One question that I found extremely interesting in Solaris was that of whether the “visitors” were human, and the related question of the morality of destroying the visitors. Lem’s seems to be getting at the question of what constitutes humanity: if Rheya looks like a human, has the feelings and emotions and memories of a human, and even tries to kill herself out of love for Kris, who are Snow and Sartorius to say that she isn’t a human? On the other hand, her molecules are clearly not made up of atoms like a normal humans, but instead are made up of neutrinos. I think that Lem here is raising the question of what is more important to humanity – physical construction or some sort of psychological awareness? If Rheya had never found out that she wasn’t actually Rheya, could she have gone on happily living as a human?
This also brings into question the morality of destroying Rheya and the other “visitors.” While Rheya makes it fairly clear that she wants to die, we don’t know anything about the wishes of the visitors to Snow and Sartorius – do they want to die? Do they know that they’re not human? The visitors are some sort of manifestation of the ocean, which appears to be conscious, and they’re definitely conscious, with their own feelings and memories and desires; is it ethical to kill them? Or can we argue that the visitors are parasites on the crew, depriving them of the will to live or even, in some cases, the ability to live (for example, as Kelvin is further sucked into Rheya’s spell, he stops drinking liquids, which is a remarkably good way to die). In the latter case, is it ethical to kill the visitors to save the crew?
The question of the ocean’s consciousness is also interesting. Is the ocean conscious? Is it aware of the experiments being done on it, some of which are fairly cruel (there is mention of a blast that destroys a large part of the ocean), and trying to get revenge, or simply to drive the humans away? What are the ethical implications of experimenting on a living thing that may or may not be conscious and can’t communicate? It seems like a moral gray area, much more so than the question of how the newts are treated in “War With the Newts,” and more akin to the treatment of the robots in R.U.R.