Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Three-Body Problem

I've been up half the night engrossed in Cixin Liu's novel (translated from the Chinese), "The Three-Body Problem,"  a great read!  Dawn approaches, and there are too many ideas spilling out of my head to fit into a "Theory of the day" format (see below).  I'll just throw out this question from the book:

Can the stability and order of the world be but a temporary dynamic equilibrium achieved in a corner of the universe, a short-lived eddy in a chaotic current?

Isn't that a question we all want to ask?  The novel is packed with exciting ideas, though I think some of Liu's stylistic skills may not be expressed in the English translation.  Regarding plot, it should be safe to reveal that Trisolarans, invaders from space who are fleeing a (celestial) three-body problem, have seeded earth with two Sophons, super-computers each made from a single proton, which spy on humanity and mess up the calculations of the world's top physicists so that none of their theories can be confirmed, not unlike what is happening now with dark matter.  The physicists conclude that they don't know anything about the universe, and several commit suicide.   Here's a theory about that: If our culture didn't expect us to understand a universe we can't understand, we wouldn't feel so bad about not understanding it.

Another interesting thing about The Three-Body Problem is that it is trending in the West just as the West is trying to decide how it feels about China.  Liu is generous in showing how Chinese politics maligned Western scientific theory by transforming it into political dogma.  Who knew in the West that the speed of light had anything to do with distribution of wealth?  In the book, Yang Weining, childhood acquaintance of Ye Wenjie, daughter of prominent scientist Ye Zhetai -who, because he adopted Western scientific concepts, is beaten to death by 14 year old girls during the Cultural Revolution- says that he wants to pursue practical science and avoid theory because "it's easy to make ideological mistakes in theory."  In other words he does not want to be beaten to death by 14 year old girls.  Liu brings our cultures together here because, who would?

There's plenty for the West to ponder in The Three-Body Problem, written by a man who understands the West more than most Westerners understand the East.  Questions:  Will the cultures of China and the U.S. evolve to become increasingly similar, even mirror images, as they confront each other and modernize?  Will total surveillance, either via Sophon or domestic technology, cover the entire globe?  Will there be any difference between Beijing and Los Angeles when all of their inhabitants, from all racial backgrounds, live under the will of the same grid, the same AI directed master plan?

Liu is correct about our need for extraterrestrials:

It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself....To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race. 

Unfortunately (or fortunately), it looks like we're going to have to play the role of extraterrestrials ourselves.  


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