Two centuries after initial contact, human cognition still presented an impenetrable black box to the Trisolarans. The aliens desperately wanted to experiment on a live human. Their enthusiasm wasn’t driven entirely by scientific curiosity; rather, it was out of a desperate, practical need for strategic deception.

Throughout the Crisis Era, the Trisolarans saw no need for practicing strategic deception against humans—just as humans needed only pesticides, not lies, to take care of troublesome bugs. However, that didn’t mean the Trisolarans were unaware of the value of such deception against other targets. Ever since they had discovered the dark forest state of the cosmos, the Trisolarans had lived in a state of perpetual terror of the rest of the universe. They knew that countless hunters were concealed in the galaxy, and the previous communications between Trisolaris and Earth were likely to be discovered and posed a threat for their own survival. Strategic deception was an important defensive weapon they had to consider, but to wield it, the Trisolarans first had to understand the only species known to possess such a capability—humans.

A branch of advanced knowledge known as “deceptionology” arose among the Trisolaran elite soon after Evans revealed this unique feature of human cognition. The Trisolarans at first hoped to learn this human skill quickly, but that hope was soon dashed. Theoretically, understanding the principles of deception posed little difficulty; one simply had to purposefully make a false statement, which would achieve the desired goal when the target of deception believed it. Unfortunately, the Trisolaran scientists soon realized that their species lacked the biological instinct for lying, and they could not put this simple principle into operation. It wasn’t very different from how human scientists could describe the mathematical underpinnings for four-dimensional space in detail, but could not construct even very simple four-dimensional figures in their minds.

Like all sentient beings, the Trisolarans occasionally made mistakes, but as their language consisted of the electrical patterns of thought being emitted directly, there was no way for them to speak of a known falsehood while pretending it was true. If a Trisolaran believed that a statement was false, the cognitive markers were immediately exhibited externally. Although in certain special situations, such as technology-enabled long-distance communication, it was possible to manufacture the signals of false brain activity, the deep biological instinct of the Trisolarans, inherited from their long evolutionary march up from primitive life-forms, prevented them from taking such a step.

The Trisolarans had hoped that they could gain the ability to practice the art of deception by studying human history, including advanced works in politics, military strategy, commerce, and game theory. But they soon discovered that they could not understand human history, nor could they decipher theoretical tomes on these subjects by human authors. (To be sure, few humans understood those works either.)

They turned to works of fiction, which seemed easier to understand. For some time, various popular tales of deception were required reading for Trisolaran scientists and politicians. Books like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms became bestsellers. But the aliens didn’t have the capacity to appreciate these books, either. Novels that humans consumed for entertainment and leisure appeared to the Trisolarans as abstruse, incomprehensible treatises. Even after years of study, the most intelligent Trisolaran strategists could understand only the simple deceptions presented in fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood.” Such techniques were, of course, useless for devising grand strategies applicable to interstellar warfare.

After decades of fruitless effort, the Trisolarans had to give up the ambitious plan to fundamentally change their own nature; they redirected their efforts to devising computer simulations to generate potential strategic deception scenarios. However, computers were capable of nothing more than reproducing and extending the abilities of their creators. In order to endow computers with special skills, it was necessary to write the requisite software; and to write such software, it was necessary to understand the relevant principles in depth. If human beings were not capable of coming up with a proof for Goldbach’s conjecture, they could hardly expect computers produced by humans to calculate such a proof. Similarly, since the Trisolarans did not understand deception, neither did their computers.

Finally, after years of concentrated development and repeated trials by generations of the best Trisolaran minds—aided by access to data equivalent to the storage capacity of all human libraries—the most advanced Trisolaran computers attained the ability to practice deception at the level of the average twelve-year-old human, although such performance was only possible in environments familiar to humans (since all scenarios used to train the computers were derived from such environments). Such skills were of limited applicability to potential conflicts between the Trisolaran civilization and other undiscovered alien civilizations. In many cases, computers running deception software could not even carry out a sensible conversation, failing the basic Turing test.

The Redemption of Time: A Three-Body Problem Novel