How ‘3 Body Problem’ uses the Dark Forest theory and Fermi’s Paradox
(Credits: Netflix)

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How ‘3 Body Problem’ uses the Dark Forest theory and Fermi’s Paradox

Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss and True Blood writer Alexander Woo are basking in the glory of successfully having adapted a Hugo-winning novel that was long believed to be unadaptable. Of course, the recent Chinese adaptation, which was praised for adapting the story more faithfully, got to retell the story in 30 episodes, and 3 Body Problem has only been able to sprawl across eight episodes.

However, the Netflix series has been able to touch upon themes and ideas from Liu Cixin’s last two books in the trilogy. The most important themes are the Dark Forest theory and the Fermi Paradox. The second book in Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past is The Dark Forest. The idea for this theory, the book is named after, essentially explains that the universe is like a dark forest full of several species that are hiding from each other. Aware of the existence of other habitable planets, each civilisation conceals its location to avoid potential threats. 

This theory suggests that in a universe filled with unknown dangers, silence is the safest strategy, as broadcasting one’s existence may attract hostile forces. After all, there is a theory that suggests that every predator has something bigger hunting it. That is human nature, and it can be applied on a larger cosmic scale.

This theory, coined by Cixin, also underscores the inherent dichotomy between the desire for communication and the imperative of self-preservation in the vast expanse of space. It also plays off the Fermi paradox.

Named after physicist Enrico Fermi, the Fermi paradox questions why, despite many planets with potential for life, we haven’t found any signs of advanced alien civilisations. It suggests a contradiction between the high likelihood of extraterrestrial life and the lack of evidence supporting it. Possible explanations include fear of self-destruction (which can be explained by the Dark Forest theory), limitations in space travel, or the rarity of intelligent life. 

Together, these concepts drive the story’s central narrative. In 1960s China, a disillusioned Ye Wenjie makes first contact with the alien race, San Ti, or Trisolarans as they are called in the English translation of the books. The first one Wenjie contacts turns out to be a pacifist (and seemingly a believer of the Dark Forest theory), who warns Wenjie that the San Ti might end up destroying humanity if they find out about Earth. Wenjie believes the San Ti can eliminate the old ways of life and save humanity from itself and goes ahead regardless of the warning.

Of course, she finds out decades later that mutual mistrust and a lack of comprehensible communication motivate the San Ti to annihilate humanity when they finally arrive on Earth four hundred years later. Those who have read the book will know the outcome to be not this simple. But time will tell how the creators of the show decide to adapt that bit in upcoming seasons.

You can read our review of 3 Body Problem or watch it on Netflix. But catch the trailer here first: