The Dark Forest Theory

by Izaak Garcia 

Maybe the only reason Earth still exists 

is because we have not yet been found… 

There are numerous explanations as to why humanity has not encountered other alien lifeforms in the universe. Could it be because we are truly the only intelligent species? Perhaps our technology has not yet advanced far enough to allow us to communicate over extremely long distances. Or maybe, aliens do in fact know we exist, and they simply choose to ignore us. All of these theories could be plausible, and each have their own set of evidence to back them up. But the one thing that these mentioned theories have in common, is the assumption that both the other forms of life in the universe, as well as humanity, would be friendly to each other upon contact. Because of this outlook, scientists and physicists alike have favored theories that align with this viewpoint. But not all theories paint extraterrestrial life in such a happy light, and in this article, we will be examining a theory that is a lot less optimistic than its competitors. 

The theory in question is called The Dark Forest. This theory stems from multiple sources, starting from a paper published in 1983 by astrophysicist David Brin, and being brought into more popularity by a book titled The Dark Forest, written by Lui Cixin in 2008. The Dark Forest theory takes a much, well—darker approach to the absence of alien life. The theory creates an analogy, saying that the universe is like a dark forest, filled with shadows and unknown things. The Earth, or humanity in this case, is a hunter within this forest, treading carefully through the branches and leaves, making sure they make no sound. But in this forest, there are other hunters, analogous to alien species. These other hunters are also in the dark portions of the forest, observing from the shadows, and hiding from one another. The premise of this situation is, if a hunter finds another hunter within the forest, they will immediately fire upon each other without any hesitation, because in this environment, the hunter that strikes first survives. 

The same goes for species living within the same universe. If we take the approach of this theory, then we can firmly assume two things. One, there is other life besides humanity, possibly thousands of different kinds of species. And two, if and when these species meet each other, one always destroys the other. Now, if we take into account that NASA is actively trying to send out communication from the earth and into deep space to try and make first contact with alien life forms, this ends up being extremely detrimental to humanity. With the parameters set by The Dark Forest theory, these communications are essentially the equivalent of flares being sent up into the sky, marking our location in the universe. And with the things we know through this theory, the description of “bad” for this situation would be an understatement. But one of the flaws of this theory is that it assumes all life outside of humanity seeks only to destroy, and with the infinite nature of our universe, this conjecture seems highly unlikely. The question that does remain however, is what sort of alien species will reach us first: a friend, or a foe?

About Izaak Garcia

Izaak Garcia is currently a freshman at the University of Southern California, majoring in Cinema and Media Studies with a minor in Applied Cybersecurity. He has played soccer with FC Peoria, Dunlap, and Richwoods for over a decade combined. Garcia has also played tennis for 4 years, securing a spot on both junior varsity and varsity teams. Along with this, he has competed with the Richwoods Worldwide Youth Science and Engineering team for Biology and English for 2 years and earned multiple awards for the school. Garcia is also heavily involved with the arts. As a multi-instrumentalist, he has played the saxophone for 8 years and piano for 2 years. During his junior year of high school, he was involved in theater at Richwoods as stage crew and manager. He helped with two productions and was being trained to be stage manager for senior year before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted school. Outside of school activities, Garcia is involved in Jack and Jill of America (an organization for young African American men and women to serve the community). He served as his chapter’s treasurer during his freshman year of high school. Along with Jack and Jill of America, he enjoys coding, learning new languages, and playing video games.