The Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) and Dark Forest Theory

A sci-fi trilogy called The Three Body Problem included a powerful concept called Dark Forest Theory, which basically says it’s a bad idea for people who don’t know about their surroundings to make noise that might attract attention.

Or, taken as a game theory strategy, it’s better to destroy other civilizations before they get the chance to destroy you.

Steven Hawking also disliked the idea of screaming out to potential scavengers that we’re here and vulnerable.

Another—extremely depressing—perspective is to imagine that the reason we haven’t heard from aliens is that they were all killed as soon as they got enough technology to announce that they were there. Which we just recently did, meaning they could already be on the way.

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.

David Brinn

David Brinn

Being in cybersecurity I find the analogy a bit unsettling, since the Dark Web usually traffics in the unsavory.

This reminds me a lot of the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW), which is a term coined by Eric Weinstein on Sam Harris’ podcast. He used it to describe a place where people could have meaningful conversation amongst themselves without unwanted attention—with “Dark Web” referencing the technology term for the part of the internet that isn’t directly exposed to search and browsing by regular people.

In other words, the IDW started as a place to safely enjoy real conversation, and I see this as very similar to Dark Forest Theory where you must hide to avoid being targeted.

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The central thread in both the IDW and Dark Forest Theory is that your true self must remain hidden.

This may be a good strategy for a planet in a hostile galaxy, but it’s no way to behave in a democracy. Democracy requires a marketplace of ideas, and you can’t have a market without variation.

ISIS and Nazi types are the exception.

Hiding one’s opinion is the ultimate signal of unhealth in an open society. It means the conversation has ended, and the strategy has shifted to labeling and scheming. And that’s precisely what we have in 2019—not just in the US, but throughout the western world.

Let’s work on Earth climate change before trying to fix the galaxy. Priorities.

The Dark Forest and Intellectual Dark Web are respectable self-defense techniques, but they indicate a world that we don’t want to live in. It’s on all of us to rebuild an environment where they’re no longer needed.

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