The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Everyone – including Obama and Zuckerberg – recommends this book, and it exceeded expectations. This turned out to be one of my favorite books ever, and definitely one of the most mind-blowing books. Also noteworthy is the translation. It reads so well that it’s hard to imagine it had been written originally in Chinese.

1) “‘One time, during a political study session, I announced that China should cease to be a separate country and join the USSR as a member republic. That way, international communism would be further strengthened. How naive I was!'” – Cheng

Democracy, capitalism, socialism, communism – these concepts are so new in the grand scheme of things. And if you zoom out and look at the human race as a whole, all the ideological fighting seems so inconsequential.

2) “‘During these five experiments, the mass of the two balls never changed. In terms of their locations, as long as we’re using the frame of reference of the tabletop, there was also no change. The velocity of the white ball striking the black ball also remained basically the same throughout. Thus, the transfer of momentum between the two balls didn’t change. Therefore, in all five experiments, the result was the black ball being driven into the pocket.'” – Wang

This book, unlike any other I’ve read, explains life in a clear scientific manner, and it’s great.

3) “The explosive development of technology was analogous to the growth of cancer cells, and the results would be identical: the exhaustion of all sources of nourishment, the destruction of organs, and the final death of the host body.”

The technology-will-kill-us-all rhetoric is gaining steam. I think it ultimately comes down to people rejecting change. Every time I hear it, I think back to the SAT essay prompt. Those exam writers were prescient.

4) “‘Civilization can only develop in the mild climate of Stable Eras. Most of the time, humankind must collectively dehydrate and be stored. When a long Stable Era arrives, they collectively revive through rehydration. Then they proceed to build and produce.'” – King Wen

The slow, methodical revelation of the workings of the Trisolaris world is amazing.

5) “‘I’m saying that there’s always someone behind things that don’t seem to have an explanation.'” – Shi Qiang

Yes, there is always a reason. Perhaps in the form of a consultant.

6) “Others have already sent their messages out into space. It’s dangerous if extraterrestrials only hear their voices. We should speak up as well. Only then will they get a complete picture of human society. It’s not possible to get the truth by only listening to one side.”

One of the saddest things about humanity is that if there were extraterrestrials, people would seek validation to prove that their way of thinking is correct.

7) “‘If you drew a line, I could always draw another line that would divide it into the golden ratio: 1.618.'” – Wei Cheng

Next time I have to give my desired superpower.

8) “‘Now, listen to me. Output, you turn around and look at Input 1 and Input 2. If they both raise black flags, you raise a black flag as well. Under all other circumstances, you raise the white flag.'” – Von Neumann

This chapter on the construction of an army into a computer is now my favorite chapter of all time, surpassing Chapter 7 of Great Gatsby.

9) “The slices near the top moved faster than the slices near the bottom, and the ship spread open like a deck of cards.”

I wish I were good enough at physics to verify this.

10) “‘Humans took more than a hundred thousand Earth years to progress from the Hunter-Gatherer Age to the Agricultural Age. To get from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age took a few thousand Earth years. But to go from Industrial Age to the Atomic Age took only two hundred Earth years. Thereafter, in only a few Earth decades, they entered the Information Age.'” – the science consul

Notwithstanding the assumption of montonic progress, this is why I’m optimistic about our future.

I typically don’t like sci-fi, but this book was really about seeing the world through the principles of foundational physics. The two highlights were the juxtaposition of human psychology with science, and the crafting of the Trisolaris world. The last fifth became a bit over the top, and it just seemed like the author had to tie up some loose ends and set up for the sequel. Still, the plot is real, and the translation by Ken Liu is spot on.

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