeed dangerous. His faith is rock-solid, he’s farsighted and dispassionately ruthless, and he acts with calm resolve. Ordinarily he’s precise and serious, but when there’s a need he can go outside the lines and take extraordinary action,” Confucius said with a sigh. “Just like the First Emperor said, this is the sort of person we lack.”
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Zhang Beihai said, “Commander, for the first time I feel a bit of regret that I’m an atheist. Otherwise, we’d have the hope of meeting again at some other time and place.” Chang Weisi was a little taken aback at this sentiment coming from the ordinarily sober man, and the words resonated in the hearts of everyone else. But, as soldiers, they kept the beating of their hearts deeply hidden.
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Chang Weisi’s eyes did not leave Zhang Beihai’s back for a moment. A steadfast soldier was leaving, and there might never be another like him. Where did his firm faith come from? The question had always lain hidden in the depths of his mind, and sometimes it even prompted a bit of jealousy. A soldier with faith in victory was fortunate. In the Doomsday Battle, those lucky people would be few and far between. As Zhang Beihai’s tall frame disappeared inside the cabin door, Chang Weisi had to admit that, up to the very end, he had never really understood him. The plane took off, carrying those who would perhaps have the chance to see humanity’s final outcome, then disappeared behind thin, pale clouds. It was a bleak winter’s day. The sun that shone listlessly behind a shroud of gray clouds and the chilly wind that blew across the empty airport gave the air the feel of solidified crystal, conjuring up the sense that the springtime might never really arrive. Chang Weisi tightened the collar of his army coat. He turned fifty-four years old today, and in the dreary winter wind he saw his own end, and the end of the human race.
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They were informed that due to unprecedented investment, technology had progressed with amazing speed over the past few years. But not everything was optimistic. Humanity was simply making a final sprint across the distance between them and the sophon barrier, so the progress they were making was purely technological. Cutting-edge physics remained stopped up like a pool of stagnant water, and the reservoir of theory was being drained. Technological progress would begin to decelerate and eventually come to a complete halt. But, for the time being at least, no one knew when the end of technology would arrive.
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Reminded me of investment and how laghing results which are hard to see vary from what can be seen in realtime
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“General, you’re not so primitive, at least compared to others! I notice you said ‘mental ability’ rather than ‘intelligence.’ The former is much broader than the latter. To overcome defeatism, for example, we can’t simply rely on intelligence. Given the sophon block, the higher your intelligence, the more trouble you have establishing a faith in victory.”
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Basically, we discovered the mind’s mechanism for making judgments in the cerebral neural network, as well as the ability to have a decisive impact on them. If we compare the process by which a human mind makes judgments to a computer’s process, there’s the input of external data, calculation, and then the final outcome. What we’re able to do is omit the calculation step of the process and directly produce an outcome. When a certain piece of information enters the brain, it exerts an influence on a particular part of the neural network, and we can cause the brain to render a judgment—to believe that the information is genuine—without even thinking about it.”“Has this already been achieved?” Chang Weisi asked softly. “Yes. It started with a chance discovery, which we subjected to in-depth research, and now we’ve done it. We call it the ‘mental seal.’”“And if the judgment—or if you will, faith—is at odds with reality?”“Then the faith will eventually be overturned. But the process will be quite painful, because the judgment produced in the mind by the mental seal is particularly stubborn. Once, this had me convinced that water was toxic, and it was only after two months of psychotherapy that I was able to drink unimpeded. That process is … not something I want to remember. But the toxicity of water is an extremely clear false proposition. Other beliefs may not be. Like the existence of God, or whether humanity will be victorious in war. These don’t have a clearly determined answer, and in the normal course of establishing these beliefs, the mind is slightly tilted in a certain direction by all sorts of choices. If the belief is established by the mental seal, it will be rock-solid and absolutely unshakeable.”“That is truly a great achievement.” Chang Weisi grew serious. “I mean, for neuroscience. But in the real world, Dr. Hines, you have created a truly troublesome thing. Really. The most troublesome thing in history.”
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“Political and ideological work establishes faith through rational, scientific thinking.”“But is it possible to establish faith in a victory in this war on the basis of rational, scientific thought?”“If not, Doctor, we’d rather have a space force that lacks faith in victory yet retains independent thought.”“Apart from this one belief, the rest of the mind would of course be entirely autonomous. We would just be performing a tiny intervention in the mind, using technology to leapfrog thought to implant a conclusion—just one alone—into the mind.”“But one is enough. Technology is now capable of modifying thoughts just like modifying a computer program. After the modifications, are people still people, or are they automatons?”“You must have read A Clockwork Orange.”“It’s a profound book.”“General, your attitude is what I expected,” Hines said with a sigh. “I’ll continue my efforts in this area, the efforts a Wallfacer must exert.”
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“Which is more tragic for humanity: the loss of the ability and right to think freely, or defeat in this war?”“Of course the latter is more tragic!” Hines retorted, standing up. “Because under the first condition, humanity at least has the chance of regaining independent thought!”“I have doubts about that. If this thing really does get used … Look at all you Wallfacers,” the Russian representative said, raising his hands toward the ceiling. “Tyler wanted to deprive people of their lives, and you want to
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Hines said, “Why is it that everyone gets so sensitive at the mention of thought control? From commercial advertising to Hollywood culture, thought control is everywhere in modern society. You are, to use a Chinese phrase, mocking people for retreating a hundred paces when you’ve retreated fifty yourselves.”
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The US representative said, “Dr. Hines, you haven’t gone just one hundred paces. You’ve walked up to the threshold of darkness and are threatening the very foundations of modern society.”
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“I think we’re all familiar with this story: In a forest, a little boy got his leg caught under a fallen tree. He was alone at the time, and his leg was bleeding uncontrollably. It would have killed him, except that he made a decision that would shame every one of you delegates: He took up his saw and sawed off the leg that was pinned, then climbed into a car and found a hospital. He saved his own life.”
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Part III: The Dark Forest

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Zhang Yan let out a long breath, as if no longer having to talk about that period of history had taken a burden off his shoulders. “After that, well, some people came to terms with it, and then more and more people did. They wondered whether it was worth it to pay so high a price, even if it was for victory in the Doomsday Battle. Think about what’s more important: the child dying of starvation in your arms, or the continuation of human civilization? Right now you might think the latter choice is more important, but you wouldn’t have in that day and age. No matter what the future might bring, the present is most important. Of course, that mind-set was outrageous at first, the classic thinking of a traitor to humanity, but you couldn’t stop people from thinking it. And very soon the entire world thought so. There was a popular slogan back then, which soon became a famous historical quote.”“‘Make time for civilization, for civilization won’t make tim
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“It’s called civilization immunity. It means that when the world has suffered a serious illness, it triggers civilization’s immune system, so that something like the early Crisis Era won’t happen again. Humanism comes first, and perpetuating civilization comes second. These are the concepts that today’s society is based on.”
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“After about half a century of peace following the Great Ravine, the world turned its thoughts back to the Trisolaran invasion and felt it ought to reconsider the war. With humanity’s power now on a completely different plane than before the Great Ravine, a global state of war was again declared, and construction was begun on a space fleet. But unlike the first time, national constitutions were clear about one thing: Resource expenditure for the space strategy had to be kept within a specified range, and must not have a disastrous impact on the world economy and on community life. And that’s when the space fleets became independent countries.…”“You don’t actually have to think about any of this, though,” the economist said. “From now on, just think about how to live a good life. That old revolutionary slogan is just an adaptation of the old saying from the Golden Age: ‘Make time for life, or life won’t make time.’ To new life!”
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“We’re all soldiers, but do you know what the biggest difference between soldiers from my time and soldiers now is? You determine your actions according to possible outcomes. But for us, we must carry out our duty regardless of the outcome. This was my only chance, so I took it.”
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With the arrival of the droplet, people’s feelings toward Trisolaris slowly began to change. They increasingly began to recognize that the race marching toward the Solar System was a great civilization, one that had experienced two-hundred-odd cyclic catastrophes and had endured with unbelievable tenacity. Their arduous journey of four light-years across the vastness of space was all for the sake of finding a stable star, a home in which to live out their lives.… The public’s feelings toward Trisolaris began to change from enmity and hatred to sympathy, compassion, and even admiration. People also realized another fact: Trisolaris had sent out the ten droplets two centuries ago, but humanity had only just realized their true significance. This was no doubt because the behavior of Trisolaris was overly subtle, as well as a reflection of the fact that humanity’s state of mind had been distorted by its own bloody history. In a global online referendum, citizen support for Project Sunshine rose rapidly, increasingly inclined toward the Strong Survival Plan that offered Mars as a Trisolaran reservation
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This conversation took place not in the modern language of the fleet but in twenty-first-century Mandarin. From the mode of speech, it was obvious that the two were hibernators. There were few hibernators serving in the fleet, and although most of them had awakened while still very young, they still lacked a modern person’s capacity to absorb information, which meant that most of them carried out relatively low-level duties. It was later discovered that the vast majority of officers and soldiers who recovered their senses and good judgment the earliest during the grand destruction were hibernators. These two officers, for instance, despite being at a level that did not even permit them the use of the ship’s advanced systems, were nonetheless able to perform a remarkable piece of analysis.
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The light emitted from the droplet when it was struck was so bright it drowned out the nuclear fireballs going off all around it, forced the monitoring systems to dim their images to avoid damage to their optical components, and caused sustained blindness to anyone who looked directly at it. In other words, this superpowerful light was indistinguishable from darkness in its effect.
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, the droplet accelerated and had soon doubled its speed to sixty kilometers per second. Exhibiting a cool and precise intelligence in its continuous attacks, it solved the traveling salesman problem in local regions with perfect accuracy, hardly ever retracing its path.
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During our voyage, we’ll have to develop our own science and technology to expand the size of our fleet. The historical facts of the Middle Ages and the Great Ravine prove that a totalitarian system is the greatest barrier to human progress. Starship Earth requires vibrant new ideas and innovation, and this can only be accomplished through the establishment of a society that fully respects freedom and individuality.”
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“Starship Earth may have few people, but it possesses a highly refined information system through which any problem can easily be put to discussion and vote by all citizens. We can establish the first truly democratic society in human history.”“That won’t work either.” Zhang Beihai shook his head again. “Like those citizens said before, Starship Earth is traveling through the harsh environment of space, where catastrophes that threaten the entire world might occur at any time. Earth’s history during the Trisolar Crisis has demonstrated that, in the face of such disasters, particularly when our world needs to make sacrifices in order to preserve the whole, the humanitarian society you have in mind is especially fragile.”
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While Problem N was widespread on Starship Earth, it was far from out of control, and did not even reach the level of previous, ordinary long-range voyages. Lan Xi was confused by this at first, but he soon found a reason: After the destruction of humanity’s main fleet, Earth had lost all hope. Even though the ultimate doomsday was still two centuries away (using the most optimistic estimate), the news from Earth informed them that the world, plunged into chaos by the heavy blow of the great defeat, was full of the stench of death. For Starship Earth, there was nothing on the Earth or in the Solar System to provide them with sustenance. Nostalgia for a home like that was limited.
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Some people must die, or everyone will die.
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But someone has to be expelled. The Garden of Eden has a limited capacity. We don’t want to leave the garden.
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The universe had once been bright, too. For a short time after the big bang, all matter existed in the form of light, and only after the universe turned to burnt ash did heavier elements precipitate out of the darkness and form planets and life. Darkness was the mother of life and of civilization.
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The two dark ships became one with the darkness, separated by the Solar System and drifting further apart. Carrying with them the entirety of human thoughts and memories, and embracing all of the Earth’s glory and dreams, they quietly disappeared into the eternal night.
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First, survival is the primary need of civilization. Second, civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.”
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“That’s the chain of suspicion. It’s something that you don’t see on Earth. Humanity’s shared species, cultural similarities, interconnected ecosystem, and close distances means that, in this environment, the chain of suspicion will only extend a level or two before it’s resolved through communication. But in space, the chain of suspicion can be very long. Something like the Battle of Darkness will already have taken place before communication can resolve it.”
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“The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life—another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod—there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people. An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It’s the explanation for the Fermi Paradox.”
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