Dark Forest theory: A terrifying explanation of why we haven’t heard from aliens yet
The Fermi paradox asks us where all the aliens are if the cosmos should be filled with them. The Dark Forest theory says we should pray we never find them.
The Milky Way galaxy has 200 billion stars and perhaps 100 billion planets. If even a small fraction of those planets harbored life, and even if only a pathetic scattering of those planets had lifeforms which became intelligent, our galaxy would be teeming with alien civilizations, some of whom would be either looking for us or discoverable for at least a little while.
The number of alien civilizations the galaxy should have can be determined by an equation, the Drake equation, that turns the above factors into variables. When you plug them into the formula, you find that there should be at least 20 civilizations in our cosmic neighborhood.
This makes the fact that we have yet to find any other life in the cosmos almost shocking when you think about it. This seeming discord between how many advanced civilizations ought to be in space and the lack of evidence for any is known as the Fermi paradox. It has lead to dozens of hypotheses and potential solutions over the last few decades.
Many of the solutions aim at one of the variables in the Drake equation and try to make the supposed number of civilizations lower so it is more reasonable for us to not have met anybody yet.
Some propose that life starting at all is rare, others suggest that the development of intelligence is the bottleneck, others still posit that most civilizations would live for a short time before blowing themselves up or, conversely, never even manage to invent the radio.
One solution, however, is a bit darker than the others
The Dark Forest solution explains why we haven't heard from aliens by positing that they are purposefully keeping quiet.
The reasoning is laid out best in the science fiction novel The Dark Forest, by Liu Cixin. The plot of the book, the second in a series, concerns questions of how to best interact with potentially hostile alien life.
In the novel, the argument is laid out like this:
- All life desires to stay alive.
- There is no way to know if other lifeforms can or will destroy you if given a chance.
- Lacking assurances, the safest option for any species is to annihilate other life forms before they have a chance to do the same.
Since all other lifeforms in the novel are risk-averse and willing to do anything to save themselves, contact of any kind is dangerous, as it almost assuredly would lead to the contacted race wiping out whoever was foolish enough to give away their location. This leads to all civilizations attempting to hide in radio silence.
The reasoning behind the paranoia is explained in this paragraph from the novel:
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 another life—another hunter, angel, or a demon, a delicate infant to tottering old man, a fairy or demigod—there's only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them.
Is there a non-literary approach to this solution? Or is it just an idea that is good for a story?
It was also put forth by scientist David Brin as a potential solution to the lack of radio evidence for alien life. While the variant he describes relies on robotic probes carrying out the task of killing off civilizations other than the one that created it, the core concept remains the same. In this excerpt, he explains why this solution an attractive one for scientific purposes and terrifying for existential reasons:
“It is consistent with all of the facts and philosophical principles described in the first part of this article. There is no need to struggle to suppress the elements of the Drake equation in order to explain the Great Silence, nor need we suggest that no ETIS anywhere would bear the cost of interstellar travel. It need only happen once for the results of this scenario to become the equilibrium condition in the Galaxy. We would not have detected extraterrestrial radio traffic- nor would any ETIS have ever settled on Earth- because all were killed shortly after discovering radio."
He then reminds us that broadcasts of I Love Lucy are racing across the cosmos, ready to reveal our location and sense of humor to anybody who can pick them up.
How plausible is this theory?
This theory has the advantage of only affecting one of the variables in the Drake equation and affecting the one that is the most open to speculation. It also doesn't require us to make broad assumptions about how all alien civilizations behave; a single advanced race that acts this way would be enough to cause the observed situation.
This would also explain why we haven't found any mundane alien radio signals despite a century of being able to pick them up. Just as we accidentally send our radio signals, meant for us, out into space, another civilization would be likely to as well. One possible reason for this is that other civilizations are so fearful of being detected that they purposely avoid sending out any radio evidence of their existence.
It does, however, assume that other species have a similar risk aversion level and reasoning process as we do or that there really is one civilization out there killing off anybody they think can harm them. This is a big assumption.
Why is this theory dark?
We've been screaming our existence to the cosmos for almost one hundred years now. Any aliens within a one hundred light year radius of us would be receiving a barrage of radio signals from our direction. If we had reason to avoid letting aliens know about us, as Stephen Hawking thought we did, we might have a problem.
Why haven't we heard from aliens yet? If this solution is correct, they are purposely hiding in the darkness of space for fear of death. Should we stop broadcasting our existence to the universe too then? Or would alien life be a little nicer than we've been in our history?
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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