‘Joke’ About God in ‘3 Body Problem’: What Does It Really Mean?

'Joke' About God in '3 Body Problem': What Does It Really Mean?
‘Joke’ About God in ‘3 Body Problem’: What Does It Really Mean?

‘Joke’ About God in ‘3 Body Problem’: What Does It Really Mean?

The problem with a drama as enigmatic as Netflix’s 3 Body Problem is that you want to know the answers right away, and the possibility that you’ll have to wait another year to get them makes you want to know even more.

In fact, there are two major cliffhangers left in David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Alexander Woo’s science fiction epic: What did Dr. Ye Wenjie (Rosalind Chao) and Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo) really mean when they shared this “joke” on the park bench in Episode 7? And how could it help that Saul was introduced as a “wallpaper” at the climax, one of three individuals assigned to devise their own covert internal plan to outwit the invading aliens?

We’ve examined all of the hints in an attempt to solve it. This article’s last section includes spoilers from Liu Cixin’s trilogy of Remembrance of Earth’s Past novels, which the program is based on (we’ll flag it with a spoiler alert so you can skip it if you’d rather). The first section of the article examines the show itself.

What’s the “joke” that Dr Ye Wenjie tells Saul?
After being revealed as the spiritual head of the alien-worshipping Earth-Trisolaris Organization (ETO), Wenjie is freed from detention in episode 7. Wenjie gets in touch with Saul and tells him a lengthy, bizarre joke about Albert Einstein and God, realizing that the aliens she first spoke to all those years ago aren’t going to play well. The entire joke is as follows:

“So Einstein passes away. With his violin, he discovers that he is in heaven. He’s ecstatic. More than science, he is devoted to his violin. greater than that of women. He’s eager to see how good his performance in paradise will be. He thinks he’s going to be really good. The angels suddenly charge at him as he begins to tune in.”

Well, that’s not exactly a rib-tickler. However, the joke isn’t meant to make Saul chuckle. There’s a deeper significance there. What is the question?

What does Wenjie’s joke mean?

Wenjie undoubtedly devises a strategy as soon as she realizes the aliens are now terrified of humans and wish to exterminate us.

“I’m an old woman, whose old beliefs have led us down this terrible path,” she addresses the aliens head-on in episode 6. “However, I still have a few ideas.” And there could very well be a fair fight in decades or none at all.” 

The next time we see Wenjie, in episode 7, she is looking at two books (both genuine, authentic books): Fermi’s Paradox: Cosmology and Life by Michael Bodin and Game Theory: A Simple Introduction by K.H. Erickson. This is right before she summons Saul to a meeting. 

These novels are the best hints we have as to what Wenjie could be attempting to tell Saul, aside from the joke itself. While the second book on game theory tackles the topic of extraterrestrial life, the first book on game theory is mainly a social science book about strategy. The basic question posed by Fermi’s Paradox is this: If there are other creatures in the cosmos, why haven’t we yet encountered them?

It appears that Wenjie’s joke contains a plan for either battling the aliens or avoiding a confrontation with them completely. Is the God in Wenjie’s joke a metaphor for the extraterrestrials coming from across the cosmos to kill humanity? In that scenario, perhaps Einstein is a human being. He calls God’s attention to his presence through music. Is the joke a cautionary tale encouraging people not to make a big deal out of themselves? However, wouldn’t it be a little too late if that were the case?

What do Liu Cixin’s books tell us?

For those who are impatient, Liu Cixin’s second book in the trilogy, The Dark Forest, contains the joke’s solution. The solution is contained in the title itself. “The Dark Forest” effectively offers a solution to Fermi’s Paradox by arguing that the cosmos is similar to a forest at night in that everyone keeps quiet to avoid being spotted. This suggests that the reason we haven’t encountered other extraterrestrial cultures is because of this. Because they don’t want other cultures to find them and perhaps attack them, alien races don’t broadcast their positions.

Wenjie’s “joke” suddenly makes a lot more sense in light of this. It’s not a warning when Einstein plays the trumpet and summons God’s vengeance; rather, it’s the coded equivalent of the gloomy forest simile. A possible solution to Fermi’s Paradox in social strategy, and perhaps one Saul might employ in his capacity as wall-facer. Watch on Netflix 

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