Friday Five: Dark Forest Theory

When I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to be a space architect. I would draw all kinds of structures for planets in galaxies far, far away. I was also a girl who was afraid of everything – things most kids did not worry about. I was scared of climate change, of cancer, and…of alien communication. Perhaps scared is not the only emotion I had when thinking about life on other planets. Mixed up in that fear was curiosity. I would stare at the stars and try to will intelligent life to talk to me. Ah, the imagination of a child. Aliens never did speak to me. Not exactly. Through science fiction I could explore close encounters of the third kind.

Science fiction brings me immense joy. When I need to rid my brain of swirling thoughts and the daily insanity of work, I open up a science fiction book or binge one of my favorite sci-fi television series, like Battlestar Galactica. I live vicariously through the scientists and humans filled with wanderlust traversing the universe. Immediately, my brain clears – I feel ready to tackle any issue or perceive problems from new angles.

The Friday Five series was meant to help me jump-start writing for myself again. Over the years, writing has been a job required in my work and PhD life. The act of writing hasn’t felt fun because I had lost my voice and no longer to able to write for myself about the subjects that sparked joy inside me. I am halfway through my adult gap year and while my external writing commitments have not diminished (if anything, the quantity of what I have to produce is greater), I am beginning to locate and use my voice – in a more mature and focused way.

When I select a new book to read, I don’t simply choose the next book on my (very) long list of to-read material. The book selects me. I open myself up to want to explore a topic and have always found the right book to satisfy that hunger at the right time. I have tried to take this approach when selecting the material for this Friday Five series. I let the topic or theme come to me. And when it does, damn – everywhere I turn, there is no reference material!

The spark that lit my curiosity for the ‘dark forest’ theme came in Seb Chan’s Fresh & New e-newsletter - please subscribe to this newsletter. Seb Chan is currently the Chief Experience Officer at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne. I have never before paid money to receive content from a single individual, until I subscribed to Seb’s e-newsletter and I guarantee this is brain food you will want to consume. In the most recent newsletter (#24 Listening & Clubs and Listening Clubs), Seb Chan introduces the ‘dark forest’ theory as a way to consider the museum’s role. He says:

When people in the cultural sector talk about museums or libraries as aiming to become ‘town squares’ or similar, I wonder if they are missing a trick. A town square is where only the loudest voices can be heard. Perhaps a town square is not what is needed, but an ecology of smaller niches where smaller voices thrive? And the institutional role lies in being a facilitator of the connections between niches?

What is the ‘dark forest’ theory and how might it help us answer these questions? The questions posed by Seb Chan are not particular to museums. Here are five resources to help you unpack and consider ‘dark forest’ theory:

I have always thought consuming and writing sci-fi would make me a better critical thinker. Perhaps after you have had time to consider the resources shared this week, you will be more inclined not to brush off sci-fi as a nonsensical genre, but as a way to open our minds to consider new perspectives and unlock our immediate ecosystems.

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