Dark is the Dark Forest? Fearing Fermi (science article).

In 1974, a bold gesture from humanity reached out into the cosmos: the Arecibo radio message, an interstellar postcard addressed to the globular cluster Messier 13. This collection of stars, nestled near the Milky Way’s edge, became the target of our cosmic greeting—a message comprised of 1,679 binary bits, intended to encapsulate the essence of human existence. Despite the grandeur of this endeavor, it was underpinned by a tacit understanding: the message was more a testament to human aspiration than a realistic attempt at extraterrestrial dialogue. But as decades have passed in silence, one can’t help but ponder: in the vast auditorium of the universe, are we the only ones speaking?

The notion that civilizations across the galaxy might be broadcasting their own messages into the void sparks a tantalizing question—why has the cosmos remained so resoundingly quiet? The Fermi Paradox looms large, articulating the contradiction between the high probability of extraterrestrial life and the absence of any contact. Yet, what if this silence is not an accident but a conscious choice? The idea that alien civilizations might deliberately maintain silence out of fear of discovery—and potential destruction—offers a chilling perspective on the interstellar quiet.

This “dark forest” theory, akin to the cautionary stance in Liu Cixin’s science fiction, suggests that the cosmos is not a place of camaraderie but a jungle brimming with unseen predators. In this view, civilizations might view each broadcast as a potential threat, revealing their location to hostile entities. Hence, they choose silence, cloaking their existence in cosmic stealth to avoid attracting attention that could lead to their annihilation.

From this perspective, humanity’s eagerness to reach out might be seen as naive, a well-intentioned gesture that underestimates the complexities and dangers of cosmic communication. The silence from the stars could be a collective hush of civilizations all too aware of the risks, adhering to a cosmic omertà that shields them from potential threats.

Yet, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The universe is vast, and our ability to detect signals is limited by technology and the sheer scale of cosmic distances. Moreover, the idea of universal silence presupposes a level of uniformity in the behavior and technology of alien civilizations that might not exist. Each culture could be as unique in its approach to interstellar communication as it is in its biological or societal structures.

In contemplating the silence, we also confront our own place in the cosmic tapestry. The Arecibo message was a declaration of our existence, a signal of our willingness to reach beyond our celestial shores. While the risks of such openness are worth considering, they also highlight a fundamental aspect of human nature: our insatiable curiosity and desire to connect, to understand our universe and our place within it.

As we continue to listen for whispers from the cosmos, the silence offers a canvas for our projections, fears, and hopes. It is a reminder of the vast unknowns that lie beyond our planet, urging us to proceed with a blend of optimism and caution. Whether the silence is a warning or merely a reflection of the vastness and diversity of the universe remains to be seen. But in this grand cosmic silence, we find not only questions about alien life but also deeper reflections on our own identity and the future we wish to forge among the stars.


Colonel Frog is a long time science fiction and fantasy fan. He loves reading novels in the field, and he also enjoys watching movies (as well as reading lots of other genre books).

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